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    Gambling proceeds for education – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. If an organisation makes money from gambling facilities, is it halachically permitted to use some of the proceeds to fund Jewish education?

    A. The first question is whether people should be gambling at all.

    Jewish teaching distinguishes between professional or compulsive gambling, occasional gambling and gambling for charitable purposes. The first category is severely frowned upon in the famous Mishnah about the m’sachek b’kuvya, the professional dice player, who was excluded from giving testimony or being a judge (Sanhedrin 3:3).

    The occasional gambler, on the other hand, because he had a “constructive occupation”, was not stigmatised, though many communities sought to limit the occasions and scope of such activities, and those who overdid their social gambling were on occasion denied communal office; some even wanted to exclude them from the minyan. The fear was that gambling could become addictive.

    Additionally an 11th century authority (Joseph Tov-Elem) criticised both winner and loser because “they forsake life eternal” for “temporary existence and nonsense”.

    There are good arguments, therefore, against casinos and other organised facilities for gambling that encourage a person to spend time away from their family and other constructive pursuits, often cost more than they can afford, and encourage an air of unreality in which people think they can rely on luck.

    There was a stage when many congregations, especially in the United States, were heavily into gambling ­- even in as relatively innocuous a form as bingo ­- to raise money for shule purposes. Some even became popularly known as Congregation B’nai Bingo.

    No-one could be certain that such activities, also resorted to by yeshivot, schools and Jewish charities, were actually transgressing halachah.

    Hence an organisation which makes money from its gambling facilities, whilst it may not be promoting the highest ideals of Judaism, cannot be denied the opportunity of doing a mitzvah by supporting Jewish education.

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