Troubled on Purim - "Halacha" vs Honesty?


A minor incident on Purim has troubled me.

I collect on Purim day for Lema’an Achai. This year I teamed up for an hour on Purim with my friend Murray Shore from Toronto, and we went together door-to-door.

A donor (we’ll call him Ploni) came up to us and proposed the following deal.

Ploni offered to give Lema’an Achai 250 NIS, if Lema’an Achai will receipt him for 500 NIS.

Ploni explained that he has given out at least 250 NIS in cash donations to individuals, who are not able to give tax receipts. So Ploni is giving 500 NIS total charity, and believes he’s entitled to a receipt for that full amount.

Ploni further explained that Lema’an Achai loses nothing by this, as we doubtless have collected plenty of cash, which has not yet been receipted. At the moment, no-one gets tax benefit from this.

And of course, we receive 250 NIS from Ploni, which he otherwise might not have donated.

To finish off the proposal, Ploni named Rabbi X, an important community rabbi in town, who Ploni claimed had given Ploni his endorsement to collect such inflated receipts from tzedaka organizations, as long as the total amount in the receipts does not exceed the total amount Ploni gives in tzedaka.

“Everybody wins!” declared Ploni.

I asked Ploni for clarification.

“Please explain what you mean. I don’t think I understand clearly. You give Lema’an Achai how much?”

“250”, he replied.

“That’s kind of you - Yeshar koach & tizke lemitzvot.
And we receipt this donation for how much?”

“500”, he replied.

“You give 250, and we say we received 500. Right?”

“Yes, you see…”

“Hold on, maybe I still haven’t understood this fully, …with all respect, wouldn’t that be. umm.. a lie?”

“Well not entirely…you see…”

“And, technically, an act of fraud?”.

“Rav X said it’s fine, he said I can do this…what’s your problem?”

By the end of the (amicable!) discussion, Ploni gave Lema’an Achai 200 NIS, saying that our lack of cooperation with his scheme needed to be penalized by withholding 50 NIS from his originally intended donation.

I have seen the same phenomenon in many variations – the ends (a mitzvah, or supposed mitzvah) justifies the means (lies, fraud, stealing, whatever).

It troubles me, every time.

---------

Postscript (by permission of Rav Chayim Soloveichik): As Lema'an Achai lost 50 NIS on the deal, I was concerned that me and my principles came "al cheshbon" the poor.

I therefore asked Lema'an Achai's Rav, Rav Chayim Soloveichik, whether I had acted properly.

Rav Chayim said I had acted correctly, and said he was shocked that anyone would claim rabbinical backing for such an aveira (cheating and lying).

He then added: "You might think that Lema'an Achai lost 50 NIS on the deal, because you were honest...."

Rav Soloveichik put his hand in his pocket, and gave Lema'an Achai 50 NIS.

"David, this is so you should never think Lema'an Achai might lose out by being straight."

Comments

  1. I think that you have the responsibility to approach this rabbi and to corroborate the story. and if it is true, to get permission to publicize the psak.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think you did right in not cooperating with Ploni's scheme. I also think Slingshot's suggestion of finding out from Rabbi X if indeed he actually said this. (It would not be the first time that someone repeats something in the way they wanted to to understand it.)

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  3. I dont know about Ramat Beit Shemesh, but many American haredi mosdos are knee deep in this sort of fraud and the amounts widely exceed the amounts that either the organization actually recieves or that the donor actually gave to any sort of tzedakah. Money laundering is a fact of life as amply demonstrated by both Deal, NJ Dwek stings and the conviction of the Spinka Rebbe who is now in the Otisville correctional facility.

    I think being repeatedly bothered is good. When our responses go flat we lose the ability to fight this sort of thing.

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  4. Rabbi Berel Wein often quotes Rabbi Yaakov Emden when discussing how seriously Jews take the minhag of kitniyos on Pesach. He said - I only wish that Hashem made the issur of Geneivah a minhag and not one of the 10 commandments. If it was a minhag, than perhaps Jews would take it more seriously, and stop always trying to find ways around the issur.

    Some things never change.

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  5. Slingshot, did Rav Yaakov Emden (יעב"ץ) really say this? Where is it documented? In one of his seforim?

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  6. Mark - I heard it from Rabbi Wein, where he mentioned it on a few occasions during his lectures over the years.

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  7. BTW - I want to add to my first comment. Mr. Morris - I think you should attempt to expose the Rabbi (if it is true), since that would mean that other organizations locally may be "abiding" by the psak. On one level, Lemaan Achai is getting directly hurt by it, since donations are going to other, more lucrative, organizations for donors. So therefore, it is in your interest and committed Lemaan Achai donors' interest for you to expose.

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  8. perhaps he was laying an ambush, hoping to catch you in a dishonest situation, so he could afterwards claim Lemaan Achai is not so honest. You would need to verify Rabbi X actually said what is claimed in his name, and to go further you could try to find out if any organization follows such a psak and issues such receipts. I dont know about reporting, if you find out that it is all true and happens, but you cant do anything before all that.

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  9. Slingshot,

    I don't know who the rabbi is but I can surmise that if he is a local RBS rabbi he probably already tells his followers to give to organizations other than Lema'an Achai.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thank you for the feedback.

    Indeed, I have no idea if Ploni was telling me the truth, or if he had misunderstood the psak he received.

    I am aware that such things do go on, on a larger scale, and on a regular basis.

    By the way, when I asked Lema'an Achai's Rav, Rav Chayim Soloveichik, whether I had acted properly, he said I had acted correctly, and was shocked that anyone would claim rabbinical backing for such an aveira.

    He then added: "You might think that Lema'an Achai lost 50 NIS on the deal, because you were honest...."

    Rav Soloveichik put his hand in his pocket, and gave Lema'an Achai 50 NIS.

    "David, this is so you should never think Lema'an Achai might lose out by being straight."

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'll second that!

    How about all of us who respects Lema'an Achai's integrity, donate 50 NIS to show solidarity?

    We can do it online at https://lemaanachai.org/donations.aspx

    ReplyDelete
  12. This story just illustrates Lema'an Achai's problem in the community.

    They don't know how to play the Charedi shtick.Period.

    The ends always justifies the means. Stretching the truth, "pilpul" psak halacha and other methods are all ok..after all it's for tzedaka!

    It boggles the mind how other organizations can plaster (and litter) the town with wasteful PR and still come out with hundreds of thousands.

    The people buy this nonsense and couldn't care less about integrity and honesty.

    Nice try David but in RBS nice (and honest) guys will always finish last!

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  13. Just tell him to get Rabbi X to write the receipts from his own organization's book.

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  14. David thank you for the post and sharing. You did great and Wow what a Rav we have!

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  15. You obviously (to me at least) acted correctly. I would pursue Slingshot's proposal in his first comment.

    Kol Hakavod.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Slightly off the subject, but can anyone explain to me why our wonderful ambulance service here in RBS agrees to join a certain organizations Purim parade every year evn though they are in full violation of traffic and safety laws? Year after year I see kids on top of cars, hanging out of doors. Some our our local paediatricians have their kids doing this too! How many accidents have Hatzalah been to with serious injuries from seatbelt violations or how many kids have these Drs treated after car accidents? I just don't get why they can't parade and be safe. Can anyone shed any light on this?

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  17. Shed light? The cops came to enforce safety and were driven away by politicians.

    This means that some people are above the law.

    There is something seriously wrong here.

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  18. how many injuries have there been from the annual parade that has been going on for several years already. they aren't going fast enough for anything major to happen.
    grow up, let people have a good time.
    this year the kupa of mishkenot yaakov also joined the bandwagon with some kind of parade.
    instead of knocking the kupa's successful marketing, start working on your own.
    and yes it was a bad move on the police's part.
    getting along well with the community keeps everyone safer in the long run. why come and disturb an annual neighborhood event and sour the communities attitude towards the police?
    the politicians understood this, it has nothing to do with being above the law.

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  19. what's the big deal?
    you don't want to do it don't write the receipts.
    people do it all over. it may not be right but at the end of the day everyone gains, including the government - what do they gain if money is locked up in the bank - like this the money moves, people get money and spend it. the government makes money on the salaries the mosdos pay, the maam from all the purchases,etc.

    even it is unethical in general, what's the big deal in this case? the money came in and no one claimed a receipt for the cash donations, so let somebody else take credit for it.
    big deal.
    the government makes it impossible to make a living any more- ecspecially in Israel.
    if you pay how much you're supposed to, they don't believe you and charge you more with nothing you can do about it.
    everyone is this government is corrupt from the top down - and from the bottom up. why should the simple guy be the only one to lose out

    ReplyDelete
  20. Anonymous: "people do it all over. it may not be right... even if it is unethical in general, what's the big deal in this case?"

    That's exactly the point, Anonymous.

    It is unethical, it is lying, it is cheating, it is stealing, and it is a crime (defrauding the tax authorities).

    And "everybody does it".

    And, even worse, apparently while believing their rabbi condones it.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Anonymous asked "how many injuries have there been...?"

    This is question which should be asked of the emergency services (MDA, Hatzalah), Terem etc.

    I do know that I saw a teenager lying prone in the street in RBS having been knocked down by a car on Purim night. (I saw the ambulances coming, but I don't know how seriously injured the kid was).

    This was not caused directly by the Kupa entourage - but the kupa convoy *does* encourage recklessness.

    The adults should set a better example.

    Excessive behavior on Purim, unfortunately does cost lives.

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  22. Hate the Kupah Purim parade28 March 2011 at 18:38

    How many injuries have their been? Not one....yet! But there will be and it will be one too many. Why does driving illegally mean they will make more money? If the kids are wearing seatbelts, will people not donate? I'm ashamed of the local Doctors for not strapping in their kids.Oh...and they were going pretty fast down my street!

    ReplyDelete
  23. The Kupa Parade has become a fixture in RBS community life - and certainly helps raise the public's awareness of "Matanot Le'evionim".

    The Kupa manages to rally dozens of people to participate, and untold hundreds to enjoy the spectacle.

    ReplyDelete
  24. kol hakavod david for your comment.
    shmuel and the others,
    when a responsible person drives in a parade with kids all over the car, he is concious of what he is doing and takes extra care when he drives.
    most of the driving in the kupa parade is therefore not dangerous, maybe scary looking to the on-looker, but not too dangerous.
    don't get stuck your whole life in the closed in box of rules. there are general principles and then there are exceptions. it's okay to have some controlled fun. i don't think anybody learns from there that it is okay under normal situations to drive like that.
    it is a far call to say that uncontrolled partying on purim is caused from the pre-purim parade. everyone knows that it is an exception, and the kids realy have a good time.
    no one has gotten hurt and no one will under these situations.
    as far as asking the hatzoloh guys, the question answers itself; if they participate, then they don't think it is dangerous. they have big campaigns against fireworks and lag baomer fire safety, there they see a problem and work to prevent it. here, there is no problem.
    loosen up a little.

    ReplyDelete
  25. It is unethical, it is lying, it is cheating, it is stealing, and it is a crime (defrauding the tax authorities).
    unethical- maybe. perhaps it is ethical to not allow the corrupted government steal your hard earned money.
    lying- why he gave the money to tzedakah jut not to that organization. and the organization received the money from other people so what is the big deal.
    as far as rabbanim condoning it, it is probably because since in eretz yisrael there are poskim that hold that there is no rule of dina demalchusa dina and therefore they have no right to steal your hard earned money under the ruse of "taxes" according to many opinions. based on this i think it was a chumara that he can only claim money that he actually gave. if there is no way for the authorities to find out, because the organization actually made the money that they claimed they received, no chillul hashem can come from it, so it's not really a crazy thing to do.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Dina D'Malchhusa29 March 2011 at 08:18

    "as far as rabbanim condoning it, it is probably because since in eretz yisrael there are poskim that hold that there is no rule of dina demalchusa dina and therefore they have no right to steal your hard earned money under the ruse of "taxes" according to many opinions"

    Isn't ironic that many of the people who listen to those "poskim" don't pay taxes to begin with?

    ReplyDelete
  27. In "true" hareidism there is no litmus test, or reality-check, against a halachik psak.

    Such as:

    * Is this psak criminal?
    (in hareidism, the law of the land is not considered a moral or halachik standard)

    * Is this psak "honest", does it display "common decency" and "integrity"?
    (the definition of "honest" or "derech eretz" is reverted back to a subcategory of halacha - such as a handshake closing a deal is also halachikly binding - it's a closed loop; it is not an independent measure of anything).

    Therefore, even respected Hareidi rabbonim will and do issue piskei halacha which are Criminal and which are not Honest.

    Even local hareidi rabbonim in RBS.

    This is a fundamental fault-line in hareidism, which is responsible for so much abuse, criminality, fraud, mafia tactics, and hilul H'in hareidi communities around the world.

    ReplyDelete
  28. The two issues are linked-fraud and the parade. Both involve doing something "good" while disregarding the law. As mentioned above, would it really make any difference to the Purim parade if the drivers and occupants were driving legally? Just as would they raise less money for tzedaka if the receipts were written honestly. Both examples prove that there is an inherent lawlessness within some sectors of the Haredi world that is very deeply ingrained. I wince at the sight of the parade each year, wiating for one car to brake suddenly.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I am curious why commenters are assuming the fellow who gave me the "proposal" on Purim named a chareidi community rabbi as his (alleged) halachik authority.

    I didn't mention which community the rav is from, nor his hashkafa - and nor do I think it is important.

    Unfortunately, corruption can, indeed does, happen in every community.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I guess that this means it was a non Charedi rav who gave the psak.

    At least David Morris has the courage to speak out even against his own.

    Shame on those who thought that this was a Charedi rav.

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  31. If any rabanim are proud of this guy, they need psychotherpay and dedication to Torah values: http://www.jta.org/news/article/2011/03/29/3086619/ny-rabbi-pleads-guilty-to-money-laundering

    There's something to be said for letting a person bear the consequences of their actions. Then again, some people never learn morality no matter what. Life is about the choices we make.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Anonymous: "I guess that this means it was a non Charedi rav who gave the psak."

    I suggest you read David's comment more carefully, Anonymous.

    David wrote: "I didn't mention which community the rav is from, nor his hashkafa - and nor do I think it is important."

    David does not say whether it's a haredi rav, or a dati-leumi rav, or for that matter a Sephardi or Temani rav.

    David says he doesn't think the hashkafa of this specific person and his rav is significant.

    I disagree with him - we all know a hareidi rav is far more likely to throw issues such as Legality and Honesty to the wind, than would other rabbonim.

    ReplyDelete

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