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Tzedakah - cornerstone or stumbling block?

“They are not praying for me but preying upon me,” writes RABBI GAVIN MICHAL of what he calls “spiritual trickery and what I believe to be financial thievery” by an organisation who have been distributing pamphlets in Shuls. “The poor will finally know what it’s like to be wealthy, and children will began (sic) applying themselves industriously to their learning to the point where mothers will rub their eyes in disbelief and excitement…” Rabbi Michal quotes from the pamphlet.
by RABBI GAVIN MICHAL | Jun 15, 2014

Tzedakah - a cornerstone

or a stumbling block?

No-one can debate the fact that giving charity or tzedakah is a cornerstone of our religious system. Much has been written about the topic and it is not necessary to reproduce the copious wordage that has been expended in that regard.

Sadly, not everybody writing on the importance of giving, is as concerned about the giving as they are about the receiving.

I personally know of one particular author who wrote a book on tzedakah, who told me that his organisation desperately needed funds and he had to impress upon his readership the importance of giving. Sure, he was expounding Torah. But he lost my buy-in.

I also knew a famous meshulach (fundraiser for Torah institutions) who because of his astute professionalism took 80 per cent of the money he raised, for himself. Sure, he got people to fulfil the great mitzvah of tzedakah, and in a perfectly legal manner also filled his own coffers. What a clever man! What a win-win situation! But I could never give my money to such a person.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov warns us not to just give money to anyone who requests it, no matter how many times they tell you it’s for tzedakah. Money, he says should only be given to an oni hagun (someone whom you know for certain needs help).

Indiscriminate giving is not an act of kindness, but an indication of how you have been duped into falling for the oldest trick in history. Don’t think you have always performed a great mitzvah every time you have been relieved of your money.

But never before have I ever come upon such (as when I read a pamphlet recently distributed in shuls. This was an appeal by a well-known international charity, known as Kupat HaIr which collects money for poor Torah scholars.

This organisation is endorsed by whom they call “Gedolei Ha Dor” (rabbinic giants of our generation).

By contributing money, these great rabbinic leaders will sincerely offer up heartfelt prayers on your behalf. And then:

 “The poor will finally know what it’s like to be wealthy, and children will began (sic) applying themselves industriously to their learning to the point where mothers will rub their eyes in disbelief and excitement…

“Once-a-year… Maranan Hagaon Harav… shlit”a, Maranan Hagaon Harav… shlit”a, and Hagaon Hara … shlit”a - each in his own shul - will recite the same tefillah (prayer)on your behalf as a contributor to Kupat HaIr... you will merit to raise your children easily; you will merit having all your physical and spiritual ailments cured… less doctors… less worries…

“During the holy moments when the aron (ark) is open… they will pray for you, contributor to Kupat HaIr… we want the best for our contributors…

“ recent times the number of children born… has grown so large that the burden of proof is no longer upon us. People counted out one hundred and four perutos (coins) - twice the numerical equivalent of the word ben (son) -gave them to poor and humble Torah scholars and merited… one child or more - the following year…

“…the segulah has the power to change a person’s mazel for the better… to merit parnassah (wealth), medical cures, and the like…”

Arogant deception & manipulation 

After reading this arrogant deception and open manipulation, the frightening things for me are:

1) That such incredulous claims are made by so-called leaders of our generation.

2) That the impossible is promised only to those who pay.

3) That this superstition is propagated in Orthodox shuls in a modern Orthodox community in 2014.

4) That people actually fall for it and contribute with great expectations that a few dollars can create miracles.


The Kotzker Rebbe says:

“Ten Righteous men may have been able to save Sodom. But fools who follow even a great leader, can reduce that leader to a fool himself.” (Kochav HaShachar p 85, par 4)

If I had read that leaders of another religion had made such claims as those quoted above, I would have laughed. When I read that leaders of our religion make and endorse such ridiculous claims, I want to cry.

Are we following fools, or are we the fools the Kotzker refers to who are reducing our leaders to becoming fools themselves?

How did such a noble mitzvah as tzedakah go from being a cornerstone of our faith, to become a stumbling block for the ignorant and gullible?

If I have to give money for someone to pray for me, I’m sorry but I don’t want their prayers.

Note to the reader: Rabbi Michal is a student of the Rebbe of Kotzk and his popular Kotzk Blogs are currently being republished on Click on the Bloggers tab at the top of any page or CLICK HERE to find them.



  1. 3 arnie draiman 16 Jun
    thank you rabeynu gavin for having the courage to say this outloud. i work with many donors and foundations, and i see how many get blinded by the promise of eternal happiness, children, marriage, parnasa and more......while i believe very strongly in the power of prayer, i also can tell a sham when i see one.

    reminds me of "al tigzol dal, kee dal hu" (Proverbs 22:22) - 'don't steal from a poor person, because he is poor'. One of the commentators (in Bamidbar Rabba 5:2) comes along and asks 'what can you steal from a poor person if s/he is poor?' The answer is that you can steal from them what is rightfully theirs. And what is rightfully theirs? Your Tzedakah contributions. By not giving it appropriately, you are, in essence, stealing from the recipient. If the recipient only gets 68% of your conribution (and the rest went for overhead, admin expenses, fundraising, etc.), then 32% didn't wind up where you wanted it to. Give generously and give with a happy heart, but please give wisely. keep up the good work. arnie draiman -
  2. 2 Israeli 17 Jun

    The proper translation of the word Tzedakah is righteousness, not charity.

    Hashem will decide who is the true Tzadik.

    The mitzvah of Tzedokah, righteousness, is one of seven mitzvoth equivalent to the entire number of mitzvot.

  3. 1 brian f 16 Jul
    Dear Gavin
    Silence is an incredibly poweful tool.
    I would hesitate to speak about organisations that provide for the "Aniyim of Jerusalem" from the confines of the Northern Suburbs of Johannesburgs.


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