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Sep 4, 2007

high prices for the High Holidays

Ynet has an article about the prices of buying seats for the High Holidays in shuls. While they do not say straight out that the religious are ripping people off by charging so much, it definitely feels that that was their implication from the way the article was written.

The article gives a number of examples of the high price of seats, such as :

The Great Synagogue in Jerusalem is offering tourists reserved seats for the High Holidays for up to $700, while Israelis will be able to purchase the same seats for about $170 dollars, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Tuesday.

and:

At synagogues of the hassidic rabbis' courts the prices vary according to how close they are to the admor (acronym for "our master, our teacher, and our rabbi). A reserved seat near the admor at the Belz (hassidic sect) synagogue can reach a whopping $50,000.

and:

Kfar Chabad is charging NIS 60,000 ($14,500) for being the last person to be called up to the Torah and NIS 30,000 ($7,250) for being called up to the Torah for the opening prayer of the Eve of Atonement (Yom Kippur) service.

I have a couple of comments to make on this.

First of all, there is the issue of supply and demand. A more popular synagogue will charge more for its seats than will a less popular synagogue (the popularity could be determined by various factors; a charismatic Rabbi, the social crowd that goes there, the decor, the quality of the cantors, etc..). It is simply a function of supply and demand. If 1000 people want to buy seats there and there are only 400 seats, for example, they will obviously charge more for the seats.

Second of all, the buying of seats is very important. The synagogues almost never charge money during the year, after the High Holidays. During the High Holiday season they charge for seating and membership and then you will not hear from the shul again about money until the next year. It costs a lot of money to run a shul. The Rabbi has to be paid, as does the electric company and the utilities and maintenance bills, etc. The only money the shul earns is from its sale of seats by the High Holidays, along with voluntary donations given during the year.

Again, it costs a lot of money to run a shul. It is totally legitimate to charge for the seating during the High Holidays, as that is basically the shuls main source of income.

Third, regarding the prices given as examples from the Hassidic courts. They do sound pretty ridiculous. However once must take into account Hassidic culture and society. It is considered a great honor to be by the Rabbi or to get certain aliyas or other honors. These are also controlled by supply and demand. Only one person can get the last aliya, so the price is driven up very high as everybody bids for it. As well, think of it like going to a baseball game. If you went to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play baseball, you would pay good money for box seats. Maybe $100 per ticket. But if you went for seats way in the upper deck near the back you might only pay $8 for your ticket. As well, while Cubs fans do not really have much experience with this, if you buy tickets for a playoff game, the same seats that normally go for $10 might go for $50 (I made these numbers up, but you get the point).

The synagogues are not really any different. The "better" the seat, the higher the price tag.

And again, it costs a lot of money to run a synagogue.

And, usually, most shuls are amenable to helping out people in financial trouble who might have a hard time paying high fees. they would spread out the payments, or charge less to such a person. I know my shul has said many a time that they do not turn people away just because they cannot afford to pay the ticket. They find a solution and a way to work things out. I think most shuls are like that.

5 comments:

  1. "And, usually, most shuls are amenable to helping out people in financial trouble who might have a hard time paying high fees."

    My local Sephardi Shul is charging $300 per seat, I explained to them that I'm in between jobs so they said that I should pay what I can.

    ReplyDelete
  2. כבוד הרב,

    I liked your answer very much- and I also like mine, that anyone who wants can come to my YeShA community and we will give them not only a free seat, but feed them and make sure they have a comfortable place to sleep.

    Baruch HaShem, this is the case every single Shabbat and chag where I live. It's also like that in RBS, no?

    jacob,

    That's VERY much the Sepharadi way.

    May it be a year of ברכה ופרנסה for us all, and may you be זוכה to not only be able to pay full price next year, but also to be able to help pay for others' seats as well.

    Hopefully here in the land overflowing with milk and honey. ;-)

    כתיבה וחתימה טובה to both of you, your families, and all of עם ישראל.

    ReplyDelete
  3. My shul charges from zip to a grand for a seat depending on the seat location.
    The average seat is $250, this is cheap considering the services available, sorry no details i'm anonymous remember?
    I have missed acouple of years and my seat is still there.
    This year I'm full paid up though.
    Also there are plenty of shuls where you can just walk in to daven, you just dont get a sticker on a chair!

    ReplyDelete
  4. i hate when people spend money on things like etrogim, but seats don't bother me. i guess because the $ is going to a good cause. (and if it's not a good cause, why would you daven there?)

    ReplyDelete
  5. It's sort of a Catch-22. Everyone need to daven someplace. I've also found that most shul are willin to 'work with you'.

    ReplyDelete

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