Is there a point when the flood of letters we receive from Roshei Yeshiva and notable Rabbis seeking our support for needy families, mainly in Israel, becomes a serious communal problem? We need to face this issue because the sums involved are large - in the aggregate, certainly many millions of dollars each year - and because the practice has been spreading without any sense of accountability.
Putting aside for a moment the accountability issue, there is much that is wrong with the situation we are in, ranging from the wrongful sale and purchase of mailing lists to the messages that accompany the solicitations, increasingly on the outside envelope and in bold print. Doubtlessly this is meant for those of us who are too illiterate or too uncaring to read and rely on the text of the solicitation letter. We are told in these messages and with reckless regard for the truth, that "Your contribution will save a life" or, "A child is waiting to hear from you" or some other bit of fiction.
Like much else in contemporary life, there is a constant need to up the volume, to increase the stridency of the message. In a recent 4-page, multi-colored communication sent out in the name of Rabbi Aaron Schechter, we are told, "A needy Jew came to our shores seeking help... He left empty handed... Are we free from responsibility for the tragedy now unfolding?"
As for accountability, there is little or none, not in determining the reliability of the cause for which the solicitation is being made and not in determining what happens with the funds that are contributed. Shouldn't we at least know what cut is being taken by the fellows who send out the solicitations? As has been often noted, quite strangely many of the letters seem to be written by the same person. Should we not know who the people are who pick up the envelopes that are mailed to the Roshei Yeshivas?
It should not be difficult to develop an arrangement that assures a far greater degree of accountability than we now have. Admittedly, this would require a certain restraint on the part of the distinguished people who so promiscuously allow their names to be used. Is it too much to ask or expect that they act with prudence?
There is a second question that Roshei Yeshivas especially should consider, namely whether they are inadvertently promoting the notion favored for so long by secular Jews that chesed activities are more deserving of support than yeshivas and day schools. Our Torah leaders need to consider whether they are sending a message that vital Torah institutions must fend for themselves as there are more pressing tzedakah obligations.
Cross-posted at Cross-Currents.