Is There a “Most Preferred” Tzedakah for Purim?
A Long Overdue Conversation about Charity Advertisements
Eight-page color, glossy inserts, included in major Jewish publications, arrived this past week heralding rabbinic rulings purportedly issued by leading gedolim (sages) in Eretz Yisroel proclaiming Va’ad Harabbonim as “The Most Mehudar” (ideal, preferred) venue for Purim matanos l’evyonim (charity [distributed to] poor people [on Purim day]).
The brochures included pictures of various gedolim placing money in their charity boxes accompanied by terse, hand-written endorsements of their charity as an appropriate and/or preferred venue for Purim charity. Finally, one of our most beloved and revered gedolim is quoted as saying that his, [halachic] ruling is for “everywhere” – presumably meant to include Jews in the Diaspora as well as Eretz Yisroel.
However, both legs of these endorsements as presented are shaky at best.
To begin with, the pictures of our gedolim contributing to a charity box are meaningless as far as an endorsement is concerned. It does not suggest any level of oversight or stewardship of the organization whatsoever – only that they did what most of us do; place charity in a collection box when we are solicited. Since they are irrelevant, these images are frankly demeaning to the stature of our greatest tzadikim, and this practice of posting them should be stopped immediately.
As for the written endorsements, they are most certainly not halachic rulings, as they lack details and context. For example, it is unclear if they were written for their local community, all of Eretz Yisroel or for Jews worldwide.
Even a cursory review of teshuvos (rabbinic rulings) issued by Reb Moshe Feinstein zt’l illustrates how halachic rulings are to be conveyed. All of Reb Moshe’s teshuvos follow the time-honored outline passed down throughout the generations. They:
1) Are dated to convey the time the ruling was issued and by extension the perhaps unique circumstances prevailing at that particular time.
2) Begin with Reb Moshe repeating the question posed in detail, and usually including the name and city of the individual posing the question.
3) Include Reb Moshe’s articulation of both sides of the argument posed.
4) Include detailed source material and references so the reader can become acquainted with the logic that drove the final ruling.
5) Convey the final p’sak in clear and concise terms – and generally speaking note if Reb Moshe’s response is halachic in nature (a final ruling) or a chumrah for a ba’al nefesh (a non-binding stringency, which an individual who is scrupulous in mitzvah observance can voluntarily accept upon him or herself.)
In any event, halacha clearly states that local charities always take precedence over out-of-town causes following the dictum of “Aniyei Ircha Kodem, (Lit. [the] poor of your city come before [those outside your community])” In fact, there are ongoing, broad-based rabbinic efforts in communities such as Baltimore’s “26-51” program encouraging residents to dedicate 26% of their charity funds to local schools and 51% to local charities.
Jews worldwide are eager to help our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel, and there is extraordinarily good work being done there by many wonderful organizations that deserve our support. However, misleading ads that claim a “preferred” status for any given charity are inappropriate and disrespectful to our gedolim.
Promotional materials soliciting people for their hard-earned charity dollars simply need to state the leadership of the organization, the work they do, and give donors the confidence that their gifts will be used to help people celebrate the coming Purim and Pesach holidays with dignity and joy.
Best wishes for a meaningful fast and Simchas Purim,
© 2013, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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