Monday, February 26, 2018

Purim Piracy?

Purim, and the days preceding it, is a time when many institutions launch special fundraising efforts. I don't know that this is necessarily a bad thing, but in recent years I have had the uncomfortable feeling that this is a form of piracy. After all, it is not what the essential mitzva of Matanot L'Evyonim is all about. The mitzva is about helping the poor! Giving, and campaigning, for other causes, is taking money away from those who are supposed to be receiving it at this time.

I was pleased to discover that I am not the only person who thinks that way. Rabbi Gil Student pointed out that Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, in his Kovetz Halachos, states this explicitly (see picture). He says that although on Purim there is a law that one should give to whoever stretches out their hand, this does not apply to those collecting on behalf of institutions, because that is not Matanot L'Evyonim.

In previous years I have posted about our amazing local yeshivah, Lev HaTorah. Instead of sending out its students to collect for the yeshivah, as most yeshivos do, it sends its students out collecting for a local charity organization, Lemaan Achai. (And that charity organization is itself a special one; its focus is on taking people out of poverty by providing all the resources and assistance necessarily for them to become financially independent.) One hopes that others will follow the example set by Lev HaTorah.

Giving to yeshivos is not the mitzvah of Matanot L'Evyonim. It distracts funds from it. But is there anything innately wrong with it? Yaffed, an advocacy organization seeking to improve secular education in the ultra-Orthodox community in the US, is launching a campaign arguing that there might be, for certain yeshivos that do not provide secular education. The angle in their graphic (pictured here) is that providing a secular education is the law of the land, and Dina d'malchusa dina.

However, on their Facebook page, they present what I think is a much more powerful argument. They write that "Philanthropists have a moral responsibility to ensure their money doesn't enable depriving kids of an education and raising a generation of people who will not have the skills to earn a living and provide for their families." To put it another way: Matanot L'Evyonim is about alleviating poverty, not enabling it.

At a broader level, this raises what I find to be a troubling aspect about applying the maxim of Kol haposhet yad, notnim lo in today's world. For most of our history, being a "charity case" was regarded as a shameful thing, and a failure to succeed in applying Chazal's values. Nowadays, however, nishtaneh hateva. There has been a reversal of values, and many people see it as admirable rather than shameful to avoid working and getting an education that enables one to earn a living. Would Chazal have been encouraging of people giving out money blindly in such a milieu? One can only wonder.

21 comments:

  1. Rav Haber (of KSY, not the other Rabbi Haber) speaks of this when the topic comes up. Giving money to anyone who comes to your door may not be fulfilling the mitzvah of tzedakah, because the person may not be an ani. It's especially important if one is giving from their ma'aser funds.

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  2. Philanthropists have a moral responsibility to ensure their money doesn't enable depriving kids of an education and raising a generation of people who will not have the skills to earn a living and provide for their families.

    #METOO

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  3. It doesn't bother you that Yaffed has Eric Yoffie on their Advisory Board?

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    1. I did not know that. But what difference does that make to the point being made?

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    2. And you are certain that is the same Eric Yoffie? It didn't say "Rabbi Eric Yoffie"?

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    3. Looks like it is the same one. seems like reform rabbis are more sensible chaps than the Orthodox ones.

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    4. It is the same Yoffie. But doesn't make any difference to the point being made.

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    5. Of course it matters, because its obnoxious. The ad cites the halacha of Dina D'Malchusa Dina. Yoffe is a Reform Rabbi whose publicly stated ideology rejects the very concept of Halacha. He apparently thinks, like so many other secular Jews, that by citing Hebrew words he can fool the benighted orthodox Jews, who are apparently easily duped by such devices. (It's a close cousin to other trite recitations, like צדק צדק תרדוף or כל המציל נפש אחת וכו.) They can waste their time with these futile lobbies all they want. But don't insult the people you're trying to convince by cynical citations of concepts your own board doesnt believe in.

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    6. Further to the above - what would Eric Yoffie, or anyone on the "Board" of this "Organization" (ie, a website) think of a small group of white people in Iowa founding an organization devoted to telling tens of thousands of inner-city blacks in Detroit how to behave, and further seeking government intervention to force those blacks (who cant think for themselves, obviously) to do what the smarter folks in Iowa tell them is good for them? For sure they would agree, right???

      Its always the same thing. The hypocrisy of these people reek to high heaven.

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    7. Let the point be a point, but the messengers at Yaffed are just asking to be shot for lacking the basic brains and/or sincerity to dress in a way that won't scare off the Chassidim. Whoever can offer them sensitivity training should help them out.

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  4. Leman Achai should run some sort of Chinese auction. People may hate it and decry it and say its not necessary, but bottom line is they make great fundraisers, especially if its audited to make sure its all on the up and up.
    Also, they should spread their wings a bit and go after the more right wing crowd (in addition to the chardal/DL crowd)by advertising in the yeshivish press. Don't kid yourself, there are plenty of people in that world who aren't big fans of kollel and appreciate people who work to make a living. Sure they'd have to draft their ad copy carefully, but it can be done.

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  5. Someone who can claim that Dina Demalchusa Dina requires listening to the law regarding secular studies in Yeshivos is showing themselves up as seriously deficient in his halacha learning. The Rashba, shach, Tumim and many more strongly disagree and I have yet to find someone who agrees.

    And the idea that matanos laevyonim is supposed to alleviate poverty is a misunderstanding of the essence of Purim. The original matanos laevyonim was a small coin to increase the happiness of the poor man, not his bank account. Matanos laevyonim is not tzedoko, don't confuse them.

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    Replies
    1. Either way it's not meant for institutional fundraising.

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    2. The obligation of Yeshivos to teach secular studies is found elsewhere: קידושין כ"ט:א: תנו רבנן האב חייב לבנו...וללמדו אומנות

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  6. So are the charedi gedolim wrong by encouraging people to spend all day learning in a kollel instead of working. Whenever I say something about this to charedim I get the same harsh response. "You think you know better than gedolei yisrael?! You are mezalzel them..."

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    Replies
    1. Yes you do know better than "gedolei yisrael", who have been turned into false gods by their followers.

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  7. It is an odd little Teshuva. In his text he does say what you quote. But in the footnote he explains his reasoning as the necessity for the receiver to feel happiness, and this doesn't happen with Gabbaei Tzedakah.

    This logic wouldn't apply to schoolboys or Yeshiva boys collecting for their schools, as I'm sure they would feel Simcha!

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  8. There are many good points here, but the Haredi-bashing tone makes the whole post rather distasteful. Piracy? Are you serious? No one is threatening anyone or stealing their money.

    Yes, the Haredi community (especially in EY) has painted itself into a corner on the subject of secular education (for boys, mainly), but simply starving their institutions will not produce a solution, but is more likely to cause a societal collapse that will affect all Orthodox Jews. In addition, the scam of higher education in the secular world is starting to be recognized by more and more people. "Every young man (or woman) a Professor" makes no more sense than "Every young man a Gadol BaTorah". Maybe if Jewish society (MO no less than Haredi) started to show respect for all sorts of work, things would really improve.

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  9. The Purim costumes:

    . . . Is it OK if a Christian kid, for Halloween,
    . . . dresses up as an ultra-Orthodox rabbi ?

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    Replies
    1. https://www.jta.org/2018/03/02/news-opinion/effigies-idf-soldiers-strung-haredi-neighborhoods-jerusalem

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    2. OK from whose point of view?

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