Ask the Rabbi – 06/03/14

Ask the Rabbi – 06/03/14

With Rabbi Yitzchak Shochet. 

Read Rabbi Schochet’s blog at or follow him on Twitter @RabbiYYS. [divider]

Dear Rabbi

With the Purim season upon us a lot of collectors will be coming to the doors. I have had some bad experiences in the past and I want to know how to decide between what is an authentic cause and what is just some form of scam.



Dear Harvey

For many years there was a lot of concern about who is an authentic fundraiser raising for a legitimate cause and who not. Many people were unfortunately taken advantage of. To that end, in London they have instituted a certificate process from the Va’ad HaTzedaka (The Charity Organisation).

Their job is to ascertain the legitimacy of the individual and the cause and they will then issue a certificate accordingly, with an expiry date. Most fundraisers are very much aware of this and if they therefore turn up to your door, by all means ask for the certificate first. If they don’t have it, but give you a spiel about other letters of endorsement – and often claiming that they didn’t have the time to obtain it – well, if they cannot be bothered, neither should you.

There is an overarching principle of “whoever puts out their hand you should give him.” To that end you may be inclined to give the certificate-less guy a pound or two, but certainly not more. If he wants that fiver, tenner or whatever more you would have given him, let him prove himself with the required certificate.

It is probably worth mentioning here that apart from those who are raising funds for their own worthy needs, there are many that raise money for institutions. What you should be aware of is that anywhere between 30 and up to 50 percent might go to the collector himself. In addition, many of these fundraisers are chauffeured by special drivers who know “the addresses” to bring them to.

They also take anywhere between 15 to 30 percent of what is collected. So for every pound you donate, at least 50 percent of that doesn’t make its way directly to the charity. I appreciate that both the fundraiser and the driver are entitled to earn a living. I don’t appreciate that they should be cutting out such a chunk of the donation. I stand to be corrected if I’ve got my percentages wrong. But I don’t think so.


Dear Rabbi

I am doing a study on great rabbis of the past. What is the essential difference between great rabbis of the Hassidic movement like Chabad and those of the Lithuanian world?



Dear Deirdre

I think it is best summed up like this. In the Lithuanian (Yeshivish) world they tell stories of their rabbis’ great feats of learning that seem almost incredible and inhuman to us lesser mortals. We marvel at these “lomdim” as they were called, and their genius and dedication to learning even if we can’t quite grasp the deep level of commitment. It is told of many such rabbis who didn’t necessarily know the names of their children, or who were unaware that their child had married because they would be gone from home for six months or more at a time, busy learning.

By contrast in the Chassidic world, well, Chabad tell the story of the rebbe who rebuked his son that had not heard his baby cry because he was learning, by telling him that the cries of a baby come first.


Dear Rabbi

Why do some Jewish people consider beards to be of such importance while others do not?



Dear Heather

It is a bit of a hairy question and I don’t have enough space to analyse a subject about which whole books have been written. So I’ll shave a little off my answer. For many the beard was the ultimate display of Jewish pride. When the Nazis wanted to belittle the Jew, they would shave their beards. Notwithstanding the Biblical ramifications of our beard, there is also any number of Kabbalistic insights. One such explanation is the following: Kabbalistically, our outer physical appearance is a reflection of our inner spiritual reality. The hands represent our ability to give and receive. The feet symbolise the power to progress. What does the beard represent?

One of the greatest struggles in life is to live up to our ideals. Many of us know what is right but have difficulty translating that knowledge into action in our daily lives. We may do things that we know are wrong, but feel we simply “couldn’t help ourselves.”

For example, we know that it is wrong to lose our temper, but when we get annoyed at someone we find it impossible to control our anger. Or we may know that it is good to give charity, but when asked, we may choose to ignore the request. So there is this big divide between theory – which is in your mind, and practice as expressed through your hands. You know what they say about “that road” paved with good intentions. The beard represents bridging the gap and implementing our good intentions. This hair that grows down from the head to the rest of the body is the bridge between mind and heart, thoughts and actions, theory and practice, good intentions and good deeds.

It is important however to remember this beautiful Yiddish idiom: The question is not “yid, yid vu is dien bord?” It is, “bord, bord, vu is dien yid?” The question is not, “Jew, Jew, where is your beard. Rather it is, “Beard, beard, where is your Jew?”

In simple terms, it is not the beard alone that maketh the Jew.  [divider]

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