Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Rationalist Tzedakah

You'd think that a mitzvah as basic as tzedakah, charity, would not have anything to do with the primary topics of this forum - rationalism vs. mysticism, and charedi vs. centrist Orthodoxy. But, at least in Ramat Bet Shemesh, it certainly does.

There are a number of different communal charity organizations in Ramat Bet Shemesh. Some organizations give hand-outs to the many local desperate kollel families which, while alleviating their current hardship, does nothing to change their long-term situation. This is presumably based on the mystical idea that such kollel study is valuable; perhaps even more so than financial self-sufficiency.

But one of them, Lemaan Achai, is the most extraordinary charity organization that I've seen, and has a different approach. Their motto is "smart chessed." When taking on a family, they first have a case worker assess every aspect of the family's situation. Then their goal is to practice charity according to Rambam's principles, whereby the highest level of charity is to rehabilitate the family such that they are independent.

"Smart chessed" also has ramifications for collecting donations. They focus less on shtick and more on what people really need. For example, collecting money to provide people with a Purim seudah made a lot of sense in an era where the basic requirement was food. But today, when the amount of money collected may well exceed the cost of providing Purim seudos, but there are utility bills and other problems to be solved, it makes more sense to spread donations more broadly. Lemaan Achai offers a "Smart Matanos L'Evyanim" program, whereby some of the donation is used to buy provisions for a Purim Seudah, and the rest is used for more important needs.

Lemaan Achai equally services all sectors of the local population - charedi, dati-leumi, secular, Ashkenazi, Sefardi, Israeli, Russian, French, Anglo. Its rabbinic board is also diverse, including dati-leumi as well as moderate charedi rabbanim.

Put together all the above factors, and you have the recipe for an organization which does incredible work - but you also have the recipe for an organization that, in Ramat Bet Shemesh, faces active opposition.

It's no secret that Ramat Bet Shemesh, for all its amazing qualities that make it a much sought-after place to live, suffers from a lot of divisiveness and zealotry from certain sectors of the population. This has spilled over to local charities. Despite the fact that Lemaan Achai helps many local charedi families, they are prohibited from making appeals in many local charedi shuls - often the same shuls which have families that they help! In some cases, Lemaan Achai fundraisers have been forcibly and physically prevented from entering local shuls. And when they put up banners and posters to fundraise, these are often ripped down. At a broader level, the struggle between Lemaan Achai and other organizations has become symbolic of the larger struggle to define the character of Ramat Bet Shemesh - as a town housing a diverse population, or as a charedi hegemony.

If you're looking for a good, smart cause for your charity shekels/dollars, please consider Lemaan Achai. You can find out more, and donate, via their website at www.SmartChesed.org.

39 comments:

  1. I just clicked on your link, and was surprised to see a picture of someone I know well, who made aliyah seven or eight years ago. I see he's now the financial counselor. He's a first class mensch. Your description was already compelling, seeing this individual part of it makes it doubly so.

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  2. Do you have a post anywhere on your archives explaining why the Rambam took tzadaka from his brother (before he died at sea) and was not financially independent?

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  3. He didn't take tzedakah from his brother. His brother invested Rambam's money on his behalf.

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  4. Thanks. Do you have a source for this? if i am not mistaken in the kook version of Rambams Letters it seems the diamonds and all the wealth that got drowned on that fateful journey actually belonged to his brother, and Rambam bemoans how his "brothers" wealth was lost. i dont remember reading the Rambam writing "our wealth"

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  5. I don't remember... maybe check Herbert Davidson's biography.

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    1. See "Rambam and Zevulun: Boz Yavuzu Lo" in Hakirah.

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    2. Great reference. Here it is:

      "The greatest tragedy that has befallen me… the death of the tzaddik, ztz”l, who drowned in the Indian Ocean, and with him much money, that which belonged to me, him, and others… and he was the son who was raised on my knee, and he was my brother, and my student, and he was the one who transacted the business in the marketplace while I sat securely, and in his studies he was quick in grasping the essence of an issue, and was acute in his deduction of language, and I had no happiness except when I saw him. Now all happiness has passed… I will follow my son to sheol. If not for the Torah which is my plaything, and matters of wisdom that make me forget my sadness, I would have been lost in my sorrow."

      רעה הגדולה שבאה עלי באחרונה, שהיא רעה מכל רעה שעברה עלי מיום היותי עד היום
      הזה, והיא פטירת הצדיק זצ"ל, שטבע בים הודו, ובידו ממון רב לי ולו ולאחרים...והוא היה
      הבן על ברכי גדל, והוא היה האח, והוא התלמיד, והוא שהיה נושא ונותן בשוק ומרויח ואני
      יושב לבטח, והבין בתלמוד במהרה, והבין בדקדוק הלשון יתר, ולא היתה לי שמחה אלא
      בראותו. ערבה כל שמחה, והלך לחיי עולם, והניחני נבהל בארץ נכריה. כל עת שאראה כתב
      ידו, או ספר מספריו, יהפך עלי לבי ויעורו יגוני. כללו של דבר כי ארד אל בני אבל שאולה.
      ולולי התורה היא שעשועי, ודברי החכמות שאשכח בהם יגוני, אז אבדתי בעניי...(איגרות
      (רכט 'עמ 'א כרך ,שילת רב בהוצאת ם"רמב.

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  6. I have been a resident of RBS for quite a while.
    There us definitely a campaign among certain factions to marginalize Lema'an Achai.
    Otherwise intelligent people arrive here and rather than making educated decisions they are instructed how and what to think including where to give Tzedaka.
    Couple this with rampant peer pressure in the Charedi world and this makes Lema'an Achai's job even more difficult.

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  7. Normally I'm a very big fan of yours. But I find it incredible that you write the following:
    "Collecting money to provide people with a Purim seudah made a lot of sense in an era where the basic requirement was food. But today, when paying utility bills and solving other problems is more fundamental to peoples' needs..."

    You think the problems are over of people having enough to eat in Israel? You haven't read about the numbers and the percentages of people who simply don't have enough to eat every day, let alone on Purim? And how many of those are children?!

    Please rethink this and rewrite it.

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  8. No, I didn't mean that. I meant that instead of getting 400 NIS for a seudah, it's better to get 200 NIS for a seudah and 200 NIS for other things!

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    1. I do not understand this reply, nor the thrust of the article.

      When someone receives matonot laevyonim on purim, like an envelope with 5000 shekels (I know this is common), he can spend it on what ever he wishes. No one is buying a 5000 shekel seuda! The ani receives cash, not food vouchers!

      What is achieved by with-holding some of that cash? The donors will get the mtzva of tzedaka, but only half the mitzva of matonot.

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    2. I am pretty sure that no local tzedakka organizations give all the money they raise for mattanos la'evyonim for the actual costs of the purim seudah. This past year, the Mishkenos Ya'akov kupa raised about 350,000 for mattanos la'evyonim, which also went to rehabilitate families. I am not discounting the work of Lema'an Achai, they do excellent work as well, but you are setting up a false contrast between what they do and what the other organizations do.

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  9. I guess I should rewrite it to make things clearer.

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  10. Do you know which tzedakah is missing from Rambam's eight categories?

    Giving to yeshivos!

    When charedi yeshivos that don't serve in the army come collecting, just tell them that you're willing to do something much more valuable for them than material hishtadlus. Tell them that you'll learn in their zechus!

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    Replies
    1. Good response. I wish more of us across the board would change the terms of the debate this way.

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    2. I don't recall the Rambam saying that it's a mitzvah to give money to Hesder Yeshivos either.

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    3. Interestingly enough, I've never had a hesder yeshiva ask me for money.

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    4. Then you were obviously never near one.

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  11. Wonderful post. Great time of year for it. Do you know if any women are involved in the decision making or, despite serving a diverse populations, is the organization still constrained to the ideas of menfolk?

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  12. Solomon,

    Lema'an Achai has been very proud to have women serving on the board as well as in top decision making positions from day one!

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  13. Well, we can't have people becoming financially independent, after all. It would utterly ruin the control that Haredi leadership holds over their people. [/sarcasm]

    But in all seriousness, it is really sad that a tzedaka organization is being blackballed for doing its job.

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  14. Do you have a post anywhere on your archives explaining why the Rambam took tzadaka from his brother (before he died at sea) and was not financially independent?

    Setting aside whether or not the Rambam's brother was investing on his behalf, if every family raised some brothers as wage earners while others were supported both those brothers, then we wouldn't have the same poverty issues. Especially if the supported brother was educated to be a physician so that he could then support his sister-in-law and niece in as of a tragedy.

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    Replies
    1. What? No one wanted to marry into the family of a 'godol'?

      That's why you never heard of it. Its not in the artscroll bio

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  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  16. any similar approaches on a national basis either in Israel or US
    KVCT
    The eternal nation does not fear the long road

    "עם הנצח לא מפחד מדרך ארוכה"

    Joel Rich

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  17. I think it is irrelevant as to whether the RAMBAM was supported directly by his brother or whether his brother was merely his business partner or representative. If his brother did directly give him money, that was a family decision. The real point is that the RAMBAM did not expect the Jewish community at large to support him.

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    1. But did they patronize him as a doctor?

      (Whatever he was doing for the king obviously wasn't a full salary.)

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  18. Excellent post - I just wanted to point out that the Tzedaka organizations in Kiryat Sefer also require any serious cases to meet with a case worker to help them stabilize their finances. I made use of their services quite a few years ago and they are very professional - so this clearly isn't a simple Charedi/non-Charedi issue.

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  19. What are some of those "amazing qualities" that make Ramat Bet Shemesh "a much sought-after place to live"? I only hear of the ugly fighting among Jews of Ramat Bet Shemesh.

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    Replies
    1. Bet Shemesh is a big city. Why *Ramat* Bet Shemesh?

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  20. I would probably respond positively to Lema'an Achai if it was described by Natan Slifkin on its own merits. But instead it is presented in the appeal as an anti-chareidi, anti-kolel, anti-yeshivah choice in tzedakos and only after that, almost as an afterthought, came the description of what they actually do. By that time, I was no longer interested.

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    1. Realistically, Shmuel, you weren't going to give anyway.

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    2. Actually, it was described as just the opposite. Lema'an Achai was described (including the fact that it serves the entire Jewish community of RBS) and then it was noted that the Chareidim are anti-Lema'an Achai.

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    3. I agree with Shmuel. Helping people properly is just a mitzvah deoraita that should be ignored if I don't like the way Natan Slifkin describes a charity.

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  21. OK, I'm slow on the uptake about alot of things, but I gotta ask. Why would anyone object to Lema'an Achai & why is it getting such a hard time from some folks? Anyone?

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  22. I would argue that the only way to end the madness is for all MO/DL to agree not to donate to anyone who doesn't send his kids to a place that they could get a diploma. Make every meshulach sign a document demanding that. That's it. The end of the cruel poverty cycle.

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  23. Here's another one deserving of attention

    I missed my flight to rebbe nachman
    http://www.gofundme.com/5m3zzspw

    RM

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