The United Synagogue has been accused of rejecting membership applications for affiliated shuls on geographical grounds.
Ruislip Synagogue in Middlesex and Romford Synagogue in Essex say they have had applications vetoed because the US has begun enforcing a regulation that members are supposed to live within a mile-and-a-quarter of their local synagogue.
Martin Taffel, senior warden of Ruislip — which like Romford is an affiliate rather than full constituent of the US – believed that the US move was “a way of putting pressure on us. They want to do away with affiliated synagogues and make them full members”. The US had “said the problem would go if we became full members”, he claimed.
But a US spokesman explained that constituent synagogues had asked it to act to stop affiliates luring members with cheaper fees.
Membership subscriptions for Romford and Ruislip are around £300 a year — half that of many constituent congregations. Martin Feuer, treasurer of Ruislip which has 330 members, said that eight people had been denied membership over the past 10 months after the US invoked the mile-and-a-quarter rule. “A couple with two children were refused, so they joined a Progressive shul,” he said.
Harvey Dryer, chairman of Romford, which has 300 members, said that two or three applications had been rejected. But he added: “There are more in the pipeline. We’ve got a lady who’s applied from Chigwell. She is not a member of a shul but she wants to come because her sister is a member of our shul. We’ve got members all over London.”
The mile-and-a-quarter rule had not been taken seriously at one time, Mr Taffel said: “It crops up when you have a new team at the US. After a while they become more sensible.”
But a US spokesman said the rule applies only to affiilated synagogues and had been introduced in 1955 to protect constituent shuls. Affilitiated shuls do not pay the annual contribution towards US central services such as education, and can therefore charge lower subscriptions. It would be “unfair” to allow affiliated synagogues to attract members away from constituent congregations by offering “cut-price rates,” he said, and “constituent shuls have urged the US to deal with this matter”.
But he added: “The US would love Ruislip to become a constituent member and it would help them in a membership drive.”
Romford is unhappy over a second matter. “Our shul was bought by members and given to the US, who hold it in trust,” Mr Dryer said. “They were meant to give us a lease every 25 years for 5p a year but we’ve never had that lease.”