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Thursday, August 23, 2007

How the 'haves' relate to the 'have-nots'

Last night as we rolled out of left one of our favorite restaurants in Manhattan (Le Marais) we had to pass the outstretched hand and beseeching eyes of a beggar. 

Now, from a purely strategic standpoint, a beggar couldn't pick a better spot to set up shop.   Think about the locale... very upscale mid-town steak house...  a steady stream of mostly Jewish patrons who, despite lots of practice, have never gotten completely comfortable with their relative affluence ... most of whom have just dropped the equivalent of a Brooklyn studio apartment's rent on dinner... suddenly faced with a poor unfortunate pan-handler who, whether Jewish or not, is mouthing all the right buzz-words (tzedakkah...  hesed ... shabbos...etc.).

Our big kids immediately assumed that we would give the shabby woman something and dutifully paused next to her.  But my wife and I were not in complete agreement about whether or not to give.  One of us was ambivalent, not being sure that the woman was even Jewish... and the other was outraged that a beggar would set us shop in such a location since it was obviously a transparent attempt to play on the above-mentioned Jewish guilt at being momentarily well-sated... and fairly firmly entrenched among the 'haves'.

I may tell you how it all played out at the end of the comment thread... but for now, I'm curious to hear if any of you have thoughts one way or the other about what I've described.

Posted by David Bogner on August 23, 2007 | Permalink

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I knew someone who would give out coupons to McDonalds. They were always concerned about whether people would use the money for drugs/alcohol so this was their solution.

In regard to your situation, I wouldn't be concerned about whether they were Jewish or not. The issue is whether you think that they need help and how to best do so.

Posted by: Jack | Aug 23, 2007 7:08:01 PM

I have two basic rules of thumb. First - don't bother me when I'm busy. Examples - don't walk into the synagogue & wave your hand in my face while I'm praying. (It's happened.) Don't walk into the restaurant and nudge me while I'm eating. (Also happened.) And do NOT bother me while I'm in the middle of playing a gig. (I had a fellow walk up to the bandstand and ask us for donations WHILE THE BRIDE WAS WALKING DOWN THE AISLE! Not cool.) Second rule - when I offer to give you something, don't ask for more. That's a recipe for my returning my wallet to my pocket. Beyond that, I try to dispense a few bucks when I can. Do I always? No, but I usually feel guilty afterwards when I don't. Do I feel manipulated? Well, yeah, but mitzvahs aren't always easy. I figure that if the guy wasn't in a truly desparate situation, he wouldn't be humiliating himself like that.

Posted by: psachya | Aug 23, 2007 7:51:13 PM

Knowing as I do your homeless experiment in college, I have a feeling your instinct would be to give.

Posted by: jordan Hirsch | Aug 23, 2007 8:00:28 PM

Looking over my comments, I realize that they sound a little cold. To clarify - yes, I feel bad for beggars. They lead miserable lives, and "there but for the grace of G-d" is not an empty sentiment to a full-time musician like myself. Still, when one is constantly besieged, a certain amount of "compassion fatigue" sets in. And there are definitely some charlatans out there. Even so, it really is better to give than to receive.

Posted by: psachya | Aug 23, 2007 8:04:24 PM

We always have left-overs when we go out to eat. We would have offered our leftovers.

I have a feeling that you ended up giving. At least you didn't have Little Orieyenta with you - she would have started a full blown interrogation of the beggar i.e. what's your name? how come you don't get a job? etc.

Posted by: orieyenta | Aug 23, 2007 8:06:20 PM

I offer to buy them something to eat. Or, depending on the season, something hot/cold to drink.

I hate the idea of doing nothing, but the giving of money never sits well either.

Posted by: Cara | Aug 23, 2007 8:11:08 PM

I never give them money. That money will often go straight to the nearest drug dealer or liquor store. You're not doing them a favor by helping them feed their addictions.

However, you can help them by feeding their bodies. So I offer to buy them a meal. Sometimes they've taken me up on the offer and sometimes I've been cussed at. It's their call. But I didn't help them buy dope or alcohol.

I interrogated one homeless guy and got him to admit that he drank all his money. So that confirmed to me that I was on the right track.

Posted by: Karl Newman | Aug 23, 2007 9:38:07 PM

If the person is Jewish or not shouldn't have any bearing on whether you give to them.

All the halachot of tsedakah (and common decency, I'd add) say that proximity is more important than blood. You give to the poor of where you are first. (i.e. the ones you see with your own eyes)

Posted by: Alan | Aug 23, 2007 9:56:29 PM

@ Jack & Alan:

Without getting into the whole "need" issue and how good we are at judging other people's needs...

Whether or not the beggar was actually Jewish *is* relevant. I can think of two possible reasons -- Trep may have other reasons, but these are mine:

1) Say you have two beggars. Each has a real need for money, but one is honest about his needs while the other guy makes up all kinds of stories to get you to give to him.

Which one would you rather give to? In Trep's story above, the beggar may have been falsely portraying herself as Jewish. I would rather give money to a guy clutching a cross and chanting "Hail Marys" than a non-Jew pretending to be Jewish.


2) There is certainly a concept in Jewish law of "giving to the poor" regardless of religious affiliation -- at the very least to promote darchei shalom ("harmonious living"). However, there is a positive commandment to give charity to the poor among the Jewish people.

Just my $.02

Posted by: wogo | Aug 23, 2007 10:17:10 PM

Hi Trep,

My rule of thumb is to NEVER give direct hand-outs like that... since they are as often as not transformed into actions harmful to the needy such as more alcohol, fraud, turned into a bully-thief-collector, spent on non-nourshing food, etc.

When I give charity, I give through a trusted community organization that will provide food, shelter or substantial help that is difficult to waste.

Plus, it is a far greater mitzvah to give to an anonymous someone you will never know and who will never know you than to give directly to someone and possibly cause them shame. The anonymity and purity of cause (sincerely help the needy in a nonshameful non-guilt inducing way) makes the mitzvah more attractive.

Shalom,
Maksim-Smelchak.

Posted by: Maksim-Smelchak. | Aug 23, 2007 11:46:09 PM

You were at Le Marais last night?? I work a block away!

Posted by: SaraK | Aug 23, 2007 11:50:01 PM

Tough call. I've been conned on more than one occassion. The last time at a Publix (a Fla. supermarket). The "gentleman" asked me for a dollar to help him make up a shortage for a sandwich he wanted to buy. I gladly gave it to him. Who am I to deny a man his meal, right? Wrong! No sooner I give him the dollar he bee lines it to the beer aisle, picks up a twelve pack and proceeds to the check out. Disapointed? You bet. Will I give again? Probably but it will depend on who is asking and what the circumstances are.

Posted by: Allan | Aug 23, 2007 11:53:49 PM

I don't always give money, but I feel good about being able to give money to a number of the deserving poor.

I avoid giving money to people who stand directly facing the door of a business, people who are clearly tanked, and pushy people.

A few of the regular bums I see admit that they are saving up for a six-pack - and more power to 'em, if I were in their position, that might look like a bright prospect too.

Not all of the people asking for spare change are into drugs and alcohol. Some are more into food and shelter.

Posted by: Back of the Hill | Aug 24, 2007 12:11:49 AM

I once had a job working in an office in the second story of a building with a window looking out onto the main street of downtown where all the bums would wander. It wasn't a huge town and after awhile you knew most of them and their habits from watching them. There was at least one guy truly homeless and the funny thing was he woundn't ask for money, people knew him and just gave him food and stuff--he had the shopping cart too. After watching some for awhile it became evident that they were mentally unstable--like the guy that was stroking his chin, all day.. everyday.

One day on lunch break an old lady stopped me and asked for money. She looked like a grandmother. I said 'no' and then felt terrible afterwards... until the next day. On the way to get something for lunch I passed a magazines, snacks and lottery ticket booth, and there she was buying all these lottery tickets and I guess she was completely addicted. I then began to notice her and she was out fairly often with the rest of them... and I saw her buying the tickets again. Pretty sad. But not a good place for my money.

Posted by: Dave | Aug 24, 2007 12:40:32 AM

I was set to write a long personal story when this little piece fought its way up from my memories:

He who saves one, saves the world entire.

Shalom.

Posted by: antares | Aug 24, 2007 12:47:22 AM

I agree with Maskim-Smelchak. I never give to individuals. I give through my synagogue. Our Rabbi knows the local indigents better than I do and knows how to give the most help with finite resources. When individuals approach me I always say "Sorry. No." Always sorry, but always no.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Aug 24, 2007 1:21:13 AM

Ummmm.... one of us had spent nearly 15 minutes outside helping Yonah cool his jets (while the rest of the family finished their meal) and WATCHED this woman CHASE AFTER a number of exiting patrons.....

I'm just saying....

Posted by: zahava | Aug 24, 2007 4:23:57 AM

I've heard it said in the name of the Chofetz Chaim (see e.g. http://www.torah.org/learning/lifeline/5764/reeh.html, though that is not where I first read it) that it is better to give 100 dollars to individual beggars than 100 dollars to one beggar, since it requires overcoming the miserly instinct more often. Similarly, I think he said to a visitor (and this is a paraphrase from a rusty memory -- if anyone knows the precise quote please correct this): "You refrain from giving to 100 beggars lest one of them be a charlatan. I would rather give to 99 charlatans and 1 truly needy person than to erroneously turn away a truly needy person."

My rule of thumb is that, when asked, I always try to give something, but not too much, saving my larger donations for established charities. If someone is playing on obvious sympathies doesn't matter so much (consider e.g. the Western Wall Plaza), but the amount of "charity-sized-denominations" I have handy does.

Posted by: Almost Jerusalem | Aug 24, 2007 6:13:14 AM

a transparent attempt to play on the above-mentioned Jewish guilt at being momentarily well-sated... and fairly firmly entrenched among the 'haves'.

I'm curious as to why this should be relevant...would it be better to beg from those who have less (although statistically they're actually more likely to give, and to give more), and I've never understood this American tendency to try to get rid of guilt and shame - guilt and shame over not doing what you're supposed to are good signs- they should be motivators to do the right thing, not to try to get rid of the feelings.
In any case, I'll just leave it with: -in addition to the sentiment attributed to the Chofetz Chaim above, several of the mussar greats, as well as rabbis of the talmud made statements along the lines of the idea that one should keep change in one's pockets so that even if you can't give a lot, you should always give something - even if it's just (equivalent to) a quarter or a few dimes.
That no matter what, it forces us to regard the impoverished as humans to be treated with dignity, regardless of their situation, and not just allow ourselves to turn away without a greeting and acknowledging their presence.
not that I've always lived up to this, but I hope to at least try to give a greeting

Posted by: Kol Ra'ash Gadol | Aug 24, 2007 6:28:06 AM

a transparent attempt to play on the above-mentioned Jewish guilt at being momentarily well-sated... and fairly firmly entrenched among the 'haves'.

I'm curious as to why this should be relevant...would it be better to beg from those who have less (although statistically they're actually more likely to give, and to give more), and I've never understood this American tendency to try to get rid of guilt and shame - guilt and shame over not doing what you're supposed to are good signs- they should be motivators to do the right thing, not to try to get rid of the feelings.
In any case, I'll just leave it with: -in addition to the sentiment attributed to the Chofetz Chaim above, several of the mussar greats, as well as rabbis of the talmud made statements along the lines of the idea that one should keep change in one's pockets so that even if you can't give a lot, you should always give something - even if it's just (equivalent to) a quarter or a few dimes.
That no matter what, it forces us to regard the impoverished as humans to be treated with dignity, regardless of their situation, and not just allow ourselves to turn away without a greeting and acknowledging their presence.
not that I've always lived up to this, but I hope to at least try to give a greeting

Posted by: Kol Ra'ash Gadol | Aug 24, 2007 6:30:54 AM

The rav of my shul has said to give something, not necessarily anything big; I believe his reasoning was based on the fact that the individual was begging. It's demeaning to beg, etc. I think that's what he said, but I might be missing something...

Posted by: tnspr569 | Aug 24, 2007 6:34:21 AM

Wogo,

If someone needs my help, they need my help. I am like most people, if I could control where my money went I always would.

But in the end if I am trying to give tzedakah to help, than the faith of the person doesn't make a difference to me.

When I volunteer at a soup kitchen it is to help all.

Posted by: Jack | Aug 24, 2007 7:07:40 AM

I'm fascinated by the fact that all of the citations above of Rabis arguing for giving something to beggars make their argument on the effect that this has on the giver. But isn't the effect on the recipient more important? Sure, it's possible that me always saying "Sorry, no" may make me a more callous person, but if actually giving them money directly (as opposed to through a charity) harms the beggar, shouldn't I be expected to make that sacrifice? Or are we expected to sacrifice the beggar for our good character?

Finally, Kor Ra'ash Gadol: "although statistically they're actually more likely to give, and to give more".

That strikes me as sheer nonsense, especially since you said "statistically", not "I would guess." Please link to these statistics.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Aug 24, 2007 8:06:04 AM

I attended an incredible weeklong teaching with the Dalai Lama some years go. Couple days after re-entering the pragmatic workaday realm, a sad-sack-looking woman with two kids approached me in a parking lot, hand out begging. I did my universal, 'wince-sorry, no' - telling myself reflexively it's not the best use of charity and all the rest.

I turned away and then realized how fast I had closed my heart, when the whole lesson the week before had been on generosity. I whipped around to reverse myself -- but they were gone. I have never forgotten that.

Maybe the important point of giving when the opportunity arises is to help train us to a more open and generous heart.

Posted by: Pam | Aug 24, 2007 8:11:11 AM

I don't give cash to beggars. I think doing so is often akin to putting a stumbling block in front of a blind person. Instead I think it is better to give to organizations that help homeless people or to directly give the homeless person food.

Posted by: Fern R | Aug 24, 2007 8:16:27 AM

Almost Jerusalem and Kol Ra'ash Gadol: Not arguing the mussar of your comments... rather pointing out that one is far less likely to feel charitable to someone who is so aggressive in their appeal for assistance.

I watched this woman chase people down the street insisting that they give her money. I also watched a number of people exit and hand her money without waiting to be asked.

Perhaps my perspective was clouded by the fact that if the woman actually thanked the folks who DID give her money, it was so soft and inaudible that it created the impression that NOTHING had been said. This was, in fact, in stark contrast to the very audible and prolonged appeal that accompanied a number of patrons past several nearby establishments.

If there was someone robbing this particular woman of her dignity, I submit that it was her.

Something Trep did not mention in this article is the steady stream of mishulechim (spelling?) which ring our doorbell many evenings each week. We keep a tzeddekah jar on the bookcase so that everyone in the house is empowered to give to a "certified" request. Our municipal religious council recognizes the genuine desire of our mitzvah-oriented community to be able to fulfill the mitzvah of tzeddekah at the same time it recognizes the very real problem of people begging because they simply prefer not to work. Thus, the council provides a "permit" (letter) to people and organizations who are in need of assistance. Likewise, they have asked members of the community NOT to give to people who lack this documentation in order that those with REAL NEED not suffer from an unnecessarily depleted pool.

My funds are limited. I wish I could offer help to everyone who asks -- it would truly be a privilege to do so. But the fact remains that we are not allowed to give to the point of impairing ourselves. As the need for tzeddakah increases , I am very grateful to our municipal religious council for investigating these situations, and try very hard to provide something -- even though it is usually a small amount -- to those the council deems to be legitimate.

Interestingly enough, when I have explained to people who lack the proper documentation how they can obtain it, 97 percent of the time they tell me that they have no obligation to "prove themselves" where I have an obligation to fulfill the mitzvah of tzeddekah. Most offers of food and/or drink in place of money have been angrily turned down. The rare acceptance of these offers, and the grateful response from the recipient leads me to believe, however, that those truly in need do not refuse an offer of food in lieu of funds....

Posted by: zahava | Aug 24, 2007 8:21:26 AM

Zehava - the point about documentation is an important one. Case in point: A cousin of mine was at a wedding, and he noticed that one of the beggars was flashing his document very quickly. So when the fellow reached him, my cousin quickly grabbed the document out of his hands. At first glance, it looked perfectly legit, with Hebrew handwriting and a bunch of rabbinical signatures at the bottom. Until you actually read the document, which turned out to be a writ of excommunication against the fellow for abandoning his wife and kids in Europe. (!) So yes - let the giver beware.

Posted by: psachya | Aug 24, 2007 10:29:11 AM

Hmmm.... I thought I left a comment, but it seems to have disappeared into the ether... I'll try again...

@ Jack:

I was very clear in my comment that I was not going to address issues of "need", but would just give possible reasons why it may have made a difference to Trep wether or not the beggar was Jewish. From your response I don't see where you acknowledged either of my points (please correct me if I'm wrong). Since you again bring up "needs", let's talk about needs...

Does the beggar *really* need a dollar? Or do they need a hot bath and a soft bed? Are you offering to take them home with you?

If the real need is food, why give them coupons to McDonalds when you're on your way out of the restaurant? Wouldn't it make more sense to pick them up on the way *in* to the restaurant and invite them to share a well-ballanced meal with you?

And if many beggars are not really interested in food, but just want the money for booze -- why not skip the middleman and just give them a six-pak? Hey, it may not be what you think they need, but it's what they think they need!

Most beggars that I've encountered could really use some heavy psychiatric counseling, as well as a good coat and a toothbrush... Are these things you're prepared to offer? Have you ever hired the guy with a sign that says "will work for food"?

Giving a beggar your spare change does very little to satisfy *their* needs. What it does, mostly, is satisfy *your* need to feel like you are "doing something" to help.

I am not in any way saying that there is anything wrong with that. On the contrary, as many have already pointed out, one of the main aspects of the mitzva of tzedaka is the changes it creates in the *giver*. But we shouldn't pretend we are doing this to satisfy their "needs".

And while we are on the topic of tzedaka, I sort of mentioned this in my last comment but perhaps it should be fleshed out a bit:

"Tzedaka" is not "charity". Tzedaka literally means "justice". It is mitzva that can be accomplished on several levels (enumerated in the Rambam and elsewhere), but it always requires that both the giver and the receiver be Jewish. If you give money to a non-Jew it may be charity, it may be humanitarianism, it promotes darchei shalom (harmonious coexistence) and tikun olam (making the world a better place). But it is not tzedaka.

It's wonderful that you give charity, it's wonderful that you volunteer in a soup-kitchen, but we should try to keep everything in perspective.

Yet another $.02

Posted by: wogo | Aug 24, 2007 12:55:16 PM

I generally do not give to beggars or collectors but make a mental note to give an extra donation to our local Tomchei Shabbos organization.

Posted by: Martin Stripes | Aug 24, 2007 5:02:40 PM

Wogo:

I'm sorry that's completely wrong.

Tsedaka does apply to non-Jews. Hilchot Tsedaka give priority to "the poor of your town", not to "the Jewish poor" or anything else.

Additionally, we are obligated to explicitly give tsedaka to non-Jews as well as Jews. You can find many sources/references with a simple Google search. http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=tzedaka+gentiles

Posted by: Alan | Aug 24, 2007 7:00:57 PM

I was very clear in my comment

Wogo,

It looks like I stepped on your tender sensibilities. I was very clear in my response. That probably sounds as pleasant to you as your remark did to me.

I'll risk making an assumption and guess that you were not serious in the comments of the majority of your post, such as whether the homeless need counseling or not. Maybe you are a shrink, I don't know.

The issue here for me is very simple. It is not my job to determine religious orientation for those who need help.

If I look at my own background for any guidance I follow what the Rambam said to do.For those who are unfamiliar here is an easy link.

but we should try to keep everything in perspective.

We should, and that means that it is more important to help everyone. Tikum Olam is a not a philosophy of only looking out for ourselves.

Posted by: Jack | Aug 24, 2007 7:56:58 PM

"Why? Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? "

ok ok.. i am just kidding.
But you live in a country where your beggars have paperwork!? wow. talk about organized.

Posted by: weese | Aug 24, 2007 8:02:01 PM

our city has an organization that provides cards/permits to those who need. My children even know. There was a beggar on the street the other day, to whom I did not give money, and one of my little ones said "see -- he doesn't have a card, we can't give him tzedeka."

It's hard to explain to children though why I won't give to the "homeless please help" guy who's on the same off ramp of the highway EVERY DAY.

Posted by: AnnieD | Aug 25, 2007 12:17:10 AM

I do not work very well with guilt. I would pass. If I give out of compulsion (which I used to do a lot of) I tend to give it all away.

Posted by: Tim | Aug 25, 2007 12:57:35 AM

Make it a policy never to hand out money. I hate to say it, but helping takes more time than I usually have to spare. So most times I simply look the beggar in the eye and say "No!" On those few occasions that I've gone out of my way to offer help someone, I have yet to find that person truly needy. I keep hoping I'll find someone whom the L-rd has sent my way so I can minister to his real needs, but so far the real need has always turned out to be a lack of integrity, not money. One man who needed gas money was suddenly unable to find his car after I drove him to the filling station and filled a gas can for him. Another who was short only $6.00 of having enough for taxi fare home was uninterested in my offer to buy him a $4.50 all-day bus pass that allowed him to travel anywhere in the Dallas Fort Worth area. Another hungry soul refused my untouched roast beef sandwich. Every beggar I've ever tried to help has proven to be a liar. I've come to the conclusion: if I want to help someone, I need to volunteer my time working through an organization that has the resources to figure out the real needs.

Posted by: Bob | Aug 25, 2007 5:50:39 AM

I did not want to write a long story, but I see I cannot leave this subject that has generated so many comments with only a one-line platitude posted.
#
When I was living in California, I bought a meal for someone each day of Lent. I did this through contributions to Our Daily Bread, an organization that fed the homeless. Made me feel righteous.

When I moved to Austin, Texas, I tried to continue that habit. I was a little more prosperous, so I chose to give $300.00 to Charitas, an organization like Our Daily Bread. The director took my check. I asked her what was her cost per meal.

"A dollar fifty."

"How many do you serve each meal?"

"At least two hundred."

I blinked. "You mean all I did was just buy lunch for all those people downstairs?"

She turned to look at her tally sheet. "For most of them."

I did not feel so righteous any more. I felt insignificant.
#
Saw a guy panhandling at the corner of 5th and Lamar in Austin. I rolled down my window and told him about Charitas.

"Yessir, but that's on the other side of town and I can't leave my dog."

You can't help those who won't be helped.
#
Saw a young girl panhandling a block north of him. Her sign read 'hungry please help'. Drove by a KFC and picked up a boxed chicken dinner. Drove by her corner and handed the box out my window to her. She said thanks and sat down and started to eat right away.

I've seen hungry. This girl was hungry.
#
Later, when I resided in Dallas, a guy approached me at a gas station and told me a story about how he and his family were stranded and needed to get back to Oklahoma and asked for a loan. I gave him the first bill I pulled out of my wallet -- a ten. He insisted that I give him my address so he could send me the money. I handed him my business card.

Some months later, I saw the same guy at a different gas station. He approached me again. Same story.

I said, "You don't remember me, do you?"

"Sir?"

"Well, that's too bad 'cause I remember you." I pulled out my cell phone. "In five seconds, I call the police. If you're still here when they arrive, I will press charges."

He turned and walked away.
#
[Last story, I promise.]
Saw the scruffiest and skinniest panhandler at the corner of . . . well, who cares? Even though people gave him nothing, he waved and smiled. I pointed to a corner and said, "Meet me over there."

We met in a shopping center parking lot. I said, "I was about to go to lunch. I am inviting you to come with me. What do you say?"

He took my offer, and we had lunch together at a Mexican restaurant. His name was Carl. During the course of the meal, Carl told me his story. He had been a dentist with a thriving practice, expensive toys, big house, and an adoring, trophy wife. Found cocaine. Snorted a boat, an airplane, the house, the marriage, and the practice up his nose. Did felony time for robbery and got clean on the inside 'cause he had no choice.

Over the course of several months, I bought Carl many more meals. He got a bicycle for transportation from someone else, but he had problems with punctures and keeping his tires inflated. So I bought him a foot pump. Besides the bicycle, I learned that other people were doing kindnesses for Carl.

After Thanksgiving at my sister's home, I made a plate for Carl and drove 74 miles one way to deliver it. I knew where Carl slept and that's where I went.

Carl was not at his bed when I arrived but he walked up about a minute later. I held out the plate.

"Thanks," he said. "You didn't have to do that. Three other people said they would bring food by."

I nodded. "Any of 'em deliver yet?"

"No."

I nodded again. Carl thanked me again and sat down to eat. Like I said, I've seen hungry.

Ten days later, Carl had a job. A month after that, he had a room in a motel. Six months later, he had a better paying job and an apartment.

Just sayin'.

Posted by: antares | Aug 25, 2007 2:00:18 PM

I don't see how being Jewish could possibly influence such a decision really, and I'm even a bit shocked by it.

I never give money but I also never forget how fortunate I am. I always offer to buy them food and I will buy it myself. If they say no and insist upon the money I walk away bcs then I know what it was really ment for - but very often they accept. Some people really are hungry, some people truly live dreadful lives.

And Wogo has just made me ashamed of being Jewish. THAT is certainly not the Judaism I respect.

Posted by: Lioness | Aug 25, 2007 3:34:28 PM

Well now... I seem to have hit a nerve... It also looks like I may have been misunderstood...

Let me backtrack a bit: I did not say, "you should not give charity to non-Jews". I did not say it, I did not imply it, and I didn't even think it.

I'm sorry if that was unclear until now.

@ Alan:

I don't know if this is the forum for Halachic discourse, but the verse that is the source for "poor of your town" is talking about Jews. If you want to argue that it also includes non-Jews (or if you want to argue any other halachic point) it would be helpful if you could provide references in the standard codes of Jewish law instead of Google searches. The laws of Tzedaka are in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De'ah 247-258, and in the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam: Sefer Zeraim: Hilchot Matnot Aniyim: chap 7-10.


@ Jack:

I apologize if I came across a bit harsh. Your original response, although clear, did not really address anything I said.

My rant about "needs" was at least partially serious. I am not a shrink (FWIW, my undergrad degree is in Psychology), but I did spend a bit of time "in the trenches" working with homeless people. Judging someone else's needs is a very tricky business.

Re. What the Rambam said... The link you provided lists a summary of the levels of Tzedaka. Basically it relates to *how* to give. It does not list the many details that govern who has to give, how much they have to give or who they have to give to... I'm not sure how it relates to our discussion at all.

It is certainly important to help everyone. I already said that it is wonderful that you do so and I wish you much success in continuing your good work. Having said that, it may be a good idea to *also* give charity to someone you *know* is Jewish in order to make sure you fulfill the obligation of Tzedaka.


@ Lioness:

I am terribly sorry if something I said offended you. Could you please specify what you are referring to so that I have a chance to clarify or amend what I wrote.


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p.s. Once more for the record: I do not think that it is wrong to give charity to non-Jews... Hope that was clear enough.

Posted by: wogo | Aug 26, 2007 1:52:28 AM

Wogo, this is what I read, because you wrote it: "Whether or not the beggar was actually Jewish *is* relevant", and "(Tzedakah)always requires that both the giver and the receiver be Jewish"

I'm sorry, but this is so very wrong. Need is need, full stop. If I ever stop to consider someone's faith before helping them I certainly consider myself less of a person.

Posted by: Lioness | Aug 26, 2007 2:46:46 AM

Around where we live, we are seeing more and more panhandlers walking up and down the median at the stoplights. Some are cripple, some old, young, different races, but always the same faces BUT seen throughout the city at different times and places. Some of the places ARE NOT easy to get to by public transportation, so how are they getting there? My husband and I have a theory that they have a "pimp" who drops and picks them up at strategic locations. We can already identify at least five of them. We figure that if a guy stands on the corner for 8 hours and get one car to give him a $1 per light cycle, the guy is raking in almost $100 a day at the very least.

As for actually giving money, sometimes, depending on the folks I will give, but its usually because my children are with me and they want to give tzeddeka (WOGO- as they understand it to mean charity for anyone.)If they scamming it, I look at it this way.

I do know of one homeless location near the edge of a wooded intersection. I have in the past, made an effort to swing by there to drop off extra homegrown vegetables or other non=perishable food and its been appreciated.

Posted by: rodin | Aug 26, 2007 8:34:41 AM

I've always felt a bit uncomfortable NOT giving if my children are present. Now that they are a bit older, however, I think they are able to understand that there are unscrupulous people in the world, or unfortunate people who ask for money to feed their unfortunate additions. So I am careful, but still, if a person presents as needy, and I have no way of knowing for sure that they will use the money for drugs or alcohol, don't I get the mitzvah anyway if my intentions are to help them out? I have an obligation to be a good person and do the right thing, don't I? How much do I need to worry about the receiving end of the tzedakah?

Posted by: Baila | Aug 26, 2007 8:47:39 AM

@ Lioness:

Thank you for responding, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify...

I have already written repeatedly that it is important to help everyone regardless of faith. I hope I don't have to quote my own comments to prove that point.

Need *is* need. But that is not necessarily the topic of discussion. Trep was ambivalent about giving the beggar money -- and he related it to her "Jewishness" or lack thereof. If you have an issue with that, perhaps you should take it up with him.

I do not presume to know the reasons for Trep's ambivalence. I also did not say that "Jewishness" should be *the* deciding factor in giving. All I did was offer possible explanations why (and when) "Jewishness" could be relevant.

Posted by: wogo | Aug 26, 2007 10:15:41 AM

Throwing in my two cents....

Lioness, et al,

As a non-Jew, it's not for me to say if Wogo's theology is correct, but if it is, then I understand where he's coming from and I don't have a problem with his comments. If his theology is wrong (and again, it's not for me to say), then I believe his intentions are pure. Wogo is correct, he did not say (or hint, IMO) that charity should not be given to non-Jews, he's just attempting to give the definition of tzedaka.

I'm a police officer, so I get to deal with the homeless on a professional basis. Many of them are just bums, they could settle down and work if they wanted to, but have chosen to be homeless. Most of them have criminal histories of varying degrees. They make their living panhandling, working odd jobs or by theft and robbery. However, there are quite a few mentally ill people on the streets. In the US, those folks are there for the most part because of an idiotic Federal court ruling that forced the States to release them from mental institutions. So instead of three hot meals a day, a bed and medical care, they are out roaming around, often a danger to themselves and others.

Getting a court order to put those people in an institution is nearly impossible. In the small town where I started out, we had a woman who brain was fried from drugs. Think back to Nancy Reagan's "This is your brain, this is your brain on drugs" ad campaign and you'll understand this woman. She was in her mid-30s but looked like she was pushing 70. She prostituted herself for drugs. She was a constant traffic hazard, her idea of hitchhiking was to stand in the road on a four-lane highway....at night....and thumb for rides. Her family could do nothing with her and the court would not order her into the custody of a mental health facility for her own safety. And there are many more like her.

Posted by: Karl Newman | Aug 26, 2007 11:51:29 AM

Hi Trep,

I was recently asked by a friend why I gave a beggar some money near Kikar Safra. I simply looked at her, and said "Because I can".

Posted by: dfb1968 | Aug 26, 2007 4:47:19 PM

and to Lioness, just one thing. Wogo's comments may have been "off", to put it nicely, but nobody, I mean NOBODY (Yes, not even you Roy Cohn) makes me ashamed to be Jewish.

Posted by: dfb1968 | Aug 26, 2007 4:58:05 PM

A woman with an adorable two year old in a shopping cart accosted me at a shopping center. She said her and her husband needed money to repair their car. So, I gave her some money. I didn't like to think of the poor child being stranded. Imagine my surprise when I saw the baby's picture in the newspaper the next day. The couple who had been begging and who I had given money to those who had kidnapped the child! That cured me from giving money to panhandlers.

I used to carry little cards to where panhandlers could go and receive vouchers. A very few were glad to know where they could go and receive help but a lot became angry.

Posted by: seawitch | Aug 26, 2007 5:10:00 PM

Wogo, we still disagree on Tzedakah - fair enough. This notion that Jews are worthier regardless, that they should always come first regardless, pikuach nefesh but if it's the goyim oh well. I've seen a lot of it and it always makes me feel nauseated. Apologies if this is not how you think, I interpreted it that way.

dfb1968, how lucky for you - and I'm not being sarcastic at all. Many Jews often make me ashamed of being Jewish. Many Portuguese often make me ashamed of being Portuguese. Sometimes humans make me ashamed of being human. I don't hold Judaism sacred, it is only as worthy in terms of the reality we have as the ones who practice it.

Posted by: Lioness | Aug 26, 2007 5:44:49 PM

@ Karl Newman:

THANK YOU!

I am alternating between yelling at my computer and rereading my comments to see how it is that my position is being misinterpreted... I'm glad to see someone else thinks I'm not totally crazy.

@ Lioness:

No, that is not how I think. I appreciate your apology.

Posted by: wogo | Aug 26, 2007 6:02:52 PM

It is churlish to demand credentials from beggars. (I am not talking about the professional collectors that show up at shul) If their response or request is inadequate, that is their problem, not yours. While we are busy sifting through the beggars to find the worthy ones, some of them are dying. If we have the money to give, give a little, and let God sort it out.
Besides, as R' Shlomo Calrebach might say, you never know which beggar is Eliyahu Hanavi, and which encounter is the test for you.

Posted by: jordan Hirsch | Aug 26, 2007 6:57:18 PM

I am alternating between yelling at my computer

I need to know something. Has the computer responded? Because if it has we need to talk. ;)

Posted by: Jack | Aug 26, 2007 7:44:12 PM

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