The Manipulative Lies of Kupat HaIr
Today I was stunned to see the full-page advertisement from Kupat HaIr, "the Tzedakah of the Gedolei HaDor," in Mishpachah magazine, which can also be found on their website. It says that this coming Friday is a once-in-28 years opportunity to take advantage of the ninth hour of the ninth day of the ninth month of the ninth year in the Birkas HaChamah-cycle. This full house of nines, according to "ancient sources," is an auspicious hour for prayer. But why pray yourself, when other people can pray on your behalf? No less than thirty Gedolei HaDor will pray for you - provided that you give money to Kupat Ha-Ir! As it states on their website, "you can win the jackpot: Parnassah, children, nachas, Torah, wealth, shidduchim, good health and happiness! Don't wait another 28 years for a yeshuah!"
This is utterly astonishing for a number of reasons. Most striking is that they ran the same campaign not 28 years ago, but three years ago! And at that time, they declared it to be a once-in-fifty years opportunity, basing it on Yovel! Here's the ad from 2013:
"Don't wait another 50 years for a yeshuah!" they said at the time. But just three years later, we are told that we have the same rare opportunity!
Now, don't think that this is just due to sloppy research, or poor communication between campaigners. After all, on their website, Kupat HaIr says that they addressed this "sceptically" (sic). And back in 2013, Kupat HaIr told us about all the effort that went into these calculations:
"...Before Kupat Ha’ir set out to mass publicize this, we investigated and verified every detail related to this segulah from a halachic standpoint... You know the type of person who just never gives up? There are those who try to find the tcheiles of the chilazon, the shamir worm, the lost Shevatim on the other side of the Sambatyon. At Kupat Ha’ir, someone set out on a feverish search for that fateful yovel year. Finally, the stunning truth came to light. This year, 5774, is the first time since the “Ninth of the Ninth” segulah became known to the public, that all the factors are coming true! This is the first time, and also the last in the next fifty years. Because this year, according to many Rishonim, is the ninth year of the yovel! ...Maran Hagaon Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a, writes in his peirush, Derech Emunah (siman katan 137) that the year 5756 is the 40th year of the yovel, and 5765 is yovel. If so, we have an astounding revelation here! If we know when yovel is, we can count nine years and know precisely which year is the ninth year of the yovel, the most unique and auspicious year of all! And when you count nine years from 5765, you see that we are truly fortunate! The ninth year of the yovel, so auspicious to receive G-dly shefa, is this year, 5774! This year, for the first time, everything is valid. All details have been verified; everything is in place. The last time this special eis ratzon occurred, your grandparents were parents and you – maybe you hadn’t even been born yet. The next time will be fifty years from now."
And yet the next time was not fifty years later. It was just three years later!
Nor was 2013 the first time that they ran this campaign. They also ran it in 2011 and 2009 (when it was declared to be a once-in-seven years opportunity)! Here are the ads:
How can they so brazenly contradict themselves so often?! Don't the editors of Mishpachah notice, and haven't they got anything to say about it? Why isn't anyone calling them out on this?
And this is far from the only falsehood in the Nines campaign. The alleged "ancient sources" for all this are in fact a single work, Brit Menucha, that isn't all that ancient - it was written in the 14th century by R. Avraham of Grenada. And it doesn't even say what they claim it says! It does not say that the compound of the ninth hour of the ninth day of the ninth month of the ninth year in the Yovel-cycle is particularly auspicious. What it says (see it online here) is that in every Yovel cycle, the ninth year is auspicious, and in every year, the ninth month is auspicious, and in every month, the ninth day is auspicious, and in every day, the ninth hour is auspicious. One might infer that the compound is even more auspicious, but R. Avraham does not say that. According to R. Avraham, there are auspicious times all the time!
But the most bothersome aspect is the manipulation involved. "Don't wait another 50 years for a yeshuah!" The subtext is clear: You are desperate for salvation from your problems, and you need to give us money in order to attain it, or you'll be stuck for fifty years! Forget about Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur - it's this once-in-fifty-years opportunity that counts. As the Kupat HaIr website states: "Doesn’t it make sense to overextend yourself for nine minutes for the sake of your entire life? ... Your life depends on these 9 minutes. Will you be happy? Will you have money? What will your health be like? How will you be spared unfavorable decrees?"
From a Torah perspective, this is simply false. No, your entire life does not depend on these nine minutes! But aside from the falsehood, it is sick, manipulative, and predatory. There are many people who truly can't afford to give, but who do so out of sheer terror that Kupat HaIr might be right, and that they might be losing their one chance to get married, to have children, to be healthy. I personally know of someone who themselves fell into dire straits because of this. And Rav Mattisyahu Solomon of Lakewood has decried the fact that single women desperate for a yeshua had contributed all their savings to Kupat HaIr, and turned to him when they didn't get married. He described Kupat HaIr's modus operandi as "absolute theft."
This sick, manipulative behavior all occurs, according to Kupat HaIr, with the backing of the (charedi) Gedolei HaDor. One wonders if this is actually true; there are quotes from various charedi Gedolim which indicate otherwise. If it is not true, then one wonders how the Gedolim can be so unconcerned and ineffectual about major campaigns that are run in their names. You don't see this happening with non-charedi leaders.
(Fortunately, however, there are other rabbinic voices. Rav Shlomo Aviner delivered a lecture in his yeshivah in which he condemns the Four Nines as an attempt to use magic and shortcuts in place of genuine spiritual growth. As he points out, if it is so important, why is it not in the Torah? In the Gemara? In any of the major works of Judaism? Why didn't any of the famous rabbis of history mention it? And what's so special about the number nine, anyway? We need, says Rav Aviner, to focus on the truly important things, such as improving our characters. We should not be attempting to invent new magical shortcuts to salvation.)
At the end of the day, are all these lies at least in the service of a good cause? Many people I know (including rabbonim and charity professionals) would say if they are perpetuating the charity trap and national catastrophe of the mass kollel system, then it isn't even a good cause to begin with. But let's not take that view, or let's assume that some of the money is for the involuntarily poor rather than for people in kollel. Can we somewhat justify Kupat HaIr's actions in that light? Should we give them money anyway?
That is a difficult question to answer, for three reasons. First of all, in light of all the falsehoods that they spread, how on earth can anyone be sure that the money is even going to the poor? These campaigns don't exactly inspire confidence in the organization's claim of "absolute integrity" and responsible rabbinic oversight. Indeed, a similar huge Gedolim-endorsed chareidi charity, Vaad HaRabbonim, recently got into major trouble over serious financial irregularities and millions of shekels that were unaccounted for.
Second, regardless of where the money goes, surely it's wrong to support an organization that is harming people. And tricking people out of large sums of money by preying on their fears with lies is harming people!
Third, there is no shortage of charitable organizations that work in the right way, without trying to take advantage of people's fears. My personal favorite charity is Lemaan Achai, whose "gimmick" is not some mystical mumbo-jumbo, nor false promises of salvation, but rather that they practice charity in accordance with the highest ideals: working to wean people off charity. Lemaan Achai doesn't raise anywhere near as much money as Kupat Ha-Ir - but what they do raise, is raised honorably.
(Hat-tip to those who sent in the links. See too my post on The Ring Of Power)