Have You No Sense Of Decency?

One of the first Yiddish words any new office staff at Tiferet learns is schnorrer. A shnorrer is a beggar or more accurately a freeloader. No different than any other synagogue in Dallas, Tifferet is not immune to schnorrers. While schnorrers come in all ages and sizes, they typically share one thing in common. They are not Dallasites. Schnorrers hail from out of town, more often than not, Israel. I have no idea how other rabbis react to schnorrers, but G-d forgive me, I try to avoid them like the plague. Here’s why:
If the schnorrer is from Israel and he represents a bona fide yeshiva or orphanage or hospital, the foundation or organization that he represents is well provided for by the Israeli government. Given the fact that any and every ruling party in the history of the Jewish state has been at the mercy of smaller political parties, many of them religious political parties, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion, that these smaller parties have been able to name their price in exchange for becoming bedfellows, in order to help either Labor or Likkud form a coalition. Ideology be damned! It’s all about the shekel! No schnorrer comes to Dallas because a yeshiva student or orphan or hospital patient has no bed to sleep on or no food to eat or no roof over his head. Other than self-serving motives, the only reason I can think of for schnorrers coming to Dallas or any other American city for that matter, is for “the icing on the cake”. By my very nature, I don’t do icing.
American Jews are chumps. Israelis call us freiers. Because we are chumps or freiers, we have a romanticized view of Israel. We still envision Israel as the struggling nation it was back in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. Schnorreres are well aware of our chump/freier status and they take full advantage of it. Yet, because of the ability of schnorrers to stir our emotions when it comes to yeshivas, orphanages and hospitals in Israel, we remain blind to the fact that here in Dallas, there are Jews living below the poverty line, subsisting on diets far more meager than the daily diets of yeshiva students, orphans or hospital patients in Israel.
Personally, I find it incredulous that the schnorrers who appear to be proficient in Talmud, are nevertheless totally ignorant of the fact that our rabbinic sages stressed the importance of a livelihood along with an honest day’s work for all, including themselves. That’s why among our Talmudic greats, we have Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar (sandal maker) and Rabbi Joshua ben Chananiah who is believed to have been a blacksmith. That’s why the Talmud teaches us the importance of study alongside livelihood. Many a time, when descended upon by a schnorrer, just as I’m caving in to the charade, (alright, so I’m a weak man) I am so tempted to quote Joseph N. Welch’s retort to Senator Joe McCarthy and say to the one whose hand is going for my pocket: “Have you no sense of decency, sir!”
Mark Oppenheimer of the New York Times recently wrote an article which appeared in the Sunday Magazine entitled: The Beggars of Lakewood (New Jersey). Mr. Oppenheimer writes about schnorrer Elimelech Ehrlich, who each year, as a result of his schnorring, nets enough to purchase a new automobile.
Mr. Ehrlich raises money for friends who “have to pay” for a child’s wedding reception. In doing so, Mr. Ehrlich takes a cut for himself. I guess that is what is known as “honor among schnorrers”. It should also be noted, according to the article, that when schnorring, Mr. Ehrlich does not take “no” for an answer.
Perhaps most egregious of all, schnorrers ruin it for those truly in need, the ones who live below the poverty line and make do on food that many of us would turn our noses up at. Yet, the idea of schnorring is totally repugnant to the truly indigent. It seems they suffer from a condition totally foreign to schnorrers. We call it pride.
It would be wonderful to live in a world where there are no longer people in need. But until that happens, let the schnorrers roll up their sleeves, go to work, earn an honest day’s wage and leave us alone, so that we can reach into our pockets and take the money that would otherwise be taken by the schnorrer, and earmark it for those who are truly in need.