Dear Rabbi,

Why does Judaism cost so much money? If I want a mezuzah for my doorpost, it’s $25. Candlesticks for Shabbat can cost hundreds of dollars. The list goes on and on.

For a Buddhist, religion is cheap. For a Christian, religion is cheap. Yes, some religions ask for donations, but you would still be considered religious if you didn’t have money.

In Judaism, being observant can be expensive!


That is a great question. There are some things that are free in Judaism—like the opportunity to send a question in to! But the truth is that besides for free advice, a comfortable seat in a Chabad synagogue and some other things, Judaism and being actively Jewish does come with a price tag.

There is actually a simple reason behind this phenomenon. And that is the fulfillment of G‑d’s desire. Why did G‑d create our world? Our Sages say it is because “He desired a dwelling place below.”1 Now, if the fulfillment of G‑d’s wishes would be relegated to meditating and being nice to others, we would never penetrate the physicality of the world to make the actual physical world a “dwelling place” for G‑d.

Judaism was not given to spiritual angels in the heavens; it was given to us so that it would become a part of the fabric of our lives, so that we would make our surroundings holy. Therefore its practice needs to be connected to physical objects, such as a mezuzah written on physical parchment, with physical ink, affixed on a physical doorpost.

While it does cost money to produce religious objects, there are great discounts available, and there are also people who assist those who cannot afford the purchase of these items.

There are those who specifically do not purchase religious items at discounted rates, or at least make an effort to pay something, even though they will have to work harder in order to pay for them. This is because they want to be able to serve G‑d in the best way possible. For example, a couple might forgo purchasing a new set of dishes and instead purchase the best possible mezuzah, written in beautiful handwriting and with a better ink.

The Most Beautiful

Our Sages teach that when it comes to G‑d’s commandments, we should do our utmost to do them in a beautiful way, i.e., the actual item that we are using to do the commandment should be the best and nicest one that a person can afford.

In the words of Maimonides:

Everything given for the sake of G‑d who is good should be of the most attractive and of the highest quality.

If one builds a house of prayer, it should be more attractive than his own dwelling. If he feeds a hungry person, he should feed him from the best and most tasty foods of his table. If he clothes one who is naked, he should clothe him with his most attractive garments.

If he consecrates something, he should consecrate the best of his possessions. As the verse states (Leviticus 3:16), “All of the superior quality should be given to G‑d.”2

So, the candles for Shabbat and holiday candle-lighting should be the nicest and brightest; the etrog citrus fruit that is used as a part of the Four Species set on the holiday of Sukkot should be beautiful; the wine we sanctify the Shabbat with should be a good wine.

However, this teaching of the Sages does not apply to all the accessories used for mitzvahs, the Jewish observances and traditions. You do not need to indulge in the most beautiful candlesticks or have the most beautiful mezuzah case in town or use the most expensive etrog holder.

In fact, these items are just supplements, accessories that beautify the external appearance of the mitzvah, but they are not the mitzvah itself. For this reason, the greatest Jewish leaders chose not to indulge in these accessories. They chose to beautify the mitzvah itself, rejoicing in it and extracting its essential lessons, making it a meaningful Jewish experience.

In the words of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendle Schneerson, of righteous memory:

It is expected… that [one] should be impressed by the essential character of the [mitzvah] without recourse to “artificial” makeup… it should not be adorned by external ornaments… [it] should more forcibly and directly impress upon the Jew the lessons it is meant to convey.3