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What do you think about giving tzedaka to get things in return?

The greatest piece of frum community catalog type literature is the Oorah Chinese auction catalog. It can be seen in countless frum homes sually sitting on top of a pile of mail, old yateds or stacked in the bathroom next to the stacks of old fraying readers digests and consumer reports, which seem to be the only secular reading material many frummies own. The shiny pages full of “prizes” that you can “win” in you “donate” tzedaka.

Now I have always been a little bothered by all this donating to win business. I assume, maybe wrongly so that since it is a frum organization they have properly researched the halachos in order to insure that everyone making generous contributions can be counted as tzedaka, and can in fact entice people to give more since they are getting something out of it. The only reason I take issue with this is because it seems like the whole point of tzedaka was to give over a piece of your self without getting anything in return, save for the knowledge that you are fulfilling a very important mitzvah and helping those in need out, when you receive something in return, the intentions get kind of screwy.

Ok that aside, I guess I just don’t give to Oorah because I don’t think I am going to win, I know its kind of contradictory what I am saying, almost funny in fact. I dislike the fact I am getting something in return for my charity, but I wont give because I know I have no chance of winning. I know this because thousands of people have those catalogs in their bathrooms across the tri-state area, and therefore they all probably want to win the kitchen set or the silver paradise, or whatever clever names they came up with for the shietle and fall set.

So being the hypocrite I am I was sent something from The Shmuz, which is one of my favorite sites on the internet. I also happen to have been in yeshiva while Rabbi Shafier the Rabbi that gives many of the talks, was still teaching and delivering his talks in the beis medrish every Thursday. The Shmuz is a big practitioner of the “give tzedaka and get something in return” they have loads of ways on their website in which you can donate money and get free stuff. So unlike the auction where you may not even get anything, and may in fact be pissed off that you gave tzedaka without getting anything in return besides a glossy catalog to add to your bathroom reading material. The Shmuz actually gives you free stuff, yes it goes against what I said up there, and I may feel guilty, but at least I am getting something.

They do things all the time, one of the ongoing things they have to entice you into learning and giving tzedaka at the same time is to give a fully stocked Ipod Nano with 150 mussar shmuzem for free with your donation of $1000, so of course it aint free, and it gets you to learn. I may be biased, but besides for Paysach Krohn I never heard a shmuz CD that I liked and I driove a lot and have the opportunity to listen to tons of them. Maybe its because most of them talk in yeshivish talk and I cant understand them, the sphardi guys I cant stand either and I am left with Rabbi Shafier and his regular old New York speak, nothing fancy, any old BT would understand him and he actually mixes politics, history, current events and secular cultural ideas within his shmuz, and its not just a barrage on all of the evils.

At the top of their page it states that they are having a $100,000 raffle. Now normally I hate raffles, the only time I won, they gave me a computer without all the things needed to make it operate and even then it was crappy. But this time in fine print something they said made me actually consider throwing down $100 of my maisser money for the cause. The raffle is limited to 15,000 tickets, which means your chances of winning the big prize are not that bad, way better then scratch off tickets and slot machines in fact.

{ 22 comments… add one }
  • An Addicted Shmuzer December 13, 2007, 4:52 PM

    Heshy – I also listen to The Shmuz and have even attended them once in a blue moon. I love them….give me tremendous inspiration in my life…..

    I bought a raffle ticket….$100 for $100,000 ….not a bad return, eh?

    I encourage everyone else to help support The Shmuz.com. HERE IS A RECENT EMAIL I GOT FROM RABBI SHAFIER:


  • lakewoodshmuck December 14, 2007, 2:39 AM

    does the grave they are raffling off come with AC ?
    actually oora does awesome work, so I give them money for the auction but not maaser.
    as they say in NY

  • Rachel December 14, 2007, 5:01 AM

    interesting, i just got a call earlier tonight from them asking me to buy a ticket…i could only afford to give 18, and it took the poor girl on the other end of the line about 6 tries to get my credit card number right

  • arnie draiman December 14, 2007, 9:35 AM

    great question! i am not a halachic authority, but i do believe that it is ok to get something in return for giving tzedakah money. BUT, legally, you can’t claim the entire amount given as tzedakah, just the relative portion of value.

    for example, if you give $100 and get an item valued at $33, then you may only claim $67 as real tzedakah.

    now, for the more important point. why give to an organization who is simply NOT efficient or effective in spending tzedakah money????

    check Oorah out online at guidestar.org:

    (if you are not registered, i can send you their IRS 990 report from last year). it basically states, if i understood it correctly, that they raised $4,000,000, spent $3,000,000. of the $3,000,000 spent, HALF (50%) went to expenses, overhead, fundraising, administration.


    i couldn’t find the financial information for The Shmuz. but you have every right – in fact it is an obligation – to find out how they are using the tzedakah money you donate.

    arnie draiman
    philanthropic consulting

  • JDMDad December 14, 2007, 1:07 PM

    I was surprised to find out that you can no longer deduct raffle tickets for charity fundraisers from your taxes. It used to be that unless you were a winner, you could deduct the cost of the tickets. Granted, that isn’t the main reason to buy tickets, but it helped a bit.

  • Berel December 14, 2007, 1:57 PM

    Slightly off topic, but… as far as getting a computer without “all the software needed to make it work”… that is a good thing. Wipe out the dangerous virus called “Microsoft Windows”, install Linux for free, then install all the software you could possibly want, for free, which would normally cost you thousands of dollars. Just a thought.

  • m00kie December 14, 2007, 2:13 PM

    i know you said it yourself, but this post makes no sense.. 🙂
    not only do you refuse to give to a charity because you probably wont win anything in return, but you make the rest of the poeple who do give (and dont care about their chances of winning anything in return) feel bad for giving to a cause where they might potentially win a tacky set of silverware..
    cmooooon.. make good arguments! make sense

  • Hesh December 14, 2007, 2:15 PM

    So if you actually win a prize or money, does your tzedaka count as tzedaka. I hear that many of the big winner just give their prizes back to show their kindness, that sucks for us little guys who buy one or two tickets.

    First of all I don’t give to these organizations because I would rather give to something local- that is mine and I am sure many other peoples reasons for not giving to national or international organizations- I feel that my local causes effect the community I live in which is small and poor.

  • m00kie December 14, 2007, 2:16 PM

    arnie draiman –
    i dont get why cant claim the full price as a donation. you gave 100$ to tsedaka. how they spend their money is not your business. if part of their expenses is buying treadmills and crockpots to give out as prizes, thats for their accountant to worry about, no?

  • Frum Librarian December 14, 2007, 2:19 PM

    Is there really such thing as not getting ANYthing out of giving? You get schar for doing mitzvos, you get rewarded by peers, family members etc. in the form of praise, admiration or just being elevated to a new standard in their eyes. People do all kinds of things for shallow-ish reasons, it doesn’t mean that their good deeds are worthless. Mitoch shelo lishma, bah lishma.
    Also, anyone know the levels of tzedaka? Isn’t one of the lower levels giving and getting something in return? So it is still tzedaka, isn’t it?

  • Rabbi Neal Wendrow December 14, 2007, 4:18 PM

    There is one who gave Tzadaka and received nothing back. His name is Yeshua and He gave his life on the Etz, so you could have the eternal life you don’t deserve and live with Hashem in Shomayim.

    He is True Moshiach, True Son of Hashem, and soon returning!

    Today receive Him as your Lord and Saviour!

    Call 1-888-Needhim to find out how!

  • Anonymous December 14, 2007, 8:00 PM

    boo to “rabbi” neal wendrow

  • Hesh December 14, 2007, 8:54 PM

    I second that, how do some people take things far off topic.

  • JoJo December 15, 2007, 6:31 PM

    Nothing to do with this topic; I havent even read the post yet, but what happened to the post about why chassidish women have shaved heads?

  • miriam December 15, 2007, 11:29 PM

    Once upon a time, I gave without hoping for anything in return. But I must admit w/family comes increased desparation in one’s davening lol
    so now any chance I get I hope for something in return lol

  • Half?? December 16, 2007, 2:13 AM

    To #4 (Draiman)

    Actually, i’m surprised that you read Oorah the 990 that way. Do you have an agenda?

    I am involved in the chinese auction catalog, and I know that much of the “fundraising dollars” were from funds donated specifically for the purpose of fundraising. (Think; prize sponsor.) Oorah gets every prize completely sponsored. Overhead? Are you aware that Oorah spends a lot on publicity to recruit volunteers and participants for their many programs, but they do not show that as “program expenses” but rather as overhead, because it is not directly in the accomplishment of their program activities. And the other 1.7 million not spent in 2005- went into an operating campground used exclusively for their programs.

    So when we speak of efficiency, it’s now more like 20%, that’s a far cry from your crazy figure of 50%!

    Arnie Draiman”philanthropy consultant”, my foot

  • Toby December 17, 2007, 6:36 PM


    Chinese Auctions are, of course, neither Chinese nor an auction. But the question many are asking these days is, are they tzedakah? Or, more specifically, should Jewish institutions be promoting this as a way to give tzedakah? Does one need to dangle a late-model van, a custom-made sheitel, a trip to Israel in front of people before they’ll open their wallets for a worth cause? Are we training ourselves away from purer forms of giving?

    On the positive side of the Chinese Auction boom are several points.

    First, there’s the result: Thousands upon thousands of dollars have been raised for institutions and causes that may never have been raised otherwise. The Chinese auction expands the institution’s reach beyond people who are naturally interested in its welfare to the general public, whose only interest might be the buffet, a night out and a crack at some of those fabulous prizes. No doubt, mountains of good have come from the money Chinese auctions have wrested out of the hands of those whose motives might be purely self-serving.

    Secondly, there’s the mitzvah: we learn that doing a mitzvah for the wrong reasons, in most cases, still counts as a mitzvah. Do it, the commentators tell us, and the right reasons will follow. The important thing is to do it. That’s why teachers are allowed to offer candy and prizes to children for their learning. First get them into the habit of learning – let them love it and enjoy it – then, let the right reasons come.

    Furthermore, motivations are not divided into bad and good. There are degrees. Someone who does a mitzvah for the honor it brings – his name on the new wing – is not in the same league as someone who donates anonymously. One person gives so his business associates won’t think he’s going broke, another because his neighbor is on the board of directors, another because the organization has his rabbi’s endorsement. Often, these motivations are mixed together with the purer one of, “it’s a good cause and it’s my duty to support it.”

    Yet, there is still a negative side, something vaguely distasteful about all this “stuff” being proffered to entice would-be givers.

    Isn’t there supposed to come a time when the child no longer needs to earn a peanut chew for his learning? Are we setting ourselves back spiritually by linking more and more tzedakah to grand prizes? If someone becomes accustomed to giving only when there’s a material incentive, will he later be willing to give when all that’s sent is an envelope, and maybe a letter.

    Perhaps. Or perhaps he’ll feel that, after paying a $10 admission fee and buying $50 worth of tickets that won him nothing, he’s given enough.

    Another negative aspect of the trend is the expense it creates for the institution. Much is made of the amount of overhead charitable institutions incur. Generally, people don’t like to give money that will go to pay agencies, executive salaries, car leases – even postage. They want money for the hungry to buy food, money for yeshivos to promote Torah learning and buy books or computers or scholarships.

    But the competitiveness of the “giving” market has become such that, without a professional media campaign, expensive fund-raising events and plenty of overhead, an organization’s message can barely be heard from beneath the pile of solicitations. By requiring more pizzazz to grab donors’ attention, the donors themselves are creating the need for an all-devouring overhead budget.

    One experienced yeshiva fundraiser made this sobering observation: “If people gave half of what they now give, but gave it directly without a dinner or event, the yeshivos would be making twice what they’re making on donations.”

    The expense of dinners and other fundraising events typically consumes half to three-quarters of the money donated. They not only cost money, but they carry a spiritual price tag as well. Whether it’s five course gourmet dinner at a plush hotel or a Chinese Auction brimming with luxury prizes, conspicuous consumption is the order of the day. Nonetheless, almost every institution has been forced into the position of producing these extravagant fundraisers because that is the way the world – even our world — now operates.

    Oorah is in the same boat, navigating the same rough waters. Years of experience have proven conclusively that a simple letter about our kiruv efforts, with a simple plea for support, would bring in a tiny fraction of what the Chinese Auction produces. If we were to cling to the principle that people should give without ulterior motives, we might succeed in making a point, but we would fail in our primary mission, which is to put as many children as possible into yeshiva. Our message might echo faintly through the Jewish world, but our failure would resonate thunderously for generations to come.

    Thus we and our supporters are drawn into the strange logic of promoting materialism to save Jewish souls. For Oorah, the Chinese Auction has proven successful, and its success depends upon presenting prizes that people find desirable. Desire for such items may not be a spiritually healthy trait to foster, but this is not an issue Oorah can afford to address right now, when the loss of Jews to secular life is at a critical point of no return.

    By whatever means we now have at our disposal, we – Oorah and our supporters – are trying desperately to put out a fire. When there’s a fire, you use what works. We hope you’ll be a part of our “bucket brigade” and take part in this vital fundraising effort.

    Just running a Chinese auction calls upon the hard work and good will of dozens, if not hundreds of people and certainly brings out the charitable instinct in them. It opens up new streams of support for vital causes, and transforms money that might otherwise land in the cash register of a restaurant or movie theater into money donated to avodas Hashem. The validity of this approach is an issue rising in our community’s consciousness, but an answer – if there is one – may take much more time, thought and discussion to emerge.

  • Orthonomics December 19, 2007, 6:25 PM

    To Mookie 2:16PM-What you can deducte as ma’aser is between your posek and you. But the IRS does NOT allow donors to take an itemized deduction on their schedule A for any sort of auction or raffle run by a 501(c)(3).

    In short, the IRS defines the value of the benefit received as the amount paid.

  • arnie draiman December 20, 2007, 11:16 AM

    mookie –

    see comment #18 – i was referring to the IRS indeed, and not what you might or might not consider ‘kosher’.

    and, to the anonymous person who left comment #16 – i have no agenda other than to make sure that one’s tzedakah funds are used as efficiently and effectively as possible.

    i stand by what i wrote above. someone who spends money on PR and claims it is a ‘program expense’ is not doing justice to themselves, to their donors, or to anyone else.

    arnie draiman
    philanthropic consultant

  • Half?? December 23, 2007, 12:57 PM


    You’re not “standing by what you said”. You’re contradicting yourself.

  • Mikeinmidwood May 18, 2008, 9:25 PM

    Is that “Rabbi” Neal Wendrow talking about who I think he is? sounds like a missionary to me an what a great site to do it on Hesh please edit some of these comments or say something against it

  • SouthWind17 October 22, 2009, 6:48 PM

    The whole debate in general revealed high calibre thinking on the part of the panellists on both sides. ,

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