Practice of charging to attend Jewish services sparks debate
Critics say custom a barrier to practicing faith
September 11, 1999
From Correspondent Frank Buckley
NEW YORK (CNN) -- During Judaism's high holy days, which began Friday evening with Rosh Hashana, Jews are individually asked to embark on a journey of introspection.
But there is also a self-examination underway within the faith itself over whether people should have to pay to attend services at synagogues.
In New York, for example, it is not uncommon during the high holy days for people to pay $75 to attend services. Some people pay more than $300 for good seats.
Jonathan Woocher, of the Jewish Education Service of North America, is a critic of the practice. He wrote an academic paper suggesting that high costs are a barrier to Judaism.
"What I'm suggesting is we don't ask them for money first -- that the first contact they have should be a meaningful Jewish experience," he says. "On that basis, I would hope that they would be inspired to say, 'I do want to pay for this.'"
But many rabbis say they charge because they have to pay the bills.
"It's not a matter of money. It's a matter of paying teachers and cantors and rabbis and .. the electricity bill and everything else," said Rabbi David Lincoln of the Park Avenue Synagogue.
But as part of an effort to reach out to what the American Jewish Heritage Organization terms "disaffected" Jews, a free Rosh Hashana service was held at a movie theater on the Upper East Side.
The high holy days last for 10 days, concluding with Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.
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