Ethical Fundraising: A Jewish Perspective

In raising funds, many moral issues may arise. Two of the most common problems are gambling for charity and the collection of unpaid pledges.

Gambling for Charity

Are bingo and more serious forms of gambling allowed to raise funds for synagogues and other Jewish institutions?

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has prohibited this for years, based on the sense that gambling, by its very nature, is morally problematic.

Because everyone who participates knows perfectly well that not everyone will win, but still, somehow, personally expects to be the winner, one could argue that whoever does win is effectively stealing from all the rest.

Gambling can also become an addiction, sometimes to the point of making people unable to earn a living or keep enough to sustain themselves and their family. 

The Mishnah and Talmud already recognize these dangers (M Sanhedrin 3:3; cf. BT Sanhedrin 24b–25b).

Thus Jewish fundraising activities should not “put a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14) by using casino nights and other gambling opportunities to raise funds.

On the other hand, one might argue that as long as the money involved is not substantial, such evenings are effectively social evenings that also garner some money for the synagogue, and so some synagogues have allowed bingo nights, stipulating that the amounts of money involved are small.

Collecting Unpaid Pledges

What should a Jewish institution do with donors who repeatedly make pledges and then fail to fulfill them?

When this happens once, every effort should be made to ensure that the donor did not pledge under one set of economic circumstances and then find themselves with vastly less money than anticipated.

In such a situation, the institution should discreetly and reasonably work out an arrangement with the individual involved. (Sometimes, it will even be appropriate for an institution to forgive a pledge entirely.) 

When an individual fails again and again to make good on their pledges, however, institutions guided by halakhic principles should refuse to accept any further pledges from that person.

Honors awarded to donors should not be extended to individuals who merely pledge, but do not actually pay.

Adapted with permission from The Observant Life.

Authors

  • Rabbi Elliot Dorff
  • The Observant Life (Book)

    The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews distills a century of thoughtful inquiry into the most profound of all Jewish questions: how to suffuse life with timeless values, how to remain loyal to the covenant that binds the Jewish people and the God of Israel, and how to embrace the law while retaining an abiding sense of fidelity to one’s own moral path in life. Written in a multiplicity of voices inspired by a common vision, the authors of The Observant Life explain what it means in the ultimate sense to live a Jewish life, and to live it honestly, morally, and purposefully. The work is a comprehensive guide to life in the 21st Century. Chapters on Jewish rituals including prayer, holiday, life cycle events and Jewish ethics such as citizenship, slander, taxes, wills, the courts, the work place and so much more.

    View all posts

Authors

  • Rabbi Elliot Dorff
  • The Observant Life (Book)

    The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews distills a century of thoughtful inquiry into the most profound of all Jewish questions: how to suffuse life with timeless values, how to remain loyal to the covenant that binds the Jewish people and the God of Israel, and how to embrace the law while retaining an abiding sense of fidelity to one’s own moral path in life. Written in a multiplicity of voices inspired by a common vision, the authors of The Observant Life explain what it means in the ultimate sense to live a Jewish life, and to live it honestly, morally, and purposefully. The work is a comprehensive guide to life in the 21st Century. Chapters on Jewish rituals including prayer, holiday, life cycle events and Jewish ethics such as citizenship, slander, taxes, wills, the courts, the work place and so much more.

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