Rabbis and religious judges specializing in Jewish Law have ruled that one must not accept donations for religious purposes from well-known criminals from the underworld.
On the backdrop of a recent affair which revealed an alleged link between criminal organizations and rabbis' associates, the Hotam rabbinical forum released a position paper stating that "they must be kept away from anything holy, as long as they don't repent and abandon their ways."
According to forum members who are researchers at the Mishpetei Eretz Institute, in principle synagogues and Torah and charity institutions may raise funds from criminals under certain conditions, but "in a case that the donors belong to what is known as 'organized crime' whose goal is to impose force and intimidation – in this case it is forbidden to accept any charity from them."
'Din rodef' on criminals
The rabbis explained that the donation could "purify the conscience" of the criminals and make their bad ways appear legitimate. In addition, they ruled that due to the risk the criminals pose to the entire public, these people are subject to "din rodef" ("law of the pursuer") – a serious halachic definition, which in its original meaning permits killing them.
Another reason mentioned by the Hotam forum members is "defamation of God," which may be caused as a result of the donation: "If it is publicized that Torah institutions are receiving donations from a famous criminal… this will lead to Torah becoming less valuable in the eyes of the public."
They further noted that "publicizing the criminal's donation to the synagogue can be seen as legitimizing his actions, and also includes the prohibition of flattering the evil."
The rabbis ruled, however, that in case of concerns that the money rejected by religious institutions would be used for crime or that the refusal to accept it would lead to harassment by the criminals – one must accept the donation but avoid using it for mitzvah purposes. "If possible, one must work to return the money to the people it was robbed from."
Charity doesn’t atone for all sins
As part of the discussion on the donation of criminals whose crimes are not organized, the institute researchers wrote that the Halacha indeed forbids enjoying stolen goods and accepting charity from people who engage in theft, but that "if they also have legal businesses it is permitted to accept charity from them if one can assume that it comes from the legitimate business" (and not when the amount of the donation is higher than the reasonable income of the legitimate source).
Another condition for accepting the donation is that it does not include any flattery or defamation of God, and that it is done without any publicity. However, they said, meeting that condition is "very difficult" and therefore "it would be better to stay away from it." The recommendation to a private person is to be even more strict and "avoid taking charity from an impure source.
"One must be careful that accepting the charity will not create the impression among the criminal that as long as he gives away some of his money to charity, all his sins are forgiven and he can continue with his bad ways," the rabbis stressed. "So if he continues with his aberrant way and only covers for himself by giving charity – that must not be allowed."