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Mar 27, 2011

Halacha vs Honesty regarding Tzedaka Donations

David Morris wrote an interesting incident on his blog, Tzedek-Tzedek, and it raises a question about tzedaka that we find coming up fairly regularly in the past few years.

He writes:
A minor incident on Purim has troubled me.


I collect on Purim day for Lema’an Achai. This year I teamed up for an hour on Purim with my friend Murray Shore from Toronto, and we went together door-to-door.


A donor (we’ll call him Ploni) came up to us and proposed the following deal.


Ploni offered to give Lema’an Achai 250 NIS, if Lema’an Achai will receipt him for 500 NIS.


Ploni explained that he has given out at least 250 NIS in cash donations to individuals, who are not able to give tax receipts. So Ploni is giving 500 NIS total charity, and believes he’s entitled to a receipt for that full amount.


Ploni further explained that Lema’an Achai loses nothing by this, as we doubtless have collected plenty of cash, which has not yet been receipted. At the moment, no-one gets tax benefit from this.


And of course, we receive 250 NIS from Ploni, which he otherwise might not have donated.


To finish off the proposal, Ploni named Rabbi X, an important community rabbi in town, who Ploni claimed had given Ploni his endorsement to collect such inflated receipts from tzedaka organizations, as long as the total amount in the receipts does not exceed the total amount Ploni gives in tzedaka.


“Everybody wins!” declared Ploni.


I asked Ploni for clarification.


“Please explain what you mean. I don’t think I understand clearly. You give Lema’an Achai how much?”


“250”, he replied.


“That’s kind of you - Yeshar koach & tizke lemitzvot.
And we receipt this donation for how much?”


“500”, he replied.


“You give 250, and we say we received 500. Right?”


“Yes, you see…”


“Hold on, maybe I still haven’t understood this fully, …with all respect, wouldn’t that be. umm.. a lie?”


“Well not entirely…you see…”


“And, technically, an act of fraud?”.


“Rav X said it’s fine, he said I can do this…what’s your problem?”


By the end of the (amicable!) discussion, Ploni gave Lema’an Achai 200 NIS, saying that our lack of cooperation with his scheme needed to be penalized by withholding 50 NIS from his originally intended donation.


I have seen the same phenomenon in many variations – the ends (a mitzvah, or supposed mitzvah) justifies the means (lies, fraud, stealing, whatever).


It troubles me, every time.
and he added in the comments and interesting side point:
By the way, when I asked Lema'an Achai's Rav, Rav Chayim Soloveichik, whether I had acted properly, he said I had acted correctly, and was shocked that anyone would claim rabbinical backing for such an aveira.


He then added: "You might think that Lema'an Achai lost 50 NIS on the deal, because you were honest...."


Rav Soloveichik put his hand in his pocket, and gave Lema'an Achai 50 NIS.


"David, this is so you should never think Lema'an Achai might lose out by being straight."
In recent years, and I dont know if this was not the case in the past or if it just did not happen in the past, at least in the USA, the authorities have been cracking down on such fraudulent tax receipts. Many frum jews are sitting in jail, even someone as prominent as the Spinka Rebbe, along with many people who were considered respected members of frum communities across the USA.

That people are still trying to do it, despite the exposure of those caught and the chilul hashem it created is a bit hard to understand. Perhaps it is because they think that in Israel it will be easier to get away with. Or maybe just because some were caught, does not necessarily mean it deters others from doing the same. If so, that would mean the numbers of those caught are probably relatively small compared to those actually doing such things, meaning the risk of being caught is considered very small.

Without knowing any more of the incident than what was written there, I suspect there was something different at play. A third option. I think a possibility was that this person was testing Lemaan Achai to see if it would do something dishonest, with perhaps a low risk of being caught, to make some extra donations.

Perhaps it could have been a test of LA honesty, perhaps it could have been an ambush and had they taken the bait this fellow would have announced it all over that LA is dishonest. Or maybe it really was someone willing to make a donation in exchange for a fraudulent tax receipt. I think more of it being a test because if they were not willing, why did he only deduct 50NIS from his originally planned donation? Obviously this logic is not proof of anything, but if I were in his shoes and found them unwilling, i probably would have given them a few coins and sent them on their way, rather than the significant donation he ended up giving.

I dont know what his goal was, but it is troubling that there are still people, despite all the Jewish community has experienced in recent years in LA, NY and NJ, who are willing to try to pull such scams. And Kol Hakavod to Lemaan Achai for withstanding what was probably a reasonably difficult temptation. He might not have been tempted at the time, but he probably had second thoughts afterwards, thinking how much more he could raise if he did this or that. Yet he refrained. And Kol Hakavod to Rav Chaim, the rav of Lemaan Achai for his personal addition, teaching an important lesson.

32 comments:

  1. I think I would have said something like "I'm sorry we don't need your money", and ended the conversation. I don't have energy for crooks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The sad part here is that Lema'an Achai suffers from their policy of honesty and transparency.

    In addition to guys like this who probably give most of their tzedaka to "less transparent" organizations you have those who actually believe the 100% tzedaka claim. They give to others thinking that more of their money is going to help.

    Having been in the accounting field and representing many charitable organizations I can tell you that there is no such thing as 100% tzedaka.

    Every organization has salaries, expenses, bank fees, etc and most are not covered by "sponsors". It is convenient to say sponsored but the reality is usually much different.

    This Purim should have been the proof to most people on which local organizations spend their money more wisely.

    we should reward transparency, honesty and wise allocation of funds with our full support, not just lip service.

    Let those who want deception in their contributions support those who practice it.

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  3. anonymous -
    Purim campaigns aside, which was noisy, disturbing, invasive and dirty...

    your comment is not fair because we do not know who rabbi x is, we dont know if he really said it or not (this fellow claims rabbi x said it but that does not make it so), if rabbi x supports any particular tzedaka organization, or if any organization actually follows what was said in his name and gives such receipts.

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  4. I know it's a lot of fun to criticize other organizations which may or may not have been involved [and other Rabbis, too, of course]... but instead, why not do something constructive.

    Donate 50 NIS to Lemaan Achai in honor of "ploni".

    It's not that much money, and the statement you can make is much more important than any blog comment you can post.

    I did, this morning. Now it's your turn.

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  5. Mikeage,

    amen!

    I will follow your great idea!

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is terrible - and, yes, in the years when I ran a Fund there were similar attempts at impropriety. Of course it's assur.

    ReplyDelete
  7. What about fraudulent US tax returns...

    (1) you know aliyah expenses deducted as "moving expenses for a "job". Yeh that's ethical.

    (2) various other deductions for charitable organizations whose work bears 50% charity and the other 50% a large salary to the organization's management.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Rafi you are good friends with David Morris so please dont flame me or censor me - here is my comment:
    Morris has a knack for exaggerating and generating publicity - hey as the CEO of Leman Achai that's his job. I would like more details as to the veracity of the story. Maybe the guy telling Morris about the Rav's haskama was making it all up. How do we know the Rav really approved? Maybe there are missing details. But it helps generate cash for his organization.
    Previously, Morris has scored big with his bashing of the conviction of Katzav. As a cheer leader in "Katzav is a womanizer" chorus this also assists in bringing attention to Leeman Achai and helps the fundraisng cause. Sure, men in power should not abuse their position to obtain sex (and ditto women in power should not use that leverage to obtain sex from men). But he implies that this is rampant when in fact most sexual liasons are consensual. Office sex does happen but most of the time its both parties agreeing to same. In the small percentage of times its not consensual yes that must be condemned and prosecuted but the problem is Morris makes it sound like its always being forced.
    Morris has also generated near panic in the anglo community regarding child abuse basically calling it an epidemic and according to Morris almost everyone is a suspect. Again, that's his role and this serves to increase funding - everyone wants abuse to stop so what better way than to give your money to Leeman Achai? There is unfortunately instances of abuse but its not rampant and involves very few sick individuals who need treatment or jail. Abuse is not rampant and I trust my kids with a neighbor or friend. But Morris preaches a "trust no one" attitude because abuse is everywhere. The bottom line is we ought to keep his agenda in mind as well when we read his posts. His agenda is fundraising and...that is his tafkid as CEO.

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  9. S,

    I hope that you get the treatment that you need very soon.

    Connecting David Morris's stand on sexual abuse in all forms to fundraising for Lema'an Achai is pretty much over the edge.

    As a matter of fact I think that posts such as yours trying to slam Lema'an Achai are just a fundraising tactic for competing organizations.

    May you have a refua shleima..refuas hanefesh.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Shlomo,
    Personal attacks heh...you imply I am an abuser...
    First of all...accusing me shows the type of character you have. People who accuse others of that sort of heinous thing are usually guilty of what they accuse others of.
    Second, you accuse me of working for a competing organization? LOL, you are nuts. I have no connection or affiliation to any such organization in Israel or anywhere on the globe.
    Third...You have no substantive response other than your personal attack.
    Re-read my post. I dont fault Morris all I say is (and prove me wrong) is that his legitimate interest as CEO is to generate publicity for his organization. Am I wrong? I agree with Morris that there are instances when someone in the workplace takes advantage. And I agree that in instances adults abuse kids. But I disagree with his assertions that these are common place. Morris has publicly (and Ive heard him personally) lambast Katzav and Morris is championing the rights of the oppressed women at work but he doesnt portray the accurate deal - most office sex is consensual - it is not "forced". And contrary to Morris, most adults do not abuse kids.
    In conclusion, instead of logical arguments you tell me "get treatment" and imply I'm some sort of rep for some "competing organization".
    Shlomo, Grow up and instead of personal attacks start to think for yourself. Have a good one.

    ReplyDelete
  11. S,

    "Abuse is not rampant and I trust my kids with a neighbor or friend"

    My heart is with the child that gets abused due to his/her parent's naiveness.

    ReplyDelete
  12. S - I myself suggested that Rabbi X possibly never said it, and either ploni made it up for whatever reason or misconstrued his words. It is definitely a possibility

    ReplyDelete
  13. Dear S

    You have a vivid imagination.

    1. Morris's story is that someone made a dishonest proposal, and then that person CLAIMED a rabbi had told him he could do it. Morris clearly is not saying this guy was definitely telling the truth. Who knows?

    2. Morris's principled stand against child abuse, and enablement, is certainly not a fundraising scheme for Lema'an Achai.

    Indeed Morris' important stand on behalf of all of our children has COST Lema'an Achai money - as at least one community rabbi has imposed fundraising sanctions against Lema'an Achai as a result of his stand.

    3. You say that Morris claims Katsav's behavior is rampant in the workplace.

    Actually, Morris' articles about Katsav have described the shame at the fact that a President of Israel could behave in this way, with pride in a legal system which was able to bring even the most prestigious person in the country to justice.

    There is no suggestion in Morris articles that such behaviour is rampant.

    4. And by the way, Morris is Chairman of Lema'an Achai - not CEO.

    The significance of this detail is that Morris is a volunteer and has no personal gain from Lema'an Achai's fundraising.

    Morris performs his many important public works leshem shamayim.

    Shame on you S!

    ReplyDelete
  14. S,

    My suggestion about treatment is in no way accusing you of abuse.
    You treatment should be for your connecting Lema'an Achai to David Morris's stance on social issues.

    Morris is not the CEO of Lema'an Achai nor is his job to raise funds
    for them.

    As a matter of fact as far as I understand Lema'an Achai has suffered greatly due to David's position.

    There are rabbis and shuls in this community who feel threatened by David and attack Lema'an Achai to get at him.

    Perhaps you should get your facts straight before making public postings that could make you look foolish.

    ReplyDelete
  15. S,

    Your comments imply that David Morris either lies or exaggerates often in his public statements in order to fear-monger people into donating to Lemaan Achai. That's much closer to any issur in the blog comments than anyone else - that's called Lashon Hara. Congratulations.

    And regarding your promotion of "consensual" sex in the office, legally it isn't considered a mutual agreement if one is a subordinate to the other. And anyone who gets as high as president should have enough brains-over-urges to avoid quid-pro-quo situations (look it up, it's obvious you don't know what that means) - with travel agents, with sherut leumi girls, etc.

    All that being said, I think this story by David Morris comes off a little naive. He's never heard of these stupid tactics before? I'm sure he rejected them years ago. It does make for a nice story that Rabbi Soloveitchik chipped in to cover the slight - of course I've been reading too many pamphlets from other orgs ;-) and thought the why-LA-didn't-lose would be some hashgacha story or a quote from the gemara that yashrus begets yashrus and maybe that extra 50 was not earned honestly.....

    ReplyDelete
  16. Lemaan Achai doesn't raise money for child or sexual abuse victims. David Morris' campaign against offenders has nothing what so ever to do with Lemaan Achai.And the previous comment is correct, that Lemaan Achai has been hurt by David Morris' comments and so on.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Lemaan Achai is very clean, reputable and honest. It doesn't use the scare tactics,lies, arm twisting and need for immediate money or else someone will commit suicide, and similar type stories other tzedoko organizations use.

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  18. Shlomo is not correct. If you go on Morris's website he lists himself as the CEO of L'emaan Achai. Whatever.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Anon of 11:21

    Read David's blog again. he claims to be the founder of Lema'an Achai and the CEO of Scitronix.

    Rav Leventhal is the CEO of Lema'an Achai.

    Perhaps read more carefully

    ReplyDelete
  20. This will be my final post on the topic.

    First to the anon who quotes me:

    "Abuse is not rampant and I trust my kids with a neighbor or friend"

    And responds to me:

    My heart is with the child that gets abused due to his/her parent's naiveness.

    This is EXACVTLY what I mean. So no one should let their kids play in a friend's house? Never let them deliver flowers for Shabbat? Dont let them go to a neighbor to ask for some milk? Come on, are you rational or do you believe that "we should trust no one."

    You think I'm wrong for letting my kids play at a neighbor's house. So be it. You can live in your hysterical paranoid world.

    Second, to MiriamS I am not "promoting" workplace sex (where do you get this from???)
    On a legal basis you are totally wrong. Consensual sex between a boss and a subordinate IS NOT per se illegal. It MAY be unethical it is NOT illegal. Legally - the danger to the boss of such a relationship is that the subordinate may try to claim it was forced (ie she told me or I "felt" that she would fire me if I did not give her sex). Those cases may arise in the absence of evidence it was a consensual relationship. When that happens (no evidence either way but there is a claim for forced sex) then we hear the testimony of the parties and who knows what the real story is.
    IF however there IS evidence that it was consensual there is no crime. Again, a boss and a subordinate who engage in consensual sex - assuming there is evidence it is consensual - there is no crime. It may breach ethics but it is not per se illegal.
    Again this is my final post so if I do not respond do not presume I have no response. I do not enjoy intellectual debate with people who say I need treatment or that I am promoting office sex. These personal attacks on me are unfair and display a very "closed mind" approach. I wish everyone well.

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  21. "These personal attacks on me are unfair and display a very "closed mind" approach."

    Sort of like the personal attacks on David Morris??????????????????????

    ReplyDelete
  22. In the US, amounts under $250 do not need receipts for the IRS (per donation). That's a pretty generous amount when you think about it. Does Israel require a receipt for every donation, no matter how small?

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  23. I cant answer the question from a legal perspective, neither from the donor nor from the organizations perspective, maybe someone else can, I can say that if you make a donation to an organization that has sei'if 46 status it enables you to get a 35% refund of the money donated. To get that refund you must have a receipt.

    So, if you dont care about the refund, you can give with no receipt (I dont know if the organization must issue one or not), but if you want your refund, get the receipt no matter how small the donation

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  24. S,

    Part of what makes your comments so odd is turning the tables - your examples are women doing the abuse when that's rarely the case. And by rarely I mean well below 25% of the time.

    ReplyDelete
  25. 1. Of course this is no surprise.
    2. Whatever happened to "Midvar Sheker Tirchak"? Not "be very close to it but don't do it". Tirchak! Keep away from it.
    3. As to the Rav - many people do twist rabbis' words. But then again, some of them who have learned much Yoreh Deah but little Hoshen Mishpat have said wrong things. A client once told me in the name of his Rabbi something horribly wrong, a total corruption of a mishna in pirkei avot, in support of cheating on taxes. I repeated this "gem" to one of the gedolei hador, and he said, "Regarding such things, the pasuk says: Vsalachta la'avono ki Rav hu."
    4. David M could clarify it, why not?
    5. As to this guy's "logic", I will explain why he's wrong: the government decides which organizations will get Para 46, and those are strictly supervised. If you gave to an org that didn't get it, maybe that's because they don't deserve it. After all, the government is, in essence, funding these orgs with the 35% break from taxpayers' money. So by colluding with this fellow, you'd be assisting him in getting the tax break w/o all the supervision.
    6. Aside from the moral/halachic aspects, DM would have to be crazy to do this. If he were caught, Mas Hachnasa would take away his Para 46 so fast that even noted marathoners like Rafi couldn't catch them, and that would be just the beginning. (It also creates a headache for the bookkeeper.) And if they have cash donations not receipted, that's another big no-no. All monies must be receipted immediately, especially cash.

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  26. how do you receipt cash that was dumped into a tzedaka box in shul? to whom do you write the receipt?

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  27. Excellent question, Rafi.

    My position is that you issue a receipt made out to "Kupat Tzedaka".

    That way if they ever ask "where are the receipts from the kupat tzedaka", you are ready with an answer.

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  28. And one more thing: I know the title wasn't yours, it was David's.

    But I don't like the headline's implication that there is a contradiction between the two.

    And even lshitato, that halacha allows it, I assume he would say that it is therefore honest.

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  29. Money from kupot tzedaka and other no name donations are receipted as "anonymous".

    No matter what ALL cash donations have to have a receipt.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Inverted CommasMarch 28, 2011 7:03 PM

    DR,

    If you look more carefully, you will see that the original article on Tzedek-Tzedek is titled:

    * Troubled on Purim: "Halacha" vs Honesty.*

    David seems to have been careful to put inverted commas around "Halacha", perhaps to reduce the chance of anyone thinking a true interpretation of halacha could result in criminality.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Good catch, Inverted.

    But most people don't read so carefully, so IMO the title might mislead someone into believing in a false dichotomy.

    ReplyDelete
  32. DR: "But I don't like the headline's implication that there is a contradiction between the two [Halacha and Honesty]."

    You have a point, in so far as in "true" hareidism there is no such litmus test, or reality-check, against a halachik psak.

    Such as:

    * Is this psak criminal?
    (in hareidism, the law of the land is not considered a moral or halachik standard)

    * Is this psak "honest", does it display "common decency" and "integrity"?
    (the definition of "honest" or "derech eretz" is reverted back to a subcategory of halacha - such as a handshake closing a deal is also halachikly binding - it's a closed loop; it is not an independent measure of anything).

    Therefore, even respected Hareidi rabbonim will and do issue piskei halacha which are Criminal and which are not Honest.

    Even local hareidi rabbonim in RBS.

    This is a fundamental fault-line in hareidism, which is responsible for so much abuse, criminality, fraud, mafia tactics, and hilul H' in hareidi communities around the world.

    Hareidism involves a circular logic, which can result in extreme and evil behavior. Like many cults.

    DR - Of course a psak halacha can be Dishonest!!!

    ReplyDelete

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