What does Rabbi Aviad Bodner, leader of Manhattan’s historic Stanton Street Shul, which seats 400, have in common with televangelist mega-preachers whose sermons reach millions of people around the world?
All get a tax break on their housing costs — despite the fact that Bodner rents a two-bedroom in Manhattan’s East Village with his wife and children, and some televangelists enjoy multiple homes worth millions of dollars.
That’s because they, like other faith leaders, can take advantage of Section 107 of the United States tax code: the parsonage exemption. It’s helped ease the budgeting woes of rabbis around the country for over six decades.
“Many synagogue rabbis in Manhattan work several jobs just to make it happen. Every dollar counts,” said Bodner.
But the parsonage exemption is in jeopardy. Last year, a court ruled that it’s unconstitutional, and breaches the separation of church and state. Now a federal appeals court is set to decide in early 2019 whether that’s the case. Rabbis and synagogues say the exemption is how they make ends meet, and that getting rid of it could mean lower salaries for clergy in Jewish communities of every denomination.