Tzedakah Collectors and the Unintended Tyranny of Policy

Shul policies are absolutely necessary to resolve conflicts between different interests. In the case of Tzedakah collectors coming around during davening, the conflict is between people praying, who would prefer to not be disturbed, and the collectors, who want to go around the shul asking for donations.

There are basically three policies regarding collections:
a) Collectors can go around any time, but should use common sense to avoid disrupting the daveners
b) Collectors are asked to only go around during certain times
c) Collectors may not go around, but may go to the Rav or the Gabbai

In addition, collectors sometimes request to make a short public appeal
There are basically three policies regarding this:
x) Public appeals can be made after davening
y) Public appeals are made only with the permission of the Rav or Gabbai
z) No public appeals with a few exceptions

In my Shabbos and sometime weekday minyan, they’ve adopted policies b) and y).
The current weekday minyan that I daven at has adopted policues a) and z).

Recently during the weekday minyan a gentleman came in to request to make a public appeal. He was told no by one gabbai, but waited for the second gabbai to finish davening to ask him. He was told again that he could not make the appeal but could go around the shul collecting like everybody else. He was not happy with that and left without even going around the Shul. He didn’t talk loud, but in the small space we daven in, most people were aware of what happened.

As it turns out, the shul sometimes does makes exceptions for appeals, but in this case they stood by the policy. It’s a hard call to make, both in terms of setting policy and enforcing it. There is a need to keep decorum and there’s a need to make exceptions. When and where is in the hands of the Rav or the Gabbai and when they stand firm on policy, the collectors come face to face with the Unintended Tyranny of Policy.

Originally Published 12/27/2012