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0202 – Points of View from Jerusalem


"Teach my child without bribes

The practice of distributing envelopes to teachers on Purim [1] is controversial. A parent sent a letter to his son's teacher in which he explains why he is discontinuing the custom of adding money to the Mishloach Manot [2].

Letter to the teacher:

Dear Rabbi Naftali Holtzberg,

I know that you are preparing with great excitement for the great holiday on the eve of the Fast of Esther [3], with a Purim party in the classroom and envelopes all around you. I also know that you are counting on me specially to hand you a wad of cash, because the teacher last year passed on information that I am one of the ‘givers.’ This is how it is with you all in the teachers lounge, gossiping about each parent and exchanging experiences (but not envelopes. These you keep for yourselves).

But I am sorry to disappoint you, the honorable Rabbi Naftali Shlita [4], and to inform you that this year I decided not to give fat and dignified envelopes filled with bills enough to provide you with all the needs of the Purim holiday. This time I will make do with a little [amount of money].You're probably asking [yourself] why is this year different? Did I lose my assets? Is something wrong with you? Perhaps you behaved unfairly towards your dear student, my son, who is known to be one of the best in the class? What happened??

The truth is, Rabbi Naftali, no, thank God, I did not lose my assets (not that in the past I had many assets). My wife and I also get immense pride and joy from our son, and he brings us true happiness. So we see your investment [in him] and for that we thank you. But what [then is the difference this year]? I keep asking myself, every year I make great efforts to bring the Purim coins to the teacher even at the cost of chasing after Gemachs [5]. What happened this year that has changed my mind??

Rabbi Naftali, I thought to myself, why do I give those Purim coins? and in astronomical sums? I came to the conclusion that I do not give you the money for you, but for myself. That is, so that I tomorrow I can pat myself on the back that I gave a beautiful envelope, as is the custom of important wealthy men. For everyone gives, and I fear that commoners will ‘stone me’ because I have not kept the custom of the Torah with great elegance.
This year I said to myself, no more! This year I will not give more than I can, but I will neither uproot the custom of Israel (I do not know the source [of the custom] if it exists). No, I do not accept the reasons of the persuaders [to give large sums] that if you give a larger sum, the teacher will treat your child better, and if G-d forbid you do not, he will hurt him and abuse him – utter nonsense! A. If the attitude of the teacher [towards the students] is conditional, then I should give him [money] at the beginning of the year and not when everyone gives. B. Perhaps it is only because of this that I should refrain from giving the teacher Purim money so as not to befall him with bribery [6].

They will say that I am a miser, that I disregard the teachers that do holy work, but this is not true. I do not underestimate them, and I am not a miser. Every month, out of my pocket, I give 1000 shekels per child directly to the administration for the school expenses and I am sure that a large part of that goes to the teacher.

Nevertheless, as stated, in order not to violate the custom and for no other reason, a very modest sum is attached [in this package] to you. I am calling on you, dear teacher, to not be angry with me and that you will not harm or abuse my child. He is certainly not guilty. May you continue to teach and instill in him the awe of Heaven and show them purity. I trust you that you will do so even without me pushing a bribe, and I trust that you will remain unbiased and [you will remember that] all the children are equally good.

Happy Purim!
A. Aharonovitz
Bnei-Brak [9]"

– Behadrei Haredim

0202 Editors' Notes:
[1] Purim is an annual Jewish holiday celebrating the Jewish people being saved from annihilation by the Achaemenid Persian Empire. The story is recorded in the Book of Esther. In parts of Haredi society it is customary to give a sum of cash to teachers in addition to the small traditional gift. This custom is somewhat debated within Haredi society.
[2] Mishloach Manot [lit. delivery of dishes] is one of the mandatory commandments of the Purim holiday. According to the commandment, one is required to give (at least) one package with two different kinds of food to another person. It has become customary to give these packages in the days prior to the holiday to people whom one will not be able to give to on the holiday itself.
[3] The day before the Purim holiday is a fast day, commemorating the Jews' fast in the Book of Esther.
[4] Shlita [lit. an abbreviation of “May one live long and good years”] is a blessing given when speaking of an honorable figure.
[5] Gemach (lit. an abbreviation for gemilut chasadim, or acts of kindness) is a Jewish free-loan fund that operate in most Jewish religious communities and are abundant in the Haredi society. The traditional gemach concept — that of a money-lending fund — extends loans on a short- or long-term basis for any need, including emergency loans, medical expenses, wedding expenses, etc. However, many people have expanded the concept of gemachs to include free loans of household items, clothing, books, equipment, services and advice. Gemachs subscribe to both the positive Torah commandment of lending money and the Torah prohibition against charging interest on a loan to a fellow Jew. Unlike bank loans, gemach loans are interest-free, and are often set up with easy repayment terms.
[6] Bribery is forbidden, in any form and to all parties involved, according to Jewish religious law.

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