Monday, November 15, 2010

Exploitation as a Fund Raising Tactic

It doesn’t seem possible but it was over two and a half years ago that I first wrote about this. I am talking about the fundraising tactic of Kupat Ha’ir - selling Segulos. Especially to those who suffer the pangs of infertility. To say that this is disgusting is an understatement.

Kupat Ha’ir is the primary charity that collects funds for poverty stricken Charedim in Bnei Brak.Why such poverty exists in Bnei Brak and other Charedi enclaves in Israel is beyond the scope of this post. I am focusing only on Kupat Ha-ir.

There is absolutely no excuse for what this organization does. But don’t just take my word for it. I am gratified to know that one of the most respected Charedi rabbinic leaders in the world feels the same way. In fact he used harsher words than I did. He called it Gezel Gamur - forcible confiscation of property! Which leader said this? It was none other than Rav Matisyahu Salomon, the Mashgiach of Lakewood.

I was reluctant to post about this since there was no published report about it other than a 2nd hand report on a blog or two. But this is no longer the case. It has been verified by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and posted on Cross Currents.

Those who read this blog regularly know that Rav Salomon and I are not always exactly on the same page on various issues . But those same people should also know that I still respect him as a rabbinic leader – despite my disagreements with him. This is one of those times that we are in complete agreement.

My only criticism is: ‘What took him so long?’ How many people were taken advantage of over the last 2 and ½ years? Is this the first he has heard of it? And what about other rabbinic figures? Where have they been? Especially those in Israel whose names were used in those ads? In fact where are they now? Is Rav Salomon the only one who feels this way?

Kupat Ha’ir has been hawking Segulos –preying on the misfortune of other Jews - for years. And they’ve been getting away with it. And because prominent Israeli rabbinic leaders - most notably R’ Chaim Kanievsky - have been associated with it, people were not only reluctant to criticize it some were defending it! They claimed that tact was justified… and used R’ Kanievsky’s association with it as proof! Besides how can anyone criticize an institution that Rav Kanievsky is associated with? It would be like criticizing Rav Kanievsky himself!

What about Rav Kanievsky’s association with it? Was there any? From Cross-Currents:

R. Mattisyahu took his objections straight to R Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a. The latter argued that he clearly did not offer any guarantees, and that his statements about the efficacy of donating to KH were nothing more than a reiteration of the statements of Chazal about the power of tzedaka – not any special prognostication on his part. Despite this reassuring clarification, R. Mattisyahu apparently did not change his mind about the impression that KH’s advertising aimed for, and clearly succeeded in achieving in many cases.

Nonetheless some might still claim to have an ethical problem with criticizing Kupat Ha’ir. After all such criticism would cause a loss of revenue which would in turn hurt the poor in Bnei Brak that Kupat Ha’ir serve. And they desperately need the help.

Kupat Ha’ir would say that ‘the ends justify the means’. But if one thinks about it, this is how so much Chilul HaShem is created. Whether it is Kupat Ha’ir, Oorah, the Spinka Rebbe, the New Jersey (Deal) money launderers, or Milton Balkany… it was all done for the greater good of funding institutions that desperately needed the money to fulfill their mission. (Although there may be some dispute about just how true that is and that some of that money was siphoned off for personal use - let us be Dan L’Kaf Zechus about that and give them all the benefit of the doubt.) Certainly Kupat Ha’ir’s purpose was noble. Its sole purpose was to feed the needy. No one ever accused them of pocketing the money.

But their ends do not justify their means. Their fundraising tactics trifle with people’s lives. They exploit desperate people eager to find solutions to serious problems like infertility. By implying instant cures via the Segulos they sell - they are forcibly stealing money from them. To quote Rav Salomon – It’s Gezel Gamur!

One may not perform armed robbery to feed the needy. If I were Rav Kanievsky I would approach Kupat Ha’ir and ask them to fire anyone associated with this ad campaign. Better yet I would destroy the very entity itself by calling for a full boycott of it. I would then take their infrastructure and start a new Tzedaka with a new name. I would find new leadership who understood that exploitation of fellow Jews is an unacceptable fundraising tactic.