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.