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Dear Rabbi,

I am a committee member of a small synagogue in the community. Finances are a bit tight, and so we were thinking of running a Casino Night fundraising event to help support the synagogue. 

When word of this idea got out,
I received a handful of angry calls from members of the congregation. Some were questioning the message we might be sending, as gambling is a serious problem for many people in the community. Others were concerned that this type of event goes against Jewish ethics and values and has no place in synagogue life. Both points are valid, but the truth is, most of our congregants are very excited about this type of fundraiser, and the majority opinion is that it would raise significant and much-needed funds. The committee will need to vote on this issue soon, and I’m uncertain how I should vote.
I would like to know your thoughts on this matter.

Does the Ends
Justify the Means?

Dear Does the Ends
Justify the Means,

The financial pressures faced by your congregation understandably make it difficult for you, as a member of the committee with the responsibility of running the synagogue’s finances, to oppose an event that promises to yield a significant amount of desperately-needed
funds. Moreover, it seems you are strongly inclined to follow the opinion of the majority of the membership, which strongly supports the idea. These two factors combine to undermine your ability to reach an objective decision.

If we take a step back and try to view the situation from a purely objective perspective, the proper decision becomes much clearer. The fact that a significant minority of community members – perhaps including some members of your congregation – are struggling with a gambling addiction is enough of a reason to scratch this idea. When parents are planning a family trip, they take all the children’s needs into account, and do not decide upon a destination that would be inappropriate – not to mention potentially harmful – forone child, even if it is the economical or convenient choice. Similarly, if you have members dealing with a gambling addiction, the last thing the community – which should be workingurgently to address this problem – should be doing is arranging gamblingactivities.

More fundamentally, gambling is at direct odds with Torah values, and thus should not be encouraged by a synagogue. We can consider the possibility of “ends justifying the means” when the “means” is something permissible but not ideal. However, if the “means” is something that goes against our core values, it cannot be justified by any “ends.” To take an extreme example, no synagogue would hold up a bank in order to pay for a new bet midrash and educational programming. Even the loftiest “ends” do not justify strictly forbidden “means.” Raising money for a religious institution is an important and valuable endeavor, but not if it entails violating the principles that the religious institution ought to be promoting.

I would also venture to say that many of your congregants would disapprove of such an event if it was being held by another synagogue, and would certainly disapprove of their children’s schools encouraging gambling or even teaching them that gambling is acceptable.

The Talmud speaksof a synagogue as a “mikdash me’at”– a “miniature” version of the Bet Hamikdash. Let us not take the small remnant of the Bet Hamikdashthat we have and desecrate it by turning it into a casino, even for one night. I strongly encourage you and your fellow synagogue members to immediately shelve this proposal, and to work together and brainstorm to come up with a different fundraising idea. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much can be accomplished through some effort and genuine concern for a lofty enterprise such as a synagogue.

With warm wishes and
Torah blessings,
Rabbi Yechiel Elbaz