We are good-hearted people who do our best to be kind and charitable. We want to build a better society, ease suffering, aid the needy, support worthy institutions etc. We are barraged by those who
solicit funds for one cause or another. We may give a few dollars to
each; we may give a lot to a few; we may give more or less, depending
on our mood when we receive the solicitation for charity.
Do we have a philosophy that governs our charitable outlays? Or do
we just make contributions randomly, based on who asks us first or who
approaches us most respectfully?
I would like to suggest that we think carefully about our charitable
giving, and view our charitable dollars as a means of advancing our
vision of a better Jewish community and a better world.
I hear many people complain about the “hareidization” of
Orthodoxy–that religious institutions are taken over by extremist,
fundamentalist Orthodox zealots. People complain: why do the “hareidim”control the rabbinic courts, the mikvaot, the kashruth agencies, the yeshivot etc? Here is one answer: because WE are providing them with funds to do so! A great many charitable dollars from Modern Orthodox (and non-Orthodox) Jews are poured into Hareidi hands. In our generosity and good-heartedness, we support individuals and institutions who strive to undermine our own vision of a healthy
Judaism and a good society. In effect, many of our charity dollars are
used to work against us.
Should we be giving our limited charity funds to those who foster a
religious life in which men do not receive training or encouragement to
find gainful employment? or in which men (in Israel) avoid military
service in Tzahal by staying in kollels? or in which people are imbued
with neutral-Zionist or even anti-Zionist attitudes; or in which
obscurantist and fundamentalist teachings are presented as the true
word of God? Should we be supporting institutions that promote a
narrow, xenophobic vision of Judaism, or that have moved far “to the
right”, that seek to undermine Modern Orthodox ideals and values where
ever they can?
Instead of complaining about negative trends within Orthodoxy (and
Judaism in general), we could actually accomplish something useful by
developing a clear philosophy of our own philanthropy. What
institutions best reflect the vision of Judaism which we feel should be
promoted? How can we best use our charity dollars to work for our
vision of Judaism and humanity, and how can we avoid having these
dollars used to undermine our ideals?
If we will focus more carefully on the impact of our charity, we may
find that we indeed can make a real difference. If the institutions we
believe in are well supported, they can accomplish more. If more
dollars are devoted to the causes which foster our vision, then less
dollars are available to those who would undermine our vision.
Each dollar we contribute is, in effect, a “vote”. It reflects who we
are and what we believe and what we dream. If we would all vote wisely,
if we would all contribute in ways that advance our ideals–we would be
voting for real change. We would be voting for an Orthodox Judaism that
is intellectually vibrant, compassionate and inclusive. We would be
voting for an Orthodox Judaism that is engaged meaningfully with the
entire Jewish community and with society at large.
We all should give generously and graciously. But we need to think
carefully when deciding to whom to entrust our charity dollars.