Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hachnasat Bar Mitzvah Bachur

Over at Orthonomics, Sephardi Lady is upset about a tzedakah request sent to the Five Towns list server on behalf of a Bar mitzvah boy whose family recently lost their business. The post asked for the following:
money for music
prizes for kids
candy to throw
SL criticizes the pork in the post.

I have a different perspective. I agree about the need to direct tzedakah money more appropriately, rather than to luxuries. However, we are also taught that the obligation to give tzedakah is according to the recipient's needs -- even if those needs are not necessary, like a horse to ride and a servant to run before him. (Rambam, Hilchos Tzedakah, 7:3). Enabling a child to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah in a manner similar to that of his peers is important, and even worth spending tzedakah money on. In my opinion, it falls into the category of "dai mechsoro" as defined by the Rambam cited.

That said, this does not mean that the first approach should be to throw money at the problem. Take music, for example. There are many musicians who, in cases of genuine need, would be glad to play for a reduced rate, or even volunteer their services, assuming the event does not conflict with their paid bookings.

It is important to educate the community about the need to moderate unnecessary expenditures in tough financial times, but it's unfair to insist it be done at at a child's expense, when there is an alternatives. A cheap or dull Bar Mitzvah party can have especially strong social ramifications in that specific community. Whether it's fair or not, it is the reality.

I'm reasonably certain that, with creative thinking, most of the items on this list could be obtained without the need to raise money. Obviously, people donating their time or goods is money, in a sense; but it doesn't take tzedakah dollars that would otherwise go elsewhere.

I have done this in the past, in situations where I became aware that there was a genuine need, like the times when a family's rabbi has contacted me discreetly to explain the situation and budget or lack thereof.

I don't have the contact information for this family, and have not verified the legitimacy of the need. If anyone can verify the need and I am available that date, I'd be glad to donate my time. I'm sure many of my readers would do the same as well.