Ask the Rabbi with Rabbi YY Schochet


Dear Rabbi

On my way to work each morning I pass this panhandler who knows me already by sight because I drop a coin in, each day. This morning I walked past with a colleague who said to me, “you know you are not doing him any favours and there is no mitzvah in what you are doing. Chances are he is using the money for drugs.” It left me wondering and I am asking whether it is considered charity when helping a random collector on the street, not knowing where the money is going, and indeed quite possibly to help feed a drug addiction?



Dear Jonathan

There are a couple of points to consider here. First and foremost, the nature of the mitzvah of charity is such that it doesn’t require intent. Namely, if one drops a £5 note in the street and a poor man retrieves it, one has fulfilled the mitzvah of tzedaka, even though oblivious to the fact. To that end it may be argued, giving money to a panhandler, without necessarily knowing what they might do with the money, doesn’t become your problem. The mitzvah is fulfilled all the same.

Second, inasmuch as an addict will often commit immoral acts of varied sorts in order to feed their addiction, giving them money might help prevent them from such behaviour.

Finally, Code of Jewish Law ultimately rules that when one is asking for money, the would-be donor is obligated to check the veracity of the need before making a contribution. The exception is when they say they are hungry or express another immediate need whereby you are then responsible to immediately help without verification. On that basis, inasmuch as they may not be telling the truth, you have still fulfilled the mitzvah.

There is an obvious solution to your problem. Rather than giving the individual money why not consider giving them actual food, clothes or other necessities. Buy or bring a cup of coffee with you and hand it to the person, maybe with some food. Your mitzvah is the same and you have alleviated any concerns. Indeed, the Talmud brings the assertion of the wife of Mar Ukva, that a woman’s charity is greater than that of her husband. While he might typically give money, she will provide the ready-made meal which can be enjoyed immediately.



Dear Rabbi

I know this is going to sound controversial, but having spent the past few weeks back in lockdown I am thinking that this is totalitarianism and that those who continue to hold their secretive prayer groups are no worse than the Jews in the former Soviet Union who would also take risks in order to pray. This whole corona-shmorona is getting absurd and being abused by government. Holding services is no Chilul Hashem – it’s a mitzvah of the highest order. People appeasing the government are part of the problem. Carrying on life as normal is the only solution.


Dear Gerard

Two teachers go to a wedding. The next day they are back at school. Gathering in the staff room with other teachers, a third teacher picks up the virus from them. She in turn passes it on to some kids in her class. One of those kids transmits it over to all the members of their household. Within a week every member of that household is sick in bed, no school, no shul, no work. This is not a made up story – it actually happened. The only good news is that no one in that family had an underlying vulnerability and that no one in that family in the interim went to hug an elderly grandparent and kill them in the process. So you can say corona shmorona all you want. But the virus is a killer, I have seen first-hand evidence time and time again of the way it ravages through a community and the only reason our death rate right now, THANK G-D, is much lower than before is because there are a lot more people out there with more common sense than yourself who are alert to the reality and taking the extra precautions. Gerard, you are part of the problem. Enough said.




Dear Rabbi

I just want to thank you for your piece on Divine Providence and Free Choice the other week. I have grappled with the issue myself for a long time, had many discussions with Rabbis and others and it was the one chink in the armour of my faith. But your explanation made more sense than anything I had ever heard and I cannot thank you enough. In case you wonder sometimes whether this column (which I know is very popular) makes a practical difference in people’s lives, it has made a difference in mine. Thank you.



Dear Gary

Thank you for your kind letter. Just remember, notwithstanding my column, faith is a muscle you flex not a pill you swallow. By definition, it is not something external to oneself that we sometimes reach for when required.  Sure, we can look to others for clarification to fortify our faith at times, but ultimately it is, like a muscle, within you, and when the need arises, you always have the ability, regardless of the doubts that linger, to flex and rise to whatever the challenge at hand.