Sunday, October 25, 2009

Accepting Gentile Charity

Last week it was reported that R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv ruled that Jewish organizations in Israel may not accept funding from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (link). Presumably, this is because it is essentially accepting donations from Gentiles. I would, therefore, like to discuss the halakhic issues surrounding this and what room there is to be lenient.

I. Shaming the Jewish People

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 26b) states that someone who "eats that other thing" is disqualified as a witness. Rashi explains that it means someone who accepts donations from a Gentile. The Talmud goes on to qualify that this only refers to someone who accepts the money publicly but need not do so. According to Rashi, this is a Chillul Hashem. It publicly implies that Jews cannot or will not support these charity organizations (cf. Levush, Yoreh De'ah 254). If someone willingly and unnecessarily does this, he is shaming the Jewish people. However, if he accepts it in private or has no other option, then there is no stigma to it.

Click here to read moreII. Extending the Exile

Elsewhere, the Talmud (Bava Basra 10b) opposes accepting charity from a Gentile. The reason given is that the great merit of charity will extend the reign of the Gentile ruler, thereby lengthening the time that Jews are in exile. One should instead somehow refuse the charity so the Gentile kingdom does not receive the merit.

III. Two Reasons

These two reasons are accepted as law in Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De'ah 254:1-2). One might have thought that the first reason only applies to individual donors and the second reason to kings and rulers, and this is how R. Eliezer Waldenberg understood it (Tzitz Eliezer 15:33:5), and he quotes the author of Or Ha-Chaim as stating it as well (Rishon Le-Tziyon, Yoreh De'ah 254:2). However, others understand both reasons to apply to an individual donor (e.g. Binyan Tziyon 85; Minchas Yitzchak 8:85; Iggeros Moshe, Yoreh De'ah 2:117). See a long discussion of this in Ateres Paz (1:3:EH:4).

Interestingly, Rav Kook (Da'as Kohen, Yoreh De'ah 132) distinguishes between recipients. When an individual receives charity, only the first reason applies. When a community receives charity, the second reason applies.

From all this, it would seem that Jewish charities in Israel would only be allowed to publicly accept donations from Gentiles if they had no other funding option. This would presumably vary from organization to organization but given today's difficult economic climate, likely includes many charities.

IV. Leniencies

However, there is more to be said. The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (Yoreh De'ah 254:3) noted a century ago that it was common practice to accept Gentile charity. He offered two explanations for this practice: 1) There is no other way to survive, 2) Gentiles today are not idolators and therefore we give them charity and they give it to us.

The Chokhmas Shlomo (quoted in R. Chaim Binyamin Goldberg, Bein Yisrael Le-Nokhri, Yoreh De'ah ch. 28 n. 10) suggests that the entire prohibition only applies when a Gentile gives the money directly to a Jew. However, if there is a Jewish intermediary, who does not need the charity and disperses it to Jews, then there is no prohibition whatsoever. This might be precisely the status of the IFCJ.

These are three important reasons to halakhically justify the long-standing practice to accept Gentile charity. Maybe we can add a fourth. Let me add another point as a personal suggestion. Perhaps the entire second reason no longer applies now that the State of Israel is established. There is no issue of Gentile rulers who are preventing Jews from returning to the Land of Israel and extending the exile. Certainly in most countries in the world, Jews are free to leave the exile and return to the Land of Israel. It seems to me, and I recognize that my opinion is not worth much, that this prohibition no longer applies.

Let me conclude that while we have seen that there are authorities who are lenient on this issue, there are also authorities who are strict. Indeed, R. Moshe Feinstein, R. Yitzchak Weiss and Rav Kook (all cited above) do not utilize the leniencies listed above (although R. Feinstein and R. Kook perhaps did not need them because they found other reasons to be lenient). Evidently, R. Elyashiv is also among those who are strict.

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