Earlier this week, Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz wrote about prayer and activism and prioritizing the vulnerable in justice. His blog posts have been featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
Many Jews today claim that they are “spiritual not religious,” that organized religion is not relevant, or that they would rather spend their free time alone than with others. Those who attend synagogue weekly often reserve the service, especially the sermon, for a special naptime. Others prefer a 20–person basement setting for a quick prayer service rather than a formal, large gathering at shul. Around two-thirds of Americans claim to be members of a house of worship, which is more than 25% higher than Jewish synagogue membership. Is the synagogue becoming extinct? If so, should we seek to prevent extinction?
At its worst, synagogue is rife with factionalism and small-mindedness, a place to mumble irrelevant words and snooze during an out of touch sermon, and later nosh on stale chips at kiddush while discussing the stock market and the latest gossip. Synagogues spend their limited funds on plaques, high-end scotch and a new social hall rather than on adequately paying staff and investing in learning programs. Congregants drive $50,000 cars but request assistance on the membership dues. The experience is predictable, tedious and boring. It resembles a business transaction, where one has paid membership dues for the right to services, more than a sacred obligation. The staff and board do not lead with Jewish values but act as management as if the congregation was just another business venture. The ritual is empty and the action is either inadequate or nonexistent.