New Jersey Jewish News
An eBay for lenders and borrowers, with an emphasis on Jewish values
Sidebar Article: How it works
Amazon.com. PayPal. eBay. These Internet superstars have become household names for millions of on-line consumers around the globe.
Ken Kurson hopes Prosper.com, a peer-to-peer lending site, will do for the Jewish values of tzedaka and self-reliance what the others have done for on-line shopping.
Kurson serves as a member of the advisory board and a leader of the Tzedakah group on Prosper.com. Following the concept of micro-lending, by providing financial incentives for lenders and matching borrowers with lenders, the service offers a leg up to clients excluded from traditional systems, especially the poor.
According to Kurson, his community of lenders and borrowers draws on a centuries-old Jewish custom.
Theres a long tradition of hesed [acts of loving-kindness] through free loan societies, where you go to your rabbi and tell him, Im broke. I need some money to save my business or my house. And the rabbi would find a way to get you the money you need.
Kurson said a cornerstone of his group is the ladder of tzedaka based on the teachings of Maimonides, the 12th-century rabbinic authority. At the top of the ladder the highest form of assisting someone in need is a gift or a loan that enables a person to achieve self-reliance.
The very top of the ladder is charity that makes somebody self-sufficient, said Kurson, a member of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield. And loans, according to the rabbis, are praiseworthy because they are not humiliating. So in a way, Prosper enables people to do a lot of hesed and a lot of tzedaka in the world.
According to the description on Prosper.com, which Kurson wrote, This groups borrowers are expected not to accept money that they cannot repay and to struggle mightily to repay what they borrow. As the site explains, This groups lenders are expected to lend generously, to show kindness in seeking borrowers and to favor those who need a helping hand.
Not all of Prospers 45 members are Jewish.
I dont exclude people because of religion, Kurson said, but I would exclude people who seem like jerks or irresponsible.
Unlike free loan societies, leaders of the Tzedakah group can earn money if its members pay on time. However, Kurson, who lives in Cedar Grove with his wife and three young children, shares 100 percent of his rewards with his group.
Im not in it for the money. That would be obnoxious to start a group based on the principles of tzedaka and try to make money off it, said Kurson, who has written about investing and finances for such publications as Money and Esquire and is currently deputy director of communications for Giuliani Partners, a strategic planning company created by former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Financially, Ive done very well compared to most writers, said Kurson, who coauthored Giulianis best-seller, Leadership, and very badly compared to successful entrepreneurs.
Kurson could easily have started a business based on his other interests, but he chose the one most dear to him.
Jewish values are central to my life, he said.
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