I love perusing the Google searches that bring people to my blog, because it tells me what people want to know. Today someone typed, “How much to tip the rabbi.” I’m going to expand that a bit, to include the various ways rabbis are paid for their work.
– If you are a member of a congregation with a full time rabbi, the rabbi’s salary is part of the congregational budget.
– If you are using the services of a rabbi who is employed by a congregation and you are not a member, you may be asked to pay the synagogue for his or her time. That “honorarium” or fee will be mentioned when you set up the service (say, a funeral.)
– If you wish to express your thanks, you can always contribute to the rabbi’s discretionary fund. That money is set aside for charitable purposes (not the rabbi’s car payment). Your rabbi will use it to relieve immediate suffering (for instance, by purchasing “gift cards” to a grocery store for a hungry person) or to support the work of a nonprofit organization.
– Freelance or community rabbis (those not employed by congregations) may or may not perform weddings, baby namings, etc. The way to find out is to ask. Generally they have a set fee for these things, but the exact rate will depend on local custom.
– It is a Jewish tradition to give tzedakah [a charitable contribution] to celebrate happy occasions, to memorialize the dead, and at holidays. That money might go to a rabbi’s discretionary fund, or to a synagogue fund, or to a nonprofit that serves the needy.
– No respectable rabbi charges for conversion to Judaism. There may be a charge to take an “Intro” class, or to use the community mikveh, but conversion itself is not for sale. If someone quotes you a fee “for conversion” it’s time to look for a different rabbi.
– It is not rude or crass to ask up front about fees. If you cannot afford the fee as quoted, say so. The rabbi may be able to help you access assistance for low-income individuals, especially for a funeral.
This information is geared for the United States. However, the last point holds true everywhere: as Hillel said, the shy will not learn. Ask questions!