Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Misplaced Charity Priorities

Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum writes in this week's Jewish Press that two rabbis from Israel have come to the United States to solicit money for the mehadrin bus lines in Israel. He writes:

Recently, Rabbi Menachem Kenig and Rabbi Binyamin Mark came to the United States to solicit financial support to continue and increase the current bus service for the observant communities. More than 100,000 observant Jews use mehadrin transportation daily. However, there are estimates that there are more than 200,000 other observant Jews who still use the regular overcrowded mixed buses. Rabbi Kenig and Rabbi Mark seek to expand the mehadrin service so that every observant Jew has the opportunity to have his or her daily commute free of intermingling with passengers of the opposite gender.

Rabbi Mark earned endorsements for his efforts from the beth din of the Edah HaCharedis of Yerushalayim and also from Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, author of Shevet Levi; Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, Rosh Kollel Chazon Ish; Rabbi Yisroel Mordechai Twersky, zt”l, Rachmestrivka Rebbe in Yerushalayim; and Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter, Breslover Rav in Yerushalayim.

Personally, I don't have a problem with the mehadrin bus lines. If people want to ride the bus and not sit with members of the opposite gender, that's up to them. If they can show Egged that there is a demand for the service (which it seems they have) and convince them to run the lines, then they certainly should have the opportunity to do so.

However, let's recognize this for what it is - riding on a bus with a member of the opposite gender is a chumra at best. There is certainly no halacha against it - people travel on the New York subways all the time and I've yet to hear a single person state that doing so is forbidden -- even though there will sometimes be accidental contact.

That being said, IMHO, the idea of giving charity to support separate-gender busing ranks fairly low in our list of priorities. Giving to people who have physical needs (food, clothing, shelter) certainly rank higher. Giving to institutions that support the community (Tomche Shabbos, Hatzalah, etc.) absolutely rank higher. Giving to institutions of Torah (shuls, yeshivos, etc.) also rank higher. Even providing for Kollel families who could work for a living but choose to learn full time comes higher.

In other words, if one wants to strive for separate-seating busing, fine. But do so out of your own pocket. Every dollar you take in charity to support this takes a dollar away from other causes that are certainly more deserving and more vitally needed by the community and it's members.

(It could be that the rabbis are going to look not for charity, but for investors. But if I had to lay odds, I'd bet that they're looking for the former and not the latter.)

The Wolf

(Hat tip: DAG)

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wolf:

In light of a post you had a few weeks ago, your criticism is out of place. Wasn't it you who was critical of someone who appeared to be telling others how to spend their money? Yet here you are doing precisely that. People can determine their own charity priorities and not have them dictated from the outside.

That said, I happen to agree with you that there are higher charity priorities. And perhaps we should reduce our expenses for our personal comforts in order to support them. :)

The Answer said...

Anon 11:01PM is me.

Kmelion said...

The Mehadrin buses I've seen are all from Egged. Which people pay for when they want to take it...

What exactly are these Rabbis raising money for?

Moshe Klass said...

The bus fares don't pay for the buses in full with public transportation either. The government subsidizes it. Very strange charity though, I agree with wolfish, this is misplaced.

BrooklynWolf said...

Answer,

The two are not analogous. In the earlier case, the letter writer was, in essence, telling people they had no right to spend on themselves while there are charitable causes out there.

What I am suggesting is that when choosing between charities, that there are some more deserving than others and that should have a higher claim on our finite charity dollars. I'm not telling people that they have to give all (or any) money to anything.

The Wolf

Nice Jewish Guy said...

Rabbis Mark & Kenig flew to America on a plane, didn't they? I wonder if El Al runs mehadrin class.

Mike S said...

Mark Twain wrote that some things can't be burlesqued. it seems to apply.

TheAnswer said...

Wolf:

Thanks for clarifying that. But I still disagree witht the assertion charity dollars are finite. If I decide to not go out to eat today and give the money to charity, I have increased my allocation. So the only finite aspect really is I can't give more than my total income after taxes (except with credit) or the 20% cap put on by Chazal.

SephardiLady said...

Wolf: Amen brother. If people want a service like this let them decide how to pay for it.

We should absolutely say no to give our tzedakah funds to a cause when there are hungry mouths to feed in the same circle.

The Answer: Of course the charity pot is finite, you said so yourself. We can increase the pot by trying harder to meet our obligations and by helping people increase their incomes. But finite it is.

BrooklynWolf said...

Answer:

Of course charity dollars are finite. You don't really believe that they are infinite, do you?

In any event, most families have an expectation as to what they will give to tzedaka in any given year. Sure, they may forgo some pleasures and give more, and other families may decide to give less -- but in the end, everyone has at least a vague idea of what they will give, and, with very few exceptions, will not exceed that amount by a certain percentage. As such, charity dollars are, indeed, finite -- and every cause that collects competes with other causes for those dollars. If it's in my budget to give $100 this week, for example, I may give it to Tomche Shabbos. Sure, I may stretch it a bit by giving a collector who comes to my door a five dollar bill, but, at some point, I'm going to turn away just about everyone. So, sure, it's possible that my tzedaka budget streches a bit from $100 to $110 if I forgo going out to lunch one day a week - but I'm not going to forgo eating altogether. There will come a point where I will just say no.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

I would venture to say that giving money to a Mehadrin set-up is not in the "geder" of tzdeka. You can give as much as you want to this scheme, but it has nothing to do with the 10% of real tzdeka that you are required to give to the poor, etc.

SephardiLady said...

Anon above,
I'm sure you are correct. But that doesn't mean that such a cause doesn't take away from the tzedakah pot.

The Answer said...

Wolf:

I did say there is a limit (20%) - it is not infinite of course.

But you demonstrate my point: There is plenty of discretionary charity giving, as you collector at the door illustrates.

anon 12:37PM :While I don't rank this charity high on the list (very low in fact), who are you to say it is a "scheme" and not included in tzedakah. What is defined as charity is very broad. Did you know that if a wealthy person is having hardship, it is considered charity to provide him/her the
luxuries he/she is accustomed to?

sephardiclady: It is up to each individual to define how they give tzedakah. Chazal provide guidelines, but they are sufficiently vague to allow all sorts of pesonal discretion.

If one feels this bus chumrah is something important, why not give? It is up to you!

SephardiLady said...

Wolf I agree with you 100%. Somehow I flopped in my post and didn't make this clear. I think my first comment got erased where I said that most people would count such as tzedakah which would leave less for shuls, schools, and tomchei, etc.

This type of cause, which I deem as unnecessary, ranks in my book very low. There is no chance we give to this, just as we aren't donating to send people to Uman for Rosh Hashana or providing Chai Rotel for Lag B'Omer.

The fact that everything is deemed a cause that we should open our hands up to when there are people suffering in grave poverty is another topic and is quite astounding.

Anonymous said...

There's no question as to the low ranking priority of charitable support for mehadrin buses. Nevertheless, i find it quite cute that hassidim will seek support so that a religious man or woman should not, G-d forbid, accidentally brush against someone of the opposite sex. As you mentioned, it definitely is a personal choice and should be paid for by the passenger. Regardless, such public fund raising efforts definitely deserve public airing.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
BrooklynWolf said...

Latest anon,

Please argue the issues and not engage in ad hominem attacks that have nothing to do with the issue or the rabbis who are collecting.

The Wolf

Neandershort said...

Oh, those infamous mehadrin buses where women are required to sit in back or get beaten up by "religious" crazies. We Americans bridle at anybody being asked/told/threatened with violence to sit in back of the bus. Rosa Parks anyone?
If those "khnyoks" come to me I will advise them to do their schnorring in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia.