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What If a Charity Turns Out to Be Fake?

What If a Charity Turns Out to Be Fake?



What happens if a charity organization to which you donated money turns out to be fake? Does it still count as charity? How can one ever be sure that the money goes to the right cause?


Dear N___:

Until the times of Moshiach, there are going to be immoral people who will even play on people’s charitable conscience to their own advantage. Scam charities were around in ancient times too. Here is an incident related in the Talmud (Ketubot 67b):

Rabbi Chanina would regularly send four zuz (a Talmudic-era currency unit) to a certain man on the eve of the Sabbath. One day he sent that sum through his wife, who came back and told him that the man was in no need of it. “What did you see?” asked Rabbi Chanina.

“I heard that he was asked, ‘On what will you dine: on the silver-colored cloths, or on the gold ones?’” the rabbi’s wife replied.

“It is in view of such cases,” Rabbi Chanina remarked, “that the sages said, ‘Come, let us be grateful to the fraudulent! For were it not for them, we would be sinning every day . . . for anyone who shuts his eye to charity is like one who worships idols.’”

What did Rabbi Chanina mean by this? Quite simple: Theoretically, we should be obligated to give to everyone all of their requests. If we do not give, it is like idolatry. Deceitful people save us from this odious crime of idolatry by providing us an excuse for not giving in every instance: we can always say that we wanted to give, but didn’t since it may have been a scam.

Not every case, however, can be judged by outward appearances. The same passage in the Talmud tells of one of the sages who would send charity to a particular individual. One day he sent his son to deliver the money. The boy came home and said, “They are not needy; I saw them drinking expensive wines.”

The father doubled the sum and told his son, “On the contrary, they obviously were once people with high standards of living, and now have no money at all. For them to live the basic lifestyle which charity would provide is still painfully lacking.”

The mitzvah is to provide to each according to his needs, and sometimes what may seem unworthy to us may actually be a mitzvah too.

Furthermore, even if the person you gave to was not at all needy—and so, you haven’t really performed an act of charity—nevertheless, your act was still a charitable act. Charity has two aspects; the giver’s sacrifice of self for the sake of a mitzvah, and the receiver actually benefiting from the charity. Even when the actual provision for the needy is not there, you have still made your sacrifice by giving.

All said and done, that sacrifice would have been better off in a real act of charity, given to someone who really needed it. Your mitzvah, in effect, was stolen from you. According to the Talmud,1 Jeremiah the prophet prayed that should the wicked give charity, it will go to an uniftting cause—so that they will not receive reward. Perhaps, then, we should thoroughly investigate the neediness of anyone who asks?

It depends: If you are giving to a fund that dispenses to others, the Torah encourages us to investigate and determine whether the administrators of the fund are reliable people.2 The same is true if an individual approaches you and asks you for a handout: it is your right to investigate whether he is truly impoverished. If, however, someone personally requests food, we are to give unquestioningly, and trust that G‑d will see to it that our charity should reach a worthy cause. This is so even if the one asking is totally unfamiliar to us. If the one asking is someone we know, then a request for clothing, too, should be treated unquestioningly.

If you gave and didn’t scrutinize to judge if the one requesting was truly deserving, don’t take it to heart; you’re in good company. G‑d continues to provide us with all our needs, and we hope He doesn’t judge us based on a close-up scrutiny either.

Best wishes,
Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson

P.S. is in dire need of your help. No jokes, no scams!
Please click here and help us help others.

Talmud, Bava Batra 9b; Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:6; Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh De’ah 349:7.
Bava Batra 9b.
This does not mean that we are to constantly demand accountability, but rather that we ascertain that the administrator is known to be trustworthy.
Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a writer who lives with his family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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Anonymous Chicago November 11, 2013

Street Beggers In response to the response from Anonymous "I think it's good to give a little to the person on the street asking for help but to save the majority (of your tzedakah) to support yiddishkeit. Thoughts?", please, do not give the people begging in the streets money. I always have some food in the car to offer, but none has taken me up on it, I have also offered to purchase the food and been rebuffed. They are using the money for bad things, not good. It also takes their dignity away to beg; I do not want to encourage that.
Joan Reply

Anonymous Camarillo, CA, USA via November 9, 2013

If someone wants money "to buy food", but not food If someone asks for money to buy food, but is not willing to accept a gift of food, can we assume that this means that the person is not truly hungry, and refuse to give anything? A starving person would accept food, so can a person who only wants money be presumed to want the money for some other purpose.

(Note that this does not apply to an observant Jew who refuses to accept food because it is not Kosher [a Jew is obligated to eat unkosher food when necessary to avoid starving to death, but not when merely hungry], or to a person who refuses a particular food because of an allergy, diabetes, or another medical reason. I am speaking of a situation in which someone requests money, says it will be used for a specific food from a specific restaurant that is known not to be kosher, and then refuses a gift of that exact food.)

Also, if we suspect that the money is desired for an illegal or evil purpose (prostitution, cocaine, etc.), does that change anything? Reply

Alberto Chinicz Brasil November 7, 2013

Tzedakah And if the money given as tzedakah comes from fraud, extortion or corruption? It´s still considered tzedakah? This also is very common nowadays. Reply

Rugne Kent, Oh via November 7, 2013

charity the only challenge is whom is to receive. When I leave home, there are people on each corner. entering the expressway, there are beggar's with signs ON EVERY CORNER..
there is no way to give to all of them. Whom do I choose? Do I give to one all of the $$$ do I drive to every corner and give, do I walk to every corner to give. Reply

Anonymous November 6, 2013

I think it's good to give a little to the person on the street asking for help but to save the majority (of your tzedakah) to support yiddishkeit. Thoughts? Reply

Sheri Deen Inwood, NY USA August 3, 2009

charity giving Even if you are earning less now than before, don"t cut down on your charity giving. It will help you and others.
Charity Navigator rates many charities, checking the % going to administators and the % going to promote fundraising. It rates many Jewish charities very highly. 4 Star Reply

Charita-bill June 30, 2009

I disagree with J.E.K, Ocala for true charity is selfless and not personal. For what the right hand gives the left hand should not be in the know. As for gratitude, a person in need should not be made to feel like they owe you something.
Actually giving material goods through a governmental agency is less wicked than through a "charitable" institution of faith for they prozelitize in the name of religion. Though corruption is also true with governmental institutions it is also true of non-governmental bodies as well for reason stated above. Waste is rampant everywhere even with NGOs I'll have you notice. Real waste is in our selfish way of life, our inconsiderateness for the weak & poor to have the opportunity to feed themselves by themselves and not through any kind of relief programmes or charity. True charity is to live and let live, to share and not be greedy so as to enable everybody to live with dignity. Reply

J.E.K. Ocala, FL June 22, 2009

Charity The best charity is one-on-one, giving to someone in need personally. It is not only the opportunity to improve by giving material goods, but also encourages the growth of love and relationships between us, as G_d wills. Ultimately it is love, even more than material goods, that G_d wills us to share. Love is never wasted or wrong. In contrast, the WORST attempt at charity is through the government. Rather than a fulfillment, is an an abbrogation of the duty. It ends up as a forced taking, breeding resentfulness and suppressing true charity, the giving becomes impersonal, excluding the possibility of love and relationship, gratitude is lost, and the funds are most often wasted or spent for corruption rather than helpful for others. Reply

Charita-bill March 24, 2009

You can never be sure where money donated is going. If we look at charity donated in relief of impoverished African countries for example despite the fact that UN or other organizations manage the funds...we still find money diverted to non-charitable activities...I suppose giving food is ok ...provided the food is not diverted towards shops to be sold in retail or re-exported! How can we guarantee the finality of the charitable act at all times?

Then is another can we know the money or food given in charity is not feeding the wicked or the terrorists?...

"for anyone who shuts his eye to charity is like one who worships idols." Now for this part I fail to understand the correlation....Is it better to give charity to a wicked person or terrorists than say an Idol worshiper?

My point is, there is no way to know for sure. Charity is meant for relief of the good and the bad. Although judgment is required, charity is not a precise ART. It's an imperfect act of kindness! Reply

SG Oak Park, MI March 19, 2009

Charity Thanks for explaining a question that has been on my mind for a very long time. Reply

Michael N.Dineen Ridgefield, Wa.-USA March 6, 2009

Charity If they are a fake --no problem, just stop giving to them...Thank God you found out before you gave your last dime....Yes, do a little judging.. Reply

B Rivkin March 5, 2009

Rabbi BS Davidson's answer about charity What a well written, compassionate, understanding, yet educational response. Reply

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