BIG MONEY FROM BIG NAMES: Recognizing a Donor with a Dedication


By Rabbi Yosef Fund

Donald J. Trump has been a newsmaker for decades before he entered the Presidential race. He is a successful businessman who has amassed a fortune with a net worth of four billion dollars. The name Trump is attached to a large number of products and services, from financial and brokerage firms to home furnishings, coffee and chocolate brands.

One such project is the Donald J. Trump State Park. Mr. Trump originally purchased the 436 acre property in Westchester County and Putnam County in the 1990’s, with the intention of creating a golf course. After Mr. Trump was unable to gain town approvals to develop the private golf course, he decided to donate the land for use as a state park. This 2006 donation was claimed as a $100 million tax write off for Mr. Trump. The deal stipulated that the property will bear Mr. Trump’s name, in acknowledgment of these gifts.

Following Mr. Trump’s controversial comments about Muslims and racial minorities, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblyman Charles Levine have introduced the “Anything But Trump Act.” The act is an attempt to strip the park of Mr. Trump’s name. Whether this act will pass in the legislature, remains to be seen.

Trumps’ response to this act has been that NY State is welcome to return the land to his ownership.

It will be interesting to see how this battle plays out in the legal arena. From the halachic perspective, Lehavdil, what is the Torah view on putting donor names on dedications?

The Halachic Perspective

Today’s shuls, schools and various tzedaka organizations receive great benefit from generous donors. Can one give a donation to tzedaka, with conditions attached? Does the tzedaka or school have the right to remove the donor’s name at a later time?

In halacha it is well established that a donor of, for example, a synagogue building, may affix his name to it. The principal source for this rulingis the Shu”t Rashba1. He justifies this practice as being commonly accepted, implicitly endorsed by those sages who adopt it themselves, and as being inherently reasonable. Furthermore, Rashb”a writes that the Torah’s practice is to publicize those who perform righteous acts as example Reuven2 and Boaz3, and as always we are to follow in the way of the Torah.

Netz”iv4 offers a source for this practice in the verse in Zecharia5 “The crowns shall be for Chailem and Tovia and for Chen ben Zefania for a remembrance in the sanctuary of Hashem.” Rada”k6 quotes a commentary that explains this to mean that their names were written on their donations so that their names were memorialized. We find in the Jerusalem Talmud7 mentions of lamps and candelabras donated to synagogues with the names of the owner chiseled on them. There is much evidence that this was a common practice in Talmudic times.8 This writer feels confident that no proof need be brought that all this remains the practice today.

Divrei Malkiel9 writes that when one establishes an ongoing mitzvah on his name, it is as if he continues performing it even beyond his lifetime, and especially if his generosity serves to set an example for other to imitate. Teshuvos Vehangos10 adds that this is a way for one to set an example for their children to follow, and for a congregation to express gratitude towards a donor. Interestingly, in Shu”t Rabbi Ezriel Hildesheimer11 there is a discussion as to whether it is appropriate to publicize donations in a newspaper.

Emunas Shmuel12 limits the ruling of the Rashb”a to the actual donor; the one who raises the money would not be entitled to affix his name13. [My editor is wondering if the same distinction applies to crediting authors as opposed to editors. The answer is generally yes, but there is also room for honourable mention.] A congregation may refuse a gift should they believe that the donor is insisting on affixing his name as a way of maintaining control.14 There is much discussion in the poskim as to when the personal behaviour or lifestyle of the donor precludes him affixing his name.15

This remains true as long as the purpose for which the donation was given remains relevant.16 There is much discussion in Poskim as what to do when a donors name is fixed to a structure which requires significant repairs.17

In the case of Trump State Park, the recipient of the donation is apparently disturbed by the notoriety which has come to surround the reputation of the donor. I know of no halachik argument which would permit the removal of the donors name on this basis.

1 Vol. 1 section 581, cited in Ram”a Shu”a Yo”d 249, 13.

2 Breishis 37, 21.

3 Ruth 2, 14.

4 Hemek Shaila 3, 4

5 6, 14

6 Ibid.

7 Megilla 3, 2.

8 Alei Tamar on Jerusalem Talmud ibid.

9 Vol. 1, introduction.

10 Vol 4, 481

11 Yo”d 219.

12 35, cited in Pischei Teshuva Yo”d 249, 3.

13 See however Shu”t Mishnas Yosef vol. 4 siman 26 section 5.

14 Shu”t Tzemach Tzedek (Krochmanl) 50.

15 Shu”t Maharam Shi”k Yo”d 81 and 231, Shu”t Betzail Hachochama vol. 3 41.

16 Shu”t Mishnas Yosef vol. 4 25.

17 Shevet Halevi vol. 9 205, Shu”t Keneh Bosem vol. 4 83