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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lakewood Sensibilities or just plain Sensible?

Chaim of Divrei Chaim writes about a chessed dinner put on through the school (which is is generally pleased with) in which the young teenage girls enjoy a banquet a bid on prizes including things like a manicure, shopping trip to Woodbury Commons, or Shabbos in New Square which starts at $100 per person (take from the comments). Such an event brought him to the passuk "love kindness and walk modestly with your G-d" as being not two values, but a relationship of values. The way of chessed is through modesty (and by that the Navi isn't speaking of clothing measurements alone).

Every once in a while a Orthodox leader or Rabbi decries America materialism, mostly in relationship to the tuition crisis (subject of an upcoming post), yet few seem to blink an eye when schools put on this type of event or go on day trips that many families wouldn't even consider going on themselves. The idea of putting teenagers into a group setting to bid for prizes, prizes that introduce greater luxuries or require more cash outlay, are particularly distasteful to me.

Perhaps adults "need" carrots to guide their giving and make it "palatable" or to attract more attention in the marketplace, but do we need this for children? If we really want to tackle rampant materialism and entitlement (and such come up as regular subjects), the place to start is with some basic sensible chinuch. My 13 year old has no business taking her ma'aser money and bidding on a manicure in order to make a simple donation. . . . and for that matter, I don't need to so either!

A commentator b writes "In December of '05, the BMG Ladies Auxiliary sent out a Chinese Auction booklet that offered prizes that were, by Lakewood standards, extravagant. Rabbi Kotler soon retracted the booklet and issued an apology. Chaim, you have the sensibilities of a Lakewood Yeshiva person. For the rest of us, the reality is that this is a good and efficient way to raise money."

Well, label me a "Lakewood Yeshiva person" if you may, but one need not live in Lakewood or even have a yeshiva education to say, "what in the world is going on here?". I'd label the questioning/opposition as just plain sensible! And I think that "we" are making a major mistake in chinuch with the notion that there need to be a prize for everything.

(On a related note, Jewish schools have a very broad socio-economic spectrum and relatively small numbers of students. I think it important to keep that in mind when planning school related events. A mother-daughter tea at $36+ babysitting if necessary, ski trips, graduation trips, etc all add up and parents of teenagers tell me they can spend upwards of $1000 on the extras in a year.)

Of course, a yashar koach to Chaim B's daughter who was able to ask questions when seeing the event.


tesyaa said...

I'm surprised that you are surprised that the frum culture is so materialistic. Just from female point of view, there is a huge emphasis on dressing fashionably and looking appealing. While it's usually couched in terms of "having dignity" and "dressing respectfully", it's often about high fashion. One can be dignified in clean, cheap, unfashionable clothes, but try telling that to girls who are taught that they are "daughters of the king". Does the king's daughter wear Payless? I don't think so!

sima said...

On a more cynical note, what else have we left for our girls to do? In some of the RW schools in Brooklyn practically everything is off limits except for shopping. No movies, no shows, no ice skating unless the sessions are separate, no biking in public, roller blading isn't tzanua enough either. That leaves the girls with only a few things to occupy their free time -- self maintenance (manicures, etc.), eating out, and shopping til you drop.

P said...

While I agree that raising charity through auctions (i.e. donate and you might get a nice prize) doesn't send out such a great message vis a vis the value of tzedaka, it is a generally effective fundraising tactic that plenty of charities, Frum, non-frum, and non-Jewish often employ. The prizes are usually donated by the vendor or someone else, so the charity isn't spending anything on it. For instance, my father has season tickets to the Yankees and every year, he donates 2 tickets to a game to the local yeshiva so they can list them in the auction booklet.

tesyaa said...

P, according to the comments on the original thread, the prizes in this particular auction were not donated.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I agree. I also hate when you buy a ticket to go to a charity dinner (when you would rather just make a donation without the dinner), and then as soon as you get there are accosted to buy raffle tickets, and then, have to sit through an hour of the raffling and having everyone ooh and aah over someone winning yet another set of candle sticks or pair of earings. I usually buy a few raffle tickets and give them to someone else and then silently vow not to return the following year.

aunt of nephew aka female life actuary said...

I don't know if it is the same school, but my daughter's school does this too, and she didn't receive her prizes either of the last 2 years. I asked her if she was upset and she told me "no, it's tzedakah". I don't know about the trust issue if you promise something and don't deliver, but I do know that at least some of the girls are not doing it for the prizes, rather for the fun of it.

David said...

have you seen the Oorah auctions? there is literally a crown made out of money.

p said...

tesyaa- didn't see that. If that's the case, I stand corrected- rather silly way to raise money...

Mr. Cohen said...

I might be wrong about this, but my experiences with fundraising make me believe that tzedakah organizations that cannot afford Chinese Auctions and cannot afford large expensive advertisements in Jewish newspapers and magazines are doomed financially, regardless of how much good they do.

One organization, whose name I will not mention, constantly claims to be poor, but places very expensive full-page and double-full-page advertisements in several Jewish newspapers and magazines, in addition to very expensive poster advertising in Jewish neighborhoods. If they are so poor, then how can they afford to spend half a million dollars a year on advertising?

Just for fun, call a few Jewish newspapers and magazines and ask them how much they charge for full-page advertisements. Remember those numbers when tzedakah organizations place full-page advertisements in Jewish newspapers and magazines.

concernedjewgirl said...

Anonymous September 22, 7:54pm
My husband and I often do not buy tickets to the dinners, or auctions. If we feel that we want to donate to the charity that is hosting such an event we write a check for the amount we are comfortable spending.
Generally our rule is not to participate in Chinese auctions or auctions of any sort for many reasons but the biggest is that there advertisement of being tax deductible is a fraud.

ProfK said...

Not a complete fraud concernedjewgirl. You can deduct as a charity donation the difference between what you paid and the cost of the item or service. If you paid $100 and won a manicure valued at $20 in the salon providing the service,then $80 is deductible. If you pay $360 for a school dinner and all you are getting is a meal and a few speakers whose services are gratis, then deduct the cost of the meal from the $360 and what is left is a charitable deduction. And according to our accountant, if you spent X at an auction and won nothing then the total of what you spent is deductible since you did not receive anything for the money donated.

Admittedly, some of this is a gray area, but it's not all fraud.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Cohen: I would not write off all charities that advertise. Presumably they do so because they have found that the additional donations generated outweighs the cost. Also, sometimes the publication does not charge for the ads or charges a reduced rate. My equal (or bigger) concern is the full picture of the entity's finances and management -- how much do they pay for fundraising and administration in total? How much of the donations goes directly into services for the intended beneficiaries of the charity? Are executives and staff overpaid? Do they prevent self dealing and conflicts of interest? Do they make their 990's or financial statements public? Obviously, I don't expect every little group to have elaborate financial statements or websites with their 990's posted, but there needs to be some comfort level.

Orthonomics said...

ProfK--See Pub 526 re: Charitable Contributions. There is case law for more decisive decisions and each event has its own specifics.

Regarding games of chance (raffles, bingo, lottery tickets): what the purchaser pays is considered the value and is not deductible.

Regarding auctions: if you pay for an item at a charitable auction, the excess beyond fair market value is deductible.

Most tax lawyers and accountants I know do not consider tickets for Chinese Auctions because the format is a raffle.

Orthonomics said...

I do believe the excess of fair market value of food + prize won in auction at the chessed dinner would be tax deductible because the bidding was in auction format. Of course, all should seek their own tax advise.

The organization here that pus on a Chinese Auction does not issue tax deductible letters of any type and says it is not deductible.

Nephew of Frum Actuary said...

Aunt, I have a feeling it is the same school.

On a related note, last year our school had a "father son Melave Malka", which for $12 a head they served egg salad & Bagels. Notcing this as I walked into the learning part of the session, I gave my 6 year old son a choice:

1: We can pay the $24 and go to the Melave Malka.

2: We can go directly from the learning program to Toys R Us, and pick out 24$ in toys.

Boruch Hashem, my son is smart enough to pick option B.

I guess my point is that your child may be happy to skip school events if they also realize it is silly, and/or are given incentive. Also that the events are a fundraiser for the school, and the cost is not what it actually costs them.

Anonymous said...

Mr Cohen,

Since you like quotes, here's one for you (given your suggestion):

"It is prohibited by the Torah to ask someone who is interested in selling or leasing something, how much he or she is charging for that item, if the person asking has no interest in purchasing the item and is only interested in knowing the price for other reasons.
A person who does ask in the manner stated above, transgresses the prohibition of (Vayikra 25:17) "V'Lo Sono Ish Ess Amiso - And a man may not oppress (by misleading) his friend." (Bava Metziah (58b) -

Anonymous said...

When public schools want to have fundraisers, they do car washes, bake sales and can collections and similar activities involving work by the students. Doesn't that teach the kids more?

JS said...

I can't see a girls' yeshiva doing a car wash for many, many reasons.

When I want to donate money, I donate money. When I want to purchase something, I purchase something. When I want to gamble, I go and gamble. For the life me, I can't understand why you'd want to combine these 3. I see it as a major turnoff.

Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but if you actually win a $1,000 item with your $10 ticket, you actually OWE taxes on the winnings.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for letting me know I'm not alone in revulsion to chinese auctions. From my first one in Bklyn, NY Jan 1996, it felt like a poor tax for young families dreaming of useless nouveau riche luxuries, and it has only got worse. Some of the production costs alone are insane. Guess where your "donation" goes? The agency practically writes off the first few thousand dollars raised to cover printing and advertising costs.

Anonymous said...

Sorry... one more fundraising point: a bake sale? Ha. Do you think any of the other families will want to eat from YOUR kitchen? Even in my not so RW shul in greater ny area they discontinued bake sales for kashrut reasons.

Miami Al said...

Anon 12:15,

Kashrut evolved from a small set of biblical restrictions into a somewhat complex set of rules to separate the Jews from the Gentiles and keep us unique.

Refusing to eat from the kitchen of another Shomer Kashrut Yid...

Congratulations, you have destroyed Judaism in your pursuit of frumkeit.

Barzilai said...

Miami, your comment reminds me of a recent horror story: a woman was complimented on her pesach cake, and the guest asked her for the recipe. She said that she goes to the matza bakery every erev Pesach and buys twenty pounds of Matza flour: Matza flour, in this case, was flour that was meant to be baked into matzos, not matzos that were baked and then ground into flour. The bottom line is that while one might bend the rules in the interest of unity, many people are so unaware of the laws of kashrut that eating in their houses, no matter how well intentioned they are, guarantees a breach of the laws of Yoreh Dei'ach. Your blanket dispensation, that you may eat at any fellow Jew's house if they think they keep kashrut, while laudable, is not in keeping with the halacha.

Dave said...

And here I thought the Halacha was that any observant Jew was presumed to be serving kosher food in their home.

It must be another one of those that changed when I wasn't looking.

conservative scifi said...


I am very skeptical of your story. I think essentially all conservative Jews who keep kosher at home would know better than to use flour during Pesach, much less anyone who was orthodox. While many conservative Jews may not deal with Halav Yisrael, Yashon, pas yisrael, etc., they do know that flour is not kosher for passover.

Beyond that, I agree with Miami Al's larger point that Kashrut, along with holiness, is also supposed to promote Jewish unity, not divisiveness. I have a number of orthodox cousins. Several believe that if a Jewish person (who knows the laws of kashrut) tells them the food is kosher, they'll eat it, preferring the value of unity and achdus. Most, however, prefer to value disunity, and eat tuna from a can on paper plates.

b said...

Yes, you're all right, I apologize. I shouldn't have said anything, and having said it, I apologize. But I'm still not sure why one wouldn't respect a friend's preference for more stringent standards even if that results in his eating tuna on a paper plate. There are different standards, you know, and it's not just a matter of extremism and elitism.

Ariella said...

There are some bake sales in the community. This past week, there was one to raise funds for Kulanu, and I believe there was one a few weeks ago for JEP. However, the schools my children attend never run bake sales.

Aside from building funds, my son's yeshiva really does nothing beyond the dinner and a raffle sale (the raffles are not exclusively for the one school but some kind of combined organizational effort). I didn't buy a raffle ticket, though I gave the equivalent amount in a straight donation -- so all the money would be going to the school. It's hard to know how much of the raffle purchase price goes to the school when they have to cover the prizes, printing costs, and whatever pooling of resources they've agreed to with the other organizations. Another thing is that many fundraising consultants or organizer take quite a large fee or percentage off the top.

Ariella said...

BTW a number of Jewish tzedaka organizations are listed on Charity Navigator. It's worth a look to see the rankings and how much the heads take in salary. Many are earning close to $200K, some even more. It did make me think twice about donating next time around to a certain organization that gets all the schools and camps to promote it through prizes for children who bring in money.

Anonymous said...

A Chassidic friend in Boro Park organizes a tzedakah auction every year for a free food store in Jerusalem, where poor people can come and shop just like in a regular store and be charged nothing. Her father started this tzedakah and she continues it in her father's memory and because this is what he would have wanted of her. She and her large extended family organize everything on a volunteer basis. One of her children or grandchildren is in charge of each booth, the gifts are all donated - my friend calls Boro Park stores and asks them for an item to donate. The booklet is put together and printed as another donation from a graphic company. She has gathered a large mailing list over the years due to her hachnosas orchim and she is a people person, someone who draws people to her.

What is most interesting is what she told me, sincerely, was her most important reason for running the auction. It is for her children, she told me seriously. She said (and I paraphrase), "I don't want my children to grow up thinking only of themselves and their own needs. I want them to think of other people who have less."

Materialism? These are people with high ideals. Wish I could remember the name of the tzedakah - it has the phrase aniyei Yerushalayim in it. If I remember it, I'll let you know.

Dave said...

"I don't want my children to grow up thinking only of themselves and their own needs. I want them to think of other people who have less."

It'd probably be unworkable in the Orthodox world, but that is why a great many of the people I know professionally (so, relatively highly paid professionals) make a point of having their children involved in the Giving Tree programs each holiday season.

It's too easy for children to think that what they have is universal, and empathy must be taught to be learned. They have the children go through the tags so that they can see (when they are coming up with a list of all the things they must have) that children the same age would love it if they could just have a good basketball, or an Easy-Bake oven. And then they go shop for them.

Anonymous said...

The auction organization is called Chevra Mezoynos Yerushalayim.

Miami Al said...

The Jewish people have been eating in each other's homes for the 3500 years (give or take) that we have had Torah law in various forms. Contemporary practice as codifying in the Gemara is at least 1600 years old.

The very concept of a Kashrut supervisory organization is less than 100 years old.

Is there ignorance in areas of Kashrut? Absolutely. However, the current generation is the most Jewishly education generation of Orthodox Jews, EVER. There are more books on Kashrut in English than ever available.

At some point you have to ask yourself if what you are spouting as "halacha" is actually Jewish law, or something being spouted that has no basis in Jewish tradition.

Kosher observant Jews not eating in each others homes? There is a specific mitzvah to host guests, I guess that's just the latest of the mitzvot that are part of Judaism that aren't part of this new fangled frumkeith.

Superintendant chalmers said...

"The very concept of a Kashrut supervisory organization is less than 100 years old"

Sorry Miami Al, I call BS. The concept of Kashrus supervivion is several hundred years old.
The Darkei Tshuva in Siman 119 quotes that there was a takana of the Vaad Arba Aratzos not to purchase food without a ksav hechsher from the Rav.

Avi said...

Well, I, for one, love Chinese auctions. It's much more fun to donate tzedaka when there's a chance you'll win something. And, yes, being joyful when giving tzedaka is a higher level of fulfilling the mitzvah than doing so begrudgingly. On the flip side, we basically don't ever go to dinners (why spend money on babysitting, waste an evening, and then have to deduct the full cost of the food you didn't want, need, or enjoy from the donation?).

Ariella, Charity Navigator is great. But don't just look at the salaries - look at the admin costs relative to the payout towards the cause. I know which tzedaka you're talking about, and the salaries they pay their top three people are obscene. However (at least the last time I checked), admin costs *overall* were minimal, and I know first hand that the money that is spent on the cause is genuinely spent on the cause and tremendously beneficial. Would it make you feel better if they hired six people to do the job of those three and paid them less? Why? Would they even be as effective? Superstar fundraisers demand superstar compensation packages and it's pretty easy to calculate if they are worth the extra money by seeing how much they raise.

JS said...

My understanding is that the standard rule for kashrut in terms of going to a person's house is "eid echad ne'eman b'issurin" (a single witness is trusted for matters of prohibitions) - in other words if the person is otherwise observant, the fact that he says his food is kosher is enough.

Slaughterers (and I think matzah makers) were certified by the town's rabbi. Though certified is maybe the wrong word. They were considered employees of the entire town, just like the rabbi was. The system was preferred to independent slaughterers so that if any funny business was discovered the person could be instantly removed. In fact, it was only when slaughterers started becoming independent workers when a certifying agency became necessary.

Other issues with a food's "trustworthiness" were (I believe) related to whether various ma'aser and trumot were taken already. I believe "certifications" from centuries ago related to this or were necessary if the person was otherwise suspect (a karaite, for example).

anon426 said...

My DD's friend's father (a new BT) once served the kids Amy's Pizza which had a simple "K". Back then I, at the behest of my husband, called Amy's for the certifying kashrus organization and then asked my Rav about it. He advised against eating Amy's pizza.

Fast forward a couple months and my DD was again invited to sleepover. DH was concerned about the kashrus and thought we should not let her go. I was uncomfortable at this thought -- I would have had to handle all the uncomfortable social interactions -- so I called a Rav and explained the whole situation including about the questionable pizza.

(It may be worth noting that this Rav is a nationally recognized Kashrus authority.)

He asked some questions and eventually said "don't look for problems where there aren't any. She should go."

I think if by not eating at someone's house, you run the risk of insulting that person, you need to ask your LOR. It's not at all clear to me on which side it's better to err.

Miami Al said...


If your daughters biggest sin in life is that she once ate a pizza from a company that specializes in vegan and vegetarian food with mediocre supervision, served to her by a well-intentioned by not fully educated Jew, I envy her place in the world to come.

Glad that things worked out for you and your family in this regard.

Shana Tova!