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You Won't Believe what The Gedolim said about Tzedakah Organizations
Approaching Rosh HaShanah, we are all solicited by many organizations. Some are extremely worthy, others are less worthy. Some support those who are poor through no fault of their own, others support those who are poor because they are ideologically opposed to work. Some offer a feeling of satisfaction for having done a good deed, others manipulate people into giving with (false) promises of good things that will happen to those who donate.
But what about the actual finances of an organization? How is one to know which organizations are using their monies ethically?
I was dumbfounded to read an email solicitation from the Vaad HaRabbanim of Lakewood/ Bnei Brak, with endorsements from Rav Gershon Edelstein and numerous other top names in the charedi Litvish and Chassidishe world, which bore the following title:
"Gedolim Say This Is One Of The Only Tzedaka Organizations You Can Trust"
Now, I have no idea if the rabbanim who lent their signatures really said that which is attributed to them. But the mere fact that a major organization would make a declaration in the name of the Gedolim that most tzedakah organizations cannot be trusted is shocking. Are they just out to trash other organizations? Or is this really how things are in the world of charitable organizations with which they are familiar?
Perhaps it is indeed how things are in their circles. As you may recall, I discovered last year that some money which was removed from my bank account by a charity without my consent apparently went towards helping Yanky Kanievsky buy his luxury home. Ironically, this sort of thing happens precisely because these charities use the names of Gedolim to solicit funds.
Reading through the names of the Gedolim who allegedly made this claim and endorse this appeal, I was surprised to see the name of Rav Chaim Kanievsky's son, Rav Yitzchak Shaul Kanievsky. This is the same person who was taken to Beis Din by his own brothers for manipulating their father into secretly signing over his entire estate, worth many millions of dollars, to him alone. This is a person who is called upon to attest to the integrity of the Vaad HaRabbanim? And let's not forget that his brothers confirmed (as is obvious) that Gedolim's endorsements don't actually count for anything!
The endorsement also claims that because all donations go fully and directly to the needy, this is the best form of tzedakah. But the experts in charity that I know strongly dispute that assertion. Overhead is not wasted money - not only do you need good (i.e. paid) people to raise money effectively, but you also need to use donations effectively. You don't help people leave poverty by just giving them money. You need to assess their situation (my wife used to work as a social worker in that capacity), figure out why they are poor, and give them the tools to be able to get themselves out of that situation. Assuming, that is, that you believe that poverty is not a preferred way of life.
Meanwhile, the Vaad HaRabbanim also declares that "all those who generously donate $520 towards this campaign will receive a pure silver Challah knife just in time for Rosh Hashona, a well-known segulah for parnossah for the upcoming year, with the Bracha of Maran Harav Chaim Kanievsky ztz”l engraved upon it– A physical symbol of the timeless agreement between you and the late Gadol Hador z’’l." Now, without getting into the argument of whether a silver segulah knife really does have an effect on parnasah, I would like to point out that I don't believe that the people working at Vaad HaRabbanim themselves really think that it does - because you can bet your bottom dollar that they are giving poor people food and/or money, not silver segulah knives! So since they themselves don't believe that silver segulah knives have any meaningful effect, why are they using them to manipulate people into giving them money? Of course, I have no doubt that it's a highly effective fundraising tool, but I personally dislike supporting fundraising that reinforces superstition.
I prefer to donate to my local charity of Lemaan Achai. Primarily, this is because it is a charity that actually works to get people out of poverty, rather than perpetuating the exponentially-growing problem of charedi poverty by giving handouts. But in addition, I trust it, because it doesn't manipulate people with false or superstitious shtick, and it's professionally operated and overseen by people that I know personally. You can donate online at https://www.lemaanachai.org/en/donation.php
(Alternately/ in addition, if you'd like to support the Biblical Museum of Natural History, which inspires and educates tens of thousands of people annually about Torah and nature, you can do so at https://www.biblicalnaturalhistory.org/donate)
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