It's just another way the Chabad movement is getting under the skin of the Jewish establishment across North America. A U.S. expert says it's the fastest growing movement in modern Judaism, and in some communities, it is reordering daily life.
Among American Jews, annual membership fees and tickets to high holy days services are nothing new. Some charge about $1,000 for a family membership, which covers Holy Days services. Other synagogues charge $100 or more for a single ticket to the service, and $250 and up for a family. Some charge more for seats closer to the front.
The rationale is that synagogues must pay for buildings and staff, and cover high holy days security, usually $10,000 or more at each temple.
No synagogue would turn away someone who could not afford the service but Chabad has a different approach. It bends over backwards to make temple fun, friendly and ... usually free. It targets Jews who may have drifted away from their faith, or students who are far from home and distracted by worldly pleasures on campus.Chabad is hip, too, enlisting Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm for an advertisement on YouTube. (Mr. David is shown buying Yom Kippur tickets from a scalper.)
Rabbi Boyarsky of Ottawa had 75 students for Rosh Hashanah, and is expecting 140 for Yom Kippur tonight.
There are four Chabad centres in Ottawa and some of them will charge what Rabbi Botnick says is a "token amount," that doesn't cover the costs but prevents people from taking the service for granted. "If you give something or free, people think less of it."
Chabad of Centrepointe is charging $100 to $250 for reserved seating, but says on its website that "nobody will be turned away for lack of money."
Rabbi Bulka is skeptical. As soon as they need some infrastructure for their activities, they come running to the congregations who've been paying into it for years. "There's some sponging going on."
Professor Jonathan Sarna, an expert on American Judaism, said that everyone has an obligation to support the temple. "Therefore, there is a great deal of unhappiness with freeloaders. But Chabad has a different model."
It maintains that people will give even more out of a sense of personal indebtedness if they aren't charged.
Some businessmen believe the Chabadniks, since they operate so frugally, are just a better investment on the donor's dollar. But Mr. Sarna says nobody fully understands where their money comes from.
The Chabad movement may be unsettling, but that's likely due to its success.
"This is the fastest growing movement since World War II.
It is an unparalleled success story, and other movements are a little suspicious of it, especially as it's mission driven."
They often revivify moribund communities that nobody else wants to take on.
And their rabbis are appointed for life to one community, so they must make of it what they will. Because those spiritual leaders stay, they often become the most senior rabbi relatively quickly.
Mr. Sarna is not surprised that they can rub the rest of the Jewish community the wrong way.
"It does its own thing, it doesn't listen to federations and it works on its own model. It's not a team player."
"The worst of it, from the point of view of the mainline, is that it seems to be working beyond all expectations."