Parshas Re'eh
Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17

Jewish Organizations and Charity ©

By Dr. Akiva G. Belk


This study of the weekly parsha is dedicated in the loving memory of Mr. Michael and and Mrs. Channah Sakash may they rest in peace.

Have you wondered, "What is it like to be poor?" What is it like to be destitute?" What is it like to beg for food and shelter?" What is it like to have NO WEALTH? What is it like to lack the basic resources of life? How does it feel to be impoverished, destitute, frayed, worn out, rundown, tattered, threadbare, strapped, poverty stricken, penniless, broke, busted, worthless, wretched, inferior, sordid, low down?

The Torah speaks explicitly about Jewish charity: "If there happens to be a poor person in your midst among one of your brothers in one of your cities in your land which Hashem your G-d gives to you, do not harden your heart and do not close your hand from your poor brother. Instead, you must throw open your generosity to him, and you must surely extend a loan to him for his needs to cover the wants which he lacks."

Technically this passage makes reference to Jews living only in Eretz Yisroel but in practice through hundreds of years of interpretation and observance it extends to every Jew and to the poor of our world. JEWISH CHARITY is a pillar of Judaism. One CANNOT BE JEWISH WITHOUT CHARITY!! Jewish charity is that important!!

Holy reader, since Jewish charity is of such extreme importance in Judaism it can and does lead to abuses.

The Torah DOES NOT teach giving till it hurts... In fact anyone who is not of means is not permitted to offer charity. Anyone who cannot pay for life's necessities {rent, food, clothes, etc.} is forbidden to give charity. That being the situation the Christian / Messianic view of giving till it hurts is in direct opposition to the Torah's teaching on charity!

There is a passage in the book of Mark in the New Testament which states: "Jesus sat down opposite the location of the temple treasury and observed how people were placing money into the treasury: Many rich people put in large amounts but a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins which was worth only a portion of a penny. As a result Jesus called his disciples to him and said to them, 'I tell you that this poor widow has given more to the temple treasury than everyone else combined. The rich gave from their abundance; but this poor widow gave of her poverty. She put all that she had. She put even what she had to live on.'" Mark 12:41-44

Dear reader, this story has often been used to solicit donations from the very poorest of people. Non Jewish leaders have misused this story to suggest that one should give even from their need... that one should give from their grocery money... that one should give from their gas money... that one should give from their rent money.


Story: Give Till It Hurts
Sometime ago a very poor Christian lady brought an expensive gift to our home before Pesach. She was unemployed. Later I learned that she was living off of gifts from other Christians. We expressed appreciation for her kind and generous gift. We also tactfully objected. Her response to our kind objections were, "My lord would have me to do it." Then she went on to quote the above passage and explain her pastor, church, her religion taught that one should give until it hurts." She continued, "G-d expects us to bless His people."

Now, dear reader, she was acting irresponsibly. Naomi and I searched around until we found where she purchased these items. {She had purchased them on a charge card.} We determined the price of these items, went to the grocery store, purchased groceries and took them to her house. Essentially her refrigerator was empty. She had a few canned items, some milk and cereal.

Then, in a very kind way, we explained that the Torah does not permit such giving. We explained that if such an incident did actually occur as described in Mark that the poor woman was incorrect. The Torah forbids such sacrificial giving from the poor!! She did not understand. We also explained that we would not accept any future gifts even though we deeply appreciated kind and generous thoughts!


Story: Uncontrolled Giving / Fleecing the Flock
Many years ago while living in Los Angles it was necessary to commute to San Diego during the extreme gas shortage. I commuted with several other men. We took turns driving. The individual driving was responsible for fuel and any other costs. When it came to James' turn to drive, he informed us that he was broke. We inquired as to why. He responded that he felt led to give all that he had in the previous Sunday's offering when his pastor made an appeal for money. I gave him $20.00 to purchase gas and made him promise he would purchase gasoline. He didn't!

When James picked me up for our commute the other commuters were outraged. We had over one hundred miles to drive. James gas gauge was sitting on one quarter tank. I was informed that he gave the twenty dollars gas money to his church. He broke his promise. Needless to say we ran out of gas about one mile before we got to work.

Dear reader, it constantly amazes me how Christians / Messianics teach that the Tenach {The Old Testament} is done away with... that is, everything EXCEPT Malachi where Christian / Messianic pastors and leaders constantly go to fleece their flock.

"From the days of your forefathers you have veered away from My laws and you have not observed them. Return to Me and I will return to you says Hashem, Master of Hosts; but you say, 'For what should we repent?' Should a person rob G-d? Yet you have robbed Me. But you say, How have we robbed You? {By holding back from giving} tithes and the Terumah offerings. You are cursed with a curse yet {you continue to} rob from Me, even this entire nation. 'Bring all the tithes into the storage house, that there may be substance in My Temple! Test Me today, says Hashem of Hosts, see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour our for you a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the one who devours for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; nor shall your field vine cast fruit before her time,' says, Hashem of Hosts. 'And all nations shall call you blessed: for you shall be a delightful land,' says Hashem of Hosts." Malachi 3:7-12

Now, dear reader, the above references in Mark and in Malachi have been abused beyond imagination by Christians / Messianics. Yet I did say that we also experience massive abuse also.

First, Jewish Charity as Moshe Rabbeinu stated in Deuteronomy was earmarked for the "poor in your midst" NOT some great religious edifice... NOT for some new building program... NOT for the EXCESSIVE SALARIES OF RABBIUM {anything above what the average member of their community makes}... NOT for flying the children of rabbium home for the holy days... NOT for housing allowances on homes that rabbium own... NOT for dining out at EXPENSIVE KOSHER RESTAURANTS that many members of the congregation cannot afford... NOT for purchasing or leasing rabbinic transportation... NOT for unmonitored expense accounts of the rabbium...

Holy readers, didn't our sages teach that we are suppose to be different from the nations of the world? In fact isn't that why we prostrate to Hashem on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur only? We withhold our complete prostration to Hashem because the nations of the world now bow down to their gods. Isn't it a fact that Judaism is not evangelical {missionizing} because the nations of the world evangelize? Yet we build magnificent religious edifices... Yet we pay large corporate salaries to our rabbium... Yet we pay enormous housing costs for our rabbium... Yet we provide our rabbium with autos, expense accounts, etc.... Don't the nations of the world also do this for their clergy ....? Rabbium know that in reality they should be working for the love of Torah NOT FOR SALARY!

Second, Jewish Charity as described by Moshe does not include JewishPath or any other religious organization. The Torah's intention that Moshe wrote of was to help the 'POOR IN YOUR MIDST." The next time you are asked to make a contribution to any Jewish organization, ask for an accounting of how they spend their contributions. Find out what they spend their money for... Do they spend more for magnificent buildings than the poor in their midst?? Do they spend more for salaries of rabbium than the poor in their midst? Do they spend more for the housing cost of rabbium than the poor in their midst?? Do they spend more for business travel, etc. than the poor in their midst?? I would call this ignoring the poor in your midst.

Third, rabbinical discretionary accounts are unaudited funds that can be used for anything. Having been employed by institutions having such accounts and knowing how they were used, I experienced only greater alarm. Seeing as these accounts are NOT audited one could write checks for anything... Some did, including many unpaid personal loans and many loans to relatives... The poor in their midst often received only meager assistance of $10, $25 and maybe $100.

Fourth, rabbinical bonuses for solicited and often unsolicited funds are common. A person contributing funds to an organization should inquire if any portion of their contribution will be paid to any person as a bonus. Some religious organizations pay very large bonuses for contributions. Sometimes rabbium siphon off bonuses on unsolicited contributions. In some organizations only a small portion, if any, actually is used as the contributor wished.

Fifth, one should designate their contribution for a specific purpose. Even when one does designate their contribution it may not be spent as the contributor desired.

For these reasons and many more the very best insurance for Jewish charity is to hand deliver the gift to the poor in your midst. Do not depend upon anyone to fulfill your desire to assist the poor. Often the poor are used as nothing more than bait to solicit gifts that will NEVER reach them. This is sad and unfortunate but it happens. Insure that your gift really does reach the individual it is intended for by giving it to them yourself!

In about five weeks Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur will be upon us. Most of us attending the high holiday services will be asked to make a pledge for what appears to be a worthy cause. This year before you dive into that pool, ask yourself, "What does Hashem Require, magnificent religious edifices.... enormous salaries for our rabbium... colossal housing costs for our rabbium... liberal expense accounts for our rabbium... unaudited discretionary accounts... OR ASSISTING THE POOR IN OUR MIDST?

Holy reader, Moshe our teacher and his brother, Aharon the Kohan Godal, made mistakes. If these extremely great leaders of Yisroel made mistakes, then certainly it is within the realm of possibility that rabbium of much lesser position living thousands of years removed from Har Sinai could falter in their financial righteousness. Knowing this we MUST hold ourselves accountable to be certain that we require total accountability for the gifts we give. We MUST be accountable by investigating the organizations that we contribute to. Contributing blindly leads to dark alleys. We MUST be responsible with the consideration of our gift... like, do we really need this magnificent religious edifice, etc..! Our poor depend upon us being responsible!!

Wishing you the best,

Dr. Akiva G. Belk

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