Monday, March 18, 2019

What Is Purim Charity?

"And Mordecai wrote these things, and sent letters to all the Jews... that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor."
"One is obligated to give to poor people on the day of Purim... And one should not be particular about Purim money, rather give to every person who puts out his hand..." (Rambam, Mishneh Torah)

Purim is a season for Tzedakah. In the past few days I have given to a certain charity (more about that one soon), but I have also turned down some requests.

The first category of requests that I turned down was for institutions. Now it happens to be that all the institutions that approached me were institutions with which I have a deep ideological disagreement (i.e. chareidi yeshivos and kollels). Still, even if it would have been institutions that I admire, I would not have given. Goodness knows I have my own institution which I believe to be an extremely worthy cause, with enormous costs to cover, and yet we do not take advantage of the "giving spirit" at this time to do so. Because Purim is a time to give to the poor, not to institutions.

Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, in his Kovetz Halachos, states this explicitly. 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 the past I've pointed out how there are some amazing dati-leumi yeshivot that take advantage of the Purim giving spirit in order to teach their students a lesson about helping the poor. Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in Ramat Beit Shemesh and Yeshivat Ashreinu in Beit Shemesh both send their students collecting, not for themselves, but for others - for charities that help truly poor people. Fabulous!

This year I was also approached by a very, very good-hearted and utterly selfless person, who wants to help kollel families in dire straits. And he wants to do so in a way that is dignified - not as a shameful handout, but rather offering them the opportunity to learn for a few hours on Purim and receive a generous stipend.

I couldn't agree that this was a good cause. It's clear from Chazal and the Rishonim that the notion of choosing to live off charity rather than working is wrong (not to mention raising one's children without the education and values to work). It's also catastrophic for Israel.

The person agreed with me that they should be working (although we disagreed strongly about whether they are benefiting society at all by learning Torah). But, he argued, given that their poverty is a reality, are we supposed to just abandon these people to suffer?

I wasn't sure how to answer that, and I had to consult with a friend who works in the field. He pointed out that if it's a matter of actually having food to eat, there are organizations which provide that. Anything beyond that should only be given in a framework that addresses the underlying problem, not perpetuates it.

To this I would add that the notion of giving money in the form of a stipend for learning so as to help them in a dignified way makes it all even worse. Financial assistance to those who choose not to work should be given in a framework that makes it clear that this is a bad choice - not dressed up as a stipend for doing something good.

My preference is to support the poor via a wonderful local organization called Lemaan Achai. They help families in a way that gets them to financial independence. Furthermore, for Purim, they practice Smart Chesed - giving them what they actually need in terms of long-term assistance, rather than just money for a Purim Seudah. It's a fabulous tzedakah organization that should serve as a model for others.

(One final note. Whenever you're approached by a "tzedakah" collector that doesn't seem to be a legitimate cause, you can always question yourself as to whether the reason that you are refusing to give is out of stinginess rather than a legitimate disagreement. Perhaps the solution is that after declining such requests, one should immediately set aside money for a legitimate cause.)

40 comments:

  1. I truly don't get why learners in kollel are asking for Tzedakah. Pirkei Avot 6:4 teaches basic Kollel Judaism 101 :
    כַּךְ הִיא דַּרְכָּהּ שֶׁל תּוֹרָה, פַּת בְּמֶלַח תֹּאכַל, וּמַיִם בִּמְשׂוּרָה תִשְׁתֶּה, וְעַל הָאָרֶץ תִּישַׁן, וְחַיֵּי צַעַר תִּחְיֶה, וּבַתּוֹרָה אַתָּה עָמֵל
    I think people who are davka not giving tzedaka to these individuals are in turn enhancing these people's ability to be "ameil b'Torah" and live the "darchah shel Torah" in the most genuine and authentic way possible.

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    1. Making fun of poor people who live off of tzedakah in such a snide way is the antithesis of basic Jewish מידות. You should be ashamed of yourself.

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    2. Pretty judgmental of you to call them poor when Pirkei Avos 4:1 says that as long as you're "sameyach b'chelko" you are an "ashir". Both of these mishnayos, by the way, quote the pasuk "ashrecha v'tov lach"

      You're right. I was snide. I don't deny it and I should have been more careful with my tone. Nevertheless, I am not making fun of all poor people, but of poor people who rely on other people's money instead of getting a job. Indeed, there should be a handful of people learning full time and they should be rightfully supported by the community, but it should not be a global hashkafic phenomenon.

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    3. You are missing a question mark - this is the proper way to translate and punctuate that Rambam:

      [Is this] the way of Torah? To eat only bread and drink water, sit on the floor and have a life full of hardship?

      see what a difference punctuation can make :)

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    4. Ashamed? There's a difference between being poor and being a schnorrer on purpose.

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    5. Pirkei Avos isn't saying that you're supposed to reduce a person to live at a subsistence level in order to study Torah. It's saying that, even if you are impoverished, it doesn't exempt you from the obligation to learn Torah (that's Rashi's explanation).
      There are still three situations where Rabbi Slifkin's critique doesn't hold (maybe there are others):
      1) Kollel students who learn with בעלי בתים in the evenings. I don't know if there's a kollel in Boston, MA now, but there was when I lived there in the early '90s. They regularly had shiurim and chevrusas with the working folk there.
      2) Giving a monthly exam, where good grades on the exam earn an extra bonus. That's the system used by מפעל הש"ס.
      3)Supporting exceptional students so that they're able to devote their lives to mastering Torah. Admittedly, a situation where a large portion of the population devotes their lives to learning Torah, to their mid-30s, is a strain on the community's funds. But exceptions should be made for gifted students, no different than granting scholarships to gifted university students.

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    6. (that these Rabbis are teaching torah and good middos, and are paskening halacha for the masses, acting as role models etc.)

      You have a different definition of Kollel students than me, that's for sure.

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    7. @Yehuda

      I agree with you fully on your opening remark about how to interpret that mishna properly. Shkoyach! That's how I've always made sense of it and baruch sh'kevanti if Rashi says it as well. I think you can possibly make a diyuk that the first 4 injunctions ( תֹּאכַל, תִשְׁתֶּה, תִּישַׁן, תִּחְיֶה) differ from the injunction related to the Torah part (עָמֵל without a "taf").
      I was using that Mishna in jest (or snidely, as MO put it) to convey a point.

      I also agree with scenarios #1 and #3 where RNS's article doesn't apply. I didn't quite understand why #2 should be an exception.

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    8. Michael SedleyMarch 19, 2019 at 11:06 AM
      You are missing a question mark - this is the proper way to translate and punctuate that Rambam:

      [Is this] the way of Torah? To eat only bread and drink water, sit on the floor and have a life full of hardship?

      see what a difference punctuation can make :)



      ----

      According to one version, R Meir Shapiro said that whole Peshat when collecting for his Yeshiva. At the time yeshiva students were becoming seen as second class, so he built a beautiful building and set up various other dignities for them. Being Chassidic, the line between Peshat and Derash were quite blurred, both for himself and the people he was appealing to. This remains a challenge for enlisting the youth to Torah. Whatever percentage of them aren't willing to walk that walk so they have to made comfortable. Perhaps the authorities who say that Avos is never "halacha" are relied on.

      According to another version, he said that Avos isn't making a recommendation but rather describing the situation which shouldn't be. As in "Alas, this is the way...". This again relies on Chassidic interpretation.

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  2. The chofetz chaim in ahavat chesed chapter twenty seems to disagree with your dim view of supporting Torah scholars.

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    1. The same motivation that brings politicians to vote in favor of pay rises for parliamentarians (regardless of the financial situation the country is facing) applies here. There are very few exceptions, and my guess would be that the exceptional ones have alternative sources of income.

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    2. The chofetz chaim made his money from his grocery store.
      No need to ascribe selfish motives where there are none.
      Maybe the reason the vast majority of Torah educated opinion disagrees with th this idea is because they actually know something about Torah than the average guy who reads a rishon.
      It takes a certain kind on “confidence” to ignore the vast majority opinion last 600 years of Torah development.

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    3. Not everyone who sits in Kollel is a Torah scholar.

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  3. You write: (although we disagreed strongly about whether they are benefiting society at all by learning Torah)

    You didn't spell out which one of you is of the position that they do not benefit society at all, but whoever believes that is guilty of saying מאי אהני לן רבנן - for not believing that Torah study benefits and sustains the world.

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    1. It was me. But you are making the common mistake of confusing references to Rabbis with Torah study. Rabbis benefit society. People in kollel do not.

      (And in fact the specific dispute was about whether they provide protection for the IDF)

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    2. The Gemara specifically mentions the Torah study of Rabbis. I don't see how you can differentiate between Torah study of Rabbis or Torah study of people in Kollel. It's the same Torah study.

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    3. The full quote is "מאי אהנו לן רבנן לדידהו קרו לדידהו שנו".

      Now, RDNS, surely someone who denies the obvious facts that everyone can see (that these Rabbis are teaching torah and good middos, and are paskening halacha for the masses, acting as role models etc.) is not an epikoros but simply an idiot. Insisting that the sky is green does not make one an epikoros.

      Surely you must admit that the chareidi interpretation makes more sense here, i.e. that these רבנן are indeed at first glance only being קרו and תנו for themselves, and the epikoros is the one who takes this superficial view as the truth and fails to appreciate the finer point of hashkafa that this seemingly selfish activity is actually benefiting and sustaining everyone else!

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    4. I believe you are making the common mistakes of conflating convenient distinctions you seek to draw for ideological comfort with distinctions the actual Talmudists drew. The phrase "talmid chacham" has a longer history than your ideology first, facts will follow revisionism.

      You implausibly translated Rashi's use of the word "l'ma'alah" to mean"the bottom" in your previous post, and when challenged responded with an irrelevant non sequitur about Rashi never seeing a camel.

      In the post before that you claimed to have made numerous corrections in the face of evidence. You appear to have made 4 corrections in more than a decade of blogging.

      You are an absolute textbook case of confirmation bias posing as rationalism.

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    5. "I don't see how you can differentiate between Torah study of Rabbis or Torah study of people in Kollel. It's the same Torah study."
      Rabbis are serving the community. People in Kollel are not.

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    6. "this seemingly selfish activity is actually benefiting and sustaining everyone else!"

      How?

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    7. It doesn't matter how. Perhaps it's in some metaphysical way as the chareidim believe. My point, which you ignored, is that if the gemara is referring to "Rabbis" in your sense of the term, why does insisting they don't do what everyone knows they do make one an epikoros? It would be like saying "in what way do full-time doctors help us, they only cure themselves!". It is patent nonsense, not epikorsus.

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    8. See "The Guardian of Jerusalem" by Artscroll.
      Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld explains how the chareidim taking tzdakah from chutz l'aretz funds is no different than the Zionists taking money from the US Government. The whole state of Israel takes tzedakah from the USA.....
      See also "The real Jews secular vs orthodox". Where the secular author makes the argument that tzdakah money fuels the economy and goes straight back into the goods and services of the economy.

      As per the issue of Kollel in Israel - it's very connected to the Army issue. Supposedly if the military draft was abolished 50% of chareidim would go to work the next day.....

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    9. It doesn't matter how.

      It definitely does matter! If I take your property without permission and declare that it's actually for your benefit, some people are going to be very interested in knowing exactly what benefit that is, to excuse theft.

      Technically Charedim aren't stealing, but they get a lot of money from other people's taxes. They aught to be able to explain how that allocation is actually a benefit for the guy working to make ends meet.

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    10. MO: There is no concept of "tzedakah" when taking government-given money, since it's not given with the intention of charity and it's not given by or on behalf of Jews. And as to your point that charedim would work if Israel abolished the draft...they essentially have unlimited deferrals, so why don't they work once they're no longer eligible for service?

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    11. To clarify, since I don't think I was too clear: governments taking money from governments is not tzedakah. Individuals using government-given funds might not technically be tzedakah, but they are still benefitting from public funds, and it is problematic for someone to willingly put oneself in a situation where that is necessary. This is separate but no less problematic from the issue of using public funds to justify being poor so you can "learn."

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    12. @JoMorris and LeviYitzchok

      The quote from Sanhedrin 99b about "מאי אהני לן רבנן" belongs to a broad spectrum of aggadic statements, which the Rambam does not codify in his viewpoint of what an apikores is (Tshuvah 3:8).
      I'm not saying that the Rambam disagrees with your approach, but rather that merely taking a quote out of a gemara without recognizing its context is a poor methodology, in my humble opinion. Please provide a stronger source.

      JoMorris admits that we are not referring to an "apikores" here but to an "idiot" but that is plain (rude) conjecture, which has no basis in deciding how to live an authentic Jewish lifestyle. Sadly, empty comments like that indeed reflects the basis for many of the decisions/outlooks in the charedi world.

      JoMorris states, although in brackets, that these kollel members are "teaching torah and good middos, and are paskening halacha for the masses, acting as role models etc."
      I can agree with you on the "paskening halacha" bit, but "teaching Torah" and "acting as role models" are subjective. What makes a good role model in your opinion will likely be different to someone else, and "teaching Torah" can imply that they can teach anything within Torah, even if it is a myopic and distorted understanding of Torah, and that's all that's necessary. I don't buy it.

      Lastly, the rabbis in the times of the Talmud dedicated their lives to constructing a carefully thought-out framework that sustained and formed the foundation of our entire religion. While there are certain exceptional Torah scholars in our day who do the same, and they should rightfully be supported, the vast majority of people in kollel are not doing anything near to what the holy sages of the Talmud were doing, and I don't believe they should be included in the category of those deserving tzedakah to uphold the universe.

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    13. It would be like saying "in what way do full-time doctors help us, they only cure themselves!". It is patent nonsense, not epikorsus.

      No it's more like being compared to a person who stays in med school forever on someone else's dime and never treats a single patient

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    14. To NBZL, JD and Avi:

      It always amazes (and annoys) me how people looking for something to disagree with can sometimes literally and utterly misread a post and simply see what they want to see. Either that or you seriously lack comprehension skills. Let me break down what I wrote into simple points:

      1) The gemara states that one who says מאי אהנו לן רבנן לדידהו קרו לדידהו שנו is an epikoros.

      2) RDNS contends that what is meaant by "רבנן" is community rabbis, not kollel learners who are indeed to be condemned for living off others while only learning for themselves.

      3) To this I replied that this cannot be what the gemara means, because community rabbis who are teaching torah and paskening and acting as role models, are obviously helping us, and insisting the sky is not blue is idiocy, not epikorsus.
      Saying that community rabbis (who so obviously benefit us) only learn for themselves, is like saying that full-time doctors only heal themselves - patent nonsense.

      4) The chareidi view would resolve this by saying that the gemara is talking about people who are simply learning torah in kollel, and therefore do actually SEEM to be only benefiting themselves, yet one who says this is an epikoros because he fails to appreciate the (in the chareidi view) metaphysical aspects of torah learning which benefit the entire world.

      5) Of course it is important how torah learning benefits the world, and whether the chareidi view is indeed correct. But for the purposes of my post it doesn't matter how it works. I am only pointing out that the chareidi interpretation fits with the gemara insofar that it is understandable why someone who says those words is an epikoros in the chareidi estimation, whereas in RDNS's interpretation of the gemara it is not understandable why such a person would be an epikoros at all.

      Now, if anyone has anything intelligent to say regarding how to fit the gemara with RDNS's view, I will be happy to hear it.

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    15. Hmmm, I've now looked again at my original comment, and perhaps I indeed didn't make myself entirely clear. It could have been put better. I apologize for casting aspersions on people's comprehension skills in my previous comment

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    16. @JoMorris

      Some of the comments that I wrote in my most recent post were not addressed. I did understand your statements as well and I didn't see what I wanted to see. I will repeat some of my main points, in addition to new ones in a clear format:

      (1) The gemara in Sanhedrin 99b is part of a large array of aggadic comments, which should not be interpreted literally to the point of argument we are having. Why I stated that the Rambam does not include it in his definition of what an apikores is simply to support that this part of the gemara is not literal (I added that perhaps the Rambam may indeed address it somewhere else and if you could demonstrate that, I would be happy to read it)

      (2) Seeing that the gemara is not to be taken literally, even though you think you are now referring to individuals who are a step higher than the gemara, it is still conjecture to call someone an idiot if they were to say "מאי אהנו לן רבנן" to individuals like these.
      Here's a new point relating to this: One can easily still say "לדידהו קרו לדידהו שנו" even if these people are contributing to the community because one can reason that they are doing so to ensure they still get money and are therefore still doing it themselves (remember, this point is not to show that this person is right, but rather to show that your analogy of "the sky is green" is not a good one, and that the gemara can indeed be understood differently)

      (3) The fact that you included "Teaching Torah" and being "good role models" along with "paskening halacha" is, my view, troublesome. Teaching Torah and being a good role model are subjective statements. Nevertheless, since I recognize that you can be referring to authentic Torah teaching and to genuine role models, I will step back this part of my argument.

      (4) New point. I am not seeing where in the gemara it is discussing people who spend the entire day learning Torah, without having a job and making money to support themselves. I think a regular kollel guy who is not on the level of the tannaim of the past and gedolim of today, should not be living off other people's money if he can support himself, and therefore the gemara can be understood to exclude him and the other individuals RNS is talking about. I also think this is a more mature approach to the gemara, as opposed to "fitting it in".

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  4. Rabbi Haber of KSY (not the other Rabbi Haber) has made it clear that there are two completely separate Halachos of giving on Purim. One is matanos l'evyonim, which is valid Tzedaka, and may be given from money set aside for Ma'aser. The other is giving to anyone who puts out his hand. This is not Tzedaka at all, and may not be given from Ma'aser.

    The former should be a substantial donation. The latter could be 10 agorot.

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    1. A respected teacher of mine used to say that there's a year-round obligation of giving a nominal amount to anyone who asks (if you're able to), so as not to transgress לא תאמץ את לבבך: not to harden your heart in the face of someone in need. If you find justifications for not giving him, you'll start giving justifications for not giving to the truly needy. (I don't know whether that's a halachah, or just a מוסר reason.)

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    2. I think you may be mistaking what Rabbi Haber said, as the Magen Avraham says the exact opposite and I don’t know that anyone argues on the Magen Avraham.

      The Magen Avraham (694:1) says for the basic obligation one may NOT use maaser, however if one wants to give more than the minimum he CAN use maaser.

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    3. @matis,

      It's hard to reply because I don't know which point you are not agreeing with. In rethinking what I wrote earlier, I may be misremembering what he said about using ma'aser. He did very clearly say, though, that giving money to anyone who puts out his hand is not tzedaka, unless you are certain the person is actually an ani.

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  5. Give me your money and i will learn Zera SHIMSHON for you

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  6. Thanks for the post, RNS. Tizku l'mitzvos

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  7. Many Chareidi institutions send out for the poor as well. Long Beach Yeshiva is one that comes to mind. Their very successful Purim campaign is for the poor, not their Yeshiva. (Obviously their definition of worthy poor doesn't match yours. But that was your second, separate critique. )

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    1. Had the same thoughts. NIRC's campaign is on behalf of the Israeli town of Yahud.

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  8. Furthermore, for Purim, they practice Smart Chesed - giving them what they actually need in terms of long-term assistance, rather than just money for a Purim Seudah.
    Is'nt tzedakah of matanos le'evyonim supposed to be given in a way that they benefit on purim, not afterwards?

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  9. Very well point by Rabbi Slifkin. There should be those that learn long term with a proper and honorable stipend, However we should not enable them to "elect themselves" to that role. It should be determinant by other with the means to establish who and those that stand above the others. The first real Kollel we have records from, is the kollel in Brody, Ukraine. They took only the amount the community could afford, which usually was between 5-15 people at any given year. The kollel also had a role to play, helping the Rav before pesach, answering shalos, learning with bal ha'battem morning and night. The rest of the time they could use for their personal Talmudic advancement. I ask, how did it become that after WWII everyone and anyone decides for himself to be the "one" sitting in Kollel and being supported by the rest. Not just that, they do not even help out nor care about the rest of the community. How many will tutor a weaker boy for free as he is taking money from the public? Say you them, you elected yourself to kollel elect yourself to get your own money, I work hard for mine.
    Here's where I disagree with the article a bit. Every time someone asks for money give his"something". If I see some shady character or any of the 50% of Yerusaleim that never worked a day in their lives, and now have to resort to come make shnorer for a wedding, I put a quarter in their hands. If you don't have, just give nickel, but at least give something. I daven to Hashem, maybe I don't deserve something, However just as I gave other that are not deserving, please give me. If you ask, using that logic, why don't I give a more substantial amount even to the ones that sat around until their daughter got engaged, The answer is, I still have a huge "responsibility" for the money Hashem gave me and have the means to give others, I have to make sure the lion's share goes to those that are truly needy...and here is the clincher - because of NO FAULT of their own. I am worried if Hashem saw I was not erlich to whom I give, and I was just wasted the extra money he gave me, I worry he will deem me undeserving of this extra money.

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