Wednesday, March 15, 2006

It's $1 Buck Man

Anyone that davens in a relatively large shul, no matter what time of day, knows that at a given minyan there are always a number of mishulachim (poor people) that come around collecting. I would say most peoples’ MO is to give a dollar – I have rarely seen anyone give more. This $1 practice simply seems to be the way things are done and I am not here to decry the fact that we are only giving them a measly $1.

I have a special place in my heart for poor people. It doesn’t matter who: black, white, frum, not-frum; my heart cries when I see a poor person. Some people are poor as a result of some bad luck; some are destitute due to poor decisions. Whatever the reason is, I still feel the same way. Therefore, when I see someone in shul study the poor person’s “R’ Heinemann” letter up and down, I can only imagine how embarrassed the mishulach must be. Is it not enough that this person is so poor that he needs to go around begging others for money? – Why the need to make him feel even worse by reading what his problems are? I get SO angry when I see people read the letters. Sure, I understand that there may be crooks out there – however, that is why the “R’ Heinemann” letters exist. The person must go through the trouble of seeking out R’ Heinemann, telling him their life story, only to be given the right to collect in town. It is my understanding that only about 1/3 of the people that come to R’ Heinemann are supplied letters. What does this tell us? It tells us that these people are really poor and they really need our help. Is it not enough that R’ Heinemann feels these people are in need? I do not feel the need to know why this guy needs my $1.

I understand if the meshulach is coming to your house, where it is customary to give more than $1. Many people do not have a lot of maiser (tithing) money to give; therefore, there is a necessity for some to look at their letters in this case and give accordingly. But $1? Come on man. You scan the letter up and down, only to come to the conclusion that he is poor enough for your lousy $1, and then you scrounge around in your pocket to begrudgingly give it to him. R’ Berger, in his Shabbos Teshuva drasha was discussing how we allot our money. R’ Berger is a very soft spoken man, and when he discussed mishulachim, he was screaming and practically in tears about the way we treat poor people. “THESE PEOPLE ARE OUR TICKET TO SHEMAYIM!!”, he screamed. And what do you do?; you give him your $1 only after deeming this person to be poor enough for your liking. Unbelievable.

If you are too poor to give these people money, please get in touch with me and I will give you $25 a month to be allotted to these poor people. I am not joking.

On a final note, there is one guy that I have seen a couple of times read a person’s letter up and down, and then refuse to give money. This man is going to burn in hell; I am sure of that. If I ever see you in shul reading someone’s letter and not give the person money, I will personally berate you. I don’t care if I’m in the middle of Shemonah Esrai or Sh’ma. Put yourself in his shoes: would you want someone knowing how you messed up in life, only to be deemed “not poor enough” for your buck?

These people are our tickets to heaven. Give them money and say “Hatzlacha” with a smile. Otherwise, you may face my wrath, but more importantly, the wrath of the man above.

58 Comments:

Anonymous aishel said...

Wow. I've seen some people read it and say "Mazel Tov" if it was for hachnasas kallah and give a dollar, and the like. But to read it and not give anything...wow.

9:22 PM, March 15, 2006

 
Blogger Zazy said...

Well put.

10:41 PM, March 15, 2006

 
Blogger ADDeRabbi said...

couple points:
1) i don't much like the 'these people are our ticket to shomayim' approach either. it offends my Kantian sensibilities. it's a person, not a lulav that's a tool for you to do a mitzvah with.

2)i remember a number of years ago my father wrote a purim shpiel sketch where Avraham Avinu and his 4-door tent was only letting passers-by in if they had a letter from r' heineman or the equivalent. very funny.

11:17 PM, March 15, 2006

 
Anonymous DM said...

Great Post, I agree!

5:42 AM, March 16, 2006

 
Anonymous J said...

Some people prefer to give only to poor people, and not to yeshivos or kollelim. The R'Heinemann letter will tell you which one it is.

9:47 AM, March 16, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

Like the title says, "It's 1 Buck Man" If R' Heinemann says they're worthy, I'll give em a buck. Now the question of whether I give them 10 or 100 dollars requires knowing what I'm giving towards. One buck.

10:20 AM, March 16, 2006

 
Anonymous J said...

Also, some people like to check that they have a real letter. Now if you'll respond to me that even if they don't have a real letter, it's just a buck, and if they are willing to suffer the embarassment of begging, they must really need it -- then why does R'Heinemann only approve 1/3 of the people who come to him? (which I also have heard, but do not believe.)
If it's just a buck, what's the point of the whole letter charade?
The answer is, it's not just a buck. It's several bucks a day, every day, which adds up to a few hundred dollars a year which might better serve to go to Ahavas Yisroel or one of the day schools or some other worthy charity.
But I will take your mussar and say that it's probably better to give the old "sorry, don't have any" shrug than to look at the letter and not give at all.

10:49 AM, March 16, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

J,
Thanks for the comments. If someone is looking for the date, I have no problem. I would imagine that isn't always the case. I agree that these dollars do add up...if you don't want to/can't give, you are not obligated. It just bothers me when people need to know what their problems are.

11:02 AM, March 16, 2006

 
Anonymous aishel said...

J, the meshulachim aren't going to the trouble of getting a letter from Rabbi Heinneman just to get a dollar from everyone. They're getting the letter so that they can go door to door. The getting a dollar from everyone at shul is just a bonus.

9:38 PM, March 16, 2006

 
Anonymous aishel said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:06 AM, March 17, 2006

 
Blogger Shua said...

Laz,

I'm probably in the minority here, but I simply do not give anything anymore to these individuals. I used to give $1 to every person (assuming the dates were still valid) who asked, but it has just gotten to be too much, with anywhere from 2-6 people a day asking interrupting my davening every day. I know this sounds unsympathetic, and it probably is.
While I realize that many of these causes are worthy, some of them are symptomatic of a greater issue in the right wing Orthodox community (namely, people not working and depending on others). I firmly believe in a Kollel system built upon a small group of people who are the best and brightest, who WANT to be in Kollel, and who are CHOSEN to be Kollel based on their capabilities, maturity, and desire. The system currently in place in many cities worldwide (especially Israel), is creating a tremendous strain on every community worldwide, and in my opinion, is not what the Torah and G-D had in mind for the Jewish people (i.e. that EVERYONE should be in Kollel). Think about all the Rabbis and Kollels from previous generations -- Kollels were small, and many Rabbis had jobs on the side.
I do realize that many of the collectors DO work and DO have legitimate claims, but I don't have the patience to sift through every Teudah to try and discriminate between the ones I deem to be "credible" or not in my opinion. I know it's only a buck, but it does add up to roughly 500-1K a year, money which our local schools, community, and yes, poor people in Baltimore, could use as well. Before everyone condemns me to hell, let me say that I DO have the utmost respect for everyone else who is giving $1 to everyone who asks. And I am NOT trying to convince them to stop. I guess I just feel that by giving, I'd be contributing to a system that will only get worse before it gets better. I guess I could be persuaded differently, I just need someone to convince me otherwise.

Meanwhile, where do we draw the line? What if 30 mesulachim come daily? Are we required to give all 30 a dollar?

Laz, any thoughts?

12:47 PM, March 17, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

Shua,

I realize that as the $$ adds up, it does turn out to be a significant amount of money. I see it as doing my part to help those that from outside of the community - the overwhelming majority of the rest of my maiser money goes to local organizations.

If you see 30 mishulachim a day in shul, you give to as many as you are able to, no more.

The points you bring up about the issues surrounding kollel (ie, living off of other people) are important to understand. That being said, I think that's an entire psot in and of itself. We have to realize, what is the bottom line? The bottom line is these people are poor. They need our help, and our $1 is helping them. You're gonna read their T'eudah and see that they're in Kollel and not give them? Maybe this person is one of our stars, a true talmud chacham, someone that we need to be supporting. I give on the off-chance that this is the case. To read their letter and not give? Oy. Why does this guy, who learns all day, not get my dollar while another guy, who went into business and lost it all, get one? It doesn't make sense. They're poor, they need our $$. We may disagree with the lifestyle they live that led them to this point, but right now that doesn't matter. Do you think not giving this dollar is going to cause them to say "hey, time to go to school, get my degree, and go to work!". I don't think so.

Again, I have a special in my place for poor people, for some odd reason (maybe I was poor in a previous life) - so what I'm saying may be more emotional than rational.

1:12 PM, March 17, 2006

 
Blogger Shua said...

Nice points.

You're a good man, Laz, with a very kind heart. I am very cynical about certain issues is Judaism. It wouldn't kill me to soften up a little and stop trying to change the world.

1:17 PM, March 17, 2006

 
Anonymous aishel said...

See, Alan, you're just a good guy. When I'm at Shomrei on a Thursday morning and I see 8 or 9 meshulachim come in just a few minutes apart, I'm afraid that if I give one, I have to give all. And frankly, I just don't have enough cash to give everyone. And I don't want anyone to feel bad, so I don't give to anyone. I'd rather give a dollar or two on Monday or Tuesday when there are fewer meshulachim.

1:37 PM, March 17, 2006

 
Anonymous Greg said...

I think you're a bit out of line.

First off, as others have said, there's the issue of forgeries, which happens, along with people collecting for things like kollels in Boro Park. Many, many people, rightfully so, don't deem this appropriate.

Also, why do you presume to tell people how they should spend their money? How many kids are you feeding? How many tuitions are you paying? How many jobs are you working? How many mortgages do you have? I'll put this very bluntly, and please don't take it the wrong way, but since you basically damned someone to hell I think it's warranted: please wait until you have some real-life experience until you make these kinds of statements. And even then, it's probably best to worry about how others spend their money.

All that being said, my understanding is that in Brooklyn, the accepted donation to a meshulach in shul is $0.25. The reason they come to Baltimore is because they know we're suckers for this kind of stuff. Meanwhile, the local schools have trouble paying their teachers on time, and parents don't go to their banquets because it's too expensive.

And one final note, here's some words to live by: When it comes to yourself, worry about Olam Ha'bah. When it comes to others, worry about their Olam HaZeh.

3:04 PM, March 17, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

Greg,

To answer some of your questions:
-I am feeding 0 kids
-I am paying 1 tuition - my college tuition
-I work 1 full time job and I teach Sunday school
-I am paying 0 mortgages, but 1 rent

That being said, assuming one gives maiser, NONE of these things would be paid for with the dollars that I give a meshuluch. I, like many others, have a separate maiser account. I count how much I give to these mishulachim and transfer money accordingly. I am not telling people how to spend money that would otherwise go to other causes. If someone doesn't give maiser money, that issue is for another post. If they are too poor, I'm not asking them to give.

Being that it is my blog and all, I am free to voice my opinions, which I do not find to be out of line. Also, it appears from the comments that I am not a das yachid on these matters.

If someone is looking at the letter to see if it is for a Kollel in Boro Park, great. No big deal. But for me to decide who's poor enough to get my dollars, I am not on the level to do that.

Lastly, I firmly believe that anyone who looks at letters, reads their problems, and embarasses them is not looked upon kindly by Hashem. My place to say that? Maybe not. I am not damning them to hell, that is not my place - that's Gd's.

4:52 PM, March 17, 2006

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One time a meshulach came to my door and when I read his letter, I discovered he was from Brooklyn. I asked him if he's from Brooklyn, why doesn't he collect from people in Brooklyn instead of coming all the way to Baltimore. He looked me in the eye and said "I'm too ashamed". That was the last time I ever questioned a meshulach.

9:19 PM, March 18, 2006

 
Blogger SephardiLady said...

I have a number of things to say, but first a question. Are the letters from Rav Heinemann in English or Hebrew? I have heard that most Rabbaonim and Va'adim write the letters in Hebrew, which seems quite unnecessary since it should be easy to understand for everyone. I'm a lady, so I'm not in shul daily, to know the answer to the question, but my husband (who is fluent in Hebrew) complaints that the letters stuck in his face during tefillah are in Hebrew and it is a burden to read and decifer them quickly (and he is basically fluent, like I said before).

We don't live in Baltimore, so the rest of my comments are general and encompass experiences in other communities.

I know a number of ba'al ha'batim and Rabbonoim, no less, that are disgusted by the behavior of meshulachim in various communities. The constant flow and interuption of the tefillah is problematic. The fact that the meshulachim hit up more modern shuls, but won't bother to stay for davening when needed or until the end so that shemonai esrai can be finished properly, is hurtful and wrong. Basically a message is sent that these Jews and their tefillah are not important, but their money is. And, the intimidation that comes from some of the meshulachim towards ba'alabatim and even Rabbonim is unexceptable. I know a Rav that was verbally assulted because he had already distributed what was in the pushka.

Nobody (and certainly no Rav) wants to discourage the giving of tzedakah to the poor, but the environment that is created in some communities by the collectors is very negative. The environment has to change.

Also, to say it is "only a dollar" is not at all sensative (or in touch) with the fact that there are so many people in our own communities who are being crushed by the cost of Orthodox living. Whether there is something that they can do about it or not, is beyond the scope of my comments right now. But, I believe that here in the American Orthodox community, where more often than not two professionally educated parents are working their tails off just to stay afloat (not to partake in luxuries), that we cannot continue to demean their (possible) situation by saying it is a buck here and a buck there. For many people, a thousand buck a year is the difference between making ends meet or falling deeper into debt. And, I should add, that people who work hard do deserve to live at an appropriate level that rewards them for their hard work. In my community I see plenty of 6 figure families living like kollel families because of the crushing costs of tuition and just feeding a family, and I don't think it is "fair" nor do I think one should berate them for not giving enough tzedakah when 50% of their take home pay goes straight to tuition.

Those bucks add up and it is unclear whether or not many of these families have an obligation to give ma'aaser when they are paying astronomical amounts of money to educate their children in frum schools, an maybe even incurring debt to do so.

I agree with you that there is no need to read the letters, especially if you have no intention of giving. It is probably better to just smile and nod no rather than listen to the stories and then say no. But, there are plenty of people who will just criticize a person for doing that too.

(Sorry for the choppy thoughts).

1:11 PM, March 19, 2006

 
Anonymous david said...

i sometimes check the letter just because i'm a bit curious but your right it does embarass them and i won't check again bli neder

1:15 PM, March 19, 2006

 
Blogger SephardiLady said...

I need to apologize for the length of my last post. I didn't realize how long it was until I pushed post. Sorry Alan.

1:17 PM, March 19, 2006

 
Anonymous aishel said...

To answer your question sephardilady, the letters are written in English. Additionally, there are various 'amounts' that are given as suggested donations, including: One-meal-equivalent, standard donation, generous donation

3:17 PM, March 19, 2006

 
Blogger SephardiLady said...

Thanks for the info aishel. In other cities, the letters or cards are in Hebrew, I'm told.

BTW--Alan, check out the letter I received from a friend that the Baltimore Va'ad put out.

3:24 PM, March 19, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

Separdilady,

Thank you for your comments. Please never feel bad about writing too much - that should be my biggest problem.

The problem of mishulachim decorum is a problem in every community. If someone is being rude, do not give them, it's as simple as that. But if some of them are rude - is that enough reason to stop giving entirely? I personally do not think so.

Again, something which I think alot of people reading this are missing is the following: I am only talking about people that give maiser money. It is not up to me to decide if a family should give maiser money - that is up to a Rav. Additionally, I am not talking about a situation where these dollars (which I admit, do add up) will make or break a family. But assuming one does give maiser, these thousand dollars would not make or break the family - or else it wouldn't be set aside for maiser! If I am not being clear enough, let me know.

I think, in general, we are in agreement.

3:27 PM, March 19, 2006

 
Blogger SephardiLady said...

Alan,

Glad you didn't mind my really long post. :) The decorum is a huge problem. I think that the meshulachim should be forced to wait until after shemonei esrei to collect.

In fact, the meshulachim themselves should be insisting on the decorum because it is good for business! The bad ones ruin it for everyone.

Even more decorum is needed when collecting door to door.

4:13 PM, March 19, 2006

 
Blogger Jewboy said...

Sephardilady has touched on a point which I was reluctant to bring up because I don't want to look selfish. But I have to admit that I do get very distracted when 4, 5, and 6 meshulachim approach me during davening. It really throws my tefillah off. I don't know what can be done about it. I'm fine when they come to my door, but during davening I just have a hard time with it. I hope I don't come off as self absorbed.

8:22 PM, March 19, 2006

 
Blogger SephardiLady said...

Jewboy--I can't imagine what is self-absorbed about wanted to actually have kavanah when you are saying tefillot.

All that needs to happen is for those collecting to have enough respect for the tzibbur to wait until people are putting away their tefillin or to come early.

I would venture to say that the bad taste left in many a mouth is just bad for business.

8:59 PM, March 19, 2006

 
Blogger Shua said...

Laz,

It seems to me, that at the core of all these issues is how to allocate Ma'aser in general. Your opinion is simply there's a need in front of you at davening, so you give. There's certainly something refreshing about that. However, Halachically there is no obligation to give to anyone you see who asks (except Purim, from what I've been told). In addition, Halacha allows for everyone to choose who they want to give to. (I actually asked a Rabbi about these things!--see you made me think!) I do agree that to read teudot with no intention of giving is not only a waste of time for the collector, but possibly a case where you are embarrasing him. I think you're being a little too black or white on this issue (no pun intended), but I'll admit that it has made me think about the other side of it a lot more. This is an important topic which will only get more timely over the next generation. I wish more pulpit Rabbis would discuss the "proper" response to these issues. (They probably avoid it because it really is a GREY area).

10:10 PM, March 19, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

Shua,

If I came across as saying that I think people should give the shul mishulachim money all of the time, than I apologize. If someone doesn't want to give, by all means, there is no obligation to do so. It just so happens to be, that if someone comes up to me, and I have a dollar, I give them. I do not expect others to do the same. I merely wanted to say that it bothers me when people read the teudot to parse out which mishulachim should get and which shouldn't. Again, there is no obligation to give them.

10:15 PM, March 19, 2006

 
Blogger Shua said...

Laz,

In defense of people who do decide to give to some (and not to others), they are entitled to do that (again, as long as they haven't made up their mind in advance before reading the Teduah NOT to give)Do you give to each person or organization that sends you something in the mail? If so, Kol HaKovod. If not, does that make someone a bad Jew? I realize that it is face-to-face in this case, but it is still up to the individual to decide if the organization/need the person is collecting for is something he/she wants to contribute to. Like I said, your approach is certainly a good approach, I just don't think it is mandatory, nor is it the only way to give.

10:30 PM, March 19, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

People have every right to give to whomever they want, and for whatever reason. I can still be peeved by it, though. Again, as previously mentioned, I have a special place in my heart for poor people, so much of what I say is probably more emotional than logical.

10:43 PM, March 19, 2006

 
Blogger Shua said...

Understood. As I said, you have a good heart.

To be fair, I will say, that a Rabbi said that it is certainly "nice" to try and give to the Mesulachim (and in addition, giving more than the 10% ma'aser required is certainly a nice thing to do--and will come back to repay you), and that a strategy one could use would be to leave $1 or $2 on the table and nod towards the money when approached by a Meshulach. When the money's gone, gently wave off the next one who approaches. This way you are minimizing the distruption to davening, not using up a huge portion of Ma'aser ($1/day is 250/year--or just give this in addtion to ma'aser) as well as taking advantage of an opportunity to do a mitzvah on the spot. This is something I'm considering for myself.

Good topic. Keep up the fantastic work.

11:17 PM, March 19, 2006

 
Anonymous aishel said...

Shua, I like your idea of putting a couple dollars on the table and just pulling one out when the meshulach comes. This way its not a whole production when you take out your wallet.

11:43 PM, March 19, 2006

 
Blogger SephardiLady said...

I like the idea of placing the money out and handing over a dollar (or a quarter)too.

I am also curious just how much money leaves different communities between all the various types of solicitations that we are subjected too, phone, mail, parlor meeting, meshulachim in shul and door to door, etc.

I think many of our local schools have reached a point where the tuition has become so high that we should all be in crisis mode and be keeping our donations local.

I'm probably going to post about this later on my own blog, but tuition at one school near us just topped $17,000 and there is no question that the others will surely follow (they have already topped $15,000 which is astronomical already). In case anyone missed that, I'll write it in bold $17,000.

One has to ask if we are acting incorrectly by sending so much money away (think how quickly $5 a day to meshulachim can add up) while our own schools are forced to price families out of a Jewish education. I'd like to imagine that if only half of the funds that left our communities stayed in it that Jewish education would not be the crushing burden that it is now.

9:02 AM, March 20, 2006

 
Blogger Shua said...

Aishel,

I must give credit (as I see now it wasn't clear from my post) that it was not my idea. It came from the Rabbi I spoke to. But I agree that it is one way to sort of balance all the issues.

11:48 AM, March 20, 2006

 
Blogger Shua said...

Sephardilady,

I cannot even imagine shelling out 17K a year for tuition! I feel sorry for your situation. Not that it is cheap in Baltimore, but relatively speaking, it is still a lot less here than in many other cities, especially in the northeast (NY/NJ suburbs). I completely agree that one way to help defray the costs of tuition would be to give a large percentage of our Ma'aser dollars to local schools. What compounds the problems are the variety of competing forces (charities), both locally and internationally, which seem to be vying for, and capturing our attention. It is somewhat sad that as a Jewish community, some look upon our schools as "taking" our money, when really, they are "providing" a tremendous service. People often direct their anger over tuition costs at the school, and therefore don't want to give an extra penny in charity. In reality, tuition costs are not the schools fault, just a function of the costs of maintaining a school, and it IS our responsibility to help out.

12:21 PM, March 20, 2006

 
Blogger SephardiLady said...

Shua,

Fortunately we are not paying $17K in tuition yet. But, I fear that by the time our kids are high school age that $17K will look like "the good old days."

The Jewish Education system is a wreck. It engenders very little loyalty to it from alumni, parents, and community members (and, in a way, why should it? Many parents are sent into debt to pay the costs of their kids education and before they know it they are bailing out their grandkids).

The increasing costs continue the vicious cycle where more students leave either via aliyah, homeschooling, or even public schooling which leaves increased costs to be shared over smaller student bodies, and there is zero cooperation. Instead of having large schools providing a variety of services, we have small schools all trying to maintain the overhead and administration of a large school. There is no sharing of costs and resources among schools. There are little to no economies of scales. There is just one big mess.

This is a great discussion that all of us need to have. Maybe the discussions will make a difference. I fear the difference needs to be made soon before people are forced to find alternatives. Many already have been forced.

12:52 PM, March 20, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

R' Gottlieb had a good point regarding the matter: We often times hear about these charities in Israel or Russia that are amazing things for Jews, whether it be for orphans, widows, disabled children, etc. We view these charities as being exotic and we give immediately to them. Basically, the farther away, the more exotic it seems to us.

One suggestion he had was that we do not necessarily need to stop giving so much to Israel, other communities, etc. Rather, if we only kept that amount constant, while giving more than we already do to local charities. Obviously, we're clearly not loaded so we can only give so much...

1:11 PM, March 20, 2006

 
Blogger SephardiLady said...

Alan, While I respect the good Rabbi's point, I think ultimately we all need to go a heshbon and set concrete goals for what stays in the community and what leaves the community.

I'm as moved by the Israeli charities as anybody. But, those in Israel are not going to support our local schools and if it isn't clear that we ae headed towards disaster, well, it is time to start teaching basic economics to our children.

So, if we are not for us, who will be (if not us)?

1:56 PM, March 20, 2006

 
Anonymous Greg said...

While I liked R. Gottlieb's comments about keeping tzedekah in town, I wasn't so pleased with his insinuation that some people need to give more than they are. There's no question he knows more than I do about what goes on in town, but I felt it was out of line.

2:33 PM, March 20, 2006

 
Blogger SephardiLady said...

I think that to make such comments, one needs to not only know just how much community members are giving, but what debts they are carrying and what their other expenses are like tuition, day care, etc.

I am trying to learn more about the halachot of ma'aser and tzedakah. But, so far, my basic understanding is that not everyone is obligated. And, given the financial challenges of paying tuition and paying for the most basic needs of a large family, I can only imagine that people who are accused of not giving enough, are actually giving well beyond what is expected of them halachically.

11:24 PM, March 20, 2006

 
Blogger AvHaBanimSmaycha said...

Laz -
I like the blog!! We've never met - I was referred by a friend.....

I have started to rad the pages and give based on them. Occasionally, I will "stiff" somebody if they:
1) Are in kollel, and choose not to work.
2) Have what I think is a bogus reason, such as being sent to an Israeli "debtor's prison" (I liked that one!).

If you find it worthwhile, I will post below a response that I asked of the rabbis of Beit El -
Jewish Discretion in Giving Tzedakah Jewish Law Rabbi Elchanan Lewis 9 Av 5765

Question:
Our Beit Knesset is frequented by poor jews from both Chutz La’Aretz as well Eretz Yisrael. Our community regulates their collections by having a local Rav give them a certificate, stating the purpose of their collection as well as any pertinent facts these unfortunate jews may seek to make known.

Notwithstanding my inclination to give to all jews who would ask, there seem to be a subset of people seeking money that do not seem to have, in my mind, pursuasive arguments for collecting money (i.e. one person was seeking money to pay for his daughter’s wedding, while saying that he was learning full-time and tacitly had no intention of obtaining work himself).

My question is this - do I have the ability to NOT give Tzedakah to a jew that asks for it? Or, am I capable of using my own judgement to decide if/how much financial support I will give to those that personally ask me?

I hope that my question does not sound callous or uncaring to the all-to-many jews sadly in need of help (who I regularly DO try to help). Rather, I am trying to clarify the point in regards to those people who’s needs may be less acute.

Answer:
For "Matanot Laevyonim" on Purim it says in Talmud and Halacha – "anyone who begs should be given without checking after him" – this infers that for other cases you can check if the person asking is really needy.
Yet, I think that if a person is degrading himself to come and beg from you, he is probably needy, even if it doesn’t look like it; therefore denying him from any help is not the authentic Jewish way.
You can give the bulk of your Tzedakah to people and organizations you know are worthy of your money but leave some for all the others, give them a small donation, a comforting smile, a good word; don’t let them go from you with nothing.

Rabbi Elchanan Lewis


I thought it was interesting...

The point is that many of these people are not at all "degrading themselves". They feel it is their right for me to work to support them not working. They are quire happy with what they have coerced out of both the US and Israeli gov'ts.

Keep up the interesting conversation!

12:48 PM, March 21, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

Av,

Thanks for reading. I think the answer that the rabbonim gave mimics what I said...

Are you from Baltimore? Are you talking about R' Heinemann that gives out the certificates? If so, I put my faith in him. He's a frum guy, but I would hope that he wouldn't give a certificate to someone that wasn't embarassed about the fact that he/she had to collect. I would hope he wouldn't give to someone who felt that it was his Gd given right to learn at our expense.

12:55 PM, March 21, 2006

 
Blogger Shua said...

Laz,

I'm pretty sure that R' Heineman is, by virtue of his signature, NOT giving you his opinion as to whether someone seems sincere and is not embarrased to collect. I think what he is doing, is validating that the person collecting is NOT a fraud--which is still valuable information (the Yeshiva really exists or the person is really poor, etc). I can tell you that I've been solicited by a few people who not only were not embarrased to collect, but were downright Chutzpadik to me. And they HAD his Teudah.

1:44 PM, March 21, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

Shua,

I have heard that R' Heinemann gives to only 1/3 of the people that come. Does that mean that 2/3 of the people that come are frauds? I don't think that this is the case...there must be some other exclusionary criteria. There are bound to be some that slick through the cracks (the chutzpadik, non-embarassed ones), but I would LIKE to think that he is exlcluding 2/3 for due to other things than fraud.

1:48 PM, March 21, 2006

 
Blogger AvHaBanimSmaycha said...

Laz -
R. Heinemann does not give commentary, but rather "documents" what they say onto something official. There is a box for "suggested donation", but besdies for that, he does not editorialize.

BTW - I am from Baltimore......and I know enough about Mar Spotts to say that he is a very, very wise Yid. We need to heed his calling.....

2:03 PM, March 21, 2006

 
Blogger Shua said...

Laz,

I guess the only way to know for sure would be to call his office and ask someone...I'm not sure where you got the 1/3, 2/3 stat. Is that from a credible source?

2:03 PM, March 21, 2006

 
Blogger Shua said...

avhabanimsmaycha,

Wise? Hardly. Opinionated? Definitely.

Thanks for getting my back, bro..

2:08 PM, March 21, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

who is Mar Spotts?

Shua,

I asked someone who is on the inside of the Baltimore hock (whatever that means). I sent him an email asking where he got that figure from.

2:16 PM, March 21, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

OK, just clarified, he TURNS AWAY 1/3. So 2/3 of the people that come receive. I heard this from somebody that heard it from the mouth of R' Heinemann (sp?). Still, I find it hard to believe that 1/3 is a fraud.

2:37 PM, March 21, 2006

 
Blogger Shua said...

Laz,

It very well may be that he's not saying 1/3 are a fraud, but that he can only VERIFY that 2/3 are NOT a fraud. Maybe some people who come to him for a Teudah cannot prove that their organization or need are legitimate.

Even if 1/3 were actually a fraud, I'd find it harder to believe that R' H. is giving us his opinion as to whether someone is sincere or not. That seems so subjective.

2:57 PM, March 21, 2006

 
Blogger AvHaBanimSmaycha said...

Am I correct in that the drivers get a 50% cut of the "action"?

3:11 PM, March 21, 2006

 
Blogger SephardiLady said...

I have also heard that the drivers get a 50% cut.

Who serves as a driver? Would a modern orthodox woman with a beat up old 18 year old car qualify to be a driver? :)

4:24 PM, March 21, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

I have copied and pasted an e-mail I received from someone privvy to how much the drivers get:

"I ask the meshulachim and they say that basically there are two deals. Either the driver takes 1/3 or you can pay them a flat rate of $35 an hour with a certain minimum hours per visit.

However, my father in law told me recently that the drivers changed the deal and I have not asked in the past couple of weeks. A lot of drivers have come down from NYand out of town recently and that really ticks me off."

4:56 PM, March 21, 2006

 
Blogger SephardiLady said...

$35 per hour is a lot of money. Where do I sign up?

9:09 PM, March 21, 2006

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a poster posted before, only on Purim does it say to give to whoever stretches out their hand without checking (however, perhaps even then you don't have to give to a known fraud). Whoever wants to make the whole year into Purim is mixed up and should come back to their senses.

The gemara also says that 'ein bodkin lemezonos' - if someone needs food, is starving, then we are not so stringent and give them so they could eat. However, when they ask for things beyond the basic need to live, they are to be checked. It's unfortunate that people don't know halacha. We must look to halacha for guidance with questions of this nature, not emotions and mussar shmuezen. We have to follow the guidance from the word of G-d (halacha) not emotions which can easily be swayed and distorted, right or left. That is why he have halacha and gemara and not just mussar.

10:57 PM, March 22, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

Anon,

It is unclear if you are aiming that comment at me directly. If so, I would like you to show me one time that I said that we had to give everyone that asks. I said that nowhere. If one doesn't want to give at all - fine. If one wants to give $1, to the first person that comes - great.

My only point is that myself, as a 22-year old pischer, cannot be the judge as to who gets and who doesn't - that's why I give without reading the Teudos. Again, I have trust in R' Heineman - that the people that he gives letters to are in need. Maybe your anonymous self is a better judge as to who should get and who shouldn't - Kol haKavod.

Thanks to all for a great discussion.

11:07 PM, March 22, 2006

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who knows where to download XRumer 5.0 Palladium?
Help, please. All recommend this program to effectively advertise on the Internet, this is the best program!

12:03 AM, November 22, 2009

 
Blogger Daniel said...

I thought you might be interested in hoshienu.org - an online community of people who learn and pray for the well being of our brethren.

3:04 PM, May 01, 2010

 

Post a Comment

<< Home