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I pay you pay we all pay for Payis

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I was going to write this as a proper article, but I’m just going to get to the point.  I hate Mifal HaPayis.  They prey on the poor and ignorant, and are nothing more than a huge deadweight loss in the Israeli Economy.

Mifal HaPayis, like most lottery games, markets heavily toward the poor and preys on desperation and the desire for quick money.  And although I am an outspokenly libertarian and believe that every person is responsible for his or her own actions, I understand that people are affected by the society around them; most parents would not raise their child in a crack den even if it meant cheaper rent.  As a society, we have chosen, and rightfully so, to help those among us who have not succeeded financially and are in desperate need of assistance.  But if we allow a predator in their midst, tempting them with easy money while branding their vice as philanthropy, then we are really just giving our money to the predator instead of giving it to those in need.

But what of all the good Mifal HaPayis does?  What of all the schools they build, the community centers they fund and the other money they give to charity?  If I steal a million shekels from you and generously give back half a million, would you say I was doing any good?  If Mifal HaPayis did not exist, our society would be richer, less welfare money would be wasted, more money would be collected through regular taxes and we would all be better off.

Instead of standing up to a deadweight loss on Israeli society, the Israeli government not only endorses Mifal HaPayis, but they allow Mifal HaPayis to  brand themselves as the builders of Israel, legitimizing themselves on schools buildings and community centers.  I am not sure of the lottery practice all over the US, but I can say that NY, even though it has a lottery, would not dare let the lottery brand itself as a saint and market itself to children the way Israel does.  Even if the lottery funds are used to build schools, the NY government understands that gambling is gambling and school children should not have to associate the lottery with tzedakah.

This past Shabbat, I noticed a flyer for a new contest sponsored by Mifal HaPayis.  This contest challenges religious Jews to submit an essay on the subject of tzedakah to be judged by a distinguished panel including a Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh and several other prominent Rabbis.

Let me make a point loud and clear to the distinguished Rabbis endorsing Mifal HaPayis – stop endorsing an agency that is stealing my money!  You want to make me pay more taxes to support Torah learning – fine, raise my taxes.  But do not advocate an agency designed to ensnare the poorest among us just so that the said agency can take money for itself and then decide to play God as it allocates what they think is generous.  The ends do not justify the means.

To be fair to the reputation of Israeli Gedolim, I would like to mention those who has been a major opponent of Mifal HaPayis since day one.  Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Chief Sephardic Rabbi and current Leader of Israeli Sephardic Jewry, has time and time again referred to Mifal HaPayis’s actions as theft and has ruled that no Jew should participate in any of their games. 

I am not a posek, but this is not simply a matter of kashrus or anything else that affects the people for whom the halacha is being determined.  The Ashkenazic Poskim who endorse Mifal HaPayis not only allow their own followers to throw their money into the trash and perpetuate a cycle of poverty, but endorse the theft of money from every tax paying citizen of Israel.

So what can we do about this Mifal HaProblem?  Educate your children to associate Mifal HaPayis with gambling, not charity.  Contact prominent Rabbis who endorse Payis and teach them to understand the error of their ways.  Finally, reverse the branding of Payis and when you see their emblem, call it what HaRav Ovadia does – theft.

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