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April 17, 2014

Marblehead temple to drop mandatory dues

Congregants will be asked to pledge a yearly sum

MARBLEHEAD — It might be a sacred space, but even the house of God gets bills.

Temples have traditionally paid those bills by charging mandatory dues for membership — dues that could run into thousands of dollars a year.

Now Temple Emanu-El has launched a revolutionary new method to maintain the staff and keep the building running. Instead of the traditional system of mandatory dues, the temple will ask congregants to voluntarily pledge an annual amount.

It is the first temple on the North Shore to drop its mandatory dues, temple members say.

The change, said temple president Brad York, will give people “a much better feeling about belonging and being part of a community. ... You donate what you feel you can donate, what you want to donate.”

The dues process “is inconsistent with what you’re trying to do in creating a sacred space where everyone can participate,” he said.

A voluntary gift “seems more than a business transaction,” added Rabbi David Meyer.

In the past, paid up or not, no one was shut out of the temple.

“We have never closed the doors to those who want to be part of our community,” Meyer said. But going back to accounts in the Bible, members of the Jewish community have always been expected to bring gifts in order to maintain their synagogue.

Under the old system at Temple Emanu-El, each family was responsible for an annual charge in the region of $2,000, according to York. If members failed to pay, theoretically, some services could have been denied, although York said he can’t imagine the rabbi denying counseling to anyone in need.

The new voluntary system is endorsed by Meyer, York and the 20-person board of trustees.

“We’ve studied this extensively over the past year and half,” York said. Similar changes have been made at a score of Jewish temples across the country, including Temple Israel in Sharon on the South Shore.

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