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Pennies for Heaven
The History of American Synagogues and Money
Daniel Judson

Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life

2018 • 256 pp. 6 x 9"
Jewish History / Jewish Studies / Sociology of Religion

$35.00 Paperback, 978-1-5126-0275-3
$95.00 Hardcover, 978-1-5126-0274-6

$34.99 Ebook, 978-1-5126-0276-0

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

(Hardcover is un-jacketed.
Cover illustration is for paperback edition only)

“This is a thoughtful contribution to American economic and religious history that draws on original archival research to shed light on a little-studied aspect of American Jewish history.”—Publishers Weekly

The first book-length treatment of how synagogues are financed in the United States

In the annals of American Jewish history, synagogue financial records have been largely overlooked. But as Daniel Judson shows in his examination of synagogue ledgers from 1728 to the present, these records provide an array of new insights into the development of American synagogues and the values of the Jews who worshipped in them. Looking at the history of American synagogues through an economic lens, Judson examines how synagogues raised funds, financed buildings, and paid clergy. By “following the money,” he reveals the priorities of the Jewish community at a given time.

Throughout the book, Judson traces the history of capital campaigns and expenditures for buildings. He also explores synagogue competition and debates over previously sold seats, what to do about wealthy widows, the breaking down of gender norms, the hazan “bubble” (which saw dozens of overpaid cantors come to the United States from Europe), the successful move to outlaw “mushroom synagogues,” and the nascent synagogue-sharing economy of the twenty-first century. Judson shows as well the ongoing relationship of synagogue and church financing as well as the ways in which the American embrace of the free market in all things meant that the basic rules of supply and demand ultimately prevailed in the religious as well as the commercial realm.

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements

“Though Judson is a masterful storyteller who can make long-ago synagogue presidents come alive, he is perhaps most impressive when showing how synagogue finances parallel trends and movements in the American Jewish story.”—Jewish Book Council

“Synagogue financing has hitherto rarely been studied, and never in this depth. Judson demonstrates just how much scholars have missed. By following the money, he reveals a tremendous amount about the relationship of the American Jewish community to classical Jewish ideologies and structures and to American religious values and practices. . . . Highly recommended.”


“Judson has a superb sense for when to let the financial figures speak and when to let the people speak, with their anxieties, assumptions, joys, and hopes. He casts a whole new light on American Jewish religious history.”—James Hudnut-Beumler, Vanderbilt Divinity School

Pennies for Heaven will capture the attention of Jewish and other American religious leaders and laypeople searching for guidance in their quests to support religious institutions today. This is a book to be savored and discussed!”—David Ellenson, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University

“Judson reveals a rich history that brims with stunning insights, making this book a must-read for anyone who cares about shaping a vibrant Jewish future.”—Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president, Union for Reform Judaism

Judson demonstrates not only the mechanisms used to fund synagogues but also what they reveal about American Jewish culture. A fascinating exploration of the complex junctures between American Judaism and the market.”—Beth Wenger, University of Pennsylvania

RABBI DANIEL JUDSON is the associate dean, and a lecturer in Jewish history, at the Hebrew College Rabbinical School. He has written extensively on new trends in contemporary synagogue finances, and his research has been featured in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Haaretz, and the New York Jewish Week.

Thu, 14 Mar 2019 13:08:31 -0500