Menu JTA Search

{span}###h{/span} Holidays Form a Rich Soil {span}###{/span} Mushroom Synagogue Evil

has been acclaimed in Odessa, Moscow, Jerusalem as the greatest singer of all time!”

The “mushroom synagogue” promoters stage the religious services as Barnum would do it, and with the same slogan on their lips—there’s a sucker born every minute.

“The child prodigy” is a favorite stunt of the mush roomers. Engaging for a negligible amount some child who is able to go through the liturgy, the avaricious promoters boost his name to the sky as a great child cantor.

PRICE IS THE BAIT

The mails are flooded with leaflets bearing appeals to every Jew whose name happens to be listed in the telephone directory. “Come to our synagogue for the holidays and offer homage to God—at specially reduced prices.”

To save postage the promoters send children through Jewish residential sections, stuffing mailboxes with circulars to the annoyance of post office officials, who yearly carry on a futile campaign against this practice.

Some newspapers directly abet these racketeers by indiscriminately accepting their advertisements.

When the holidays come, the Orthodox Jews who have been “thrifty” and have bought tickets to the synagogues in the draughty store or the run-down picture house go forth to the services.

There they find the cantor yawning intermittently as he monotonously drawls through his routine. Some of the less careful worshippers are smoking in the wash room. An air of listlessness prevails which lends to the services an appearance of mock prayer.

In the stores the seats are rickety wooden benches. In many the odors of the merchandise with which they were previously stocked pervade the “worship.”

This is the mushroom “sin-and-gouge.”

WHAT IS THE ANSWER?

Well, asks the Orthodox Jew, what’s to do about it? How can the stranger within our gates distinguish between the mushroom and the reputable synagogue when he buys tickets? How about the poor man who cannot afford anything better?

Before the World War there existed in New York City the Jewish Community. This centralized Jewish council, headed by Judah Magnes, published in 1911 a directory of synagogues which listed every worthy religious institution. The volume was known as the Jewish Communal Directory. In 1918 an augmented and modernized volume, the Jewish Communal Register, was published.

The organization and the directory are no longer in existence. An attempt is being made by the Jewish Council of Greater New York, headed by Bernard G. Richards, to revive the idea.

It is hoped that if the attempt is successful, one of the first projects of the Council will be a modernized directory of synagogues listed according to boroughs and sections so that a person wishing to attend holiday services may select a reputable congregation in his neighborhood.

The problem of prices has sorely vexed Jewish leaders. Mr. Richards yesterday told this reporter that negotiations are being carried on with synagogues to allot a certain number of seats at no or at a very low cost, so that the poor may worship.

FREE SERVICES IN BRONX

In the Bronx, the Bronx Civic League last year conducted free services for the poor in a public auditorium.

Complaints have been made that there are not enough seats in permanent synagogues to hold all the High Holy Day worshippers. To meet the contingency the Jewish Council is planning to open provisional synagogues in auditoriums. Proceeds of ticket sales will go to worthy charity, Mr. Richards said.

A great victory against mushroom synagogues was won last June when Senator Lazarus Joseph’s “Frauds on Religious Institutions Law” passed the New York State Legislature.

The following amendment was inserted in the Penal Code:

“A person who, in the promotion of his own interests or to receive pecuniary benefit, gain or profit for himself or any other person, firm or corporation other than a religious association or corporation sells or offers to sell for admittance to or participation in services purporting to be in accordance with the precepts of any recognized religious creed or faith or makes any fraudulent representation as to the nature of the services to be conducted at any place designated or intended to be a house of worship or as to the manner in which such services are to be conducted thereat or as to the facilities for worship therein or as to the number and qualifications of the persons engaged to conduct such services is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

LEAVES LOOPHOLES

While this law has gone far to eradicate the mushroom synagogues, the haste with which it was drafted engendered loopholes.

Promoters of these illegitimate synagogues can evade prosecution by incorporating their establishments, it has been pointed out.

A “Iegitimate” place of worship may be formed by any seven men who incorporate and open a synagogue. Furthermore the same seven men may incorporate an indefinite number of synagogues in various places.

The Jewish Council of Greater New York has urged the setting up of an authority to pass upon the fitness of a congregation before it is granted a charter.

NEXT STORY