Soc.Culture.Jewish Newsgroups
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 9.9:
How is a synagogue operated?


Synagogues are operated in a manner similar to most non-profit organizations. They are generally run by a board of directors composed of lay people, which manages and maintains the synagogue and its activities, and hires religious staff for the community. There is typically a congregation president, and other common positions include secretary and treasurer. There are positions that deal with religious practices, social action, membership, and other functions provided by the organization.

Typcially, the religious staff is not a member of the board (although they could be); they are typically employees of the congregation. In many congregations, they earn a salary. The religious staff typically includes a rabbi and an cantor. The latter position is sometimes called a music director. The educational leadership is often part of the relgious staff.

It is worth noting that a synagogue can exist without a rabbi: religious services can be, and often are, conducted by lay people in whole or in part. It is not unusual for a synagogue to be without a rabbi, at least temporarily. However, the rabbi is a valuable member of the community, providing leadership, guidance and education.

Synagogues do not pass around collection plates during services. Traditionally, this is because Jews are not permitted to carry money on Holy days and Shabbat. Instead, synagogues are financed through membership dues paid annually, through voluntary donations, through community fundraisers, and through the purchase of reserved seats for services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the holidays when the synagogue is most crowded). There are two primary approaches to synagogue dues. Some congregations set a fixed fee based on membership categories. Other congregations base dues on a small percentage (often 2%) of one's income. There are two important factors to note about synagogue dues: (1) they are often less, overall, than the donations done in some churches that have a policy of tithing 10%; (2) they are often negotiable through the membership committee if one is unable to pay, and such negotiation are kept private. People are not turned away because of ability to pray.

It is important to note, however, that you do not have to be a member of a synagogue in order to worship there. If you plan to worship at a synagogue regularly and you have the financial means, you should certainly pay your dues to cover your fair share of the synagogue's costs, but no synagogue checks membership cards at the door (except possibly on the High Holidays mentioned above, if there aren't enough seats for everyone).

Synagogues are, for the most part, independent community organizations. Individual synagogues do not answer to any central authority. The various movements of Judaism do have organizations for their synagogues, but these organizations have no real power over each synagogue (the synagogue can always go independent).

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at

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© (c) 1993-2004 Daniel P. Faigin <>