January 25, 2013

As a synagogue-affiliated Jew, I was upset by the one-sidedness of the Jan. 19 On Faith column by Lisa Miller, “The synagogue is due for a new financial model,” regarding membership dues and donations in U.S. synagogues.

Miller ignores the fact that donations for the communal support of Jewish religious institutions are a commandment for Jews, dating back to the Mishkan or Tabernacle. These obligatory donations were not only crucial for the survival of Jews in the diaspora but also a form of tzedakah (charity) for the poor of the community.

I have been a member of more than a dozen synagogues and have never heard of “explicit dunning” for those too poor to pay dues. The charge that Jewish synagogues are insensitive to the needs of poorer members or that they value money over spirituality is particularly offensive when Miller compares synagogue practice in this regard to that of Christian churches; these comparisons have historically been used as a basis to persecute Jews.

The alienation that younger Jews experience in the synagogue is a big problem — but the reasons for this are more complicated than synagogue dues. Actually having a material stake by paying dues or charitable donations can actually enhance one’s spirituality and commitment to the community.

Robert E. Litman,

Bethesda