How sad when the giving of a large charitable gift becomes the source of friction and law suits. In 1991 Sears Canada Inc. donated $10 million to Ryerson University and is currently initiating legal action in an attempt to force Ryerson University to have the Sears name "associated with an academic facility on its (Ryerson) campus" or to receive damages for breach of contract in return for their failure to do so. While a plaque has been put up acknowledging the donation, Sears claims that their name was to appear on an academic building. Ryerson university, not surprisingly, claims that all agreements were adhered too and that Sears agreed that the plaque would serve as due recognition.
What is interesting about this case is that it has taken 16 years for legal proceedings to begin. While Jewish law has no official statue of limitations, one must make a claim for monies owing at the first available opportunity. A delay is legally assumed to be an admission that the current situation is acceptable, later claims to the contrary would then be dismissed. Thus for example Jewish law rules that an employee's claims for unpaid wages must be made immediately when such payment was originally due. If it proven, as Ryerson officials claim, that Sears officials attended the dedication of the building containing the Sears plaque, and did not at the same time protest their alleged non recognition, they would forfeit the right to any future demands of recognition.
There is little doubt that Jewish law insists that a donor demand for recognition be honoured, and if the agreed upon recognition is not given the donor may request their money back. This is irrespective of the propriety of such an approach to charity, which should be given quietly and without fanfare. Such demands for recognition may, however, only be given at the time of the gift - a donor may not demand specific recognition for a previously donated gift.
It is well known that giving anonymously has always been the Jewish ideal and thus charity should be given with no strings attached. This is true both from the perspective of the recipients who can thus avoid feelings of dependence and embarrassment, and the donors who should cheerfully donate between 10-20% of their net income with a sense of gratitude for their blessings and a desire to help others. The seeking of honour should not be part of the equation.
Unfortunately, the development of this crucial goal of modesty in all that we do at times conflicts with the greater needs of society. Jewish law fully understood that human nature is such that public recognition and honour can and usually does have a major impact on our decision making process. Thus theory must gibe way to practical reality. Jewish law not only permits but actually encourages (obligates?) one to have their name displayed in recognition of gifts given. Such recognition will undoubtedly encourage additional giving both from the donor themselves and others and thus it would be inappropriate to deny the community potential increased revenues. One's character development may have to be "sacrificed" for the general needs of the community.
Furthermore while the donor should not, in theory, seek recognition the recipient has an obligation to acknowledge such generosity. The need for proper acknowledgment it could be argued is even more acute when dealing with a corporate donor, to whom personal issues of humility are not germane. Whatever the ultimate resolution of this dispute it highlights the sad even if necessary fact, that charity today is often no longer about helping those in need but rather a slick form of marketing.
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