Are Synagogues Worth the Money?

Recently, a court decided that a law exempting synagogues (or as they are known on Shabbat morning, “daycares”) and other houses of worship from paying arnona does not include places of religious learning (or as they are known, “places of the hock”). So the Knesset passed a law to clarify that places of religious learning are to be included within the exception.

Currently, real estate is precious in Israel. Places of worship or learning take up space that could be used for a number of other things including housing. Therefore, entities receiving arnona exemptions should make sure that they serve the public enough to justify removing money from other areas of municipal budgets (a similar standard should be tested for every public expenditure including members of Knesset. You hearing me Erel Margalit?).

Do places of prayer do this? Do places of learning? There exists plenty of literature to suggest the contribution of congregational religion to the betterment of individuals and groups (I’ll link to a HuffPo article instead). Despite this, anyone who has walked around Israeli cities and smaller towns has seen many religious buildings that are basically abandoned during the week and some which are only used during the High Holidays (this is a great piece if you read Hebrew). Furthermore, some larger synagogues which already receive exemptions could certainly host learning as well, preventing multiple locations from receiving unnecessary tax exemptions.

In America, one way that churches justify their exempt status despite church and state issues is to host all kinds of events during the week, essentially turning themselves into community centers. Synagogues receiving exemptions should also be expected to serve the community during down times.

One final question. Why is the Knesset making the decision and not local municipalities, when it is the municipalities that are losing the money?

3 thoughts on “Are Synagogues Worth the Money?”

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