A group of Zionist Orthodox rabbis and dayanim (rabbi-judges in the Zionist Orthodox-haredi state rabbinic court system) have ruled that it is often – but surprisingly not always – forbidden to accept charity donations given by a known criminal.
Don’t Take Donations From Known Criminals (Most Of The Time) Rabbis Say
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
A group of Zionist Orthodox rabbis and dayanim (rabbi-judges in the Zionist Orthodox-haredi state rabbinic court system) have ruled that it is often – but surprisingly not always – forbidden to accept charity donations given by a known criminal, Ynet reported.
But the ban by the rabbis of the Hotam Rabbinical Forum is far from absolute.
The Hotam members – who are all researchers at the Mishpetei Eretz Institute in Ofra on the West Bank – wrote that in principle synagogues, Torah schools and charity institutions can raise money from known criminals, but "in a case that the donors belong to what is known as 'organized crime,’ whose goal is to impose force and intimidation – in this case it is forbidden to accept any charity from them."
Instead, the Zionist Orthodox rabbi wrote, organized crime figures “must be kept away from anything holy, as long as they don't repent and abandon their ways."
Accepting donations from organized crime figures could "purify the conscience" of these über-criminals and make their lifestyle appear to be legitimate to onlookers, the rabbis wrote, adding that due to the risk organized crime poses to the entire public, these particular criminals are considered to be rodefs (pursuers) in halakha (Jewish law) – meaning that in theory, it would be permissible for anyone to kill them.
The Hotam rabbis also wrote that accepting donations from organized crime figures could cause the "defamation of [the name of] God.”
"If it is publicized that Torah institutions are receiving donations from a famous criminal…this will lead to Torah becoming less valuable in the eyes of the public,” the rabbis wrote, adding that “publicizing the criminal's donation to the synagogue can be seen as legitimizing his actions, and [doing so] also includes the prohibition of flattering evildoers.”
But there are loopholes that the Hotam rabbis made sure to publicize.
For example, in a case where there is concern that the money rejected by religious institutions would instead be used by the criminal for criminal activity, or in a case where refusing to take the donation would lead to harassment of the rabbi by criminals, rabbis should accept the donation but avoid using it for the purpose of fulfilling a mitzvah (divine commandment). In those cases, “if possible, one must work to return the money to the people it was stolen from,” the Hotam rabbis wrote.
But what about criminals no matter how infamous who are not part of organized crime? Can rabbis and Orthodox Jewish institutions like synagogues accept their donations?
The Hotam rabbis pointed out that while halacha forbids enjoying stolen goods and accepting charity from people who engage in theft, "if [those criminals] also have legal businesses, it is permitted to accept charity from them if one can assume that [the money] comes from the legitimate business" and not directly from crime. Rabbis must be careful to make sure that the amount of the donation they accept is not higher than a reasonable estimate of the criminal’s income from his legitimate businesses.
The Hotam rabbis also pointed out that these types of donations cannot not include any flattery of the criminal or anything else that could lead to defamation of the name of God. Instead, the donations must be accepted without any publicity at all.
However, they the Hotam rabbis said, meeting that condition is "very difficult.” Therefore "it would be better to stay away from" accepting such donations.
They also warned private individuals in need of charity to be stricter than rabbis and Jewish organizations. “Avoid taking charity from an impure source,” and avoid taking money from known criminals altogether, the Hotam rabbis warned.
"One must be careful that accepting the charity will not create the impression among the criminal [giving it] that as long as he gives away some of his [illegally gotten] money to charity, all his sins are forgiven and he can continue with his bad ways. So if he continues with his aberrant ways and tries to use giving charity to cover for himself – that must not be allowed,” the Hotam rabbis wrote.