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Selling Snake Oil for Charity

Taking advantage of desperate people by getting them to part with their money in exchange for segulot is not what I believe God intended for us as a holy nation.
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If this doesn’t make an Apikores out of you, I don’t know what will. Whenever I see one of these Segula ads, I begin to wonder what is happening to my Judaism. No matter how many times I write about them, and no matter how many respected rabbis rail against them.

What are rabbis saying about Segulos? Here is what one of them said. The Mezhbuzher Rav, R’ Avraham Yehoshua Heshel Bick is a quoted by Dr. Yitzchak Levine in the Aishdas archives:

[Segulos ] are nothing more than bubbe maasos, eitzas yetzer hara that give people a license to spend money way beyond their means and then ask for a yeshuah. All these formulae ­ saying Shir Hashirim forty times, Tehillim HaChida, etc. ­ are methods used by the yetzer hara to take from us the little [spirituality] we have left.

And yet Segulos seem to be on the increase. I just received an ad for one from the Jewish Press.Why are they on the increase?

There are probably two reasons for that. One is that desperate people will take desperate measures. The other is that it must be a very effective fundraiser.

The first time I saw an ad like this was for Kupat Ha’Ir. This is a legitimate charity that helps the poor in Bnei Brak, Israel. These Charedim are mostly people that do not make a living because they have been indoctrinated to stay in Kollel for as long as possible and have had no training whatsoever for the job market.

Even with working wives they often do not make enough money to make ends meet. Mostly because of their large families. Kollel stipends are a joke. The solution rabbinic leaders have come up with is a charity fund called Kupat Ha’Ir. This type of fund has been duplicated in other cities in Israel under different names.

While one can dispute (which I strongly do…) the philosophy that discourages every male from working in favor of staying in Kollel – the fact is that these people are poor and need the money. This charity helps.

There is of course never enough money to go around and these charities themselves take desperate measures to make money.

Some “genius” a while back figured out that they can make money by taking advantage of desperate people. Noting the problems of the day, they have searched for ancient ‘ solutions’ in the form of Segulos. These are ritualistic acts involving donations to their cause. So if for example a young couple is having fertility issues, this organization has found some sort of ancient formula that they promise to carry out on your behalf - IF – you send them a donation. Usually a fixed amount of money. Usually having to do with supporting a Talmid Chacham.

This time it is Yad L’Achim – a Kiruv organization that, if I recall correctly – deals mostly with Russian immigrants. I obviously have no problem with reaching out to Russian immigrants. But I do have a problem with this way of funding it. The vulnerable people they are targeting are single women looking to get married.

In the Charedi world the prime age for a young woman to get married is about 18 to 22. (That is an educated guess. The range might be even narrower – with the top limit of 19 or 20.) Once past that age, these women begin having problems getting dates. To those of us who have been paying attention, this is one of the hottest topics being discussed in that world. All kinds of remedies have been proposed to solve this problem. Including a radical suggestion by some to consider plastic surgery to improve their appearance.

The point being that Yad L’Achim did not let the ‘Shiddach crisis’ go unnoticed. They noticed. And they are taking full advantage of it right now to raise money.

By donating to their cause they promise you that 10 Talmidei Chachamim (a Minyan) will go to the city of Meron to pray for you specifically – by name at the grave site of the sage, R’ Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron and the nearby grave-site of the sage, R’ Yonason Ben Uziel in something called Amuka. This is mostly a Sephardi custom and it is believed to help people in need if prayers are said at those grave-sites.

And for some reason which is unclear to me, Tu B’Shevat ( the new year for trees)– which is tomorrow on the Hebrew calendar is supposed to be an auspicious day for that.

And just to make sure they will raise as much money as possible – they have added other major problems of our day, Parnassa, Refuos, Shalom Bayis, children… all will be prayed for by name in Meron and at Amuka.

And you can also buy raffle tickets.

This is not my Judaism. Taking advantage of desperate people by getting them to part with their money is not what I believe God intended for us as a holy nation. Even when it is done for a good cause. It is just plain wrong.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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2 Responses to “Selling Snake Oil for Charity”

  1. Gil Gilman says:

    100% agreement on this article. It looks like copycatism—Roman Catholic indulgences in the Middle Ages.

  2. Gil Gilman says:

    100% agreement on this article. It looks like copycatism—Roman Catholic indulgences in the Middle Ages. "For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." Jeremiah 2.

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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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