Community · Culture clashes · Religious life

Religious Observance, Class, and Money

You kind of have to be rich to be Jewishly observant. That is, if you live in Japan or the US.

Or, at least, there are those who make that true.

Think about it:

It’s a luxury to be able to take off from the middle of Friday and almost the entirety of Saturday. Every week.

It’s a luxury to be able to pay for those absurdly expensive High Holiday tickets that are used to pay for security, the extra rabbi(s)/cantor(s), extra room(s), and funds for the coming year.

It’s a luxury to be able to pay for that extra expensive meat (if you eat meat).

Many hekshered items are often high-end instead of being the discounted brands.

In Los Angeles and in Tokyo, the synagogue(s) are in the most expensive area(s) of town. In Tokyo, that means the most expensive area in the whole of Japan.

There is a delicate balance of how much you can actually afford and how much you are willing to afford in order to live an observant life. But, since you have no idea what expenses people might have in their lives, that is not for anyone to judge. At the same time, it takes honesty and self-awareness to know how much you actually can and want to spend on “mere religious” education and practices.

My grandmother, who came from a German Jewish family who was proudly Reform, left Jewish practice because of the gaudiness she saw in the synagogue. People were there to flaunt their new dresses and suits rather than to pray.

My grandfather, who came from a Eastern European immigrant family who was traditional (today they are called Orthodox) left Jewish practice because he couldn’t afford to get a secular education (which would allow him to make something of himself and escape poverty) while being Jewishly observant.

The world has changed a lot since then. But, you will not feel it’s transformations if you keep adjusting your standards to the “new times,” scrutinizing more and more of each person and institution’s practices.


3 thoughts on “Religious Observance, Class, and Money

  1. I live in a midwest (US) community where a Jewish life is much cheaper than the big population centers.

    While it’s more expensive to live inside the eruv, the difference is only slight, and it’s still orders of magnitude cheaper than NYC or LA.

    Our shul is a small, warm, but hip & modern place where there is no charge for Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur.

    Kosher meat is still expensive, but I’m a veggie & my wife eats meat only occasionally.

    Since we live next to the edge of a time zone, Shabbat starts later. Also, there’s no worries about major traffic tie-ups here like in the big cities, and the commutes are generally shorter, so the earliest I ever have to leave work on winter Fridays is 4PM.

  2. Hi Yehudi,

    Thanks for the report from the midwest!

    It’s heartening to hear that there are nice Jewish communities outside of the big city-centers.

    We are also vegetarians which cuts down our food cost a lot. Horray!!

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