Beggars

Every Thursday or Friday when I shlepp to my local kosher grocery store, I am approached (I wanted to say accosted, but they are too benign for that) by one or two of several individuals who sit outside to collect money. I think they must have a schedule or something because very rarely are there more than two there at the same time.

I hear “Giveret, Shabbat Shalom” – when I go in to the store, and when I exit. This is their tactic to draw my attention to them, so that I will give them money. I get that these people are possibly down on their luck – but I do not like to be disturbed when I am shopping. We choose where our tzedakah goes – I don’t like being pressured into it. If I walk by them without giving it bothers me, but I cannot always give nor should I be expected to.

There is also part of me that is so totally cynical. How many stories have we heard about people begging in the streets, and at the end of the day go home in their expensive cars to their expensive mansions? I know it’s degrading to beg and ask for money. I get that – but for some people maybe it’s easier than looking for a real job. Thankfully I have never been in a position that I had to beg strangers for money – but even when I was in financial straits, I never would have asked people I didn’t know for money. That’s what community organizations are there for – to help out in times of financial need.

The worst thing was last summer, I was just about to drive off, was already in gear, and a woman knocked on my car window and frightened the daylights out of me. She refused to back away from the car until I gave her money. That didn’t happen. She was encroaching on my personal space and I vehemently objected. Finally she left.

As far as I am aware it is against the law for someone to stand outside a store and solicit donations from the customers. Occasionally you will see them collecting for AIDS or Cancer Research at the Walmart – there you know what your donation is for, and it isn’t going straight into the individual’s pocket to buy booze or cigarettes or what-have-you and it’s a registered charity.

Does it bother you to be approached for money while you are shopping? Do you usually give? Do you have any stories to share?

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  1. Lisa says:

    We’ve been approached several times when doing the shopping or going to our favourite coffee shop (yeah Tim Hortons). Its hard to do nothing, and to give money may very well go to feed the demons/addictions that are keeping them on the street. So we usually try to do something. This week it happened twice in different parts of the city.

    Our grocery carts require a dollar coin, which you get back when you return it. We were approached by a man wanting the dollar coin because he was hungry. We explained that it was a slug bought from a charity and of no value to him and we do not carry cash – which was all true. He was walking away and it occurred to me that we had some portable food what we had bought after all. Calling back to him to I offered him some muffins that we had purchased. Made him take two – one for now and one for later.

    A few days later we were at a stop light and there was a young man in the streets with a sign “will work for food” and he seemed to have the means: hammer, work boots that kind of thing – but it was cold and raining and it seemed like he had been there a while. We earlier in the day we had won a free coffee (yeah roll up the rim) so we rolled down the window and gave him the free coffee.

    So we don’t do money, but we do food if we can.

  2. Mirimosh says:

    I try to do similar things to what Lisa said give them food if i have something on me, but i also find it disturbing that they approach you in places and times when it really bothers me, but on the other hand I kind of feel bad for them, but than again they could always find help at organizations and other places. But for me the most disturbing is in Israel when you go to the Kotel. There it’s a double triple dilemma do you give because you’re at the Kotel, but if you give than in seconds there will be 5 other people coming for some too, but on the other hand don’t these people know that people come there to daven to connect to G-d so than it’s really mean to disturb them liuke that.

  3. Elle says:

    one thing that strikes me is that you say YOU pick where your Tzedekah goes.
    Things brings about an interesting thought. Do we give only to those we deem needy? Do we have the right to take the money that G-d has provided for us and refuse someone in our path? Is G-d not the orchestrator of all things, putting the very people into YOUR path and yet you look to send your benevelonce elsewhere?

    I can’t condemn you – it bothers the heck out of me to be annoyed and pestered even by my own children when I am grocery shopping. But I think the bigger issue might just be that you have a hard time thinking of these beggars are worthwhile people…. certainly not as worthwhile as you. Let me remind you of one thing… you are YOU (your money, your life, your mental health, your place as a Jew) because that is whom Hashem made you. Don’t for one second think it is your own doing. Perhaps it would do you good to reflect on the goodness Hashem gives you when you don’t deserve and and consider how you can repay that same kindness to Hashem by loving his creation – even when they don’t deserve it.

  4. Elayne says:

    Yes, it bothers me as well. There is one man who it seems to me does have a job. He is constantly at a small shopping centre with mainly Jewish shops. I asked in the bakery one day and they said he was in need. So quite often I do give him something. It bothers me to walk by people asking for money no matter where I am. And aren’t we supposed to always think good of people? We give thinking that they are needy. And it is on them not on us if they are not really needed. We have done the mitzvah.

  5. birthwhisperer says:

    When I am in the grocery on Erev Shabbos (or Thursday) I add a Tomchei Shabbos card to my tab and this way I know exactly where it is going. I also don’t like giving to the guys outside and I don’t.

  6. MelissaSG says:

    My favorite “beggar” story is our experience on the Upper West Side.
    DH and I arreived to the area on a Friday morning. We walked around and had many people asking for money. One particularly energetic guy struck a chord with us as he said “hey man, got some tzedakah?”
    We passed by this same man on Saturday on our way both to and from shul, and he said “Good Shabbes!”
    We laughed to ourselves about how well the guy knew where he was and who was soliciting. We both wished we had some cash to pass his way on Sunday.

    Overall, I believe it is important to give in a way which is meaningful for you. So long as you are giving, it doesn’t matter how you do it or to whom. We each have things which tug more or less at our heart strings.

  7. Mark says:

    Elle – Things brings about an interesting thought. Do we give only to those we deem needy? Do we have the right to take the money that G-d has provided for us and refuse someone in our path? Is G-d not the orchestrator of all things, putting the very people into YOUR path and yet you look to send your benevelonce elsewhere?

    I’m not sure. According to some, not only do we have the right, but we even have the obligation to verify where our tzedaka is going.

    Elayne – And it is on them not on us if they are not really needed.

    It may not “be on them” according to some.

    See here – http://www.ravaviner.com/2010/02/giving-tzedakah-to-beggars.html

  8. Mel from Monsey says:

    The guys outside the shops in Monsey are a nuisance. However, I have a policy, I give all Jewish beggars a quarter. It’s not going to break me and its going to hopefully make them feel better and get them off my back. We all win.

  9. Ariela says:

    My best friend’s father is a Holocaust survivor and he taught us many things growing up. He always gave money to beggars, no matter who they were. He says he remembers what it was like to beg and can never turn down someone doing the same.

  10. fille says:

    I think there is generally speaking, an inverse proportion between income and readiness to give to people begging on public places. I saw it with myself:

    When I was 15 to 25 I would give to every begger I saw, I just thought it was not right to go past them and would condemn other people who did it. Back then, I had virtually non money at my disposal. Some of the time, I would have to decide whether to buy bread or butter, but I still gave, because I could indentify with them, especially in periods where I had trouble finding a place to live.

    Now, many years have passed, and my reflexions are quite similar to yours. So what is really behind it? The more affluent you are the more egoistic you become?

  11. ilanadavita says:

    Beggars annoy me to but I also feel so lucky being where I am and not where they are that I often give them something (either food or money). Even if I am fooled once in a while, this won’t hurt me.

  12. BB says:

    Our community is trying to direct beggars away from going door to door; instead they should go to one of the local ravs, who will have funds we all will provide. I favor this system, one reason for which is it retains more dignity for the person in need of funds.

    • lady lock and load says:

      So how does your Rabbi get funds for the people who would otherwise go door to door? I think it’s a great idea.

      • BB says:

        Congregants would donate, maybe that’s what the rabbi will do with the money in the pushkas from daily minyanim.

    • Mark says:

      Our community instituted the same thing about 2 years ago. The result is that the beggars go to the Rabbi AND go door to door. I once mentioned this to one of the guys that came to our door and he said (openly and without prompting) that “he already went to the Rabbi and the Rabbi didn’t give him enough”!

    • Mike S. says:

      The Vilna Gaon condemned this idea (having all beggars only go to a central fund whether the rabbi or otherwise) as Midat S’dom.

      • BB says:

        Not everyone agrees with the Vilna Gaon. Other rabbonim say not to give to people who solicit door to door because they may be misrepresenting their need (forged letters, etc).

        • Mark says:

          Also, it is very likely that the Vilna Gaon was referring to poor people who were going door to door collecting for themselves and their family.

          I also think it is unlikely that he was referring to people going door to door collecting for a third party, whether for an organization such as a Yeshiva, or for someone getting married in the near future.

          Does anyone have a link to the source of exactly what the GR”A said?

        • Mike S. says:

          Why forge a letter? It seems to me the local rabbis will give anyone a letter suggesting a “standard contribution” Only once has a rabbi’s signature changed what I gave a fellow going door-to-door. And that was because it was not on a letter or form but on a personal check.

          • Mark says:

            Why forge a letter?

            Because most famous Rabbis, those whose names are very well-known and respected, don’t always provide such letters for people off the street.

  13. lady lock and load says:

    There was once this older gentleman who obviously had mental problems and didn’t walk but he STOMPED around Wesley Kosher and Bubbas on certain days. Then he would be in front of Purple Pear on other days. He would ask people for donations but I was afraid of him so I stayed away. But I did notice that he walked/stomped in the street, and on very busy streets at that. I was concerned he would be hit by a car so I spoke with the owners of the stores he frequented trying to find out where he lives and who is responsible for him. Noone knew. I told the store owners that something has to be done, he could get hurt. I called various organizations…to no avail.
    Unfortunately, he was hit by a car one night on 306, across from wesley kosher. Sad. :( I wish this could have been avoided.

  14. Elle says:

    If people knew what it was like to be poor they would think twice about snubbing anyone. And furthermore if more people had a loved one with a mental illness (or special need) they would think twice before classifying them as “lazy” or “not really in need”.

    Usually “need” isn’t dressed up in a pretty package. it’s usually ugly, lonely and sometimes stinks. Nobody WANTS to be bothered with that which is ugly. but it’s our duty to see each human being as a speck of the divine (IMHO). So many giving them money isn’t right. sometimes it’s a prayer. sometimes a smile. sometimes food. sometimes they need the police called on them b/c they are acting recklessly…. but whatever that “need” is, it’s still legitimate.

    • lady lock and load says:

      I thought of calling the local authorities because the man that I mentioned above was not well and walking in the street. I was taught never to call the cops on a fellow Jew. He was eventually struck by a car and was killed! Maybe I should have called the police (who are always around the shopping areas giving out tickets).

    • Jean says:

      Very true. When I still worked at my UCLA dream job, I would sometimes pass a man on a certain busy corner. The VA is nearby and there are sometimes needy vets in the area. My guess is he was a Vietnam vet. Clearly he was sick with something like Parkinson’s, I’m guessing, as he couldn’t speak well (so he had a sign) and was always shaking. I’d try to have some money ready for him. One day I no longer saw him. I hope he got care somewhere but it’s heart-breaking to think of the more likely scenarios. What about the people who are so disabled they can’t even beg?

  15. Elayne says:

    Mark, I tried to look up the reference SA 251:10 but I couldn’t find it. I have an electronic SA. Would it have another reference? I was especially taken aback by the first line: “Most Beggars are Swindlers”. I would really like to learn more on what the right halachah is on this. What is the English heading on the paragraph?

  16. Considering that it is halakhically problematic to beg Erev Shabbat(see meforshim on Sh”A O”H 242), I typically ignore them.

  17. Elayne says:

    Mark, I found out why I could find your reference. It has only Orach Chayim not Yoreh De’ah. I also have the new Kleinman Art Scroll Kitzur SA. Siman 34 (Page 366 ) is on The Laws Of Charity. And as with all things we study, it has a completely contrary view. “It is a positive commandment that one give charity to the Jewish poor.” Devarim 15:8 & Vayikra 25:36. It goes on to say : “Furthermore one who sees a poor person requesting a donation and ignores him and does not give him charity has violated a negative commandment, as the verse states (Devarim 15:7) – You shall not harden your heart and you shall not close your hand against your destitute brother.” There are 16 Se’ifim and I will be studying it over the next while. I’ve wanted to do this for a while. Thanks Hadassah for giving me the push.

  18. lady lock and load says:

    It really breaks my heart when I see these poor people standing outside for hours in freezing weather. When I was a child I remember there was an old poor woman selling flowers she made herself out of material and pipe cleaners, and I used to beg my mother to buy a flower from her. If I have extra change I like to give to them and wish them a warm good shabbos. Their face lights up just to get a quarter and a warm greeting.

    • Mark says:

      Me too. These are the people that I try to give something to.

      But the folks that come to my door asking for money for a kollel or for hachnassat kallah (one guy specifically said he is collecting to buy an apartment in Israel for a young couple) I just can’t find it in my heart to give them. For a few reasons:

      1. When I do give something, they invariably complain and say it is too little.
      2. When I ask for a receipt they almost never have one.
      3. A number of Rabbis have told me that they often lie and present false paperwork from great Rabbis.
      4. I’ve been told by a very good source that the drivers (the people that drive them from house to house) often take half of what they collect. That means that only half my tzedaka goes to the stated cause (assuming they aren’t lying). This is the same reason (excessive overhead) I don’t contribute to certain large organizations.
      5. I don’t consider Kollel to be a valid tzedaka (certainly not while there still remain hungry people in the world).
      6. I only consider hachnassat kallah to be a tzedaka under certain proscribed circumstances (not including buying an apartment for the young couple, and not including financing a wedding beyond the halachic minimum times two).

      And probably more reasons that I can’t recall right now.

      • BB says:

        My father lives in Los Angeles, he gets solicited all the time for people fundraising to make weddings in Israel. The price of the plane tickets could pay for the weddings.

        • Ha_Safran says:

          In Chicago, all out of town mishulachim have to go before the CRC Vaad and present their reasons for coming to the city. After the Vaad has done a background check on them and their story, the Vaad will give them a dated & laminated certificate, on Vaad stationary, saying that the Vaad has verified their case and it is permitted to give them tzedakah. When they come to your house, they are supposed to show you the certificate.
          And yes, the Vaad had a special system (built into the certificate) for letting the community know that the person’s story could not be verified or was not on the up and up. At which point, it’s up to each person themselves whether they want to give anything.

          Also, I’m reminded of a story that happened to a close friend of my parents in Chicago. A man showed up at this friend’s house, with his certificate, and said he came from Israel to collect money because he was marrying off 2 children in the coming year. This friend replied that he could not give at that time because he himself was marrying off 2 daughters in the next 3 months. The man replied that, in that case, maybe the friend should come along, door to door, with him.

  19. ERICA says:

    I don’t believe it’s our place to judge those who ask strangers for money, or to second guess them, wondering whether they are taking “the easier route” by “begging” (I hate that word) instead of looking for a job. I would guess that most readers of this blog haven’t experienced the hard times associated with homelessness, hunger, and long term unemployment. There simply aren’t “communal organizations” to adequately address those needs.
    I agree with Ariela’s father. Give. Don’t ask why. Get over yourself. And move on., glad you’ve been blessed to be in your position, not theirs.

    • ilanadavita says:

      I totally agree with you and Elle.

    • Jean says:

      So well put. Thank you. I felt quite distressed reading some the comments here last night. So please forgive me this long post, but I find I’d like to share my thoughts and feelings.

      Many of us — more than you think– are only a paycheck away from a similar fate. There may be scammers and rude people, yes, but there are so many more who are dumped on street from institutions that have lost funding, or veterans who fought for us and are physically or mentally disabled and not getting what they need from the VA, or “regular” people who lost jobs and then homes (and their dreams.) Not everyone has a support system and there are not enough agencies to help. I invite you to check out http://invisiblepeople.tv/blog/ to learn about “regular” people in this position.

      Since I was laid off nearly 8 years ago I live in fear of this. After spending a years looking for a suitable job (while freelancing and living on savings I had *just* started afresh to save after returning from my 8 year aliyah and starting from scratch), I decided to start my own business. Now, I love it, but I struggle with the ups and downs of not getting a “regular” paycheck, and have no idea what the future will bring especially as I am no spring chicken.

      Many — no, most — of my friends my age have been laid off due to budget cuts. All are over 45 and all of us are hard-working middle-class professionals with multiple degrees. No slackers, and no loonies. It’s nearly impossible to get hired for anything these days — not to mention ones profession — if you are 50 and older and not everyone has the cushion in the bank.

      That said, even if my food budget is ridiculously low, I can afford to give a stranger a dollar.

      I try not to judge. Life deals out a different hand each of us. If someone looks able and I don’t feel I can or want to give something, I might say “I’m sorry, I can’t today” and sometimes even “I was laid off too” and I always get a kind comment back.

      My aha moment : I used to think all able-bodied young men were scammers or losers. Then one day years ago I was walking past a young man with a take-out box with leftovers. He called out “Hey, can I have your food?” I was flabbergasted — don’t they all want money for … whatever? “It’s just a fish taco” I said, not knowing what to say. “It doesn’t matter,” he answered. I handed it over, still in shock. He sounded desperate. That was the day I realized there are really hungry people out there, and hunger does not wait till you manage to get a job.

      Recently I had no change so I gave a poor soul a coupon for a free Starbucks I had in my purse, thinking that at least he could sit somewhere out of the rain and cold for a while. He thanked me profusely, told me he was disabled and then — brightening up suddenly, said — “but I’ll have a place to stay next week!” That made me realize it wasn’t just money — I think it meant a lot to him just to have someone chat a bit with him like he was human.

      If I can, I give a dollar. It isn’t much to me today, but if it helps someone I’m blessed by the giving and reminded that no matter how tough times may be, I’m blessed to have a roof, health so I can work around the clock, and relatives who care. And G-d willing I will never be in the position of these people.

      Whew, thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts. May we all be spared from such a life.

  20. Miriam says:

    We give to just about everyone and teach my girls to, also. There are a couple specific charities that dh and I have chosen not to support so we give a “token” donation to them. We keep dollar bills and quarters in a dish near my candles and draw from that as needed. I was taught that you should give to all who ask and baruch HaShem we have the means.

    Now, as far as this, “Occasionally you will see them collecting for AIDS or Cancer Research at the Walmart – there you know what your donation is for, and it isn’t going straight into the individual’s pocket to buy booze or cigarettes or what-have-you and it’s a registered charity.” Not always true. I know for a fact that there are some people may begin collecting for a charity like this and stop but keep the accouterments to collect for themselves. I know two people who did this in the town I grew up in.

  21. ERICA says:

    Jean thank you for your post. I agree..there are many people just a paycheck or two away from sleeping in their cars (that’s if they have one) or a local shelter. Since my divorce, I too feel very close to this possibility at times. (I’m 60). Sometimes it feels like the Facebook/Twitter banter I read reflects such a rarified world ..abundant meals, yearly vacations, private schools, gym memberships.
    I think it is wonderful that people are so blessed here in America, but that’s what it is, a blessing of abundance, not an entitlement. And one of the “best” way to show our humility and gratitude to Hashem for this blessing, is by giving some of what we have to those who are not so blessed.

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