Inflation Watch: Religion Getting More Expensive

For Jewish Consumerists, the high holy days are nigh, and the expense may be greater than ever.

Expense? Indeed, expense. Across America, some synagogues and Jewish organizations like Hillel are charging fees to non-members who attend high holy day services.

At the University of Pennsylvania, students can participate in the campus Hillel’s services for free, but non-student guests must cough up $180 each. Society Hill Synagogue in Philadelphia charges $250 for nonmembers who participate in their events.

We don’t really understand how the costs can be this high, but maybe someone can explain it to us. Labor and hall rental are certainly expensive, and there’s certainly a “donation” built into the fee, but the rate seems astronomical for a religious service.

Happy Rosh Hashana! That’ll be $180, please [Daily Pennsylvanian] (Thanks, Joshua!)

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  1. jewishgrrl says:

    This is standard procedure and has been for years at synagogues around the High Holidays. Congregants, who support the synagogue and the life of the community surrounding it, pay dues and contribute through volunteerism.

    Come the high holidays, people who don’t contribute to the community want to worship – that’s fine – but they then fill up the synagogue and the people who are part of the community day in day out can’t park, get a seat, etc. To my mind that’s not fair, but maybe that’s how I was raised. So they need to buy a ticket.

    As to costs – are the rabbi and cantor supposed to work for free? Prayerbooks grow on trees? What about the supplementary books that are part of every high holiday service – I imagine the printers aren’t charging for those either, right? What about security – every temple in America hires security these days.

    No synagogue would ever turn a sincere worshipper away who couldn’t afford to pay. Let’s not blow this one out of proportion.

  2. jacques says:

    It’s $250 at mine in Chicago. But membership dues are only $50 for the year, so it’s better.

    It’s standard fare to have fees. If the majority of people show up for only 2 or 3 days a year, it makes sense to charge a premium for attendance.

  3. RandomHookup says:

    The real question you should be asking: Is this cheaper than JDate?

  4. jeblis says:

    I thought religious services had to be free to keep their tax status.

  5. amazon says:

    I wish I wish I wish the Catholic church ahd done this years ago. Just think of all the masses I may not have had to endure.

  6. Falconfire says:

    Religious services have to be a non-profit to keep tax status.

    Its just the government overlooks the extravigant lifestyles some of these “religious leaders” lead

  7. It’s largely a crowd control measure. Most synagogues get 5-10 times the number of worshipers on the High Holy Days as they do on an average Shabbat.

    And virtually all have deeply discounted rates or free tickets for college students. If you know people in the community you can use the tickets of someone who’s out of town. And if you’re truly destitute, a word in advance to the Rabbi or the head usher should just about always make it possible to attend.

    If there’s a local Chabad, they never charge.

  8. IsenMike says:

    This isn’t anything new. My congregation has been charging non-members for high holy day services for years. Not as pricey as what you guys are talking about, though.

    Keep in mind, also, that synagogues don’t pass around a collection plate like christian churches, so most of their yearly budget comes from the high holy day services. Also that, tickets or not, they’re probably not going to actually turn someone away who can’t afford to pay.

  9. TedSez says:

    I have to agree with IsenMike… When you consider that this is the only contribution most nonmembers will give to their synagogue during the entire year, it doesn’t seem like so much. Add that to the fact that some congregations have to rent a larger space to hold all the extra people. And, sadly, these days they have to pay for extra security, too.

  10. Hawkins says:

    This is, indeed, fairly standard, as illustrated by the following:

    It’s Rosh Hashana, and Moskowitz is in the temple. His business partner needs to speak with him urgently, and is begging the usher to be admitted without a ticket.

    “It’s just for a minute!”

    “OK, I guess you can go in. But don’t let me catch you praying!”

  11. Mary Marsala with Fries says:

    Yay, expensive religion! All religion should be more expensive. Like crack cocaine, we rely on high prices to keep innocent people from stumbling on it accidentally.

    ;)

  12. I’m amazed that I’m the first to make the following comment:

    Usurers! Usurers, I say! They’re poisoning the the wells and eating Christian babies! USURY!!!

  13. LassLisa says:

    Bear in mind that members pay annual dues at most synagogues, and there needs to be some benefit of that even for people who don’t often attend services. Someone has to pay the rabbi’s salary, and the janitor’s salary, and letting non-members have the same things as members for free is not the best way to achieve that.

  14. clarity says:

    Here’s a little article I found on “synagogue marketing” so to speak…you pay an annual fee, seems sort of like a country club! Membership comes with some high holy day tickets, unaffiliated people just outright buy tickets. Christian sects have obligations/pressures about fees, some formal, some informal but I can’t say it’s clearly any better – and might be worse.

    http://www.jewishjournal.com/home/preview.php?id=12720

    Close friends did not join a nicely progessive local synagogue (Reconstructionist) and instead joined a far cheaper Conservative temple (like 1/3 the price) when it was time for their son to start Hebrew school prior to his Bar Mitzvah. Turns out the very high fee of the first place was somewhat “negotiable” but they didn’t know that and went elsewhere. Fees seem often to do with current/recent building projects.

  15. sciencegeek says:

    I am a graduate student at UPENN and have actually attended services for high holy days in the past. The auditorium where services are held always has extra seats. This is not a space issue.

    I grew up in a college town and my parents belong to the local synagogue, but will sometimes attend services at one local college or another. They have never paid to do this.

    While individual synagogues not associated with a college or university may indeed be justified in asking for a donation, UPENN and its Hillel are extremely well endowed, and should be ashamed of asking for money. The linked article cites a $50,000 cost, but they don’t mention that this is merely $10,000 more than tuition is at this University.

    Relationships between the residents of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania are already strained; why offer more proof of the university’s lack of respect for the people of Philadelpha?

    I had thought of bringing my boyfriend, who is not a student at UPENN, to services this year, but neither he nor I can afford this price tag.

    Asking people to give $180 dollars to attend an event is a little bit much. I mean, this isn’t a Madonna concert, is it?

  16. DukeOfUrl says:

    The explanation is simple – you Xians get hit up every week for payments when they “pass the plate”.
    Synagogues, OTOH, don’t do that – instead, tickets are sold for High Holy Days services. Naturally, some are set aside for those who can’t afford to buy one, but still are observant and attending.

  17. bambino says:

    The collection plate is not a ‘ticket’. You don’t need to donate in order to attend. I’m astounded.

  18. DeeJayQueue says:

    Why should anyone have to pay money to worship god?

  19. We don’t charge fees at the ‘Church Of Me’. In fact, anyone can start their own chapter.

    I used to say Judaism was cutting out the middle man, when it comes to Jesus, in regards of worshipping G-D, but I might have to take that back, as I didn’t know synagogues had membership fees.