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Monday, November 15, 2010

Not So Easy to Contain the Disgust

Cross-Currents' Rabbi Adlerstein reports that rumors have been verified that the Lakewood Mashgiah Rav Mattisyahu Solomon is fed up with the marketing campaign of Kupat Ha'Ir which has reportedly taken many a person looking for a salvation to the cleaners. I share this disgust and believe the advertising crosses the line of honest business practices.

While Rabbi Adlerstein does not contain his disgust for how Kupat Ha'Ir is changing the face of Orthodoxy, he nevertheless warns his readers to be careful and "not throw the baby out with the bathwater." Further in the comments, Rabbi Adlerstein advises, "I would suggest an intermediate position [to not donating at all]. Mail in your usual check. But when the fundraiser comes to town, make a point of going over to him and telling him that you can't support an organization that engages in this kind of advertising. Couch it in such a way that it is not a lie.] Excerpts below, emphasis mine.

It is important to separate the advertising from the point of the organization. I can think of few regular, familiar features of Orthodox life that bring more disgrace to Torah life than the KH brochures and ads. They proclaim to the public that Torah is the province of worshippers of miracle-rabbis. Nonetheless, the information that I get also points to KH as an effective and responsible organization for distributing tzedaka funds. The needy who are serviced by KH should not suffer because of the overzealousness and deception of the advertisers.

It should be easy to contain our disgust to the marketers. Those writing the horrific copy play on the fears and vulnerability of their audience, while coming close to promising miraculous results. They even come close to encouraging making a pledge to KH in place of following medical advice. They are playing with people’s lives, not just their money. They also diminish the real power of personal prayer, which always remains the best strategy for securing what we think we need for ourselves when the forecast looks bleak. Readers should mentally review the stories they undoubtedly know about the great Rebbes of the past who made a point of emphasizing to their Chassidim the potential of their own tefilos, rather than relying upon the intercession of a third-party intercessor, regardless of his stature.

I find it very troubling that after scathing commentary re: Kupat Ha'ir, we are essentially told to ignore the despicable and continue to send in our checks (note: I don't give to this organization). In light of the fact that there are many worthy tzedaka organizations, I see no reason to give to an organization that:

1. Popularizes a version of black-magic/quick fix Judaism, seemingly with the rubber stamp of the Rabbonim that grace its brochures, that is a far cry from a normative mesorah,
2. Preys on the vulnerable through questionable marketing tactics,
3. Has little transparency and a clearly large overhead (I haven't forgot about the Areivim "Life Insurance" program),
4. Promotes an ideology which contributes rampant poverty (thank you to the Cross-Currents posters that make this important point),
5. and ultimately disgraces the mitzvah of tzedakah.

While I have no doubt that the organization does perform valuable work, I choose not to ignore the unseemly.

30 comments:

Fed up with KH and Areivim said...

And if people continue to give money, then the marketers will tell the rabbonim that their spiel is working and that if they stop so will the flow of funds.

Abba's Rantings said...

"3. Has little transparency "

based on this, there probably aren't too many tzedakas to contibute to

rosie said...

the haemtza blog (Harry's blog) also has this discussion. I wonder in general, how long that any ad campaign can work. Most of us listen or watch or read an ad the first time that we see it and ignore it after that.
I am also very surprised to hear that people got fleeced. I could imagine that people might pledge a generous amount in order to receive the miraculous blessing but I didn't know that anyone got taken to the cleaners.

Dave said...

If you complain, but still give, why should they care?

Dan said...

Yad Eliezer is very transparent (you can check them on charity navigator and in the report in their website) and it is in my opinion the best charity for the poor in Israel goes to.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Unfortunately, the only way they will listen is seeing a large drop in individuals/total revenue.

There are many organizations setup well, in this same space. We have pulled our support for KH, and reallocated to Yad Eliezer, Hazon Yeshaya and Leket (formerly Table to Table).

JS said...

This is all part of a broader trend in Orthodoxy that rabbis are not only infallible, but are miracle workers. It starts with those "harmless" prayer cards handed out that you should pray and give money so that Rabbi Meier Baal Haness will help you find that lost object and it turns into this abomination.

Absolutely no different than what the Catholics do. They have their Saint Anthony for lost objects and myriad other saints, priests, etc, who will intercede on your behalf (grant indulgences) for the right price.

rosie said...

JS, I have a Rabbi Meir Baal Haness pushka, and have used it every time a friend or family member loses something and guess what! It works. I can't explain it but I have numerous stories related to that pushka. Of course a pushka is for small change, not big checks.
One story:
I was out walking with my friend whose child lost her retainer and she would soon have to have another one made. I told her to give me a dollar for my Rabbi Meir Baal Haness pushka and as soon as I came home I put the dollar in. A couple minutes later, the retainer was found. It was an even bigger miracle when my son lost his tefillin in a shopping mall and a store clerk found it and saved it. He did not know which store to look in but he gave to the pushka and moments later was reunited with his tefillin. The same thing happened with another son's lost paycheck. Is is coincidence? Maybe but it did not cost us much and the objects were recovered.
Judaism does recognize intermediaries such as praying on the grave of a tzadik or loved one.

Anonymous said...

rosie - I am not doubting your experiences, but can you recall any instances when you put money in the pushka and the object was not found? Or when an object was found without putting money in the pushka?

rny said...

Rosie-
On many occasions, I have lost items and found them, without putting money in a pushka. What conclusion should I draw from this?

rosie said...

anon, usually I look for an object the regular way and don't think about pushkas. These were situations where valuable objects were lost, much time and frustration were initially spent looking for them, and then we tried the pushka.
rny, usually lost objects are not really lost, merely misplaced. Maybe you have never had a situation where something valuable was lost and it was found in a place where you would never have looked. Look, pushkas are a cheap way to give tzedukah. No strings attached. Giving tzedukah is part of Judaism so what is wrong?

Anonymous said...

no tzedakah money to kupat ha'ir. No way!

aaron from L.A. said...

Can you put money in the Rabbi Meir Ba'al Haness pushka ahead of time and build an account for future lost items?...Oh oh,I think I just gave Kupat Ha'ir another marketing tactic...

megapixel said...

their advertising has always bothered me, and I also think there is an element of disrespect to these rabanim to have them splashed all over these questionable brochures.

Ariella said...

I make it a point not to give my money to organizations that claim donations to them will make all your wishes come true. Tzedaka does have terrific power, but it is not magical, and nothing is guaranteed. While it is permissible to give tzedaka hoping for something in return ("al manas sheyichye beni" is the example in the Gemara) the assumption is that the donor realizes he may not get the desired outcome.

conservative scifi said...

Well Rosie,

Here is a prospective test. My father-in-law is very ill. I promise $100 to Kupat Hair if he walks out of the hospital. If not, I'll donate the money to a charity that doesn't rely on ridiculous promises.

rosie said...

conserv,
I am not pushing any cause. I am just saying that the pushka for lost objects happened to work for us. I am also saying that you can, to a certain degree, "buy" mazal with tzedukah.
conserve, don't bet the rent on a very sick person. Try something a bit easier, such as whatever football game is played on Thanksgiving. Figure that you will give to tzedukah if your team wins.

conservative scifi said...

Rosie,

I don't really care if my team wins that much. Many of the stories in the Kupat Ha-ir are about tragedies being averted, not 50/50 chances on football or basketball games. My point is that it is one thing to believe in God who hears our prayers. It's entirely another to believe that God is a cosmic candyman who pays us off if we promise money to a specific charity. I can believe the former, but not the latter.

rosie said...

conserve,
is it cosmic candyman or paying it forward? I thought the reason for tzedukah was that the world is kept in existence by the constant giving of Hashem and He wants us to emulate his ways. A world of stingy people can't really exist for too many generations.
We got this really interesting catalog that I am sure appeals to many people. It features livestock that can be sent to families in third world countries in the name of an American who really doesn't need another wallet or necktie. It reminds people that there is a whole world out there that Hashem gave us the ability to help.
As far as Kupat Hair, I never bought into their stories, although I do believe that tzedukah and acts of kindness can do something of a cosmic nature to turn bad situations around.
Refua shleima to your father-in-law.

Miami Al said...

Rosie there is a WORLD of difference between:

Tzedakah makes the world a better place, which is part of why Hashem instructed the Jews to do it...

and:

Doing good deeds results in a karmic payback as a result.

The former is a pinnacle of Judaism. The latter is Hindu paganism at best, and black magic at worst. That's the objection, it's not just silly, it's potentially a dangerous behavior.

Shove money in a box, that's fine.

Don't make the box an amulet.

Lou said...

Kupat Hair?

Is that the organization that assists bald people?

Anonymous said...

"Doing good deeds results in a karmic payback as a result.

The former is a pinnacle of Judaism. The latter is Hindu paganism at best, and black magic at worst."

If one doesn't expect a particular payback in this lifetime, how is that a problem? The idea that HKB"H would discard a tefila or a dollar in a pushka goes against the idea of Dayan HaEmes. Of course we rely upon Him to decide when and how to apply the "deposit". Yes, it may go for what we had in mind, but it doesn't trouble me when it doesn't.

Should it?

rosie said...

Don't make the box an amulet.

Miami Al, how is that different than a red string around someone's hand?

That is the problem with halachic discussions on blogs like this is that people who lack the knowledge to intelligently discuss something of a halachic nature, decide what Judaism is and what it isn't. I think that there are some recognized amulets in Judaism. Isn't a hamsa an amulet? That is a sfardic symbol but what exactly is it?

DAG said...

Who says you are allowed to wear a red string around your hand, Rosie?

rosie said...

DAG, I realize that just because many people do something, it doesn't mean that it is allowed but did you ever hear that it was specifically not allowed?
I have seen on here that someone decided by reading the simple pshat that something was an aveira without really studying the details of the mitzvah.
A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Too bad that there are never any rabbonim that like to blog and clarify halachic situations.

Chana said...

Rosie - What is the halachik source for the red string? My Rav told me not to wear it because it is superstition.

rosie said...

Chana,I don't know but remember that halacha itself comprises both the sfardic and ashkenazic traditions, even though there are often huge differences in practice. Today's parsha had the uncles of Osnas putting an amulet on her before giving her to Potifar. That amulet led to her marrying Yosef.

Anonymous said...

No it didn't. It had a MEDRASH relating the legend of the uncles of Osnas putting an amulet on her before giving her to Potifar. Is it meant to be taken as absolute literal history?

Jen said...

How can y'all complain about the K"H mailings? When they arrive I pull my older two boys aside and go through them, showing them all the places where their claims vary from OUR understanding of Judaism and of HaShem's work in the world, and then moving from there into the laws of tzedakah, the laws of caring for one's own (and one's fellow's) money, and why Abah and Imah give first, and essentially exclusively, to local Jewish charities. It's a monthly chinuch mailing, and it arrives FREE in my mailbox every couple of months!

conservative scifi said...

Baruch Dayan Emet. A wise man who love Judaism and his family is gone.

I won't have to give anything to Kupat Ha-ir, and can direct my $100 to a charity that isn't duplicitous.