Ask Miriam | Do High Holiday Synagogue Visitors Have Further Financial Obligations?

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a jar full of $100 bills
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Dear Miriam,

What is the obligation to donate to the High Holiday fundraising pledge if you are a visitor? Does that obligation change if you have reciprocal tickets based on your membership at another synagogue versus paid tickets to the place you’re actually attending?

Signed,

Apples and Money

Dear Money,

As I’ve written about before, to great controversy, Jewish institutions need money to survive, and that money must come from the people who benefit from those institutions. Being asked for money to attend services often feels uncomfortable, and being asked to contribute more money once you’re at services usually doesn’t feel great either. And yet, the money is needed.

Many congregations read a prayer each week on Shabbat that says (paraphrased from the Sim Shalom prayerbook), “May God bless those who … give funds for heat and light, and wine for Kiddush.” Communities have long recognized the difficulty in acquiring these funds, and the importance of thanking the people who contribute. Giving money to fund these necessities is codified into our liturgy.

If you have bought High Holiday tickets to a synagogue that you are not likely to attend at other times, you have already donated to them and contributed to their financial well-being. Anything you choose to give beyond the already-prescribed ticket price is a generosity but is not necessary. However, if you are a member of a different synagogue and, as a result, were given High Holiday tickets through a reciprocity program, a token donation to the place you’re attending is both generous and appropriate.

There are strong feelings out there about the practice of being asked to buy tickets to attend synagogue. I understand and sympathize with those feelings. I also know that the finances, security concerns and space limitations of many communities require some sort of process, commitment and donation structure for people attending services on the busiest days of the year.

I’m not going to solve this tension, but I hope to help others (synagogue leaders and synagogue attendees alike!) approach this topic with thoughtfulness, generosity and appreciation.

Be well, and wishing everyone a shana tova u’metukah — a sweet and happy new year,

Miriam

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