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Monday, November 29, 2010

Auctions and Gemachs (Free Loan Societies)

There are two ways one should NOT attempt to acquire a silver menorah. Both were suggested in a thread on imamother:

1. Enter Chinese Auctions: NO, NO, NO, NO, NO. If you want something, don't gamble to get it. Put the money in an envelope. Your odds of actually ending up with that special item will be much higher!

2. Borrow from a Gemach (free loan society). Even if a free loan society does not technically give tzedakah (loans are to be repaid, but there is a still a element of tzedakah insofar as opportunity cost), and even if a free loan society does not ask the recipient of funds what they will be used for, the purpose of a free loan society, as I understand it, is to invest in something bigger. Somehow, a silver menorah doesn't top my list of investments and it seems wrong to suggest that money (a scarce good) should be taken from pot so that a young married can purchase a menorah, leaving less for a proprietor to purchase a new oven for a bakery, a parent to fund an emergency operation for a child, or a student to complete the final semester of medical school. Money is not unlimited.

It is no wonder that the profile of the average tzedakah recipient is changing, the subject of my last post (with thanks to The Jewish Worker). Perhaps tzedakah organizations are becoming bailout agencies because free loan societies are becoming "interest free credit card" companies?

If a couple wants a silver menorah, and they have the means to pay back a gemach/free loan society, then they have the means to SAVE for a menorah. No need to take out a loan on the community, and no need to gamble!

39 comments:

tesyaa said...

How about have your young child make a menorah out of clay, paint it silver and enjoy the nachas without breaking the bank?

JS said...

This is beyond absurd. Borrowing money from a gemach to buy a silver menorah? Have we lost our collective minds?

For the life of me I don't understand how there can be talk of this crisis and that crisis in our communities when people are seeking out loans for silver Judaica of all things.

Is there no shame anymore? I can't even imagine the mindset of someone who would go to a gemach to buy a silver menorah when every yeshiva kid of a certain age is coming home with a perfectly functional menorah made of a piece of wood and a few nuts (or is this not done anymore because it diminishes the importance of hiddur mitzvah?).

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that I can't imagine any non-Jews seeking out charitable funds for such a frivolous and lavish purchase - imagine someone going to a food bank so they can save money to purchase an expensive Christmas tree ornament. And yet, I imagine these same people would readily mock those on welfare who choose to spend their money on expensive clothing and sneakers.

tesyaa said...

Wow, I just glanced at the first few entries on the Imamother thread. It seems the husband really wants a silver menora (NOT silver plated) because all his siblings have them. (That their wives bought for them). But you have to give him credit - he doesn't want his wife to put it on a credit card.

Miami Al said...

Is it Lashon Hara to go on a web forum and announce to the world that your supposedly Frum husband is coveting the Menorahs of his brothers and father?

Just curious...

Avi said...

Huh? I think a Chinese auction is a great way to acquire a silver menorah. It's the perfect prize - nobody actually needs a silver menorah, and the possibility of a prize makes giving tzedaka fun. Why would you recommend putting money into an envelope and saving up for a silver menorah? That money could be much better spent on something else.

Anonymous said...

I splurged and bought myself a beautiful brass menorah. It's not cheap feeling like those silver-plated pewter things, and literally glows under candle light. I think it is prettier than a silver menorah, and cost a fraction of the amount.

Anonymous said...

Anon: I'm with you. When I moved into my own apartment, my mother asked what I wanted for a housewarming gift. we picked out a brass menorah that didn't cost more than $25.00. 25 years later and I wouldn't trade it for the fanciest, most expensive silver menorah.

On the Baltimore said...

"And today everyone needs a silver menorah? I just got a silver menorah when I was in my fifties because I inherited it from someone. For all those years before that I had a plain metal one ... okay it wasn't the potato menorah I had when I was a bochur."

- Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer.

On the Baltimore said...

Clarification -- I'm not Rabbi Hopfer; the quote was something I heard him say.

Anonymous said...

I remember a story about a rov who was shown a beautiful etrog. He answered that for you its posul. Somewhat taken aback he asked why. He replied, it seems you have spare money, to buy your wife new clothes for yom tov is a mitsva, but a beautiful etrog is only a hiddur mitsva.
A silver menora is only a hiddur mitsva for those who can afford it. For those that can't it is the opposite. I just dont know the hebrew word for the opposite of hiddur.

Ariella said...

I actually did buy my husband a silver menorah before we were married. Silver was much cheaper then, and it fell into the types of gifts usually exchanged, especially as we were engaged over Chanukah. Still I do not regard it as a necessity at all. I think that if I were to do it again, I would possibly skip it. I am not really into silver and really don't enjoy polishing it! I was actually planning to put up a post about on hiddur mitzvah vs. materialism, so I will get cracking now.

JLan said...

"okay it wasn't the potato menorah I had when I was a bochur"

One of the best "menorahs" I've seen was from someone I knew in college, who used a series of Snapple bottles. They were mostly filled with water, with some olive oil (oil floats atop water, of course), and floating wicks.

JS said...

Another thought:

This post left me wondering why the concept of beautifying a mitzvah (hidur mitzvah) is invariably and inextricably tied up in spending more money. Hidur mitzvah for chnukah? Upgrade to silver menorah. Hidur mitzvah for sukkot? Upgrade the etrog. Hidur mitzvah for purim? Upgrade to personal klaf for megillah in a silver case.

Why is this the only way to beautify a mitzvah? What about spending extra time with family? What about teaching one's children about the mitzvah? Why does a silver menorah beautify the mitzvah more than lighting a menorah made by one's kids in school, telling them how proud you are of them, singing Chanukah songs with them, and going over some halachot regarding lighting?

You always hear about the former, never the latter it seems.

Anonymous said...

The gemoro's example hiddur mitsva till a third is talking about money.

tesyaa said...

JS - I think the idea of money=hiddur comes from the fact that you appreciate something more, or show you value something more, by spending money one it: i.e., sacrificing something else you COULD have bought for the same money. So if you could have bought an iPhone and you spend the money on a menorah instead, because you really value the mitzvah, then it becomes mehudar.

If you spend the money on an iPhone and then you complain you can't afford a silver menorah, that's not hiddur mitzvah. That's just whining.

If you don't want to sacrifice and you just want someone to hand the object over to you on a silver platter (no pun intended), that's not hiddur mitzvah.

And if you want the silver menorah because your siblings have one, not because the mitzvah is SO important to you, that's not hiddur mitzvah.

Miami Al said...

Tesyaa,

Exactly. So when our Teaneck "Shabbos Dads" all look at their $400 Silver Menorah, then complain about never seeing their children, they should realize that they were so Hiddur Mitzvah, they sacrificed 8 hours with their children so that they could have a beautiful Menorah. :)

JS said...

tesyaa,

Sure. I get the whole idea of how we allocate resources shows what we care most about. But, as you point out, in many cases wanting something nice has less to do with the mitzvah and more to do with fitting in and just liking nice things - they just put a religious spin on it so it doesn't come across as crass materialism.

But, time is another finite resource. And, how we spend our time also shows how much we love and care about something. Spending $500 for a silver menorah may show a love of the mitzvah, but so does spending an extra hour each night of chanukah singing songs with your kids and learning halachot chanukah with them. If anything, I'd argue those 8 extra hours are more of a hidur than some silver menorah.

Also, with all the talk and worry about kids going off the derech, which is more likely to keep your kids frum and observing mitzvot when they're older? The $500 menorah? Or spending that extra time with them showing them how joyous mitzvah observance can be?

Ariella said...

JS I don't believe anyone has yet to make the claim that a silver menorah will protect your children from going off the derech. And btw, you're all coming up with very low prices, especially given today's price of silver. Only the bar mitzvah boys versions would be in that range. The full size ones would be closer to $1000.

I agree with Tesyaa. What you decide to do with your resources says a lot about your priorities. For example, I know people who work every Purim and chol hamoed and then take off many other regular days for vacation. I know of people who would not even pay for day camp for their kids and put them in public school for a couple of years to save on tuition but did spend the money on lavish bar mitzvahs with the works. Obviously, my own priorities are different. Personally, I am not into silver and would not consider a piece like that an appropriate purchase when one is already struggling with the expenses of a family. But those who can afford it and choose to put the $1000 into a silver menorah, rather than a plasma TV and not necessarily off in their priorities.

tesyaa said...

JS, most people aren't in per diem or per hour jobs, so spending an extra hour singing with the kids each night isn't going to make a difference whether they can afford the menorah.

Mike S. said...

The Gemara defines hiddur mitzvah differently for nerot chanuka than for most mitzvot. For most mitzvot hiddur mitzvah is in the object, but the mitzvah of ner channuka is the light not the vessel that holds it. So hiddur mitzvah relates to the number of lights, not the candelabrum that holds them.

Thus the gemarah defines:

The basic mitvah is one candle for the whole family.

Hiddur mitzvah is one candle for each person.

Beyond hiddur (mehadrin min hamedrin) is one candle the first night, two the second and so on (according to Beit Hillel.) There is a machloket Rishonim about whether this is one menorah per household or per person. But notice no silver is required even for the mehadrin Min hamehadrin. And even the guy with the $1.29 sheet metal menorah they give out to college kids fulfils the mitzvah mehardin min hamehadrin.

Abba's Rantings said...

TESYAA:

"If you spend the money on an iPhone and then you complain you can't afford a silver menorah, that's not hiddur mitzvah."

i have a siddur and other jewish apps on my iphone, so why can't that purchase be considered hiddur mitzvah? :)

Avi said...

I agree that "my brothers all have silver so I want one" is not terribly noble (and may be a violation of one of those pesky ten commandments). But I can relate to the notion that when you grow up with one "standard," changing that is hard. For me, it wasn't about Channukah, but Purim. I really wanted a klaf because growing up I was always privileged to use one* and it always made the whole megillah reading feel special rather than just a really long haftorah. *My father was/is the shul's baal koreh, and he used his megillah to read to home-bound people, but in shul he used the shul's megillah, leaving his klaf for me.

For Chanukah, I'm pretty sure the menorah we used growing up was silver plated (or possibly nickel), and silverplate is what I have now ($9.99). I do use nice oil, but I'd love to upgrade the menorah itself. Silver would be wonderful, but I'm not paying $700 (12") to $2500 (18" - 20") which is what I priced them at recently. Only slightly tongue-in-cheek, I'd sooner buy an HDTV because, to me, the hiddur value of silver over silverplate is just bragging rights, but a nice big 1080p plasma TV is awesome.

Seriously, does anyone know a good place to buy a simple/modern stainless steel menorah? That would be a nice, affordable upgrade to what I have now.

ora said...

Only one person on the imamother thread suggested borrowing from a gemach, so I don't think that necessarily indicates a wide-spread trend.

Although she did say that in her town, the gemach doesn't ask what the money is for... I can see how that could lead to a trend of using gemachim as an interest-free loan for anything. But OTOH there's something to be said for running gemachim and the like on an honor system - once you try to judge who really needs what you often end up getting into all kinds of very personal details.

What do you (general you) think, how far should gemachim go in screening people who ask for help?

Leah Goodman said...

yipes. My parents have had many menorahs over the years. Never one made of silver. I don't think they even had silver plate. Of my four siblings, one has a silver menorah, and only because his wife's grandparents really wanted to buy it.

In my house, hiddur mitzva is cleaning the cups for the oil or (yay new for this year!) using brand new cups each night and using olive oil instead of candles.

Another important hiddur that I've seen is spending a lot of time singing with the family while the candles are lit. I'd take a good CD of hannnuka songs and a cheap oil menorah over silver any day.

On the subject of loans, I don't know where he got it from (I'm sure it's not originally his), but my dad had a rule that he taught us regarding loans. You take loans for 3 things: 1. housing 2. education 3. tools of the trade. (#3 can include a car if you need one to get to work or business suits if you're a lawyer starting out)

So no, can't see taking a loan for a menorah.

Anonymous said...

A silver menorah might not top your list of investments, but it comes close to the top of my list, given the way the price of silver is skyrocketing. My husband actually wanted to buy a couple of kilos of silver a few weeks ago. He's sorry now that he didn't, because he could have made a 20% return on his investment in under two months, and the prices will not be coming down any time soon. Silver happens to be a very good investment. I'm sure the silver menorah my parents bought us for our wedding is worth three times what they paid for it.

Leah Goodman said...

anon - it might be a good investment, or all the investors might try to sell at the same time and drive the market down. or they might invent a new technology for mining and be able to mine 10x as much next month.

Besides, an investment is only an investment if you plan on selling it when it's gained a certain value. If it's just going to hold up candles, it doesn't really matter if it's silver, platinum, or potatoes. What matters is how it looks and feels to you.

Anonymous said...

It's good for an investment because if you ever desperately need money, you can sell your menorah...

There's a finite amount of silver in the world. Better mining methods won't increase the amount of silver in the ground.

jewinjerusalem said...

In response to 11:41-
A true college student wouldn't use snapple. Minimally 8 bottles of beer. A hiddur mitzva would use imported instead of Bud. And for a true hiddur all the bottles should be drunk on erev chanuka.

chanuka samayach!

Mike S. said...

Since Jan, 1981 the price of silver has doubled. The Dow Jones industrial Average has increased 10 fold. The current price of silver, which is as high as it has ever been except for a brief period of price manipulation in 1980, is only 8 times the lowest price of the last 30 years.

tesyaa said...

Mike S., I'm afraid that some people will read only the words "Since Jan, 1981 the price of silver has doubled" and think "wow, what a great investment!" Innumeracy is such a big problem.

Anonymous said...

I prefer to invest based on my personal experience. I have done nothing but lose money on the stock market, whereas my silver is worth about twice what it cost nine years ago, which is when I got it. Nevertheless, I don't plan to speculate in silver, since I have no mazel with this sort of stuff. I stick to money market funds.

Leah Goodman said...

I have stocks that were bought in 1989. They didn't do great. The value now is roughly six times the value they were purchased at. In that time, silver has slightly more than tripled.

And no one knows how much is really in the ground.

Dave said...

I stick to money market funds.

Which, had you invested in those in the 1980s, would have lost you money versus inflation.

Index funds track the market. Market goes up, you win.

Individual stocks, may go up, may go down, may go away.

megapixel said...

"hidden value of silver vs. silver plate" the value is not hidden. the silver plate menora will look like crap in five years, the silver will look beatiful forever. (i am on my second silver plate, and it does not look good)

Anonymous said...

The silver chanukeah could always be pawned or sold at a gold and silver exchange if you needed some extra money. The purchase could then be justified as an investment for which an interest free loan might be appropriate.

Leah Goodman said...

you're still always buying retail and selling wholesale or less. Silver would have to close to double for it to be worth what you'd bought it for.

No. Not an investment. Buy a very pretty Channukiah in the $50 range, (certainly possible) and stick the rest of the money in an envelope under the mattress. 2 years later, you'll be in better shape.

Anonymous said...

My sister sold her wedding silver for $5000. She was happy with the deal and used the money to pay for a bar-mitzvah party for her son. This, however, is because she did not pay for the silver. If you have old silver or gold at home, selling it could make sense but be aware of the replacement cost if you want to buy new stuff.

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