Why is there a decline in synagogue membership?
(Editor’s note: A comment on washingtonjewishweek.com on the story “50 years of women rabbis” suggested that there is a “correlation of decline in synagogue and movement membership numbers with the advent of female rabbis.” What follows is one rabbi’s response.)
I don’t believe there is a nexus between the emergence of female rabbis on the scene and the decline in synagogue membership. The decline has many logical societal reasons, among them the advent of huge loans many students have been required to take to go to college, graduate school and other training programs. In addition, housing prices have steadily increased as has the amount it takes to raise a child. This has affected young Jews in droves who cannot pay increasing synagogue dues — especially in aging buildings that require much maintenance and security costs.
As the second woman ordained by HUC-JIR, in one of my congregations, I was the only one in the building during the week and the front was all glass. One of the things we spent money on was a security system with monitors. That was expensive. And police security was required during the High Holy Days. These type of expenditures were never needed as I grew up, but in many congregations, they add thousands to the bottom line, making membership more expensive. Some young adults had as much as $200,000 in student loans. No wonder synagogue membership took a back seat until paid off. If you add the costs of housing, it’s no wonder that there has been a decline in membership.
RABBI MICHAL MENDELSOHN
The writer was the second Reform Jewish
woman to be ordained.
Two sides of Tutu
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt’s opinion piece, “How does Archbishop Tutu stack up against Jewish Values?” (Jan. 13), was right on target. Liberal pundits have been praising the archbishop for his many positive contributions to the battle to end apartheid in South Africa. Most of them have ignored his many antisemitic statements. Weinblatt was especially helpful when he described Tutu’s lack of concern for the rights of Palestinians in Lebanon while describing Tutu’s false charges that Israel practices apartheid.
He also wrote, “We Jews can and should recognize the good that he did, while not ignoring that he tarnished and libeled Israel.” Hillel admonished us to be for ourselves, but not only for ourselves. Why should we be the only people who regard the rest of the world more important than ourselves?