Another Rosh has come and gone, and another rash of young Jews is complaining on the interwebs about the fact that Synagogues charge for High Holiday tickets. How dare they charge people to pray, they ask? How dare they turn away those with no tickets? What happened to the Jewish concern for the poor? Isn’t the tradition full of stories in which a Jew welcomes a beggar into his home who turns out to be Elijah? And the argument goes on. Churches, they say, would never charge people to come and pray, so how must this practice look to the goyim? Isn’t it giving Jews a bad name?
But such analyses are not complete. Synagogues have special funds for the poor: funds for broad charities, of course, but also special funds for the poor who pray with and identify with the congregation. Try attending a Shul faithfully for a year and then going to the rabbi and explaining you can’t afford HHD tickets. It’s not very many rabbis that under such circumstances will turn you away from from Rosh and YK services. That is, if you really can’t pay. If the reason you can’t buy Synagogue tickets is that you blew all your money on Arcade Fire tickets, that’s another story.
In the city I grew up, a poor family would have their butcher bill paid every month from the fund. This happened discretely, without any exchange of words, so as not to cause embarrassment, or what we call verbal ona’ah. Someone from the Shul would go into the butcher shop and inquire. If the family had been able to take care of the bill that month, great; if they hadn’t, it would be taken care of from the fund. Where did that money come from? It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that it came from the ticket revenue for Rosh services attended by Jews well able to pay.
So if you’re too broke to pay for your HHD tickets, maybe it’s worth asking yourself if you’re really, really too broke. One thing I’m pretty sure about: no one is getting rich off your money.