Is Being Jewish Too Expensive?

Is the cost of participating in Jewish communal life too expensive? This article, written by a mother in California, claims it definitely is—so expensive that she can’t afford to Bar Mitzvah her son.

The author, who is a freelance writer, and her husband, who works in retail, don’t make enough to belong to a traditional temple, pay for High Holiday tickets, or Religious School. Even affording a Hebrew tutor, which can cost over $100 hourly, is beyond their reach.

Or, I should say, beyond what they wish to spend, since she freely admits to finding room in the budget for baseball and sleepaway camp…

From my point of view, there are two issues here: cost and value. It is 100% accurate that some families absolutely can not pay, even if they want to. Most, however, feel it’s not worth paying the money (sad but true).

For folks that want to participate and can’t just write a check, there have always been reduced dues and scholarships available. Unfortunately, those discounts tend to be extremely limited and the application process is so invasive, many opt-out altogether.

For folks that have the cash, but choose not to affiliate, that’s because they no longer feel a need to (if they ever did to begin with). Let’s be honest: the majority of Jews don’t want to attend weekly worship, no longer have strong ties to a particular area, and may not know anyone in their current community. Others may object strongly to the “Pay to Pray” system that persists.

Because most temples are very hesitant to break away from the old way of doing things and aren’t good at outreach to begin with, it’s little wonder that the Unaffiliated rates continue to grow every single year.

Unless individual temples get serious about implementing big changes like eliminating dues and reducing salaries, their membership will continue to stagnant and eventually disappear as the older folks die off. There are not enough young people to replace them, let alone enough youngsters that are actually interested.

So, what then, is the solution? There’s no quick fix, that’s for sure, and each family must do what’s right for them. Folks can try to find a cheaper temple, can look into online schools, can always participate for free at Chabad, or just do their own thing at home.

The Jewish experience is definitely enhanced by the communal aspect. But even if someone has to practice their faith entirely alone, it can still be done. No Jewish child should have to miss out on a Bar or Bat Mitzvah because of a lack of funds. Parents who agree will always find a way, even if it’s self-led in their own living room.


Is paying for a temple membership important to you?