Maos Chittin and the definition of requirements

Here is my question for today. We know that there is a Mitzvah on everyone of us (unless we are destitute so to speak) to donate money for Chittim before Pesach for the needy people of our city.

As we know, the price of Shmura Matza is going up each year. I’ve even heard that “Brisker” Matzos cost $50 a pound. This is perhaps a new definition of Lechem Oni, bread which makes one poor.

Now, technically, it’s the first night (and sometimes second) that Minhag Yisrael is to have Matza Shmura. Standard Kosher Matza suffices for the rest of Pesach, although there is no command to actually eat Matza if you don’t want to after that.

What does a Maos Chittin fund do if the recipient specifies that they will not eat anything but Matza Shmura for the entire Pesach, and they are accustomed to Matza X for this purpose. Do they have to provide this to the recipient as per Dinei Tzedaka, or do we say this is different?

It could be argued that if the recipient normally eats Matza Shmura and doesn’t on the later days of Pesach, then they might have to have Hatoras Nedorim (annul a vow) because after having a Chazaka of a Chumrah/practice, it becomes like a vow/Neder.

On the other hand, one might also argue that Matza Shmura does not need to be hand baked (some, as we know are machmir not to have hand baked for kashrus reasons, and others are machmir to only have hand baked for the reasons of Lishmo (for the Mitzvah of Matzo which they don’t feel is satisfied by utterances at the time of pushing a button on a machine)

Would it be acceptable halachically to use machine shmura for those in need for Chol Hamoed and the last days? After all, you don’t need Lishmo then, do you? Or do you say that the implicit Neder applies to the Cheftza of a particular style of Matzo? What if a fund could feed more people this way or provide more to a particular family this way?

Of course, one could annul their implicit vow, but we’d not want a person to do so unless there was no choice.

Fraudulent Collector (Part 2)

Dear all,

I have been reliably informed that this gentleman

Alexander Shtayn (elohist)

About whom I previously posted, is in Melbourne and davened at the 7am Minyan at Ohel Dvorah.

Attached is another letter regarding him.

He has not recanted

One of the Mispallelim, wrote to me as follows:

I questioned him quite strongly, he was being very evasive, took me ages to get his last name out of him, and that he was from Milwaukee.
He told us a convoluted story about a kollel for children and elderly in S. Petersburg and in US. Overall he appeared to be a very strange guy.

Make up your own mind. Indications are that

  1. He is a Kofer B’Ikar
  2. A fraud

As we no longer have the once excellent Chesed service, can I suggest that readers pass this blog post around?

Fraudulent collector

Alexandr Shteyn was recently in Cleveland. He was mistakenly allowed to stay in the Hachnosis Orchim for two days and then asked to leave. He claimed to be collecting for his wife’s medical bills, but it was believed he was collecting for what he claimed to be Chabad/Lubavitch of MilwaukeeWisconsin. He was not authorized to collect on behalf of Chabad/Lubavitch of MilwaukeeWisconsin.

He carries Certificate No. 212231 from the Vaad Harabonim Shlit”a of Florida valid from 6/13 – 6/27/2012. Interestingly, this certificate bears the declaration, “This is not an endorsement of any person, organization or cause” but rather bears a personal declaration signed by Alexandr Shteyn that he is collecting for his wife’s medical bills. He is also carrying a Permission to Collect Funds from the Va’ad HaRabanim of Greater Seattle valid from 12/12 – 12/19/2011 also for his wife’s medical treatments.

To all Shluchim and friends of Chabad Lubavitch,
It has come to my
attention that Alexander (Sasha) Milschtein – who is an “elokist”, rachamana litzlan, and who “celebrates” Tisha B’av with a public barbeque (complete with an announcement r”l in his published calendar) – has been traveling all over the world, fraudulently presenting himself as an affiliate of Chabad Lubavitch of Milwaukee/Wisconsin.
He and his representatives, Yevgeny (Shlomo) Seskutov and Aleksander Shteyn, appeal to people in your community and are being supported by unsuspecting, rachamonim bnei rachamonim.
It is my unpleasant duty, as a Jew and a Shaliach, to bring this to your attention in order to prevent you from supporting a fraudulent and a r”l… operation. Needless to say, it is an absolute prohibition, an isur chomur, to say the least, to offer any support to anyone of his camp. It is every Jew’s duty to prevent his constituency and acquaintances from R”L supporting the above, per these letters by Vaad Rabonei Anashand Beis Din of Crown Heights:
Letter by Vaad Rabonei Anash concerning Milschtein
Letter by Beth Din of Crown Heights about Milschtein
[I call your attention below to r”l similar letters from rabbonim.]
May the Al-mighty cause them to do teshuvah immediately.
Sincerely,
Rabbi Yisroel Shmotkin
Director, Lubavitch of Wisconsin

On the death of חסד

Several years ago, a voluntary organisation (חסד) was established to scrutinise and affirm the credentials of Tzedoko collectors frequenting Melbourne. The organisation had the approbation of the majority of the Melbourne Rabbinate and was served by the Av Beis Din in Melbourne. At the onset, I was most uncomfortable with the concept. I had felt that if someone was uncomfortable enough to have to knock on my door, from shores afar, that I would simply give, albeit modestly. I had the view that the less I knew, the better. Most probably, my mindset was influenced by the Rambam’s statement that the highest form of Tzedoko is when the giver doesn’t know who they give to and the receiver doesn’t know from whom they received.

The חסד organisation initially encountered resistance from elements of the Charedi Rabbinate in Melbourne. Ironically, some of these Rabbis issued, and continue to issue, their own letters certifying the bona fides of a collector. I know of one Rabbi, a friend and a most honourable person, who was concerned by one דעה in הלכות צדקה and this was the sole reason he didn’t formally sign up to the concept. חסד not only issued speedy certificates after consulting with similar organisations and respected רבנים around the world, they also administered their own fund, and provided genuine collectors with a monetary kick-start, as well as a certificate.

After a conversation with a local Rabbi who had extensive experience overseas, and after hearing some of the horror stories relating how communities were occasionally duped into providing sometime enormous sums to a fraudster, I gradually came around to the idea that this was a good idea. I subscribed to the view that the more people asking collectors to produce a חסד certificate, the more likely we were to stamp out Tzedaka fraud.

I recall translating a Psak from the famed misnagdic posek, רב אלישיב שליט’’א for חסד in which Rav Elyashiv supported the חסד concept on halachic grounds. There is also the typically outspoken view of הרב אבינר שליט’’א of the religious Zionist camp, who wrote:

Most Beggars are Swindlers – The Halachah is that we do not give money to beggars until we clarify that they are truly poor. This is a “Takanat Chazal” (Ruling of our Sages) since most beggars are swindlers. This ruling is found in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 251:10) and it applies to this day. Rabbis estimate that ninety percent of people who ask for money today are swindlers. If someone asks for money we do not give it until he provides verification from a reliable Rabbi. If someone asks for food, however, we give him immediately. What if he is being deceptive? It is a potentially life-threatening situation, and we therefore provide food without delay. Today, most beggars in Israel do not ask for food because there are many soup kitchens, and if you offer them food, they say that they prefer money.
Is Giving Tzedakah to someone who is not poor a Mitzvah? – The halachic authorities discuss if one fulfills the mitzvah of giving tzedakah if the recipient is in fact not poor. They point to the Gemara in Baba Batra (9a and see Rishonim and Achronim) and they also discuss whether the intention of the giver matters, but for certain he loses out on the mitzvah by giving that money to someone who is not truly poor. Perhaps you will say that giving tzedakah is still worthwhile even if the person is not poor since it strengthens one’s personal character traits (tikkun midot), as the Rambam explained in his commentary to Pirkei Avot (3:15):, that by performing an act over and over, one will achieve proper characteristic traits. This, however, does not occur when one is performing an act which is not beneficial. A person is cruel if he does not give to the poor, but he is not kind if he gives to the wealthy. We have to give to truly poor people. A person should not buckle under emotional pressure from a beggar: I have many children and a husband who is sick, you have a kippah but you are not really observant, you give a shekel and they throw it down, etc… If a person was poor before he asked for money at the Kotel, after a day he would no long be considered poor: They collect 1000 shekels a day!
Rabbinic Verification – Even providing rabbinic verification is problematic today. Anyone can print a Rabbi’s letter or signature off the internet in thirty seconds. One time some people from a tzedakah organization in Ashdod came and asked for my signature. I did not know them and asked if they had other Rabbis’ signatures. They told me that they had the support of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I said: If so, I will blindly support it. Please send me the letter. When I received it, I saw that in the signature there was an extra “alef” in the last name “Schneersohn” and instead of being signed by the last Rebbe – Ha-Rav Menachem Mendel, it was signed by the previous Rebbe – Ha-Rav Yosef Yitzchak, who died almost sixty years ago! It was a forgery! Often times there are people who request money for yeshivot or organizations which do not exist, never existed, and will never exist. One time I signed a letter in support of giving money to the poor. I found out that they were giving $1000 to anyone about to be drafted into “Nachal Ha-Charedi” (Ultra-Orthodox unit in the army) to convince them not to join. They claimed they were poor: They were in great spiritual poverty if they were about to join Tzahal. I called and requested my name be removed from the letter, but they did not. I called again, no response. I called again, no response. I sent a letter, no response. I sent a letter from a lawyer and they called: “Why not talk like a mensch? Come on, let’s talk,” etc… We have to be extremely careful about where we give our money.
In sum: We only give tzedakah to people who we can verify are poor or to trustworthy organizations. Give to one, two, three trustworthy organizations. It is not possible to provide for every poor person in any event. Most beggars are not evil people, they are mentally and emotionally unstable. We do not judge them, but we only give tzedakah to genuinely poor people.

Two evenings prior, I interviewed a potential postgraduate student in my office for an hour. I was inclined to accept the student, however, some documentation was missing. I asked the student to quickly email me some missing mark sheets from his undergraduate aeronautical degree. The next morning, he duly emailed me a certified and scanned copy of his consolidated mark sheet. A consolidated mark sheet lists all the subjects that the student has passed. It does not indicate whether a student had failed and retaken a subject. As a matter of probity, despite my inclination that he was a genuine student, especially given that he had quickly organised the missing mark sheets on the next morning, I advised the student that I would need to see a fuller transcript. The student replied that it was very difficult to get this quickly because his University was very slow on such matters. I also know this to be true in some countries. It can take a year for some Universities to respond and re-issue a transcript. The student pressed on, and was desperate to be admitted, and asked me what he could now do. I suggested that he contact his University nonetheless, and ask them to email me directly, providing fuller information. The student duly supplied me with a web link where I could contact the registrar of that (international) University. Last night, I received an email from the Registrar, less than 12 hours after my email had been sent. The email read:

I HAVE EXAMINED THE MARKSHEET ATTACHED BY YOU. I CONFIRM THAT THIS STUDENT HAS PRODUCED A FAKE MARKSHEET. HE HAS NOT COMPLETED THIS COURSE TILL DATE. SO FAR HE HAS PASSED ONLY 3 SUBJECTS OUT OF TOTAL 15 SUBJECTS

I was flabbergasted to say the least. I asked for a genuine copy to be sent to me, and I am now in the invidious moral position of having to inform authorities about this irregularity. I could stay silent and simply not admit him to the University, but I feel morally bound to ensure that he not only does not gain entry to another University whose procedures may well have been less rigorous (trust me, some so-called group of eight ivy league universities can be quite slack) but that he doesn’t cause a bad name for future students through this fraud.

I was going to post about the demise of the חסד organisation but had not gotten round to it, as I am incredibly busy at this point in time. The incident about the student was a timely reminder about probity and its importance. A recent conversation with Rav Schachter was also on my mind. Rav Schachter clearly stated that the standards of morality and ethics (assuming these are of course reasonable) exhibited by the אומות העולם cannot be or seen to be greater than our community. In other words, every time a Yid fails to follow accepted standards of ethical and moral behaviour, that Yid potentiates a חילול שם שמים. Our community, in these very difficult times, needs to be cognisant of that reality and should do everything in its power to avoid such an interpretation by the אומות העולם, as this causes זלזול of Hashem’s name, and nothing is worse than that.

I was, therefore, very sorry to hear that the חסד concept and organisation had been shelved. The reason appears to be that whilst there is an enormous work load on the volunteers, there isn’t the level of acceptance by the community in requesting credentials to make it a viable and effective enterprise.

Especially in these times, we need to ask ourselves why our Kehilla cannot seemingly have a process of charitable probity. Do we want to wake up to an article on the front page of a newspaper declaring that a Jewish charity collector has been arrested at the airport on charges of fraud and misappropriation after an Interpol tip off? Are those who continue to think that it is possible to avoid the gaze of the world in this day and age deluding themselves?

The pleasurable chabadnik

Last night, there was a knock on the door. My daughter answered and called out “Aba”, as I was eating dinner. I know this means that there is a Tzedaka collector at the door. I don’t do things properly. I should sit down with them, offer them a L’chaim or cold drink and listen to their pitch and look at the pictures. It’s something I need to improve on. He noticed I was in the middle of dinner and apologised, which is always the sign of a mentch.

I recognised immediately that he was a Lubavitcher. He told me that he had seen me at Shule and that I had wished him שבת שלום. I couldn’t recall. I used to have a policy of not asking them who they were collecting for and just gave each person a modest amount. Lately, there are two categories that I enquire about. The first is whether they consider the State of Israel as a hindrance towards the Geula born from the Satan who is misleading us with false promises. If they are one of these, I will tell them that I prefer to give to those who see the State of Israel as a manifestation of יד השם and those who look to improve the religious and economic situation therein and not carp on the outer. I wish these people well in their ventures but advise them that I would rather give my modest support to those whose views don’t upset me. I make a mental note to give double to the next collector (who is not one of these types) to compensate somewhat. I know the Rav ז’ל would have given to this type of collector. He used to collect for his Uncle, R’ Velvel ז’ל, even though the Rav and R’ Velvel had different views on what the State of Israel meant from a religious perspective.

The second type of individual with whom I am uncomfortable, is the Meshichist. This is not for the same reason, but again, I’m uncomfortable with their views. Perhaps it is precisely because I went to a Chabad School and was exposed to what I think is the real McCoy, that I am upset with this type of person. I recognise they are fully entitled to their beliefs, in the same way that I am entitled to reject them. Back to the story at hand.

This person came in, and modestly mentioned that he was a Rosh Yeshivah from Arad in the south of the State of Israel. I asked him whether he was a Meshichist. He smiled and said (in Ivrit)

“I am not one of those people who go around saying Yechi”

So far, so good. My next question was:

Is there even a remote possibility that the Mashiach may not be the last Rebbe ז’ל?

He smiled, genuinely, and with warmth said:

I will be happy with whoever Hashem chooses to be Mashiach, it is Hashem’s choice, and it is not important to me who that person is. That’s not the important thing.

He had that certain real old-fashioned Chabad warmth that I was accustomed to in my youth. I immediately took to him. He almost had a smile like R’ Zalman Serebryanski ז’ל and projected a certain Emesdikeit. I gave him 3 times what I normally give someone at the door, but in retrospect, I feel I should have given him more. If any of my readers encounters him in the next few days, please tell him to come back!

Chabad do great things. I don’t agree with elements of their Philosophy, but that’s not a big deal. If we are honest, and delve deeply, most of us can’t say that we agree 100% with any particular approach.

When I compare this, to the type of Chabad that my kids are/were exposed to, I feel they have missed out. One just returned from Camp. One of the first safety approaches that were enacted was the method to call out for help if a camper was lost or in trouble. Campers were told to yell “YECHI” and those who heard this and were in a position to help, were to yell back “HAMELECH”. Couple this with the saying of Yechi thrice after each of the three Davenings every day, I ask you, is this what Chabad is about? Don’t people realise this turns non dyed in the wool people off? It’s simply not what Yidden do!

Let’s have more of those genuine Chassidim whom I encountered at my door please? They lack absolutely nothing in their התקשרות. They perform Hashem’s will through the prism of the approach advocated by their Rebbe. They are comfortable in their own skin and don’t need to holler daily to prove their credentials. Their actions are their deeds.

Doing tzedaka better

Our community is an incredibly benevolent one. Here, I mean the Melbourne community in general, across all groups. When there is someone in need, there is a charity fund, numerous ones, various Gemilus Chasodim organisations, formal and informal, that help with loans, food after illness or birth—the list goes on. We have every reason to be proud to not only have created a climate where Yidden are so caring and generous. These acts also form a cogent living example for our children so that they are exposed to an attitude of giving, caring and helping.

Are we doing enough? I don’t mean to ask whether individuals or organisations are coping with the requirements of those who are in need. I am particularly referring to the qualitative aspects of giving Tzedaka as opposed to the already established and measurable quantitative metric. For example, consider a family of N souls whose bread-winner no longer wins bread. That person and their family are supplemented generously with food, clothes, school fees and all manner of assistance. Baruch Hashem that their needs are being met. What of the bread-winner and his responsibilities?

It must be easy to become despondent and fall into an habitual trap where the mind is convinced that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Meandering from day-to-day, week to week, year to year, I could well expect that a person loses focus and hope and despairs of ever getting to a point where either they don’t have to stand with their hand outstretched or even have to do so on less regular occasions. It is very expensive to live a particular life style and afford to put children through private schools. It is not getting easier.

Why is this thought invading my head space? I recall that we once wanted to ask whether a group, who were out of work, and Baruch Hashem well supported by various funds, would consider attending daily minyanim in Shules that were challenged to find a minyan for daily Shachris, or even Mincha/Ma’ariv in the winter months. In return, the Shules would donate funds towards the Charities that were supporting these individuals. I thought at the time that this was a no brainer: a win-win situation. Perhaps the new networking opportunities would even help in gaining employment, even part-time employment. Alas, I was wrong.

Administrators of these funds informed me that

“you can’t rely on them, they are unreliable lazy good for nothings”

“they wouldn’t get up on time anyway”

“our management thinks that this is a wrong approach”

I have to say that I was shocked. God forbid, if I was in a situation where I had to come for weekly help and couldn’t work. If I was, I’d offer my services even on a volunteer basis in any which way I could. What brings people to a point where they simply lose their way?

What are we missing? I think we are missing professional staff. I believe that we need to have a qualified professional social worker associate full-time with those in need and their families. That person would oversee the complete and more complex issues surrounding families and individuals and work with cognate professional to help as appropriate. Surely, this itself is a higher level of Tzedaka that could be performed and would help make those in need even partially better equipped to sustain their families. Anything has to be better than turning into a בטלן and יושבי קרנות?

Should we become more intelligent in the manner in which we appropriate certain acts of חסד? Is there a halachic imperative on the receiver to take part in acts designed to help them get back on their feet? Is it a two-way street from a Halachic perspective?

I ask these questions, not חס ושלום, to diminish the importance of what is being done. Rather, I wonder if we can do things a little better?

Purim: giving without due diligence, Part 2

I knew I had seen a reference to the Rav’s thoughts on this matter.  I’ll paraphrase R’ Schachter in דברי הרב.

To understand the connection between the מצווה of  צדקה and specifically the Yom Tov of Purim, we need to to understand the general מצווה of צדקה. The Rambam in the beginning of the tenth chapter of הלכות מתנות עניים exhorts us to be more careful in the degree of our observance of the מצווה of  צדקה than all other positive commands. This is because  צדקה—vis a vis the propensity to give—is an identifying trait of Avraham Avinu. As the Pasuk in בראשית יח יט states:

כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה אֶת בָּנָיו וְאֶת בֵּיתוֹ אַחֲרָיו וְשָׁמְרוּ דֶּרֶךְ ד’ לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט לְמַעַן הָבִיא ד’ עַל אַבְרָהָם אֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר עָלָיו

“For I have known him, that he commands his children, and his house after him and they have kept the way of Hashem, to do Tzedaka and judgment, that Hashem may bring on Abraham that which He had spoken concerning him.”

The Rambam’s statement is extraordinary. We could be forgiven for thinking that the defining characteristics of a Jew is seen through the Mezuza on their door, or through their observance of the Mitzvah of Tzitzis, Tefillin, Kashrus, and similar. Giving Tzedaka, however, is a universal humanistic value that is not just the domain of Jews, so why did the Rambam specifically choose Tzedaka as the characterising hallmark of the Jew?

In the second סעיף the Rambam goes on to say that if someone exhibits cruel or uncaring characteristics, then we might suspect that persons יחוס (intrinsic DNA) as a Jew. As is well known (and more recently popularised in Avraham Frieds’ ביישנים song) , the Gemara (יבמות מט) says

“סימני ישראל האומה הקדושה: בישנים, רחמנים וגומלי חסדים”

“The signs of the holy nation of Israel are that they are milquetoast, pitying, and bestowers of kindness.”

The Rambam stresses that all Jews are siblings and if one sibling does not look out for another, who will?

In this regard, the Megillah states the inspiring words:

 

וירא המן–כי אין מרדכי, כרע ומשתחוה לו; וימלא המן, חמה. ויבז בעיניו, לשלח יד במרדכי לבדו–כי הגידו לו, את עם מרדכי; ויבקש המן, להשמיד את כל היהודים

that Mordechai refused to cow tow to Haman. Haman was enraged, and whilst he would ordinarily have materialised his rage solely through punishing Mordechai, once he realised that (consistent with the Rambam’s view) Mordechai was an iconic symbol conjoined with Jews, כי הגידו לו, את עם מרדכי as a unified whole, then ויבז בעיניו he despised Mordechai more, and decided that he’d take it out on all Jews—להשמיד את כל היהודים.

This is also what Mordechai reminded  Esther of when he said:

״אל תדמי בנפשך להמלט בית המלך מכל היהודים כי אם החרש תחרישי בעת הזאת ריוח והצלה יעמוד ליהודים ממקום אחר ואת ובית אביך תאבדו

“Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish.’’

Mordechai was stressing to Esther that Jews are responsible for each other; they are a singleton. It cannot be that a Jew’s fate is detached from other Jews anymore than a Jew can absolve themselves from their responsibility to another Jew. This theme, of the unity of the proverbial Jewish body is also channeled to a prospective גר. After detaching themselves from any prior nation or peoplehood,  the גר is informed that they will now face anti-Semitism in the same way as any born Jew. The proverbial Jewish body has absorbed the גר and they are now a vital component.

This message—the importance of perpetuating the unity of the Jewish nation—as echoed by the מגילה and מרדכי and המן himself, motivated the Rabbinic enactment of the מצווה of מתנות לאביונים.  Enveloped with this theme,  the מצווה is not simply one of צדקה but is now the materialistic expression of a unifying act which by its purpose is consistent with not checking the credentials of the person one is giving the money to. On the contrary, the body is in tact, knows no difference, discerns no hierarchy and for this—the theme of כל ישראל עריבים זה לזה and אחדות—it is consistent to give to any Jew and not to question their bona fides.

Purim: giving without due diligence

The three weeks and nine days, during the months of Tamuz and Av respectively, are popular in Melbourne.  The days are short, it is winter, and as a result we attract many Meshulachim, Hunters and Collectors (MHC). If you spend Tisha B’Av in Melbourne it’s certainly an easier fast than in Yerusholayim or להבדיל Monsey or New Square. The community in Melbourne is relatively small and tends to live in proximate enclaves.  MHCs are generally ferried from house to house by local drivers equipped with potential donor lists made available (sometimes for a fee) to those MHCs who haven’t formulated their own list. Local drivers levy a percentage of the takings and tend to be exclusively from the Hungarian Charedi community of Adass because most MHCs seem to be of the Charedi persuasion. The local vans are  generally strategically stationed 2 or 3 houses down from the house the MHC is visiting so that the home owner won’t see the local driver. During the high seasons, one can easily have 2-6 MHCs in an evening.

Meshulach

There are different approaches employed when dealing with an MHC.

  1. Some good-hearted souls make time and sit down and listen to the MHC’s story and read their recommendation letters, offer a drink, give a donation from their M’aaser allocation for Tzedaka and then send them on their way, with or without a receipt, sometimes with cash and other times via a cheque
  2. Some will do the same as 1., but do it quickly by not listening to the particular MHC
  3. A new system has evolved in Melbourne whereby MHCs are able to get Chesed certificates which attest to their legitimacy. Many will now only give to MHCs who make the modest effort to obtain a Chesed certificate. Such systems exist in many other countries in the world and are designed to lessen the chances of fraudulent crooks masquerading as MHCs.
  4. Some only donate to people or causes with whom they can identify. For example, they will not give to an anti-zionist kollel or to someone from Toldos Aaron or a Meshichist etc
  5. Some will tell the MHC to “go and work for a living like I do”. After a while, they no longer get MHC visitors. These people can also be seen running out to the driver warning him not to bring such MHCs to their house again.
  6. Others choose to pre-allocate their Maaser to chosen charities and have little left for casual MHCs.
  7. I know of one Jew (wasn’t frum at that time) who used to have a large nude painting at the doorway of their home. Their clientel dropped dramatically after that expose.
  8. I know of another Jew who suggests that the MHC  “sing Hatikvah” as a precondition to his donation.

The last two approaches, and variations on such themes, are not recommended, despite their effectiveness 🙂

MHCs themselves can be convivial. Sometimes they are rude and uncultivated. We all have stories about the MHC who abused us or our wives because we didn’t “give enough”; or we “gave more last year”; or we refused to answer the door after the MHC woke up the family, pressing the doorbell after 10pm.

Most MHCs are “he”, although I have struck the odd (sic) “she”. In my case, I’m pretty sure she was fraudulent.

For over two decades, my personal approach was to

  1. rarely listen to what they were collecting for (I didn’t need the justification)
  2. never let someone leave empty-handed
  3. give everyone a modest sum.

When the Chesed certification was mooted, I was opposed to the concept; I didn’t need to know anything about an MHC. Even if they were involved in chicanery or deceit, I concluded that they were a Nebech since they felt compelled to travel from door to door collecting. Most Melbourne Rabbis signed on to support Chesed, with the notable exception of some Charedi Rabonim. Those Charedi Rabonim provide their own letters it would seem which makes their behaviour incongruent unless their policy was to support “anybody”.

After some time, and after hearing stories about MHCs who had fleeced members of the community of many thousands of dollars, I began to slowly come around to the concept of giving exclusively to those who had allowed themselves to be scrutinised by the Rabbis of Chesed. I do make exceptions for those whom I know personally, of course, but will encourage them to obtain the certification nonetheless.

With Purim approaching there is a well-known מצווה of מתנות לאביונים. This is derived from the פסוק in the מגילה

כַּיָּמִים, אֲשֶׁר-נָחוּ בָהֶם הַיְּהוּדִים מֵאֹיְבֵיהֶם, וְהַחֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר נֶהְפַּךְ לָהֶם מִיָּגוֹן לְשִׂמְחָה, וּמֵאֵבֶל לְיוֹם טוֹב; לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָם, יְמֵי מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה, וּמִשְׁלֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ, וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים

What is the nature of this מצווה? Does it have the same strictures as the מצווה of צדקה? Is it different מצווה functioning under its own rules? The Aruch Hashulchan in סימן תרצד סעיף א notes, based on the Rambam in the second perek of Hilchos Megila and Chanuka:

ואין מדקדקין במעות פורים, לומר “זה ישר” ו”זה רמאי ואין צריך ליתן לו”. אלא כל הפושט יד ליטול – נותנין לו, ואינן צריכין לדקדק אחריו

  • We don’t exercise due diligence with our Purim Gelt.
  • We don’t scrutinise so that whoever stretches out a hand, we do give them something.

Why is Purim different? Is it so difficult to find two people who are genuinely in need of the monetary equivalent of two portions of food (the Gemara learns this out from the use of plural מתנות and then the plural אביונים) in the פסוק.

Note that for מתנות לאביונים a husband and wife or family is considered one unit for this purpose. A man is able to  fulfill the מצווה through the prior donation of his wife, and vice-versa. On the other hand,  if one gives two portions to a single husband and wife unit, then one has not fulfilled the מצווה because it is as if it was given to one entity.

The מצווה of מתנות לאביונים is considered more important than משלוח מנות in that if one is wondering whether to put more into their סעודה or more into  משלוח מנות as a הידור then the הלכה states that it is preferable to spend more on מתנות לאביונים.

There is a cute apocryphal story about two Brisker בחורים who, as is well-known, are punctilious with the precise  mode of discharging of each מצווה. As Brisker they are accustomed to subjecting minutiae to considerable scrutiny. In their zeal to fulfil the מצווה of מתנות לאביונים they proceeded to scour the local village to find a truly poor person (אביון). Unhappy with one couple because that couple’s house seemed to be not shabby enough to be qualified as “poor”, they searched on. They were unhappy with another couple who did live in a suitably decrepit tent of a house but seemed to have a couch that was too “nice”  and hence under Brisker standards there was a question of the degree of their impecuniosity. Finally, at the very edge of the town, they chanced upon an old and sick couple living in a ramshackle abode, with the plainest of accoutrements. Now this was a “real” poor couple with all the הידורים according to כל הדיעות. With great joy, they informed the couple that they would present them with their money so as to perform the מצווה. Upon leaving, they were careful to also inform the couple:

“Please make sure that during the year, you don’t accept any money or help from anyone else so that next year we can come back and fulful the מצווה again through you!”

On Purim, there is a long-standing custom to give money to so-called כלי קודש: Rabonim, Chazonim, Shamoshim and the like (I wonder if that includes Kolel Yungerleit or not so Yungerleit these days!). Interestingly, the Aruch Hashulchan suggests that one does not fulfil מתנות לאביונים when passing on the envelope to this category of person because it is considered more of a חוב. There is an expectation as opposed to the more care-free and unpredictable mode of making somebody happy on Purim by providing them with enough money to make their Purim a happy one.

What if I want to use the money I have set aside for Tzedaka each year? Can one use their מעשר money, the money they have set aside for צדקה, and use this to fulfil מתנות לאביונים? This is an interesting question discussed by the מהריל. The  מהריל concludes that one may not use מעשר money for this purpose. מתנות לאביונים needs to come from a different proverbial pocket. This separation of מתנות לאביונים from צדקה is perhaps consistent with the other הלכה of not performing due diligence in ascertaining who is genuinely poor for מתנות לאביונים.

What about poor people themselves? Do poor people have to perform מתנות לאביונים? If we say they do have to perform מתנות לאביונים then we can infer that מתנות לאביונים is like any other מצווה and just like a poor person must perform any other מצווה they must also perform the specific מצווה of מתנות לאביונים. This is the opinion of the ט”ז in או”ח סימן תרצ”ד. On the other hand the פרי חדש opines that a poor person does not have to perform מתנות לאביונים because מתנות לאביונים is really just a special class of צדקה for the day of Purim, and just like a poor person doesn’t have to give צדקה they also don’t have to give מתנות לאביונים.

צדקה

Another הלכה is also germane in respect of whether מתנות לאביונים is its own מצווה or is really a specialisation of צדקה on the day of Purim. Is one able to fulfil מתנות לאביונים by giving the money to a non-Jew? The  Tur paskens that one can fulfil מתנות לאביונים by giving to a non-Jew. The Beis Yosef supports this with a quote from Gitin 61A where the מצווה of  צדקה can be fulfilled by giving to a non-Jew. We observe then that the Tur holds that מתנות לאביונים  is another example of the מצווה of  צדקה and therefore מתנות לאביונים enjoys the same details in the halachic effectuation of the מצווה. Many argue with the Tur, and opine that one can not fulfil מתנות לאביונים by giving the money to a non-Jew because מתנות לאביונים is a separate מצווה for Purim which is tied to the word רעיהו in the Pasuk, which means רעיהו במצוות.

Of course, I am not a Posek by any stretch of the imagination, but I am pretty certain that on Purim those of us who do submit to a determination of a poor person’s bona fides through a Chesed certificate, should suspend such considerations on Purim day itself.

Ask your own Local Orthodox Rabbi, of course (perhaps when you slip him an envelope on Purim 🙂