Kupat Ha’ir’s Over The Top Advertising

letter-447577_1280

The report you heard is true, according to multiple, reliable local sources with whom I checked. The Lakewood mashgiah Rav Mattisyahu Solomon, shlit”a, did term some of the solicitation techniques of Kupat Ha’ir as “gezel gamur”/ theft in the true sense of the term. According to one local press report, he decried the fact that single women desperate for a yeshua had contributed all their savings to KH, and turned to him when the choson wasn’t forthcoming.

Not only is the report true, but R. Mattisyahu took his objections straight to R Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a. The latter argued that he clearly did not offer any guarantees, and that his statements about the efficacy of donating to KH were nothing more than a reiteration of the statements of Chazal about the power of tzedaka – not any special prognostication on his part. Despite this reassuring clarification, R. Mattisyahu apparently did not change his mind about the impression that KH’s advertising aimed for, and clearly succeeded in achieving in many cases.

It is important to separate the advertising from the point of the organization. I can think of few regular, familiar features of Orthodox life that bring more disgrace to Torah life than the KH brochures and ads. They proclaim to the public that Torah is the province of worshippers of miracle-rabbis. Nonetheless, the information that I get also points to KH as an effective and responsible organization for distributing tzedaka funds. The needy who are serviced by KH should not suffer because of the overzealousness and deception of the advertisers.

It should be easy to contain our disgust to the marketers. Those writing the horrific copy play on the fears and vulnerability of their audience, while coming close to promising miraculous results. They even come close to encouraging making a pledge to KH in place of following medical advice. They are playing with people’s lives, not just their money. They also diminish the real power of personal prayer, which always remains the best strategy for securing what we think we need for ourselves when the forecast looks bleak. Readers should mentally review the stories they undoubtedly know about the great Rebbes of the past who made a point of emphasizing to their Chassidim the potential of their own tefilos, rather than relying upon the intercession of a third-party intercessor, regardless of his stature.

It would be short-sighted, however, to see them as the chief villains. Those are the folks who have slowly turned Torah personalities into larger than life Litvish rebbes. The people who teach children (and their parents) to look at Gedolei Torah in a way they were never regarded in the past – they are the ones to be criticized. Insisting that they must also be ba’alei mofes does not add to their honor, but detracts from it – as if the accomplishment of their learning was insufficient.

It has also led to too many casualties on this side of the Atlantic, as people have become so skeptical about what comes out of Israel, that they are throwing more and more babies out with the bathwater.

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54 Responses

  1. Miriam says:

    A more interesting example of through-the-grapevine piskei halacha from gedolim was the initial announcement that elevators in Tzomet-designed-and-approved Shabbos mode no longer had the approval of one of these gedolim. A din Torah initiated by those who stood to lose money (owners of apartments on higher floors for example) brought immediate and more thorough attention to the matter, and the announcement was soon after retracted.

    It just underscores that when you hear something – anything – via the media, you have to suspect its validity. But some of us are disappointed to conclude that we have to question all media, not just the mass secular sources.

  2. Yossi Ginzberg says:

    I think too many people are misreading the issue here: As I see it, the real heart of this is, who is driving the ship of Judaism? We all pay lip service to the concept that “the Gedolim lead us”, but in fact too many of them are themselves being directed by “askanim” whose agendas should be suspect. Why should we NOW be so attentive to rabbinic pronouncements about KH, when KH itself has been “using” the gedolim for years without a murmur of protest from them?

    There are consequences to EVERY statement by a Gadol. A few months ago, when there was a story going around about women with braces being unable to go to mikvah, it almost caused the last-minute cancellation of a gerus! Other alleged pronopuncements have caused massive Chilul Hashem, such as the media’s mockery of Indian-hair sheitel burnings. Yet others have caused financial disaster for people, such as the forced closing of a sheitel store for the crime of being across a wide avenue from a yeshiva.

    Seems to me to be time for a serious reevaluation of who is a Gadol, how one can tell,and when to accept media reports that are attributions via “askanim”.

  3. BenShaul says:

    Having eaten this past friday night at Reb Mattisyohu Salomon’s house , i need to correct my good freind RYA. Reb Matisyohu confirmed his comments and stands by them (althought he made sure to state that A- it was said sitting at a table not as part of a drosha to the crowd; and B-he was NOT commenting on KH as a tzedaka, and it IS good a good cause)However He did NOT speak to Reb Chaim, what he did was called the house and asked that a message be realyed to him that he feels the advertising and the way thaey are using him is a chillul Hashem. He never got nor asked for a response. So all the comments anylizing what Reb Chaim may have meant etc. can be put out to the trash bin.

    [YA – My info came from someone close to R Mattisyahu, so I am puzzled. We need a kasuv hashlishi to be machriya – although I will be much happier if this version is closer to the truth!]

  4. Mark says:

    It’s important to note that what KH and VH have done to the notion of giving Tzedakah is not that much different than what commercial marketers have done to celebrating XMas. Whatever Xmas may have once meant or stood for, it certainly didn’t resemble the madness that pervades nowadays with insanely long gift lists and going in to debt for an entire year just to be able to comply with that mandate. That well-meaning yet simple people fall for that is testament the power of marketing which retailers have taken full advantage of for the the past 100 years.
    The marketing directors of KH and VH [and many other tzedakos] have utilized a similar concept and capitalized on it to a large decree. Pretending that these tzedakos are, according to the Gedolim, the only way to effect yeshuos or long-life etc. is a marketing concept that well-meaning, simple people fall for.
    A close friend of mine who is very active in a large well-known Israeli tzedakah that has used the same basic ad for the past 30 years told me that they were approached by a marketing company seeking to represent them. The company promised them something similar to KH and VH advertising complete with booklets detailing alleged “yeshuos,” statements from gedolim, bold promises etc. When the Tzedakah initially refused the marketing company explained to them that they must do so or they will never compete with the others who employ these tactics…..
    It took a lot of gevurah to overcome the temptation for hire this company, but ultimately they felt it went against their grain and turned them away.
    Remember, every time you see one of these bold ads, there is little there that is actually holy. It is a marketing concept that you’re looking at, not Olam Habbah.