Sunday, October 02, 2011

Exploitation at its Finest

It amazes me just how mercenary and callous a legitimate organization can be.

Created in 1950, Yad L’Achim is a Charedi organization founded for purposes of outreach and counter missionary work. It was very active during the years of mass Russian immigration to Israel. Although I do believe that have made errors recently in speaking out against the intent of some Evangelical groups in Israel, for the most part I think they have been a force for good and successful at what they do. I recall that the great Rosh HaYeshiva of Torah Vodaath - Rav Avrohom Pam ZTL - was a strong supporter of this organization.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise to me that it is now selling prayers in something called Amuka as a fund-raiser. I know times are tough. I also now that it takes money to run an organization of the size and scope of a Yad L’Achim. But that does not mean it should resort to questionable fund raising tactics. And that is exactly what they are doing.

Apparently it sees the success of that Kupat Ha’ir in Bnei Brak is having and has taken a cue from them.

I am reluctant to criticize a fine organization with a history of successes – especially one that a Gadol like Rav am supported. But when they resort to questionable fund raising tactics like this, I have to protest.

Just in time for Yom Kippur they are now selling prayers by Sephardi Mekubal (mystic) Rabbi Yechiel Abuchatzeira. Who are they appealing to? The most vulnerable among us. Those who are so desperate to achieve a goal that they will try almost anything.

When a supposedly reputable organization does this - it gains a legitimacy that heretofore was unheard of on any mass scale outside of the Sephardi and Chasidic world.

Let me make clear at the outset that my protest has nothing to do with the legitimacy of getting a Birchas Hedyot - a Bracha from a non Kohen. Especially if he is a very righteous individual. We can all benefit when righteous people pray on our behalf. But when it becomes a fundraising tactic, it taints the very legitimacy of Bracha being given. Also by selling it in this way they do it implies that this Bracha has some sort of magical power.

People having trouble in the Shidduch department (i.e. having difficulty finding a mate) are among the most vulnerable desperate among us. When an organization uses this knowledge to make money and use Yom Kippur as an additional inducement, I find it very troubling.

Aside from preying on the vulnerable, resorting to things like this this grants a certain amount of acceptability to it that heretofore it did not have. People can easily start making this a mainstay of Jewish life:

Have a problem? Not to worry, just go to your local Mekubal and get a Bracha. And why not? – they might reason. If it works - great! If not what have you lost?

In my view you have lost a sense of reality and are fostering a climate of reliance on mystics rather than doing your Hishtadlus – actively working on a goal. What’s worse if they don’t get their prayers answered in the way they would like them to be it can only result in disappointment and even a sense of dispair. If an illness is involved – putting all your efforts into seeking the Bracha of a Tzadik at the expense doing the due diligence may actually cause physical harm!

What about the legitmate purpose of Yad l’Achim?

According to the ad their current project involves rescuing Jewish women and children trapped in Arab villages. This is truly a worthy cause although I’m not sure it is correct to call it Pidyon Shevuyim since it usually involves a Jewish woman voluntarily marrying a Muslim. Nonetheless it is pretty clear that these women and their children do end up virtually being held prisoner by their Muslim husbands - a situation that is supported by the Muslim culture they live in. So it is a certainly a worthy cause.

That said I wonder how widespread the problem is? Is it the rare exception or is this becoming a serious problem? Perhaps it is not as rare as one would think since Yad L’Achim is working on it.

Be that as it may, I support donating money to this cause. But I am firmly opposed to the way Yad L’Achim is doing it. It undermines their credibility when they resort to a tactic like this. And right before Yom Kippur no less.

There is no Mitzvah to exploit the problems of one segment for the purpose of benefiting another. Judaism is not a religion of mystics and miracle workers. God is not subject to human decrees. No one has that power. There ought not to be any organization that does anything to perpetuate that myth.