Rabbi Feldman’s Modest Proposal

Rav Emanuel Feldman once again distinguishes himself by bolding suggesting what everyone else is afraid to whisper, let alone think.

In a recent essay, the eminent rabbi observes how, in the wake of the Madoff disaster, many of the venerable institutions that suffered losses of tens- or hundreds-of-millions of dollars calmed their constituents by explaining — in chorus — that these losses amounted to only a few percent of their total endowments. 

Rabbi Feldman then offers the following observation:

When a Jewish institution reaches $1b. in endowment funds, would it not be a fine idea for it to allocate a mere 1% of its funds to help other similar institutions?  Do the math: 10% of $1b. is $100m., 1% of $1b. is $10m. Can you imagine the impact on Jewish life if these behemoths of endowment funds were somehow to shave off 1% of their funds annually to help sister institutions in need? If by their own admission, a loss of $100m. does not affect them, then certainly giving away $10m. would be a mere pittance.

If Technion would distribute $10m. a year to the science programs of Jewish schools everywhere; if Bar-Ilan and Hebrew University would allocate $10m. a year to fund Jewish studies departments in Jewish high schools around the world; if Yeshiva University would allocate only 1% – something over $10m. a year – to struggling small yeshivot and day schools that cannot pay their teachers on time, that are housed in meager facilities and have inadequate equipment, that are living a hand-to-mouth existence, that are valiantly trying to keep their heads above water – if all this were done, it could make a major difference to the future of Jewish life. If institutions like these can survive losses of more than 8% of their endowments, certainly a gift of 1% should be easy to manage.

As one of those rebbes in one of those small yeshivos that consistently struggles to make payroll, I would like to hear the financial officers of these billion-dollar institutions respond to Rabbi Feldman’s proposal.  Oh, I have no illusions that a single one of them will take his suggestion seriously, but it might prove amusing to watch them dance and squirm if put on the spot in a public forum.

And so, for those of you who might one day soon find yourself in a position to pose Rabbi Feldman’s suggestion in person and in public, please do it.  And, if possible, record the reply with your cell phone and post it on YouTube.  Who knows?  With enough publicity, the people positioned to solve some of our most immediate problems might begin feeling motivated to do so.

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