Are you obliged to pay for synagogue seats?…ask the rabbi

July 9, 2018 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple answers this question…and others.


Rabbi Raymond Apple

Q. What obligation, if any, is there to pay synagogue membership and to purchase a seat there?

A. Judaism emphasises prayer with and for the congregation not only by and for oneself.

The Shulchan Aruch says that prayer with a congregation is obligatory (Orach Chayim 10:16), and a community may impose sanctions to compel members of a community to build a synagogue (Orach Chayim 55:22, 150:1).

The allocation of assigned seats in a synagogue is based on the teaching, “Whoever fixes the place for the recital of His prayers, the God of Abraham will aid him” (Talmud B’rachot 6a). This is codified by Maimonides in these terms: “One should fix the place for prayer” (Law of Prayer 5:6).

The financial obligations of members of a Jewish congregation include the following:
1. Building a synagogue.

2. Donating synagogue appurtenances; the Shabbat prayer for the congregation invokes Divine blessing upon those who make such donations.

3. Payment for seats as a means of maintaining synagogue services (such payments have been customary from at least the Middle Ages and even led to legal questions such as whether a seat is “owned” or “rented”; whether a seat can be “sold” or “sublet”; whether a seat can be bequeathed, or a creditor can seize it).

4. Offerings on the analogy of the Biblical tithe, half-shekel and other dues; however, such offerings cannot be collected on the Sabbaths and festivals.


Q. Can you give me an example of where Judaism and Christianity part company?

A. Where Christianity focusses on sin, Judaism is concerned with mitzvah.

In classical Christianity, man is inherently sinful and needs Jesus to bring him salvation. In Judaism, man has the privilege of knowing God’s will and living by His mitzvot.

It is not that Judaism has no concept of sin, but man sins by mistake, not because he is automatically programmed to do so. If a person sins, Judaism tells him he can pick himself up and resolve to be more careful in future.

That is why on the High Holydays Judaism posits a hopeful concept of man, who, even if he has sinned, can get over it by penitence, prayer and righteous living.


Q. Do you agree that money is the root of all evil?

A. No. It can cause evil, but it does not have to.

The same may be said of two other human drives – sex and food. Kohelet says, “ohev kesef lo yisba kesef”, “He who loves money will never be satisfied with money” (Eccl. 5:9), which may also be said of sex and food.

And the pursuit of these desires can lead you to unethical actions: if you simply have to have more money, sex or food, you will be tempted to steal from or exploit other people.

Any legitimate human desire must be disciplined. That is why Judaism is so concerned with business ethics, bedroom ethics and eating ethics.

As far as money is concerned, the money must be pursued honestly and used for constructive purposes, supporting yourself and your family, assisting the disadvantaged and strengthening the community.


One Response to “Are you obliged to pay for synagogue seats?…ask the rabbi”
  1. Solly Hurwitz says:

    Am I obliged to pay exorbitant fees to a Shul where the Rabbi is paid an exorbitant salary ie one that is way over market value when compared with other Rabbonim ?

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