Who Needs a Mashgiach? It’s Loshon Horah to Question Him!

Accountable-Government-CartoonNo, I am not talking about kashruth. I am talking about not-for-profit best practices for monitoring the finances of Jewish institutions. “Boca Jew,” commented in Frum Follies,

Rabbi Eliyahu Rabovsky of the Young Israel of Boca Raton won’t allow even board members to see the budget. And of course its loshon hora for any shul member to ask why the shul’s spending is a secret. I’ve been told by former board members of other shuls about their Rabbi having the shul pay for business class for the rabbi’s Israel vacation.

accountability cartoon old enough to know better young enoughIt would be nice of the Young Israel movement and the OU to require their member synagogues to submit to outside audits and require them to publicly release them so members can ensure the shul funds are being used for the shul and not the Rabbi’s family or his yeshiva.

The need for an outside audit is especially imperative to ensure the Rabbi’s discretionary fund doesn’t benefit his children staying in kollel instead of the community poor.

It is sad to hear a Young Israel rabbi rejecting financial accountability. Young Israel was founded at the beginning of the 20th century as an alternative to existing shuls where money held sway and the rich were officers even when they worked on shabbos. When it was founded, the selling of aliyot was banned, congregants ran the synagogues through accountable boards,  not rabbis, and officers had to be shomer shabbos. Since then, shabbos observance has become the norm throughout the orthodox world, but we are faced with a Young Israel where budgets are no longer subject to transparency.

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17 thoughts on “Who Needs a Mashgiach? It’s Loshon Horah to Question Him!

  1. Chassidus also started out as a popular people’s movement by the people who rejected the rule of the upper class all-powerful rabbanim. And yet look where it has led them – right back to all they rejected and fought against, and even worse!

    How can we be “the best” and “better than the goyim” if we, the frum world, can’t even get to a point where we are ethically compatible with the best non-Jewish Charity Organizations. Forget better – we are not even up to them! Not submitting to outside audits (as opposed to an audit by the company’s own accountant) makes frum charities far LESS ethical in comparison. The fact that they get signatures and approbations from gedolim means nothing if they are not willing to at the very least open their books for the hamon am to see and have those numbers verified by an outside audit – when every legitimate non-Jewish non-profit organization does that AT THE VERY LEAST. Frum organizations can’t even ethically compete when they are guarded with dungeon guards reminiscent of deep cronyism and open to all measure of ethical misconduct.

    I read a flyer for a Yeshivish tzedakah organization which was promoting itself and trying to appeal to those who want “open books” (in an “out of town) neighborhood. They claimed that they have “Open Books” and are not hiding anything and that anyone can check them out. Of course their “Open Books” were created by their OWN accountant, which means that there is nothing open about them. Open books requires an OUTSIDE unaffiliated auditor (NOT their own accountant) to audit their books, and then to make THAT audit open to the public. But considering that no Yeshivish tzedakah organization EVER opens it’s books, even those that are cooked by their own accountant – I suppose they could claim openness, and 99% of people would not be the wiser.

    How can we be an example for the world of practicing the highest ethics if not a single one of our institutions – and certainly not a majority of them – keeps up with the highest ethics of the outside world?

    We can’t.

    • You raise excellent points. I wonder what the Agudah’s guidelines for not-for-profits look like. I would love to find out if they can come up with a list of organizations in their orbit who follow them. I doubt it, but either way it would be valuable information for facilitating further public debate about transparency.

      • The Agudah speaks out of both sides of their mouth. When it serves their purpose to be important, they claim to have “THE Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah” and claim to be essential to the upkeep and furtherance of “Torah True Judaism.” But when there is something they cannot or do not want to deal with, they claim that they are only a limited advocacy organization and can’t be expected to effect change in frum life, which is inherently perfect, it’s just that human beings are imperfect…. etc.

        In terms of the Agudah’s guidelines for not-for-profits, I would bet that it is non-existent. If it does exist, they will claim they cannot be held responsible for nobody knowing about it or for nobody adhering to it. They are masters at spin, fluent in the art of flak and skilled apologists. Unfortunately, Torah True Judaism is the last thing the Agudah is, despite their loud and insistent claims.

    • There’s a town Midwest where the local Jewish Federation supports 2 out of the 3 Orthodox day schools; one of the reasons it won’t support the third one (the most yeshivish of the three) is because of their choice of auditors. The Federation has a list of pre-approved auditors and the one the school uses isn’t on there (for good reason, I might add). Of course, instead of simply switching to one of the approved accounting firms, as anyone who has nothing to hide would do, they repeat their mantra three times a day – “the Federation hates frum institutions” and this way they sleep better at night knowing they’re persecuted.

  2. Hi, Seriously, I missed your comments. It pains me, but I stopped giving tzedaka altogether. I just don’t trust anybody to actually use the money for the purpose that they tell me it’s being used for. And then of course, there are the phony causes, like Hachnosas Kallah. I have many daughters and I always joke that I should set up my own Hachnosas Kallah tzedaka organization, because I certainly cannot afford to marry them off based on today’s charedi standards.

    • Zephaniah – I am truly honored. I have deep admiration for all the work you do. You publically put yourself out there in a way that few of us have the courage to do. Kol Hakavod for all your efforts.

  3. Hi Sheri. Thank you. I understand what you mean. And yes, Hachnosas Kallah has become a joke from what it was intended to be. In days of yore there were girls who would not get married simply because they did not have a dowry and a trousseau. Hachnosas Kallah was meant to prevent that from happening. Now it seems to simply feed right into the kollel system and the culture of excessive and unnecessary wedding expenditures.

    There is a tzedaka organization which I recommend and enjoy supporting. It is called “The Good People Fund.” Go to their website and download and read their “Annual Report.” It is very inspiring. You will love it. (They have no gedolim signing their names to it – gasp!) I believe it is run by people who themselves are Conservative Jews, but it is not run by “The Conservative Movement.” They support many, many grassroots Orthodox causes. Unlike the Chareidi world, they don’t discriminate – a Jew is a Jew is a Jew – and feeding the hungry is feeding the hungry and clothing and sheltering the ill does not need rabbinic approbations by them. They have been around for many, many years, and are an outgrowth of what was once called the “ZIV Tzedakah Fund.” When Danny Seigel who ran ZIV didn’t feel he could run it any more, many supporters of ZIV wanted to keep it going, so they created “The Good People Fund” to continue it, and had the same people who ran the inner workings at ZIV continue it on. It is a great organization in the work that they do and their books are open and independently audited. I think you will enjoy supporting it. Their website is here: https://www.goodpeoplefund.org/

  4. Ummm…I’ve worked for two frum non-profits. One is audited by an outside auditor every year. It costs a minimum of $15,000 for a small org – mine was larger, and cost 25k. The other was tiny, with a yearly budget of 110,000. Audits are simply not going to happen when your budget is that low. Our accountant was a well known God fearing Jew – his reports were widely accepted in the city.

  5. That’s not the issue…the main issue is not stealing. The main issues are items like:
    The Rabbis is entitles to fly first class but when the congregants see this they cry foul and make a public stink, embarrass the rabbi and the shul (school) and draw negative attention from all these websites. Can you believe Yeshiva X is paying so much for heat? My friend can lock them in at a reduced rate and they can save $300/month-they don’t care about money and will just increase tuition to pay for it next year.
    In theory you are right but practically the public just needs to see generic line items and have the ability to question at a later date. Now, what I really want to see if the salary structure-how much do these people make???

    • Potential theft is also an issue. However, I agree, the more common problem is misuse or misallocation of funds. Shul memberships and tuition are accepted as the cost of living orthodox. But it is a heavy burden. The money is not the rabbi’s, it is community money and communities are entitled to know that it is spent well. Moreover, even if it is spent efficiently, there is the question of priorities. Budget allocations are one of the ways in which ideals are converted into real practice. If spending is reasonable, boards and rabbis have no reason to fear transparency. If it is not reasonable it darn well should be challenged. Judaism separated the role of rabbis from the role of malchus, of governing. Boards and rabbis perform better when there is accountability.

  6. Unaudited discretionary funds are recipes for disaster, as evidenced be certain recent incidents in the news, including that of Rabbi Barry Starr of Sharon, MA. However, blame lies not only with the Rabbis who refuse to allow for financial oversight, but also with board members who fail to exercise their fundamental fiduciary duties of financial stewardship over the shul’s finances. Board members who fail to exercise their fundamental duties of financial oversight can even face personal liability if any financial improprities have occurred.

    Interestingly, the topic of financial accountablity by Rabbis with respect to their discretionary funds does have religous antecedents, as evidenced by this lesson from Rabbi Tzvi Weinreb or the Orthodox Union.: http://www.ou.org/torah/parsha/rabbi-weinreb-on-parsha/rabbi-weinrebs-parsha-column-pikudei-suspicion/

    • Clergy misuse of funds often goes hand in hand with sexual misconduct. That was also true for R. Dovid Weinberger in Lawrence and a number of scandals involving Christian clergy. Sometimes the first clue is in the finances.

  7. Incriminating Rebutttal of whitewash job going on at Daas Torah blog.

    Bill Clinton also wasnt fired. Not being fired is no way the same as being innocent. Bill Clinton and his infamous intern was also O N L Y (sarcasm font) an isolated case of “negiyah” according to “Honest” ‘s grotesquely pervetted “logic”.

    In reponse to comments by “”Honesty” and “Daas Torah” cited below.

    1) Whitewash reponse from “Honesty” on Daas Torah Blog

    Woha!

    You can make all the silly decision you wish to make. You can tape up and seal up your windows, wear gas masks and all else in order to defend yourself from a nuclear explosion. That is certainly your right.

    #1) Three out of the four seminaries never, ever had any sort of issue, at all.

    #2) The one seminary that did have an isolated issue of negiah was not a case of the ball being dropped by the other staff members.

    Let’s remember that the offending party completely cooperated some beth din half way around the world.

    This was an isolated case. That calls for his removal from being a teacher to girls. It does not call for anything else, as all judges have now publicly admitted.

    What’s it like walking around with a hazmat suit to protect yourself from germs, Mr. Dave?

    2) Whitewash response from.Eidensohn appearing as “Daas Torah”

    @Dave – poor analogy – none of the staff members has been caught “stealing” This is evident from the fact that the Chicago Beis Din now agrees with the Israeli Beis Din that the seminaries are safe – no one was fired

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