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Monday, December 26, 2005

Hypocrisy?

Anyone who frequnts my blog is probably aware of the issues I have with the conspicuous consumption that is so rampant in my neighborhood. So I read with interest this post, a follow-up to this post, by the blogger who calls himself "Yeshiva Orthodoxy".

Apparently, Beis Medrash Govoha of Lakewood has put out a catalog for its latest fundraising project, a Chinese auction. From an unpublished open letter to the editor of the Yated Ne’eman:
In today’s mail, I received one of the most beautiful brochures that I have ever seen. It was large and white with the majestic logo of Beth Medrash Govoah on the bottom and the word HOME elegantly printed toward the top.
I truly expected to open it and see beautiful pictures of the Ir HaTorah, the place that indeed is the HOME of Torah in America. I really looked forward to opening it and seeing how my once humble HOME has so greatly grown.
I thought I would see a HOME of a yungerman, a few children playing, others learning while, the kollel yungerman is depicted writing his chidushim.
I thought I would see the HOME of thousands of cheder children and Bais Yaakov girls, — thin institutions built for Tinokes Shel Bais Raban.
Those are the HOMES that befit the Lakewood logo.
What I saw was something that surprised — even shocked — me. I saw pictures that mirrored the most affluent homes, in the most expensive neighborhoods of Long Island and Westchester. I saw homes that, for the years that I spent in Lakewood I was told were the antithesis of the Kollel man’s ambitions and goals in life.
I make a nice living and have a nice home. But Ribono Shel Olam are you asking me that I give $50 to win $12,000 of living room furniture? Do you want me to put $7,500 moldings in fly Dining Room when my table (which seats many children) cost abit under $1000?
Why is the Mosad founded with the philosophy of minimalism encouraging extravagance?

Now, anyone who is on the Orthodox Jewish fundraising mailing circuit is familiar with the ubiquitous "Chinese Auction". According to a friend who is very involved with the fundraising of a local Yeshiva who runs a huge annual auction, these events tend to be spectacularly successful. But the extravagant offerings that are presented in full color array on the pages these auction catalogs aren't typically more lavish than what is in many Five Towns and Brooklyn residents' homes, and thus cause those on the mailing lists of such institutions to bat nary an eyelash. That said, Lakewood is a different sort of community. The rampant materialism that is part and parcel of life in the Five Towns is not at all present in Lakewood. In contrast to the Five Towns, where most men have full-time jobs, the Lakewood community is a Kollel one, with a minority of men actually working for a living. This demographic has led the community to reject the materialism that can be found in other neighborhoods - out of necessity as well as out of philosophy.

Evidently, this way of life led to quite the uproar from community members when the catalog for the auction was sent out. Eventually the yeshiva administration had to respond, and according to Yeshiva Orthodoxy, this is what is going on:
Everyone is in an uproar (prior post) over the Lakewood Yeshiva's recent Chinese Auction brochure which conveys a message contrary to what a yiddishe home should value.

Their message was extravagant, showy - certainly not the message they preach daily.

The Yeshiva ia now admitting they erred, and seeks to make amends.

To what extent the yeshiva is admitting it erred, and to what extent they are atempting to make amends is beyond me.

But this raises an interesting question. To what extent are Yeshivas and other institutions entitled to brush aside their long-espoused beliefs in order to raise money for the cause of spreading Torah and Mitzvot? This has been the subject of many a Shabbos table discussion. Are Yeshivas or Shuls entitled to take donations from or name as honorees convicted felons? Can a Tzedakah hold a "Casino Night", even if they are concurrently counseling and assisting people who have lost everything due to gambling addictions? Can an Orthodox institution accept money or name buildings after donors who are not and are not interested in becoming Shomer Mitzvot? Or, as in this case, is a Yeshiva that preaches moderation being hypocritical when they auction off lavish and extravagant prizes? Is the task that institutions are raising money for more important than the message they send with their methods of fundraising?

The question is a complicated one. There are many gray areas. But there are enough cases that are black and white. When an institution sends a message that financial support is more important than setting a standard of conduct for their members, isn't something lost in the message they are trying so hard to impart?

35 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo! Bravo! Bravissimo! thanks for asking the question that no one ever asks.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous number two said... Our Oorah catalog this year came with a victoria secret catalog slipped inside it. It was surprising, to say the least.

2:43 PM  
Anonymous lakewood liver said...

I'm not sure that everyone was quite as angry here as YO claims. It's not as big a deal for some of us, especially the ones of us who like nice things anyhow.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Shifra said...

We got the catalog too.
It was quite beautiful I was amazed.

While the photos in the booklet are nothing less than extravagant, the truth is that if you read carefully you will see that opulence is not the only possibility for the lucky winners.

While it's true that the $4,500 chandelier they show is a possible prize, you can also use it for $4,500 worth of light fixtures and installation (I think) which would go a long way toward fixing the electrical problems at my house!

My youngest, however, read the catalog over shabbos and then asked if she used her Chanukah money for the raffle and won could she please keep the chandelier in her room. I said no.

3:06 PM  
Blogger The Jewish Freak said...

Judaism is not christianity. We have never been uncomfortable with wealth. Having material posessions is not a halachic or hashkafic sin in Judaism. The scholars of the Talmud included both the very rich, and the very poor, and the Talmud never favored one over the other. - JF

3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A tempest in a teapot.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

All of your questions are good, OM, but the answers to a couple of them are probably not too bad. I see the question about taking money from those who are not Orthodox, for example, and have often wondered the same myself. But then you would fall into the question of whether an institution should be judging those who give them money. Is it right for an insitution to determine how "frum" someone has to be? I'm not so sure. A donor may want to perform the mitzvah of 'tzedakah' even if they themselves aren't particularly observant; someone may want to support those who learn Torah all day, even if he doesn't or wouldn't himself. Those, too, may be against a Yeshiva's "long-espoused beliefs". It is a great debate, and worth having, but I'm not sure the answer would change.

3:26 PM  
Blogger MUST Gum Addict said...

We had this exact discussion at our shabbos table this past week. Having some experience in marketing, I had assumed it was simply a business decision on the part of BMG to want to expand their TAM (Total Addressable Market). They obviously thought that if they were going to appeal to the crowd outside of Lakewood in an effort to go after "deeper pockets" to raise money from those who live in more opulent areas, that such prizes would be necessary. But I too readily agree that the way this auction is presented and the image it portrays displays a serious contradiction in all that I had believed Lakewood stands for. Maybe my perception is wrong?

On a personal level, however, I have a problem with Chinese Auctions in general -- but that's a longer story which I won't get into here.

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good question, but the Rabbi's don't realy care about the source of the money that lines their pockets as long as it's green.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

I guess Lakewood didn't want my money.

Though I wonder how the chandelier would look in a trailer caravan on a westbank hilltop.

Probably the Hungarian Chabakuk Settler kind of look.

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an old story. There are many mosdos who couldnt care less where their money is coming from, as long as it keeps coming.

4:19 PM  
Blogger MUST Gum Addict said...

I don't think it's nearly as much about where the money is coming from as much as it is that BMG is "endorsing" a particular kind of lifestyle.

Of the people who I know who either live in LW, have gone to yeshiva there, or who speak of LW as the "Ir HaKodesh" (which includes family, friends, clients, and the like), this seems to go against the very core of what LW stands for.

From what I hear, boys won't date girls unless they are willing to give "x" amount of years of support for them to sit and learn. Prizes such as "1 year of rent for a chosson and kallah" would make more sense, no? And in a community where someone is looked down upon for wearing a blue button down shirt (during the week), you mean to tell me that they won't be looked down upon when they throw a $15k party in their house.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

The Yeshiva ia now admitting they erred, and seeks to make amends.

While they are at it, I have a list for them.

8:12 PM  
Anonymous SephardiLady said...

I have entered a few Chinese auctions in my day, but have stepped away from them for a number of reasons:

1. They play on a big vice: gambling. While the money is going to a fine cause, I think gambling is one of the ugliest addictions and I'm not sure that fundraisers whose foundation are based on this very vice are particularily healthy.

2. These auctions, complete with their colorful brochures, can inspire great desire for material things and make a person feel displeased with their lot (even when their lot in life is just fine). One has to wonder if these events feed into the rampant consumption in our communities.

I don't know the answers to your questions. I personally find "Casino Nights" as fundraisers to be distasteful, if not lifnei iver for some people, as our community is not immune from the problems with gambling (and apparantely the problems are growing). But, I realize the need for funds. I just wish that we could inspire people to give without holding a carrot (or carat) in front of their face.

As for honoring convicted felons whose money came from dishonesty; this should not even be a question! Some people should just be personas non grata. Let's not hold these people up for ourselves or our children as role models.

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Are Yeshivas or Shuls entitled to take donations from or name as honorees convicted felons?"

The answer to that one easy one should be easy, I think (no). A harder question is where the honoree is well known as dishonest or lacking respect for the law. Do we have to wait for an arrest or conviction before we say that he is not an example we want to set for our shul or yeshiva?

10:29 PM  
Blogger tuesdaywishes said...

Rabbi Yosef Dov Ber Soliveitchik opposed using Bingo and other forms of gambling to support shuls and other Torah institutions. I doubt he would have gone for the Chinese Auctions either.

I don't see a problem with an Orthodox institution having a non-observant honoree.(For that matter, I don't mind a non-Jewish honoree.) As long as it is clear that the honoree is being held up as a role model for tzedaka or volunteerism or political lobbying or whatever it is that they do, not as someone whose lifestyle we are to emulate.
(Convicted felons are out, but I'd leave wiggle room for political prisoners.)

10:29 PM  
Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

Teiku....bitches!

10:41 PM  
Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

"Judaism is not christianity. We have never been uncomfortable with wealth. Having material posessions is not a halachic or hashkafic sin in Judaism. The scholars of the Talmud included both the very rich, and the very poor, and the Talmud never favored one over the other. - JF"


GREAT POINT. Now, all we have to do is convince the nincompoops that run Lakewood that Judaism isn't Christianity and we'll have a yeshiva REALLy worth supporting.

11:04 PM  
Anonymous Fox said...

In the Haftorah several weeks ago, we heard the Navi's reaction when the armies of Israel became smug and took victory for granted. The pairing of the Haftorah and the Parsha is often said to remind us that we are descended from a shepherd, and we should not become haughty.

Unfortunately, I fear the Jewish community of Lakewood has forgotten this lesson. The incredible growth in the community, their electoral strength, and the status Lakewood merits in the Jewish world have created some unsavory attitudes. The disgusting brochure -- a sort of pornography in its own right --is a culmination of this.

As a business owner dealing primarily with a Jewish clientele, I no longer permit my salespeople to actively solicit prospects in the Lakewood area. Too many horror stories to recount -- and all connected to incredible arrogance. I firmly believe that the increasing number of unfortunate incidents between non-Jewish residents of Lakewood and Bnei Torah are a response to the palpable hubris.

I am not intending to tar everyone in Lakewood with this brush; in fact, I don't think it's as much an individual problem as a group mindset that occurs when we become too comfortable in Galus. Nevertheless, Torah can be learned in many, many yeshivas around the world, and those communities are where I will seek husbands for my daughters and wives for my sons.

11:06 PM  
Blogger Ayelet said...

The rampant materialism that is part and parcel of life in the Five Towns is not at all present in Lakewood.


Not at all? Ha! There are plenty of families there with all their 6 children under age 8 wearing matching European shabbos outfits. I haven't been there lately but I'm sure the strollers, if not bugaboos, are costing the grandparents a pretty penny.

This demographic has led the community to reject the materialism that can be found in other neighborhoods - out of necessity as well as out of philosophy.

I think today's philosophy is more along the lines of: I'll sit and learn in kollel if, and only if, I can marry someone whose parents will support me - in style. I remember going out with my first date. He was learning in Lakewood and I was very interested in marrying someone who had plans to learn long-term. Since my parents were not in a position to "support" me nor did I think it was their position to do so, I was working towards a degree in Speech-Language Pathology. I was prepared to take on much of the financial burden that comes with a family to support the ideal of my husband learning full time. On my last date with the Lakewood guy, we were discussing the topic of living standards and "making do" with less during kollel years. He said something like "I insist on having a nice car." Not "a car" but "a nice car". We were clearly on different pages. Meanwhile, I live in Queens, married to a Chofetz Chaim guy. When I daven at yeshiva, the majority of the kids are dressed cutely in Children's Place or Old Navy specials. I love it here.

11:41 PM  
Anonymous charliehall said...

One of the seven members of Artscroll's Board is the President and CEO of a company that sells cigarettes. Isn't this a problem, too?

11:47 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

charliehall said...

One of the seven members of Artscroll's Board is the President and CEO of a company that sells cigarettes. Isn't this a problem, too?


I'm sure there are those who would find that more problematic a source of funding than to have it come from someone non-observant. Myself, for one.

However, I am positive that many in the UO and Yeshivish world would prefer money from a convicted felon or cigarette peddler who is "observant", than from a man who is honest in business but not shomer all of the mitzvot.

12:04 AM  
Anonymous mycroft said...

" I am positive that many in the UO and Yeshivish world would prefer money from a convicted felon or cigarette peddler who is "observant", than from a man who is honest in business but not shomer all of the mitzvot. "
Sadly not only in the UO or Yeshivish world./ The MO world has had its share of swindlers and frauds who are wealthy -but bekessef yaaneh hakol.
In May in a week there was a story of a major swindle by a major macher in the MO world and a story about a major swindle in the chareidi world.

6:12 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Shifra:
I hear you, but the question is not whether WE find the catalog to be extravagant, but whether the BMG Yeshiva community does. And it appears that they were in an uproar over it, to such an extent that it was canceled.

the jewish freak:
I agree. Judaism never made being rich into a liability. That being said, the BMG community is not so much railing against being rich, instead, they are protesting the emphasis on materialism, which they think is at odds with the community's lifestyle.

ezzie:
I don't fell ebing observant is necessarily a prerequisite to giving a donation to an Orthodox institution. I am asking these questions so we can determine, through discussion, where to draw the line.

must gum addict:
I also have something of an issue with the gambling nature of chinese auctions.

jameel:
Sounds like a good look for your caravan. I would put all your tickets in for the chandelier. :)

I'll be back to answer the rest of you in a few.

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I find to be the biggest issue with a Yeshiva or Shul taking donations from convicted felons, or people of lesser character is that they are "telling" these individuals that their behavior is acceptable. As far as the Lakewood Chinese auction is concrened....I felt the hypocracy oozing out of the pages!!

9:28 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

(responses continued)
sephardilady:

I agree with all your points. The gambling bothers me a lot, and honoring felons just turns my stomach.

tuesdays wishes:
I personally agree with you about non-observant honorees. I don't think it's an issue. But I don't necessarily think that the chinese auction was a problem because of the materialism it espouses either. I am just asking the questions.

SW:
??

fox:
Your views on the Lakewood community are pretty strong. I think the comfort level with galus that you are lamenting is present in many many Yeshiva communities. I think you are kidding yourself if you think that Lakewood has an overall problem that is worse than other yeshivas.

ayelet:
I think there are people who like nice things in every community. I'm sure there are people in Lakewood whose kids dress in Old Navy and Children's Place, as I'm sure there are people in Queens with bugaboos. Sounds like you met a lemon of a Lakewood guy, though!

9:50 AM  
Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

SW:
??

i guess you didn't go to the siyum hashas...

10:23 AM  
Blogger Ayelet said...

lemon of a Lakewood guy

Yeah. He was considered to be really great shakes, though! Appearances can be deceiving....

10:51 AM  
Blogger Renegade Rebbetzin said...

I love, love, love this post. You are so interesting to read and you present such serious and sensitive issues. Keep it up, baby. :-)

11:12 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Thanks, RR! Coming from you, I couldn't be more flattered!

4:31 PM  
Blogger Courtney Love/Martha Stewart said...

The term "Chinese Auction" is derogatory and biogted. It is meant to connote something ridiculous and something that shouldn't be taken seriously. It is used the same way in "Chinese Fire Drill." Find a new term, auctioneers.

And I'm really NOT politically correct. Just polite.

1:53 PM  
Blogger dt said...

i thought the minhag in yeshivos was to bid with shas dollars.
how many blatt do I have to learn in order to win that vactaion for 5 to the bahamas?

5:22 PM  
Blogger NAOMILEAH said...

i just found this blog and i love it i am an ex lakewood girl married with 5 kids living out of town and lovin it- im so glad lakewood apologized for this moment of insanity unfortunately this 'gash' is infected too many people and whoever said being rich is no sin misses the point why did Hashem make some of us rich and others poor so we can do chessed and help make it more 'even' otherwise He would have made us all the same. conspicuous consumption wherever it takes place is wrong! we will have to pay 'up high' for the hungry kids in Israel and the schools we didnt' support because we had to buy all this gash' Im all for the girls who dress their kids in childrens place and old navy- even there it better be on sale!

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