Thursday, April 06, 2017

Charity Organizations for “Anybody who is Hungry”

By HaRav Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute

“Let anybody who is hungry come and eat, let anybody who is needy come and join the Pesach Sacrifice” [Pesach Haggadah].

Charity Organizations in Israel

From Wikipedia (Subject: “Charity Organizations”) we learn that “in Israel there are about 15 thousand active NGO’s. About 16% of these (2,500) are involved in welfare and health. Traditionally, in the realm of welfare there are many active religious organizations, and they concentrate on giving financial and material support, an extension of the culture of charity that was typical of Jewish society in the exile. In general, the religious organizations contribute money or food to people, while organizations that are not religious operate in the welfare regime and establish philanthropic organizations that give money to advance such goals as education and health.”

If it interests you (and if you believe Wikipedia) – and I was interested and I usually believe – here is a list of the nine largest organizations in Israel whose annual budget is more than NIS 10 million. And since it is a mitzva to publicize the names of those who perform good deeds, here are the names: Ezer Mitzion (NIS 242 million), Yad Sarah (100), Yad Eliezer (92), Kupat Ha’ir Bnei Berak (86), Latet (48), Mei’ir Panim (43), Vaad Rabanim for Charity (43), Chasdei Naomi (37), and Zichron Menachem (11). Except for Latet, which I do not consider a religious organization, all the others are initiatives run by the Chareidi sector. I want to emphasize that this label applies only to the initiators and the main staff. In all the organizations listed, there is no religious criterion for distribution of the support. This corresponds to the directive of our sages, “recipients are not checked when food is distributed” [Bava Batra 9a].

Religious Zionists in the Realm of Charity

I do not have information about the position of the religious Zionist sector as initiators in nationwide charity organizations (although I do know that we do play an active role at a local level – municipalities, settlements, in communities, on facebook, and so on). At the moment I can think only in the religious Zionist sector of “Paamonim” and similar organizations which provide financial advice at the family level, and “Mekimi.” My apologies if I have omitted any other nationwide groups. I want to emphasize that this list involves only physical support such as food and medical supplies but not other realms which are led by religious Zionists – such as support, treatment, and encouragement of soldiers injured in the IDF and their families, including victims of terrorism. Another subject that in my opinion is strongly supported by our sector is advice for married couples, in addition to guidance and support on happy occasions (such as holidays or family events), with a goal of supporting the traditions of Yisrael.

I assume that the wise men of Wikipedia are right in their suggestion that this phenomenon is “an extension of the culture of charity that was typical of Jewish society in the exile.” It seems to me that the religious Zionist sector, with its interest in statehood and the entire gamut of Yisrael, makes substantial donations from its wealth, and also volunteers personally in active charity organizations among all the sectors – including both the general population and Chareidi organizations. I am not trying to judge which system of charity is preferable from a spiritual point of view, or which one gives higher benefits to the public. I assume arguments can be made for both sides of this question. The same is true for the question of which is to be preferred - government ministries or NGO’s (I vote for the latter).

Pesach – A Holiday of Kindness

In the literature of Chassidut and Jewish philosophy in general, the three Torah festivals are linked to the Patriarchs. Pesach is paired with Avraham, the man of kindness, Yitzchak is linked to Shavuot (related to fear of G-d and justice), and “Yaacov built Succot” [Bereishit 33:17]. The RAMA writes the following in the first halacha of Pesach: “ It is customary to buy wheat and distribute it to the poor before Pesach. And anybody who has lived in the city for twelve months is required to give a share.” [Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 429]. (This is the custom of “Kimche D’Pischa.”) The halacha begins with “it is customary,” and ends by saying that the people are “required” to give. The Mishna Berura adds that “the amount every person is required to give depends on his wealth.” The original custom “to buy wheat and distribute it to the poor” was transformed, as is suitable for our life style, to giving monetary contributions to charity funds.

The opening passage of the Haggadah, quoted above, taking the opportunity to invite all who are hungry and needy to join the Seder table, does not seem directly applicable today. A deeper study might remind us that in the days of the Temple, when the people joined together for barbeques based on Pesach-matza-marror in the courtyards of Jerusalem, surrounded by the walls of the city, the table would only be meant for people who had been invited beforehand and not casual passersby, since “the Pesach Sacrifice can only be eaten by those who reserved in advance” [Pesachim 70a]. Well, today the charity organizations even arrange in advance for invited guests and seating at public Seder ceremonies.

This is certainly to our credit!

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