Shabbat Parashat Beshalach-Tu Bishvat | 5764
Ask the Rabbi
Question: Many schools have charity auctions at which the parents solicit gifts from merchants, which are then auctioned. Is it wrong to “compel” merchants to contribute by implying that refusal will hurt their business? Shouldn’t the parents buy the items for the school?
Answer: Let us first assume that the parents are, in effect, compelling one to give the donation. In theory, the gemara says that one who pressures others into giving tzedaka is greater than the one who actually gives it (Bava Batra 9a). However, that it is only assuming that the donator was obligated to be giving that tzedaka and was reluctant to do so. One who pressures someone who can truly not afford to give tzedaka into giving is liable to be Divinely punished (Shulchan Aruch, YD 248:7).
In any case, a group of parents has no right to compel a storeowner to make a donation to the institution of their choice. Who says that he doesn’t have other places to give his donations? Who says he hasn’t given enough tzedaka already? If he is not Jewish, he doesn’t have an obligation to give tzedaka at all. And who are they to make these decisions anyway, all the more so when they have personal interests in the matter?
On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that parents can really coerce a merchant to donate. They could put some type of psychological pressure on, but the matter would still remain his own decision. This being said, any type of significant, negative pressure would be inappropriate at best.
Usually, in this type of scenario, the incentive to give is positive. In other words, the storeowner is interested in creating or maintaining good-will and respect with the community of potential customers. Just as customers can ask for courteous treatment, they can ask for generosity, with the decision remaining his own. Those who contribute are often publicly acknowledged, so that they gain something from their donation. The actual cost to the donor is less than the retail value, and it may be possible to get a tax break. If these are the conditions, there should not be halachic or ethical problems in soliciting the donations. Of course, the solicitor should conduct himself in a manner that preserves the honor of a Torah lifestyle.
Regarding the parents, they have more of an obligation to assist the school that educates their children than others do. But given the high cost of Jewish education, it is unrealistic for many of them to contribute more than the tuition they already pay.
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