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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Stupid Tax for the Chareidim Too

Hat Tip: The Muqata

I wish I were making this up, but sadly enough, I'm not (although the first drawing does take place in Adar, so I'm still holding out hope that this is really just an early Purim joke).

YNet is reporting a new lotto system designed for the Chareidi public. It comes complete with endorsements from Rabbis Rafael Wint and Rabbi Yaakov Zonenfeld (names I am completely unfamiliar with). Tickets run a whopping $26 and proceeds will go to charity. The impetus for the lotto: a growing need for charity funds to help the poor.

This lotto not only plays on the "get rich quick" personality trait that many ticket buyers certainly possess, but it also allows players to feel good about playing the lotto as the profits will go to charity. As project founder Elisha Cohen states, "they can donate to charity as well as personally gain and keep donating from the same money they earn." [Emphasis added]. And, not only is the dream of winning nearly promised (no possibility of loosing has been mentioned), but one can win using ma'aser funds, as per the psak of the Rabbis endorsing the project.

As far as I am concerned this is an outrage! This is a segment of society that can least afford to introduce a vice into the mainstream, even for a "good cause." Does the Chareidi Public really need a "stupid tax" of their own? I'm sickened by this report.


David said...

It's a sad day when the rules for what counts as ma'aser are more lenient than those regarding what can be deducted from one's taxes.

Ahavah B. said...

Oddly enough, I'm not sure it's really such a terrible thing - after all, the only possible way some of these people will ever HAVE to get out of debt is to win a lottery. The real sorrow will be seeing how quickly they get themselves mired back in it after they win, since they are apparently unwilling to change the unrealistic patter of living they have decided to follow. If someone could win the lottery AND decide to totally reform their budget as a result, that would be a wonderful thing. I'm not holding my breath though.

anonymous mom said...

A lot of gimmicks of late to deal with the ever climbing costs of the Kollel system out of control and the benefactors tightening their belts in America. This will only get worse.

Anonymous said...

Why is a lottery ticket different than a chinese auction ticket?

SephardiLady said...

I don't care for Chinese Auctions either and I believe I've expressed that in the past. But, I have yet to hear the organizer of a Chinese Auction stand up and say "come play our Chinese Auction so that you can earn money and give even more." That is just downright deceptive.

I do think Chinese Auctions can be addictive. But, a monthly lottery (cold hard cash) that is marketed to the frum community (recurring event), is far more likely to be addictive.

As for Chinese Auctions, a friend of mine told me that is how she likes to give her tzedakah money. I imagine many more like to give this way and it has become harder to raise funds because everyone wants something in return.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

As long as lotteries and Chinese Auctions are considered "ma'aser" -- people will continue to use them.

Look at the bright least there isn't a Kosher Casino...yet.


Lion of Zion said...

"at least there isn't a Kosher Casino...yet"

there sort of is. it's called going to atlantic city on nitel nacht

"As long as lotteries and Chinese Auctions are considered "ma'aser" -- people will continue to use them."

maybe tuition should be considered maaser--then people will pay full (or more) tuition. (i think someone raised this question previously: should someone use their income to pay maaser if it means needing financial aid.)

Anonymous said...

This is no different from the way the state lottos in the US operate. Ostensibly, the proceeds from state lotteries go to "education", so they justify your playing by saying it goes to charity.

To quote Dave Ramsey, if you drive 1 mile to buy your lotto ticket, you are statistically more likely to be killed in a car accident on your way to buy the ticket than you are to actually win.

Mike S. said...

Calling gambling winnings "earnings" is a sign of moral decay. Earning a living by honest effort is praised by Chazal as being better than "z'chut avot". Gaining a living by gambling renders one passul l'eidut.

Halfnutcase said...

my mother buys a "throw away" ticket for the lottery once in a while. She knows she probably wont win, but basicaly says, "look, I'm not personaly that interested in the money. If I win, yes I'll use the money to get out of debt but the rest of it I don't particularly want and have every intention of donating to the local jewish grade school."

so yes she buys once in a while, more as a way of supporting education than of anything else.

But if hashem, for some bizzare reason decides that she needs to win, g-d bless him.

(and no, she doesn't buy them when she's pressed for money. When she has a bit extra she'll buy a ticket, rarely more than once a month if that, more like once or twice every several months.)

But I do agree that lotteries pray on the stupid, and this is just horrid. They're taking advantage of people in desperate situations.

Oh, and maiser money can be used to pay for tuition for older children, or to support a kid in kollel (IIRC from hilchos talmud torah.)

but then on, one can also compell the community to pay for his youngest kids as well.

SephardiLady said...

Anon 9:49AM-I think this is far worse than state lotteries (which I also oppose). Here, we have Rabbonim encouraging people to play with their ma'aser funds and encouraging more giving through gambling.

On top of that, the lottery is far more expensive and seemingly promises a greater chance of winning since it is geared towards a subset of the population.

The last thing we need in this world is Rabbis encouraging financial irresponsibility via a vehicle that could very well make the "donors" passul l'eidut.

I agree with Mike S, this is moral decay. The question is, how can the little people like you and I make our voices heard so our brothers don't fall for such "get rich quick" temptations in the name of "charitable giving."

Anonymous said...

Can someone please explain what are "ma'aser funds"? What usually qualifies as "ma'aser"? How much is one supposed to set aside for "ma'aser"? Does it matter if one is rich or poor?

Halfnutcase said...

anon, maiser is what one gives to the poor from one's earnings.

one may give anywhere between 5 and 20%, although standard is 10%.

(there are regulations about if you are exceedinly poor, but I do not know them.)

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

If all the money collected does go to tzedaka, then is it really a tax on the stupid?

The main problem is people who will play this when they can't afford it...and that will be a sizeable people of those playing.

Its very tempting to play since its ostensibly 100% tzedakka (even though it isnt, because money is being paid out to people which isn't tzedakka, but rather prize money).

(And thank G-d the Jericho Casino is CLOSED. Way too many Jews (including Chareidim) were going there and losing their household income.)

ora said...

Maaser comes from "esser," ten, and means the one-tenth of your income that Jews are required to give to the poor and community needs. From what I've been taught, 5% is only acceptable if you really can't afford more, but otherwise it should be at least 10%. The very poor give to each other, that way they remain accustomed to giving.

The maaser funds can be used for a variety of purposes. Contributions to a yeshiva or seminary, mikva building fund, poor families, or even (as someone said) to your own grown children can all be considered maaser (although you shouldn't count contributions to your own children as maaser unless your children are in need and you have no other money with which to help them). While community needs such as synagogues, mikvaot, and Torah education can be paid for with maaser money, some amount of maaser money should always go to the poor.

Maaser is also considered to be one of the only areas in which we can "test" Hashem, because we are promised a blessing if we are generous with maaser (however, the blessing is not always immediate).

I hope that helped.

jewinjerusalem said...

It should be clear that as long as this "tzadaka" is maaser deductible, then the people donating are not losing even one penny. Of course, we need to calculate the overhead (advertisements and prize money) of this tzadaka like any other. Who loses? The yeshivos, kollels, and other worthy institutions.In Eretz Yisroel the attitude is "if you want a yeshiva then go to America and shnorr." Sometimes i think the recent shortage of money for traditional mosdos is because of all the new ones, such as Hatzola and zaka (3 competing organizations), bonei olam, various special ed schools and hostels, private tutoring of boys after cheder ( whatever happened to fathers?), avos ubanim (why should it cost money?-- just learn with your kid), etc. And the list just goes on and on.

Zach Kessin said...

The thing is that the Tzadaka pool is limited, and this may well pull money from other parts of it. Also the falling dollar can't help. When the US dollar was 4.40NIS 4 years ago and 3.91 now it makes it much harder to raise money in the United states.

Until the Rabbis tell people that they need to get off their buts and find real jobs en mass this is going to get worse.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Jew In Jerusalem wrote, "It should be clear that as long as this "tzadaka" is maaser deductible, then the people donating are not losing even one penny. Of course, we need to calculate the overhead (advertisements and prize money) of this tzadaka like any other"

It shouldn't be considered maaser deductible, since money is going as lottery payout. Why should giving lottery payout winnings money to my neighbor who isn't "poor" be considered maaser, tzedakka money?

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry if I don't understand, I'm the anon from above with the ma'aser question. Is giving ma'aser standard? I went to a modern orthodox yeshiva and never once heard about this - not in yeshiva and not from the rabbi in shul. Maybe I'm cynical, but I was never under the impression that everyone in our community was giving between 5%-20% of their salaries to charity. Is this more common in some communities and less in others? Do you give ma'aser before or after taxes? What about someone who had debts (student loans, credit card debt, a mortgage, etc)? Also, do you give to ma'aser instead of putting money into savings or towards retirement? Maybe I don't have enough faith, but it seems to me one should be more established before giving thousands of dollars to charity every year.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Anon 10:13 AM

Important line, "One should remember that the mitzvah of Tzedakah is clearly from Torah it’s only the percentage that is a custom. Therefore, those who for some reason can’t give as much as ten percent can give less." (Tzitz Eliezer 9, 1)

Therefore, don't get bent out of shape by calculators and mandatory blanket statements like this one, "A Jew is required to tithe his money and donate between one-tenth and one-fifth to tzedakah."

Ask your Local Orthodox Rabbi for more guidance...

SephardiLady said...

Anon-The laws of tzedakah are complicated as to what you can subtract from ma'aser. Taxes can certainly be subtracted. The Rabbi I spoke to said ALL taxes from income, to Social Security, to real estate taxes paid, or sales tax (gas tax, etc). What you are cutting from is a much smaller amount ultimately than your taxes.

I've heard women who work cut after they pay tax and babysitters.

Some Rabbis allow shul membership to count as ma'asser, others do not.

I imagine most of us don't ask for enough guidance. On the other hand, it is really hard to get guidance due to the sheer detail involved.

Jaameel-You ask if the proceeds go to tzedakah if it is really a "stupid tax," while recognizing people can and will get into trouble with this. I would say a person who really wants to give tzedakah and make their money count to its maximum effect, will just write a check.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Taxes can certainly be subtracted.

Ive heard rabbanim say that taxes are not "certainly" subtracted...

Re: the stupid tax; any shul raffle, chinese auction, bazzar, or even shul/school dinner could be seen the same way.

(Dont get me wrong, Im not just seems one of a dozen such rabbinically approved "schemes")

SephardiLady said...

Jameel, I stand corrected regarding whether or not taxes can be subtracted before ma'aser is given. The Rav of my community says yes (and surprised me by saying all taxes, although I'm not sure how one can keep track of every tax accurately), but I know a Rabbi who says 10% of one's salary pre-tax, which is a whopping amount considering just how large a normal family's total tax bill is (SS, Federal, State, excluding other taxes).

Like I said before, I don't care for high overhead fundraisers (no matter who is covering the overhead). I think it just makes fundraising into a very competitive business and ultimately hurts us all.

But, I really, really feel a lotto is different that other types of Raffles and Auctions. For one, it is recurring (monthly in this case) so it practically seeks you out over and over and over again. Secondly, it is impersonal. The gambler is more anonymous than the couple who enters their local Yeshiva's chinese auction. If a family receives $15,000 in tuition reductions and starts buying auction tickets like there is no tomorrow, hopefully it would raise eyebrows (although I'm not sure about that). Thirdly, I think a lotto is more of a "gateway" to other types of gambling because it is for cash and cash only.

Wish I could express my thoughts better. Oh well.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...


FYI: It also matters where you pay tax. In Israel for example, look at all the good our tax money goes to. Social Security in Israel goes to the poor, to widows and orphans, to sick, people that can't work, retired people -- all of that is tzedaka. Money to the security establishment directly provides for the safety of the Jewish people in Israel. Yeshiva are a huge benificiary -- my taxes in Israel actually go to yeshivas and kollels. The list of the actual good where tax money in the Jewish State goes is huge...(so even though my tax level is 50%, much of it goes to tzedaka).

I completely understand your point about the lottery -- makes you wonder how it got rabbinical recognition in the first place.

ora said...


If you're talking about a yeshiva high school, it's possible that they didn't bring it up because they didn't think it was relevant to you at that stage in your life. I don't know. Maaser is like mikva in that it's usually done privately and you have no way to know who is and isn't keeping the mitzva. But even though you don't see it, many people do give maaser. Only my husband and I know how much of our money goes to maaser, and while I think it's important to raise awareness of the mitzva, I think that making our contributions public would not be tznua.

From what I've heard, maaser is given after taxes and work-related expenses such as babysitting, transportation, etc.

I'm not sure about giving maaser when you have debts.

As for savings and retirement, both are very important, but there are many people in our communities who are in serious need of money in order to buy food or medicine to survive. IMO, if my neighbor needs to pay for cancer medication and I want rainy day savings, her needs come first when it comes to spending maaser. (After all, I wouldn't give my maaser to someone else's rainy day savings.)

You should know that maaser is not actually your money, but money that belongs to the poor. If you yourself are poor, that's one thing, but if not, you OWE that money. According to Rambam, if someone does not give tzedaka or gives less than he should, that person is given lashes until he agrees to give (from Hilchot Matnat Aniim). If the tzedaka in question were his private property, then what Rambam proposes would clearly be theft, but because the refuser is seen as taking what rightfully belongs to the poor, he can be punished.

Dave in DC said...

I saw a sticker on the front door of the math education office at the local Jewish day school that said, "Support Math Illiteracy! Buy a Lottery Ticket" :-)

Lion of Zion said...


"my taxes in Israel actually go to yeshivas and kollels"

so do mine in america


"I'm not sure about giving maaser when you have debts."

everyone (?) has debt. (cc, student loans, mortgage)

shmilda said...

Jameel: My ridiculously high New York City taxes go to...

fund legions of lazy bureaucrats who have "kabbalat kahal" just between "aruchat esser" and lunch, just like in Israel

poor, widows and orphans, sick, people that can't work, retired people, etc. stuck on/in welfare and other social programs, just like in Israel

subsidizing public transportation, just like in Israel

the defense establishment, arguably protecting the U.S., Israel, and the world from Islamic war, just like in Israel

a bloated, inefficient, ineffective education bureaucracy, just like in Israel

I suppose the difference is that many of the schools Israeli taxes support teach some Torah, but that is about it. Kollel people here and there manage to find their way to public assistance. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, pork barrel projects, etc. all sound pretty similar.

Charlie Hall said...

"My ridiculously high New York City taxes"

Property tax rates in New York City are among the lowest of any large city in the United States. I live in Riverdale; the taxes are half what they are a few blocks away in Yonkers even though the houses in Yonkers are cheaper. And in the less urban suburbs of Westchester County they are double the level of Yonkers.

Regarding the lottery; I have no idea whether a Jewish-sponsored lottery is mutar or asur. I do know that it shows that we are just like the other nations :(.

janitor said...

More chillul hashems...
spinka rebbe arrested for massive fraud.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Charlie Hall's comment of "Property tax rates in New York City are among the lowest of any large city in the United States. I"

Income tax in NYC is 3%...there is no income tax in the NY suburbs

You can't just compare property taxes and say NYC twaxes are lower.

mother in israel said...

My husband had a boss who would guess lottery numbers each week and write them down. He would compare them to the prize-winning numbers and consider how much he "won"--his savings by not buying a ticket.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

hello there peoples.

I just wanted to mention that the regular Israeli lotto system itself is tzedaka in a way, because to a large extent the government gets the money, and builds schools nd stuff with it (which help Jewish kids gain knolege and gain a parnassa (not too much religion taught in the schools though, but that's no reason to be that nagative)...