In this week's Jewish Press, a social worker wrote to the "Dear Rachel" column about gambling addictions that she has seen manifested through the ever popular Chinese Auctions. She claims that there are families who diverted needed funds for food or clothing in hopes of winning a coveted prize in a Chinese Auction.
I share her discomfort with using gambling as a form of fundraising (although the suggest that we return to the bake sale and yard sale model strikes me as ludicrous at best) and I have stated so in other forums on j-blogs like Hirhurim.
Rachel dismissed the letter writer's concerns and I think the Jewish Press should be called on the carpet for publishing her advice when it is clear that she knows very little about the subject, its many forms, and the way that the problem can manifest itself. I may have to sit down and pen a well written letter myself this week, even though I am hardly the expert and would prefer to hear from the psychologists/psychiatrists in the frum community that deal with addictions.
I am not that expert needed to address the question, but I have seen enough to know that gambling takes on many forms and that Rachel's assertions are severely mistaken. Two of the assertions include the following (please, please read the entire letter and response for full context):
- If one is a gambler at heart, his/her craving will not be satisfied at a Chinese Auction charity gathering..
- The person who was of the opinion that people need to exercise self-control is onto something. Everyone knows his/her own limits. If someone ends up spending more than what s/he originally intended to in order to secure a better chance to win a preferred item, then the money will have been well spent.
Regarding the first assertion: Gambling takes on many forms. Some people gamble in a regular way, e.g. casinos and their addiction can be more easily spotted. But other people gamble in a hidden way, under the cloak of another activity, for example "investing" or "recreation."
I know a (now ex) husband who borrowed nearly six figures against their home to "invest." He would sit in front of his computer for hours on end watching his "investments," neglecting his (now ex) wife, child, and other obligations/interests in the process. He thinks of himself as an "investor," but I believe he would be diagnosed as a "gambler." I don't believe this person has ever spent any time in casinos, but he satisfies his problem through borrowing to invest with the intention of making money.
Regarding the second assertion: I'm in shock!!! This is probably one of the most ridiculous assertions I've ever seen in a Torah Oriented Jewish Publication. "Everyone knows [their] own limits." Surely if every individual and every family knew their own limits, we would not need a program to help bochurim quit smoking. We would not have a problem with young men and not so young men drinking themselves into comas on Purim. We would not have a problem with fathers or mothers taking money needed for the basic upkeep of their homes and spending it on luxuries.
I agree with the original letter writer: we should be concerned about the proliferation of Chinese Auctions. One never knows who the blind person is and what his/her stumbling block is. While the issue of gambling is one of halachic discussion, the fact that a professional gambler is excluded from eidut should give us a clue that gambling is not a preferred way to raise funds or spend our recreational time.
The Jewish Press should have never published her response.