Jewish communities provide many services and play a crucial role in furthering Jewish identity and adherence. All those programs and activities cost money, however. Different countries use different models to raise funds. In some European countries, first and foremost in Germany, funds are raised through a system of registration with and taxation by the state in favor of the designated faith community. Thus, Jews (and Catholics, Protestants and Muslims, etc.) in Germany are expected to register as Jews (or as belonging in their respective faith community) with the government, which will then proceed to add 8 or 9% on top of income taxes and pass that addition on to the designated community. The act of not joining or leaving the community, often for financial reasons, hurts the community and forces its remaining members to unfairly bear the burden of services. May such a community, in addition to denying non members reduced or free entry to concerts, lectures and sundry other events, also deny basic Jewish services, like the circumcision of newborn boys of non-members?
As mentioned above, Sridim, the scholarly journal of the Conference of European Rabbis, just published my article on the subject. I have meanwhile gotten some responses and have addressed, respectively incorporated them in a new version, which you may download here.
Sorry, it’s in Hebrew, but that is how rabbis write halakhic treatises. However, I can summarize my findings at follows:
- Historically, such sanctions were enacted, but they were enacted based on the presumption that the excommunication will rapidly have a positive effect and the punished member will repent. That is no longer a given. In fact, by refusing these life cycle services, we may turn off and lose those people forever. Only fully Orthodox communities may still reasonably make such assumptions.
- Nonetheless, I can still see a reason not to bury such people until appropriate payment is made, as there is no chance they will come afterwards to rejoin the community, considering they are dead. This is all the more so when the person in question actively left the community.
- In the case of circumcision, however, one must also consider that the child is not guilty of anything, and by not circumcising him, we make it harder for him to later on change his ways and become more involved in Judaism. Thus, nowadays, we should not enact these sanctions in the case of the circumcision of the child of non members. Especially not if the parents weren’t members to begin with. Instead, the circumcision should be seen as a springboard to include the parents more strongly in the community and gently encouraging them to become members either then or later on.
- The community is obviously free to demand payment for the use of its facilities and may demand a higher price of non members, but the pricing structure should be reasonable, not excessively punitive. I.e. €200 for members’ use of the synagogue, but €10000 for non-members is sophistry.
- Even regarding weddings, I believe that we should conduct them for non-members, too (contingent upon payment of a reasonable fee), for if we refuse, that very possibly won’t encourage them to become members and to become more involved, but will rather turn them off and either make them skip the Jewish aspect of the wedding altogether, or have them fly in some unrecognized freelance rabbi, who may or may not adhere to Jewish tradition, so that their wedding might still not be halakhically sanctified and we will have lost them as future members. This is obviously a judgement call, and not every couple is at the same danger of running away from the community. But this is why it is far better to pleasantly coach them to join, rather than forcing them to.
- That said, as I document, it is a grave sin to declare before the government that one is leaving the Jewish community, and it is fundamentally unfair to either leave or refuse to join and share the burden.
Note, the accompanying image is for illustrtation purposes only.