Regarding Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer’s diatribe on three-day-a-year Jews, I was not sure whether he simply was commenting on the fact that most non-Orthodox synagogue members are three-dayers, or whether he was criticizing the three-dayers for being three-dayers. My guess is the latter.
If Rabbi Engelmayer could determine why most non-Orthodox synagogue members are three-dayers, why these members bolt for the exits as soon as the High Holiday sermons are finished, and why most Jews have no official affiliation, he will have gone a long way to understanding why the Conservative movement is moribund. It is less important to analyze what three-dayers get out of coming to shul three days a year and more important to appreciate the fact that they maintain an affiliation at all.
Before Rabbi Engelmayer criticizes the three-dayers, consider this: My guess is 95 percent of the average Conservative synagogue consists of three-dayers; 5 percent of the synagogue’s membership provides 95 percent of the synagogue’s financial support; and 95 percent of that 5 percent are three-dayers.
The rabbi is offended that three-dayers don’t participate in temple activities yet want a rabbi to be there when they “need” one. Anyone who pays his dues is entitled to the services of the synagogue’s rabbi 24/7 – and that is whether or not the member attends services regularly or just three days a year. Why, then, criticize those who give so much but ask for so little?
The rabbi also suggests that since three-dayers get nothing out of High Holiday services, they should ask the shul to give their HH tickets to others who will get something out of services. Who are these other people? Are they members of a shul? Do they pay anything to help maintain the shul? Remember the law of the half-shekel: Every member of the community pays the same amount to maintain the sanctuary; the rich pay no more and the poor pay no less. There are no free rides. Be thankful for the three-dayers for without them, your membership list will be anemic.
Yes, it would be nice if 200 to 300 people attended Shabbat services regularly. But for most non-Orthodox shuls, absent a wedding or other simcha, that kind of attendance is a pipe dream. Understanding why this is so, and figuring out what to do about it, is the conundrum. Bashing the three-dayers is unhelpful venting.
Rabbi Engelmayer responds: Most three-dayers are not synagogue members and do not contribute anything to a synagogue other than what they pay for a High Holy Days seat.
As for Mr. Rosenblith’s suggestion that the existence of three-dayers proves that there is something terribly wrong with non-Orthodox Judaism, perhaps he ought to wonder about what the existence of non-Orthodox Judaism has to say about Orthodox Judaism, or why there are far more Conservative and Reform Jews than there are Orthodox ones, just as all of us need to wonder why there are more unaffiliated Jews than affiliated ones. Maybe one reason for the unaffiliated problem is that we’re all too busy picking on each other to give any thought to working together for the betterment of the Jewish people.