Belief Beat

Check out this Newsweek column by religion editor Lisa Miller, about the high cost of being Jewish. I’ve noticed this myself, through friends and in my reporting on Judaism: synagogue fees and Hebrew school tuition can be pretty pricey, that’s not even counting private day schools, summer camps and other activities considered optional for some Jews, but necessary for others. It can cost thousands of dollars a year, which isn’t really a sustainable business model during a recession.

Two things the column doesn’t mention:

–The Jewish model of paying dues to belong to more than one synagogue. (One example I recently reported on is Rabbi Steven Greenberg, the first and only openly gay Orthodox rabbi, who maintains memberships at several shuls — even though his sexual orientation is a problem at some of them.) I’ve heard different reasons for this: you have to be a dues-paying member of the synagogue that you only want to attend for a holiday service; your child attends activities at one, but your family worships at another; you want to get married or have some other life cycle event (bar mitzvah, funeral) at one that you don’t normally attend. Other examples, anyone?

–The mark-up on kosher food, especially in certain markets — that’s one reason why some Jews were upset about the 2008 immigration raid on Iowa’s Agriprocessors, once the largest provider of kosher meat in the country, and trial and conviction of slaughterhouse official Sholom Rubashkin, whose ultra-Orthodox family had helped provide affordable kosher meat to Jews around the country, not just in major metropolitan areas. (Rubashkin is currently appealing his 27-year federal sentence for fraud; he was found not guilty of knowingly employing children, and the government opted to drop the charges related to employing illegal immigrants after his fraud conviction. No word yet on whether he’ll be assigned to one of the two prisons that can accommodate ultra-Orthodox Jews.) I’ve been told that most Jews don’t keep strictly kosher, but for those who feel that it’s a religious requirement, that’s a big-ticket item for a family over the course of a year, probably more so than some of the other expenses the piece focuses on.

It all adds up, quite a lot. I wonder if we’ll start seeing collection plates in synagogues as some congregations try exploring models used by churches, as Miller’s piece concludes must start happening.

Anyway, check out the column, and share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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