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June 24, 1988 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-06-24

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Whether questioning the
ethics of a synagogue bingo
game or legalized casinos in
Detroit, the Jewish position
on gambling is diverse

Shelly Spinner calls numbers during a bingo game at the Jewish War Veterans building.


Special to The Jewish News


gambler always loses. He
loses money, dignity, and
time. And if he wins, he
weaves a spider's web
round himself
— Rambam
The medieval Jewish philosopher
never played the lottery, and he pro-
bably never tried his luck at winning
a bingo game. Yet his concerns are
shared by many Jews in the com-
munity, who have questioned the
ethics of gambling — whether over
synagogue bingo games or legalized
Although talk about bringing
casino-run black jack games, slot
machines and roulette wheels to
Detroit has sparked recent
widespread debate, the issue of
gambling in synagogues and other
Jewish organizations has been the
center of controversy for many
Many Jewish organizations
regularly host bingo games and raf-
fles to raise funds. Some synagogue
officials said they have no moral


FRIDAY, JUNE 24, 1988

dilemma with bingo and raffle-style
fund raisers, some view the events as
a necessary evil to help pay bills, and
others merely acknowledge that such
fund-raisers cause dissent among con-
gregation members. Rabbis' views
also are diverse.
"I don't think there is a moral
dilemma to it," said Rabbi David
Nelson of Congregation Beth Shalom,
which hosts weekly bingo games that
generate about $30,000 a year.
"I think it is legitimate entertain-
ment," Rabbi Nelson said. "The ques-
tion is, can the people playing bingo
afford to lose that much money? It
would be different if someone was
gambling away needed revenue."
One rabbi, who would comment
only if granted anonymity, said he
could not condone the bingo games
held in his congregation, but said
they were necessary to generate
Rabbi M. Robert Syme of Temple
Israel is a staunch opponent of gambl-
ing in the synagogue. And when the
temple's couple's club opted for a
bingo fund-raiser last winter,
members chose to rent space at the
Jewish Community Center instead of
taking the issue to the temple board.

"It is a touchy subject at the tem-
ple," said Couples Club President Dr.
James Schelberg.
The Talmud condemns gambling.
Gamblers, it states, do not contribute
to the common welfare. If people play
games with dice, they cannot be
witnesses in the Jewish court, the
Talmud states.
"The interpretation is that if so-
meone gambles they might be inclin-
ed to gamble with human life and,
therefore, their testimony would not
be trusted," Rabbi Syme said.
"I have always opposed bingos as
the basis of fund-raising because
somebody always loses in the process:'
he added. "It sometimes creates hard-
ships on people who are compulsive
gamblers. The synagogue should be
the one place where such practices
are not employed."
Rabbi Richard Hertz of lIbmple
Beth El also believes gambling should
be taken out of temples and
synagogues. The temple does not host
such fund-raisers.
"We feel gambling is not a moral
activity suitable for being held in the
synagogue or temple," Rabbi Hertz
said. "We rely on the generosity of our
members and their feelings of respon-

sibility to support our programs."
Neither of the area's two largest
conservative congregations —
Shaarey Zedek and Mat Shalom
Synagogue — regularly host bingo
Yet Mat Shalom does hold an an-
nual Purim party with a drawing for
prizes from which the synagogue
raises money. Executive Director
Alan Yost said proceeds from the last
five years paid for reroofing the
"A lot of people feel strongly that
Jewish organizations should not be
advocating gambling," said Rabbi
Elliot Pachter of Mat Shalom. "The
Talmud is not a clear cut legal text,
but it does say that gambling is a
futile way to spend time and implies
that it is not a proper way of life."
Adat Shalom officials do not view
the drawing as gambling. In fact, the
definition of gambling to congrega-
tion officials appears to be a matter
of interpretation.
"We don't call it gambling," said
Phillip Vainik, executive director of
Congregation Beth Achim, the site of
weekly bingo games. "It is a game of
chance. I'm not qualified to say if it
is ethical. Some oppose it, but many

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