Alright, here it is at last. The Jew Rant. It’s been waiting 10+ years to finally escape my brain, and here it is.
I love Judaism. I can’t stand other Jews.
I can’t stand your Mercedes-Benz in the Synagogue parking lot. I don’t care about what medical school your kids are going to. I’m irritated by your stuffy, lukewarm establishment liberalism. I can’t stand being shoved aside by little old ladies with Jersey accents at the kiddish table. I am sick of your tortured rabbinical gymnastics that build fences around fences around the Torah, and yet somehow provide a back door that lets you do exactly what the Torah says you shouldn’t. I cannot sit through another of your roteShabbat observances, that remind me of nothing so much as a bunch of zombies going through the motions. I am bored with your sick fascination with Christianity: fighting it as if it is still a grave threat to your Jewish identity, and then desperately trying to outdo it come the holiday season. I am disgusted by your wretched "art" – stuck in a decades-old holocaust-haunted version of the "modern" style, when the rest of the world has long realized that "abstract" is just a nice way of saying "butt ugly". I am left cold by your watered-down morality: just liberal enough to keep up with the California Joneses, but not so liberal that you make any waves.
But those are just the minor annoyances. You know what I truly can’t stand about Jews? The fact that Western Judaism is a Wealth Club.
No other major religion I know of (with the possible exception of Hinduism in India) is so focused on getting it’s hands into it’s adherents’ pocket-books. Enter a conservative or reform synagogue and you will be accosted on all sides by thesymbology of wealth. First of all, the very building itself – architect-ed to impress, and fitted out with rich carpets, recessed lighting, and dozens of specially-commissioned pieces of art in their own little alcoves. Then, the little judaica shop with it’s hideous little "artsy" menorahs and mezzuzas – what other religion (Scientology doesn’t count) has merchandising built right into the place of worship? Then you notice the plaques. Every object in theschul – the seats, the art, the cabinets, the bricks in the patio, the windows, probably even the fucking urinals in the men’s room – has a little brass plaque next to it informing the reader which respectably well-off Jew got to immortalize his name by making a monetary donation.
But all those little donations aren’t enough. No, in order to be a "member in good standing", you must pay an exorbitant yearly membership fee. Yes, modern Western Judaism is by subscription only. Now, I have had Jews justify this to me by saying that the synagogue offers a lot of services to its’ congregants, and all that upkeep isn’t cheap. The argument is that donations alone wouldn’t cover all those expenses. Which would be a convincing argument to the free-market economist in me if it weren’t for the fact that the American Christian church has proved it utterly and completely wrong. If it were a legitimate argument we wouldn’t have Disneyworld-esque megachurches cropping up like messianic mushrooms in every town in America funded entirely – yes, entirely – by donations. Are the justifiers of membership fees saying that Jews are just too cheap to donate on the same scale as Christians? Do they really want to propagate that particular libel? Don’t forget that tithing – that voluntary act of charity that keeps so many megachurches affloat – was invented by the Jews. It’s not like Jews can’t give freely of their own accord. Is it, perhaps, that Jews in America don’t care enough about the various services their synagogue offers to finance them if they didn’t feel threatened by the shame of being members in less-than-good-standing?
You know what? If your membership can’t be relied upon to subsidize your services without guilting/demanding them into it, it’s time to reevaluate what you offer. Maybe you should be meeting at someones house, or in a community center, like other religious organizations do when they can’t afford an oppulent building of their own. Maybe you should make the kiddish table pot-luck. Maybe you should fire the secretary. Maybe you should sell off some of your statuary. Or would all that be a little tooplebian, a little too protestant for your little upper-class religious yacht club?
But all of this – the ostentation, the mandatory fees – pales in comparison to the greatest travesty of all: the high-holidays ticket. High-holidays are, as the name suggest, the religious center point of the Jewish year. If a Jew attends no other services, he or she will still attend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And what do Synagogues do to accommodate the wayward congregants who flock in at this time of year? Why, they charge admission at the door, of course.
At most schuls, simply getting a seat for High Holidays costs upwards of $100. The good seats – the ones where everyone in the auditorium can see just what a member-in-good-standing you are – may be far more expensive. Keep in mind,Yom Kippur is the holy-day on which Jews seek forgiveness for any sins they have committed over the course of the year? You want absolution, you gotta pay up.
Economists have a name for the practice of charging money for a resource that you control and others need: rent-seeking. It’s widely regarded as one of the baser and less laudable ways of making money. Progressive-minded Jews who would be appalled at some corporation charging money for drinking water in a drought-blighted third-world nation don’t even blink an eye when their Synagogue does the moral equivalent come high-holidays.
It is this devotion to the almighty buck, more than anything else, that has kept me out of regular participation in any Jewish congregation. I have made attempts form time to time, but inevitably the constant reminders that it’s really all about doctors and lawyers and landowners comparing wallet size become too much for me, and I have to walk away. I have yet to find a group of Jews who I can feel comfortable meeting with without feeling like I’m wearing a balance-sheet instead of a tallit.
EDIT: I want to quote a comment by tinyrevolution here, because it’s such a great response to the argument that most schuls will waive fees at need: