Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pesach Hotels, Yet Again...

The annual discussion of whether or not it is proper to go to a hotel for Pesach has once again reared its head -- this time in the YWN coffeeroom.

Personally, I don't see what the big deal is. Eeees and I don't go away and, truthfully, cannot picture it. For us, Pesach has always meant staying at home (or with friends or family). Even if we had the money to go away we probably wouldn't.

But that's just us. For others, going away for Pesach is "their thing," and I just don't see anything wrong with it. Every year I hear all sorts of arguments against the practice, but I have yet to find one that makes any sense. Two years ago, Dayan Shalom Friedman suggested that it's wrong to go away because you won't clean your house. I posted about that at the time and showed how that argument was totally without merit.

Another popular argument that arises is that the money could be better put to use in charity. As one commentator in the thread suggested:

With so many people out of work, and people needing to take from Tomche Shabbos to put food on the table, wouldn't it be tremendous if every person took the thousands of dollars they spend on a hotel and gave it to tzedakos that need it desperately?

Perhaps, perhaps not. However, there are two problems with this suggestion:

1. I think it's a bit galling to tell people what to do with their money. The commentator has no idea how much tzedaka the people who go to hotels give. Perhaps they've already met their obligations regarding tzedaka? Who is he to tell them that they have no right to spend some money on self-enjoyment?

2. The commentator is worried about people out of work, but he doesn't seem to realize that by closing down the Pesach hotel industry, a lot of people will be thrown out of work. I'm fairly certain that this provides a nice chunk of the annual salary for a number of people.

3. Why stop at Pesach hotels? Why not tell people to buy the cheapest esrog they can find for Succos and put the rest towards Tomche Shabbos? Does he take his kids on a trip on Chol HaMoed? Perhaps he should cancel the trip and explain to his kids that others need the money more. Does he buy flowers for his wife on Shabbos? Perhaps he can do with a single stem (or none at all) and give the rest to tzedaka? Who *really* needs music and flowers by a wedding? A wedding can be perfectly, 100% kosher according to all opinions without them. Perhaps that should be given to tzedaka too? And on and on it goes. In other words, if you're going to tell people they can't spend money on X because it can be put to better use in charity, then why not carry it to its logical conclusion and simply say that everyone must turn over every discretionary penny they have. Of course that's not what the commentator meant, but why not apply his principle there as well?

Of course, the more I think about it, the more I come to realize that perhaps going away to a hotel for Pesach *is* the authentic Jewish thing to do. After all, in the times of the Beis Mikdash, you went away for Pesach *every* year (unless you lived in Yerushalayim).

The Wolf


Anonymous said...

good points, solid argument

micha berger said...

I agree with your unstated assumption that the complaints are probably fueled by a "sour grapes" mentality. Those of us who can't afford it might prefer to think it's better not to go to a hotel anyway.

Still, much of the seder experience is keeping the practical family experience going. Nostalgia actually has halachic weight that one night. And being at home around the family table is part of that.

It's an admittedly weak argument, but the best I can do.


Aaron S. said...

I think it's a bit galling to tell people what to do with their money.

The Torah provides guidelines on how we must spend our money. Is that galling you?

by closing down the Pesach hotel industry, a lot of people will be thrown out of work.

Without judging the hotel business one way or the other, every business is not legit. If closing down the prostitution business will put a lot of people out of business, is that reason to not close it down?

Why not tell people to buy the cheapest esrog

Pesach Hoteling is not a Hiddur Mitzvah, so bad comparison.

mlevin said...

Aaron S. - You are commanded to spend 10% of your income on charity. 20% is maximum one is allowed to give to charity. If one gives more than 20% he is in violation of a law.

Now, if Hashem decided to give you a present in a form of a large sum of money it is a spit on his face to turn around and give it all to tzedokah.

Let met put it in frummie turns, if a king gives you the money, then he wants you to use it, not to give it to tzedokah. But giving all of his money to tzedokah, you are in fact telling him that he made a mistake in giving it to you. Who are you to tell the king that he made a mistake?

micha berger said...

Dear R' Dr M Levin,

R' Shimon Shkop didn't see these that way. From the haqdamah to Shaarei Yosher (translation mine):

Therefore it is appropriate to think about all the gifts of heaven “from the dew of
the heavens and the fat of the land” that they are given to the Jewish people as a whole.
Their allotment to individuals is only in their role as caretakers until they divide it to those
who need it, to each according to what is worthy for him, and to take for himself what is
worthy for himself. With this idea one can understand how charity has the effect of
enriching the one who performs it, as the sages say on the verse “‘aseir ta’aseir – you shall
surely tithe’ – tithe, so that you shall become rich – shetis’asheir”. Someone who is
appointed over a small part of the national treasury who does a good job guarding at his
appointment as appropriate will be next appointed to oversee a sum greater than that, if he
is not promoted in some other way. If they find a flaw in his guard duty, no fine qualities to
be found in him will help, and they will demote him to a smaller task.

In other words, the King doesn't give you money, the King appoints you the local warehouse of money for the community. If you use the money well -- including the money you spend on yourself -- then the King will make you responsible for more. If not ch"v, not. (Although lemaaseh we don't see any such pattern in life. It would seem that this law of metanature is too often one factor among many others to be observable.)

Have a great Shabbos,

PS: Those of you who never studied that introduction, I HIGHLY recommend printing up that PDF and reading it. (The last three pages are scans of the original Hebrew.) I consider Rav Shimon's words on these pages to be the summation of all of avodas Hashem! Nothing less than the words I try to live by.

mlevin said...

shimon Shkop grew up in the age and heart of communism. Look up at his bio, which I have a feeling you know by heart, he was born in 1885 in Ukrain. In other words, 70% of the initial Soviet Government was Jewish. Shkop grew up and was educated together with those people who later became the 70%. He read and was influenced by both Marx and Engels. People like him were responsible for the deaths of millions around the world due to Communist take over. People like him were responsible for the poverty and backwardness that still plagues these countries.

So, I am not surprised that he would disagree. But history proves that his ideas do not work. Look at Soviet Union and Eastern block countries, look at cuba, look at china...

Just because the guy happens to be a rav doesn't take away from him the fact that he was a communist and promoted the ideas that physically killed millions and spiritually destroyed Judaism wherever it was implemented.

Zach Kessin said...

I sometimes wonder if much of the pessach hotel biz is being put on credit cards by people who really can't afford it. Being yet another example of people living above their means.

But I figure adults have the right do do things I think are dumb.

Now if someone came to my door asking for contributions to the pessach hotel fund I would probably let them have it.

micha berger said...

To explain to third parties, when R' Dr M Levin writes "which I have a feeling you know by heart", he is referring to the fact that I studied under R' Dovid Lifshitz, and thus R' Shimon Shkop -- Rav Dovid's beloved rebbe -- is dear to me.

I do not accept that R' Shimon was promoting communism. However, in acknowledging the above, I am also admitting to a lack of objectivity.

The introduction as a whole actually reads closer to a theist's parallel to Ayn Rand than Das Kapital. Eg: RSS opens with a discussion of how to sanctify personal pleasure. He bases chessed on the importance of self, not on selflessness or the relative importance of the collective.


mlevin said...

"to each according to what is worthy for him, and to take for himself what is worthy for himself."

I quoted that from the comment that you posted today at 9:24 am. If this is not a paraphrasing of Das Kapital then I don't know what paraphrasing is. Ayn Rand's philosophy is completely opposite. In her book the Atlas Shrugged (I wish I had a book in front of me to give you the exact quote or at least a page number) she claims that all charitable activity is evil. The closest thing to charity that she accepts is giving a loan to a starving/desperate person.

micha berger said...

Yes, I supposed it is, acentuated by how I translated it. (BTW, "worthy" is an attempt to render "ra'ui". "Appropriate" could have been used instead. This doesn't touch your argument, I just want to be clear about what RSS actually wrote.)

However, I think your objections to communism are allowing you to go too far. After all, the choice of the word "tzedaqah" means that some redistribution of wealth is justice, not charity. What you are objecting to goes beyond the issue of communism and into that concept.

Notice that RSS speaks of maaser, not a full sharing. And in fact, one might use RSS's words to argue that those who have the money to go to a hotel for Pesach year after year must be good guardians of His wealth, and perhaps even including how they spend it on Pesach.

Personally, I would prefer to spend the money (if I had it) on hiring at-home help. If my wife didn't have to slave to make Pesach, I would prefer having the family around the dining room table. For whatever time I invest helpign out, though, that happens primarily through the work of others. And if I had the money to make a choice possible, so that staying home were a luxury, it would be a luxury on the backs of others.

And that's poor stewardship of His riches.


mlevin said...

Micha - are you now agreeing that it is not okay to give more than 20% to charity, because what one does with his 80% is no one's business?

And I do disagree with you. Tzidokah is not justice, it is a charity. It is there to help those who are down and need a push to be picked up. Using the word justice insinuates that the one on the receiving end has a right to it. If I had $100 and there was a poor person standing in front of me and a doctor collecting for a cure for cancer, neither one of them is entitled to that money. I actually have another choice of instead of giving either one the money to letting the poor person use my house for $100 worth of rent or providing my free service to the doctor, by helping him finding that cure.

micha berger said...

Speaking of communism and rabbis...

"Coincidentally", this morning I was learning Y-mi Shabbos 67 (daf yomi), and R' Bechhofer repeats this comment by the Tif'eres Yoseif.

When a person passes away, the first thing a person is asked if he was honest in business dealings. The second question is: did you set times for Torah?

The TY explains: Did you do business honestly? If so, then the proper thing is for you to have set aside times for learning. But if you are someone who spent his day learning, setting aside set time for learning is insufficient!

So, who is the TY, who is saying that Hashem's desire for the norm is a bunch of bourgeois who have set sedarim for learning?

His name, ironically enough, is R' Yosef Engel. (Admittedly without the final "s".)


mlevin said...

Micha - lol, so all it takes in a big S.

micha berger said...

I disagreed with how you modeled chessed, not with the pragmatic outcome. You cited the halakhah correctly, although personally I think the Bach's position that maaser kesafim is a minhag chasidus has the stronger argument. But no one questions the 20% ceiling; even if some find loopholes for those who can give more without reaching middle-class standard of living.

I was arguing with your interpretation of it. To me, as I see RSS's words, the other 80% are given to you because Hashem feels that you have the ability to be the best member of the whole to use it appropriately.

It's a focus on us being part of Kelal Yisrael, rather than of Kelal Yisrael being a collection of individuals. At least, as a definition of chesed -- chesed means not extending something to the other, but realizing the lack of other-ness.

As for whether tzedaqah means justice. The shoresh is /tz-d-q/, no? As in judges being commanded "tzedeq tzedeq tirdof". I find your flat statment "Tzidokah is not justice, it is a charity" very hard to fit into the basic word itself.

Again, I hear you objecting to socialism to the point that you won't even allow 10%-20% of one's income being shared to be within justice rather than beyond it.


mlevin said...

Micha - if you only look at Tzidokah as justice then the other way to describe it would be a tax obligation. In that case, most of us Americans already meet that obligation by paying federal, state and local tax, in addition to property, tax, and sales tax and all kinds of other taxes.

Here's why. A large percentage of that tax goes towards taking care of the poor and the elderly and of course the clergy (or kohanim and levyim in torah terminalogy) so asking anything on top of what most americans already pay is no longer justice but is charity.

At the time of the beis hamikdosh people had to leave a tithe of their field [that's what we have social programs for] and we had to house levyim [that's the portion of the tax money that goes into various other gov't services] and then we had to pay by giving a korban [that's the money we currently used for defense and judicial system]

kosher Hotels said...

every year we look for a fresh new place to go visit on pesach, and if there is a hotel that is grate.

Jessie said...

Different hotels charge different rates according to their ratings.

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