Is Judaism Free?

Tuesday, 10 September, 2013 - 1:26 pm


Is Judaism Free?

Mordechai Z. Hecht


Someone asked me this week,”Rabbi, maybe if you want more Jews to come to Shul you should make it free”?!

In attempt to answer this question I must make an introduction and mention a different question and answer.

May a Rabbi answer a Question which the answer may be the difference between him getting the funds necessary to pay his own bills or not getting the money to pay his own bills. Hence perhaps answering a question biosly? Ultimately this question you will have to answer.

But then again, you are bias too, because you giving money could be the difference between you paying your bills or not as well. So perhaps for this conversation we will have to call it even – fair n’ square. On this note I will attempt to answer this question.

At first when you ask such a question or see it in print – it catches your eye. And you think what a good question. No, what a great question! Because, it’s true! Didn’t G-d give the Torah in the dessert to show that it was in fact - Free for all! I mean do you think G-d charged for seats at Sinai?!

When the Jewish people were granted land in Israel – Tribe by Tribe – did they have to pay for it.

Or turning back, did G-d ask for moving fees or relocation fees when the Jews left Egypt, transportation fees, security fees, laundry fees, food fees. Did he charge them when he gave them Manna from Heaven?! We find no such documentation in the Torah.


A friend of mine, a community member, this week emails me the following:

Rabbi Hecht,  there is a website called which has become very popular with trendy young Jews in New York.  They just published a list of places where one can go to holiday services for free.  They did not mention Chabad, presumably because they are ignorant of Chabad.  So I took the liberty of writing the following to them... Regarding the free High Holiday services listings please be aware that all Chabad Lubavitch services are free.  Obviously, they prefer for someone to chip in if they can, but no Jew is ever turned away from Chabad.

But ofcourse I emailed him back and thanked him for the Free PR promotion he has hosted for us on this very trendy website with young people.

Which, really got me thinking. Young people, what do young people do with their money? The answer quite simple: fun, Movies, dates, phones, gadgets, eating out, travel, spring break perhaps, bars, clubbing etc. Which got me further thinking are those things free - and they only give a person temporal and limited return in this world…yet young people the world over don’t walk into bars Saturday night and ask for ”free” beer. Sure everyone will take a advantage of a happy hour from time to time, but free?!

Let’s take a moment to think about some of what comes free in life.

Let’s start with banks, open a free checking account and get a free duffel bag, one you will never end up using. And ofourse it’s only a few weeks later you have insufficient funds and wham - a 35 dollar fee.

Credit Cards, open a credit card and get first year free. Then if your one month late wham 28 – 32%  on top of the late fee is now part of your monthly bill.

Take the Free Public Library, you get a card, no cost, all’s well, however return a book late, wham! Fee’s! Collection notices, you name it, the library has got you squammed from every angle for one measly book you forgot to turn. You could’ve bought 4 of them by the time you finish with the late fees.

I’m not saying there aren’t really free things in the world. Take soup kitchen or Homeless shelters, charity organizations, coat drives and genuine places of kindness, but is that where you want to be if your not poor?!

Think about all the things that cost money. Good schools. Comfortable Taxi Rides and transporation . Good restaraunts. Air Flight with snacks and meals and all the drinks you can ask for until the flight attendant loses her patience.

There is an ancient adage that says ”Lefum Tzarah Agra” – no pain no gain”.

There is a further adage which is less famous that says, “Adam Rotseh B’Kav Sheloi, Yoser M’Tisha Kavin Shel Chaveroi” – A Human prefers one part he can call his own more than nine parts which belongs to someone else”. It’s natural for a person to pay for something and call it his own. You name it, home ownership, car ownership, books, seats on a plane or seats in a special place to do his or her thing respectfully.

So, I thought about it. Does Chabad really give free seats for the High Holiday Days?! Sure Chabad turns no one away, ever! But is it free? I – We - don’t want to be a cheap freebie. I want to be something people consider important and worth paying for. Free can be cheap -real things in life cost.

Ever get one of those free gifts in a breakfast cereal box, it wasn’t free, you bought the cereal don’t forget that.

Every buy a suite and get one free, that too you’re paying for it.

Even the key chain from a pair of sneakers - free with purchase – it wasn’t free – you paid for it.

Ever get one month’s free rent when you signed a year’s rental lease – that wasn’t free either - you paid for it, it was just discounted.

Judaism is all about acquisition. When one gives Tzedaka he acquires a share, a partnership in that good deed or organization. One is not losing anything, on the contrary he’s gaining in this world helping others, and in the next, when his or her soul is Judged for active participation and love, commitment and devotion to their life’s mission, in this world.

Didn’t mom always say, ”what’s free now, you pay for later”. (Young people really know about this with student loans). Hey, and don’t we believe that we are Judged for everything on Rosh Hashanah - written for in the Good Book - and then sealed for on Yom Kippur. When we look for “Free” are we underestimating G-d’s abilities to give us “everything” we need?! Unless you think the freebies are G-d’s ways of saying Hi – then you may have some thing there, maybe, maybe not.

It reminds me once, when I was driving over the Triboro Brdige to NYC /Bronx and a quick not so humorous but experimental thought came through my head…”The Toll was $7, when I reached the booth I asked the teller-officer if he could do it for $6? At first he was stunned, and then I smiled and said again, “come on, hook a fellow New Yorker up” – he laughed – in all his years he never had someone do that, because it was a given, it’s a norm, a toll is a toll, a price to cross a bridge to move forward in life.

We live in a discount, 99 cent, bargain basement, Ebay, Amazon, use, resell, use resell, knockoff, competition is better for the consumer environment- everyone trying to make a sale, Shuk bargain world. And essentially that’s fine – but it’s not free. Electric is not free, Gas is not free, cable TV – very important but ofcourse is not free - life is not free, it costs and we need to pay the toll.

Every doctor will tell you, a medicine company can’t sell you a vitamin today if they don’t give you the first 30 days supply - free. A Doctor can’t go by a day without being pushed by a medical company to push there medicine and so gives them boxes of samples, Free.  

Tell me when you get married do you do it for free also?! When you work do you work for free?! When you value something truly in life - you pay for it with mind, body and soul, obviously some more and some less – the more important things with more but ofcourse.

Back to the point, although this is all true, in fact until the Jews moved into the Holy Land they were living off the Kindness and beneficence of G-d almighty, sadly, the reality on the ground is however, that ever since we entered the land of Israel and the Manna stopped falling from Heaven,we were required to work the land and earn our living. The Talmud calls this “Nahma Dechsufah” – bread of shame – it is in inherent in every human being to want to pay for something and feel human and good about their acquisition and that which is theirs.


If you’re a child, or a student living on the bank of your parents, or one who is simply down on their luck, in a situation where you really really can’t afford it, now that’s a whole other story.

So join us for Services at Chabad – free or not free – make it your own – acquire it and take it personal, for Judaism is the farthest thing from cheap.

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