Latest update: January 15th, 2015
“Response: This question was posed to the late chief rabbi of Jerusalem, HaRav HaGaon R. Shmuel Salant who ruled as follows: In general, synagogues are not financially sustained by worshippers who only utilize the synagogue during the week. Rather, financial support derives from those who worship in synagogues on Shabbat and holidays. Accordingly, priority in leading services should be granted to the person who attends synagogue on Shabbat and Yom Tov (see Torat Rabbeinu Shmuel Salant, Volume 1, Siman 17, Hilchot Beit Haknesset, Number 5).
This ruling, which grants priority to a contributor, suggests that a dues-paying member of a shul has priority over a non-member who does not contribute funds for the upkeep of the synagogue. However, if the non-member also generally contributes financially to sustain the shul, the member would not have priority over the non-member.
“I suggest an alternate clear-cut halachic guideline, namely, that a member should always have priority over a non-member – just as the halacha is that the poor of one’s city has priority over the poor of another city (Tur, Yoreh Deah 251). Since each synagogue is deemed an independent kehilla, honors or privileges should always be extended to members before non-members.
“This principle is basically an inherent benefit of membership, and non-members should recognize that when it comes to synagogue honors, members have priority.”
When someone is motivated enough to join a synagogue as a dues-paying member, he should be encouraged to join in all synagogue functions, no matter his overall level of observance. Accordingly, all things being equal, when a Sabbath desecrator has yahrzeit, he should receive priority in leading services, just like the next member. Perhaps this acceptance and encouragement will motivate him to grow in his observance of Torah and mitzvot.
About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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