Is gambling income generated for education questionable?

January 24, 2022 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the rabbi.

Rabbi Raymond Apple


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.


Q. Why do Ashkenazim say the “Sim Shalom” paragraph at the end of the Amidah during the morning prayers, but substitute the “Shalom Rav” paragraph for the afternoon and evening prayers?

A. Most major prayers, the Amidah, Bir’kat HaMazon, Kaddish, etc., conclude with a messianic prayer for peace.

In the Ashkenazi rite there are two versions of the prayer for peace that comes at the end of the Amidah – “Sim Shalom” and “Shalom Rav”.

As often happened when there were two versions of a prayer (other examples are “Magdil” and “Migdol”, and “Ahavah Rabbah” and “Ahavat Olam”), the alternatives were assigned to different occasions. Thus from about the 12th century Shalom Rav was assigned to Minchah (but not on fast days) and Ma’ariv, and Sim Shalom to all other occasions.

Sim Shalom follows “Birkat Kohanim” (Num. 6:22-27) and echoes its language, and was deemed appropriate for occasions when that blessing is said, i.e. Shacharit and Musaf and (on fast days) Minchah. Sim Shalom may be understood as a congregational paraphrase of the priestly blessing.

The linguistic links between them include the following:
1. Sim shalom – echoing “V’yasem l’cha shalom” (Baruch HaLevi Epstein’s “Baruch SheAmar” says that the prayer begins “sim” because of the difference between “sim” and “ten”, but the better view is that the prayer is an echo of the blessing).

2. “B’or panecha” – echoing “Ya’er HaShem panav”.

3. “Bar’chenu avinu” – echoing the Biblical words “Ko t’varchu” and “Va’ani avarchem” (Num. 6:23,27).

Sim Shalom does not refer to the kohanim or the Temple and Kaufman Kohler thought that it emanated from circles “who would not recognise the mediatorship of the priesthood” (see AZ Idelsohn, Jewish Liturgy and Its Development, 1932, p 108).

Another view is that when the Mishnah (Tamid 5:1) speaks of the Birkat Kohanim in the Temple it means Sim Shalom (see Eliezer Levi, Yesodot HaT’fillah, 1958, p 160).

Sim Shalom refers to the Torah (“…Torat chayyim”), which links it to time when there is a Torah reading. Hence in Eretz Yisra’el Sim Shalom is said on Shabbat afternoon. On Shabbat afternoon, Sim Shalom was used in Germany, though Poland used Shalom Rav.

The concluding blessing also has two versions – “Hamvarech et ammo Yisra’el bashalom” and “Oseh hashalom”, though “Oseh hashalom” is older.

In Eretz Yisra’el, “Oseh hashalom” was said throughout the year in contrast to Babylon, where “Hamvarech” was said. The Ashkenazim deferred to the Palestinian version by saying “Oseh hashalom” during the Aseret Y’mei T’shuvah, once again allocating alternative versions to separate occasions.

On occasions when there is no duchaning, the prayer for peace used by Ashkenazim does not need to commence with an echo of the Birkat Kohanim. Hence the alternative text, Shalom Rav, which owes its beginning to Psalm 119:165, “Shalom rav l’ohavei toratecha”.

The Sephardi rite does not use Shalom Rav but always Sim Shalom. In Avignon the custom was to say Shalom Rav on all occasions.

But whatever our differences, the goal of our prayers and the aim of our history is peace.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.

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