Monday, May 17, 2010

If Areivim isn't a scam, why does it act like one?

Areivim is an Orthodox Jewish organization that collects money from its living members to pay a death benefit to the children of members who have died.

Basically, it works like this: When Reuven dies, all the other members pony up a few dollars each so that a six figure fund can be set up for each of Reuven's children. In order for it to work, you need thousands of members, of course, and they have to die infrequently. Collections are by credit card - so someone needs to make sure all of the information is up-to-date, and the funds are all distributed by Rabbis, who use rules not fully disclosed to decide when Rueven's children get paid.

Along with these odd logistical issues, there are a few other fishy things about the program. For instance:

-- The website doesn't name any of the people in charge. We're not told who the board of directors are, or who manages the day to day operations. And though we're promised that rabonim are in charge of everything, none are named. We also don't know who the organization's posek is, or how he, after 120, will be replaced.

-- Though some may find it reassuring to be told that rabonim are running the thing, I do not. Rabonim are people, too, and they suffer from the same weaknesses and shortcomings as all of us. If this organization succeeds it will be responsible for millions of dollars of community money. With that much at stake, I want to know who the rabonim are, what rules they plan to follow, and what remedies are available to a member who disagrees with one of their decisions. None of this - not their names, not their policies, and not any grievance mechanism - is spelled out on the website.

- The website is short on endorsement and details, but long on screamingly hysterical testimonials such as this one
Almost immediately after I signed up for the KYA policy, I saw a drastic change in my life. Parnassah went easier; I was seeing nachas from my children, and in many other areas in my life, I was pleasantly surprised to see a real positive difference. Who would have though that such a simple Mitzvah can effect such massive changes…" Thank you for everything! Tzvi K. Monsey, NY

This - the promise of miracles, the refusal to provide identifying details, like a last name - is quite simply the technique of a snake oil salesman. What kind of reputable communal organization deals in them?

Our friend R. Yanky Horowitz had some of these worries, and some of his own, so he wrote a long letter to Yoel Bochner, the program director. R. Horowitz's letter asks about the math, the underlying actuarial assumptions, and the ground rules, as well as for the names of the people involved.

Bochner's response, reproduced in full at R. Horowitz's site, is a maze of evasions, slippery answers, and fluffy flim-flam language. It sounds for all the world like the man has something to hide. For example, R. Horowitz asks directly: Who was the founder of this program, who manages the day-to-day operations, and who are the Board of Directors? Who are the rabbonim who will be overseeing the funds, who will be investing the money, and will the person making the investments and those running the program take a fee and/or commission for his/her efforts?

Bochner replies:
Not content with mere figurehead rabbinic figures, the rabbanim affiliated with us are involved, investing time, energy and heart in this project, one which has become a priority to them. [DB: Ok, name one]

The rabbanim in question are representative of all the various streams within yahadus hacharedis, chassidim, litvishe, Sephardim and Ashkenazim.  [DB: Great, name one]

Please note that the rabbanim to not 'endorse' us, or promise to daven for people who help us- they are us! Every single rov is already a part of- or will be a part of- our work and they are the prime catalysts for our success. [DB: Super, name one!]

In America, the names of Rav Mechel Steinmetz and Rav Benzion Strasser on signed on to the account [DB: Whoa: What's with the passive voice all of a sudden? Their names are signed on to the account? That's it? Then who's in charge? Who makes the decisions, and why are you avoiding the question?] and we have hundreds of other rabbanim in communities across America. [DB: SO WHY CANT YOU NAME THEM???!]

You see, Rabbi Horowitz, [DB: "You see Rabbi Horowitz?" Are you a used car salesman?] the rabbanim are our greatest allies because they know better than anyone else just how broken the old system was, and how workable this one is. [DB: SO WHY CANT YOU PROVDE A LIST OF THEIR NAMES?!?!?!?]


The office is run by five askanim that do the office and technical work,and each individual case is assigned one overseer from the central office. These people are efficient and knowledgeable and available to discuss any case or answer questions.[DB: AND WHY CANT YOU TELL US THEIR NAMES?!?].

At Rabbi H's site, many readers are outraged about the math, and Rabbi Horowitz's number questions were similarly evaded. As for myself, the flat out refusal to tell us which Rabbis are involved, together with a refusal to speak to details and Bochner's habit of evading questions via endless emotional appeals strongly suggests to me that this is a scam.

Search for more information about con games at


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