Betting On Cholent

New York – Yes, it is true.

It has gone beyond, Shabbos lunch, Shul Kiddushes, and the Thursday night routine popping up in restaurants throughout Brooklyn and in Woodmere.  Now they are betting on it.

It is an interesting idea that combines the yearnings of the Jewish soul for both donating Tzedakah as well as – um, er, um, consuming Cholent.  That’s right – you read correctly.  People are now betting on Cholent, and the question is, whether the practice is permitted.  But before we get to that – a bit of explanation is required.

The idea, sponsored by the Jewish Education Program of Long Island is for each participant to predict which of five competing Cholents will come in first place and in second place in the annual JEP Cholent Bowl contest and place a bet.  This is the third year in a row where the Jewish Education Program has held the actual cholent contest, but the first year that there is actual betting on the process.

Bets can be placed at cholentbowl.com  and the actual event will be on Thursday night, June 16th at 8:45 PM in Woodmere, NY.  The bets are placed through paypal.

The advertisement states as follows:
Choose who you think is the best and second best cholents, and choose the amount of shares of the pot you would like. Each share is $10.  At the actual event the Cholents will be voted on by the participants. A first and second place winner will be selected and the winners will split the winnings evenly.

Who gets the money?

Half of the winning pot will go to JEP with the remainder split with the winners based on the number of shares they purchased, to be donated to the yeshiva or tzedaka of their choice.

And now a short analysis on whether or not it is halachically permitted.

The Talmud and Shulchan Aruch find fault with people who are called “Mesachaik BaKubiah” – gamblers or more literally “those that play with dice.”
The Shulchan Aruch (Choshain Mishpat Chapter 34) rules that such people are Pasul LeAidus – they are disqualified for testifying at a Jewish wedding or a Jewish court of law.  In Chapter 92 the Shulchan Aruch rules that we suspect them for swearing falsely.  Clearly, gambling is a vice.

But let’s analyze the reasons why Gambling is forbidden and see if this applies to our JEP philanthropists.

The Shulchan Aruch (370:2) discusses the exact process in Mesachaik BaKubia and it turns out that there is a two way argument, cited in the Smah as to why it is prohibited.  According to one opinion, the reason is that when a person gambles for a living, he is not involved in Yishuvo shel olam and is not fully appreciative of the value of money.

In our case, it seems that the participants in the gambling aspect of the Cholent Bowl are not doing this for a living.  Aside from this, the money is going to Tzedakah, so it would not really be possible to do it for a living.

The second opinion is that the Rabbis forbade this activity because of a concern that Asmachta lo Kani – the gambler is not really giving up hope on his money.  Later when the winner collects on the debt – it is a form of theft, at least on a Rabbinic level.

Here, however, the money is actually paid beforehand and is not to be exchanged later.  Since there is an actual transfer of money prior to the “bet” the issues of Asmachta lo Kani are not a problem.

So who are the Cholent Contenders?  They are:  Mr. Broadway in Manhattan;  Hadar Geulah in Boro Park; Aaron’s Kissena Farms in Queens; Gottlieb’s in Williamsburg and Kold Kuts in Flatbush.

The truth of the matter is that the Jewish Education Program of Long Island is a remarkable organization that takes unaffiliated Jewish children and successfully places them in Yeshivos and day schools.  In terms of Kiruv – JEP-LI is literally unmatched in their successes and accomplishments. Camp Nageela is a summer program run by JEP which has exposed hundreds of young Jewish children to the beauties of Torah.  It is a program that everyone is urged to support.

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