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What Do I Do with all these People Knocking on my Door Asking for Money?

What Do I Do with all these People Knocking on my Door Asking for Money?

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Question:

The mezuzah on the doorpost of our home seems to act as a "beacon" that signals and draws charity-seeking individuals to our door at all hours of the evening and night. Many of these people seem to be demanding money, not asking for it. (Frankly, we are considering removing the mezuzah from our front door.) What do you advise?

Dr. A. G---, MD

Answer:

C'mon, doc, it can't be all that terrible! Of course, I can sympathize with the sense of harassment you're experiencing. We have recently moved to a densely Jewish neighborhood, and are now experiencing something similar. But we try to look at the larger picture.

You probably know that Jewish people rank as the biggest donors to philanthropic causes in North America. In times past, even the gentile beggar knew there was more help available from the impoverished, oppressed Jew than from his own kind. The ancient sages taught that a Jew is identified by three qualities: Compassion, a sense of shame, and an urge to do kind deeds. If he lacks one of these, they said, he is of questionable origin.

True, there are some rather obnoxious individuals that turn up occasionally. However, the overwhelming majority are people with real issues. Most represent some institution in Israel. Many have a family member in dire need of assistance. We consider it a great privilege, as well as a noble tradition of the Jewish people, to help such persons.

Rather than backtrack, taking down your mezuzah (which won't help anyway, since they have your address by now!), I can make several suggestions:

o Always ask for a letter of introductions from an established institution.

o Establish a nominal amount to give to the standard door-knocker. If they start making demands, you can tell them -- and repeat to them -- “This is what I give everybody. I have to be fair.” If they seem to be someone in real, urgent need, increase somewhat. Some make that standard amount $18, others $5, others $100. All according to what fits for you. You can always increase later.

o Many people in your situation put a notice outside the door stating hours for charity collectors. Ask someone to write a Hebrew version for you as well.

I don't know if you have ever been in need of help, out on the street or suffered one of those crises that brings financial ruin. I can tell you it ain't fun. And the humiliation of receiving money from people begrudgingly is worse than salt to the wounds.

Neither do those who have taken it upon themselves to raise funds for an institution have an easy time. They are often teachers or even distinguished rabbis. They must spend many months away from their families. The experience is very trying and often degrading. You can try to make it a little easier on them with a few simple gestures, such as offering a cup of coffee, use of your washroom, or even with a simple smile and wishes of good luck.

Tzvi Freeman for Chabad.org

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Chabad.org Editorial Team January 2, 2008

Editorial Note: Corrections prompted by some of your comments were made in the article. Reply

Mark Feldstein Ottawa, Canada January 1, 2008

Re: To Mark (and others) - please respond Charity has been a virtue recognized and fostered by all major religions throughout human history. Christian charity, for example, has long been an integral part of European civilization. In medieval Europe the Church was responsibility for organizing and promoting poor relief; it was not until the 16th century that the state began to take over this responsibility. Jews have been at the forefront of many social and human rights causes and can take pleasure and satisfaction from such achievements. But while pride in the sense of one's own proper dignity, value and self-respect is laudable, measuring such achievements by comparing them with others seen as less charitable shows pride in its worst sense - as arrogant, haughty and disdainful. We perform mitzvot because we are commanded to do so. We strive to be a light unto the nations through our example, not to display our superiority. Are we not commanded to be humble and to always seek to see others in their most favourable light? Reply

Tzvi Freeman (author) December 30, 2007

To Mark (and others) a) In European countries, well into the 19th century, vagabonds and paupers had no rights and were barely considered human. At the same time, every Jewish community provided free room and board for any traveller, without discrimination. To this day, wherever there is social activism, there are Jews--lots of them. Is it really so terrible to take some pride in who we are and what we've done? Isn't that our mission in life, after all, to be a light unto the nations?

b) The last part about an anti-depressant must be understood in the context of the letter and the person I was responding to. It's not to be taken literally. I am certainly aware of the need for proper diligence and supplementary therapy when prescribing such solutions. Reply

Chaya December 29, 2007

Asking for Money Wow, what a big Mezuzah you must have, if people can see it from the street. It has been my experience that we are often more critical of other Jews that need help than we are of"others" that need it. Has anyone else noticed that? Reply

Chaim Mensch N. Potomac, MD December 29, 2007

Tzedaka If the person is collecting for an institution ask for the address and tell the person you will mail in a donation. If they are asking for themselves be thankful for the opportunity they are giving you to perform a mitzvah and give them a few bucks. Reply

Anonymous pgh, pa December 29, 2007

Charity If someone comes to your door for a donation, he obviously needs it for an institution or for himself. Give him what you can and treat him with respect, offerring him a drink or some food as well. After all, it's your fellow Jew and what better way to show Ahavas Yisroel (Love for your Fellow Jew). You'll both feel good about it and you'll know that you've made a difference in this person's life. When this person comes back to you the next time around, be honored that he returned. You never know who that person may be--maybe Elijah the Prophet. Reply

Patti December 28, 2007

Obnoxious bums Bipolar disorder is common amongst those of Jewish origin. Wellbutrin has been a life saver to me.

Rabbi Freeman, you are still too young to understand and you throw your youth around too lightly. Reply

Anonymous December 28, 2007

One step too far Tzvi: I was agreeing with you all the way until your last comment about writing the "obnoxious bums" an R/x for Wellbutrin or somthing similar. How dare you throw something as serious as depression or anxiety in the same mix as "obnoxious bums". Apparently you have never had a loved one suffer and have to be medicated. You blew it on this one. Reply

Mark Feldstein Ottawa, Canada December 28, 2007

Giving charity (1) To say that "... [E]ven the gentile beggar knew there was more help available from the impoverished, oppressed Jew than from his own kind" is arrogance of the worst kind. To imply that Jews are better than others, in my understanding of my faith, displays an ignorance of the very essence of Judaism. I believe that the Rebbe's eyes would become hot and piercing on hearing such hubris.

(2) Also, Wellbutrin would have no effect on "obnoxious bums." You should be less glib and more sensitive to those who suffer from clinical depression; it's not funny. Reply

Anonymous Miami December 28, 2007

People Knocking on the Doore Great Response Rabbi -- I just have one idea to use. Put the check or money in a sealed envelope so they usually don't open it until they leave -- to avoid a confrontation. Reply

Jampa Williams West Hartford, CT December 28, 2007

Compassion Rabbi Freeman has written a very helpful and meaningful guide to the giving of assistance. When he writes, "I don't know if you have ever been in need of help, out on the street or suffered one of those crises that brings financial ruin. I can tell you it ain't fun. And the humiliation of receiving money from people begrudgingly is worse than salt to the wounds", he is writing a core truth of human existence: very few people on this earth want to be the recipients of charity. It would be terrific, as one person suggested, if every seeker of assistance could be provided with a job, but such is not always possible. Still, that is certainly a worthy goal. We cannot help everyone in need, but we can keep alive our sensitivity and our awareness of our obligations towards the needs of others, and we can try to fulfill those obligations to the highest degree we are able to fulfill them. I am very grateful to Rabbi Freeman for his thoughtful and empathic words. Reply

Menashe Borukhov Colorado December 28, 2007

Chasidic rebbe, Chaim of Sanz (d. 1786) said "The merit of charity is so great that I am happy to give to one hundred beggars even if only one might actually be needy. Some people, however, act as if they are exempt from giving charity to one hundred beggars in the event that one might be a fraud." Reply

yankel pupenheimer December 24, 2007

If someone's collecting for himself, he ought to get a job. If someone's collecting for an institution, the institution needs your money. If the collector would try to earn the money instead of shnoring it, the institution would never get what it needs. Reply

Danyel Nelson goshen, In March 13, 2007

i think you shouldnt give them money because they will keep coming back for more. just give them a job and pray fo them. Reply

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