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[21] Hilchos Tzedaka: The Laws of Charity (Part 1 of 2)


The obligation to give tzedaka (charity) is referanced multiple times in the Torah, most clearly in Devarim 15:7-8:

'כִּי־יִהְיֶה בְךָ אֶבְיוֹן מֵאַחַד אַחֶיךָ בְּאַחַד שְׁעָרֶיךָ...לֹא תְאַמֵּץ אֶת־לְבָבְךָ וְלֹא תִקְפֹּץ אֶת־יָדְךָ מֵאָחִיךָ הָאֶבְיוֹן...כִּי־פָתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת־יָדְךָ לוֹ'

'If there be among you a poor man, one of your may not harden your heart, or shut your hand from your poor shall surely open your hand wide to him'.

This passuk includes not only a positive commandment to give charity but also a negative prohibition forbidding one who can afford to give from withholding (Sefer Hachinuch 478, Yereyim 202, Rambam Sefer Hamitzvos Lavin 232, Smag 289). Most opinions rule that this prohibition only applies when the poor person is in your presence and therefore ignoring an appeal letter or an agent of the poor person does not incur this prohibition (Machaneh Efraim Tzedaka ch.1, B’orach Tzedaka 1:8 quoting Rav Elyashiv, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach).


The mitzvah of tzedaka applies to men and women equally (Sefer Hachinuch 479). Children should be trained to give tzedaka from the age of chinuch, which is around age 5 or 6, if they have their own money (Laws of Tzedakah and Maaser p.32).

Someone who is poor, even if they themselves are collecting tzedaka, nonetheless has an obligation to give a minimal amount of tzedaka (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 248:1). Some say that someone without a steady income is exempt (Shach Y.D. 248:2).


The Rambam (Ibid. 10:7-14) and others (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 249:6-13, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 34:12) list eight levels of giving tzedaka:

  1. The most ideal way to give tzedaka is to give someone in a difficult financial situation a job, loan, or gift so that he won't need to collect charity from others.

  2. The next level is to give anonymously so that the donor doesn't know he's giving and the poor person doesn't know who gave it. This can be accomplished with a communal tzedaka box that is administered by someone trustworthy.

  3. The next level is to give so that the poor person doesn't know who he received from even though the donor knows to whom he gave it.

  4. The next level is to give so that the donor doesn't know who he gave to even though the poor person who gave it knows the donor.

  5. The next level is to give before the poor person asks.

  6. The next level is to give after the poor person asks.

  7. The next level is to give with a happy face.

  8. The next level is to give even though one is internally sad but doesn't express it.

One should be very careful to give sensitively and not to embarrass a poor person (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 34:8). We are obligated to give tzedaka with a nice expression, happiness, empathy for his plight, and words of encouragement (Rambam Matnos Aniyim 10:4). If a person expresses that he is giving begrudgingly he doesn't get any mitzvah and in fact it is a sin (Shach Y.D. 249:9).

It is better to give a lot of poor people a little money than to give one poor person a lot of money (Rambam Avos 3:15).


If a person says that this dollar or any sum of money is tzedaka, this is halachically binding and that money becomes tzedaka (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 258:1). Similarly, if someone says that I am going to give tzedaka, that is a binding vow (Ibid 257:3).

For this reason, one should always say that one is pledging the tzedaka 'bli neder', meaning 'without a vow'. This ensures that if one accidentally forgets they won't be liable for a serious sin (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 257:4).

NOTE: When you receive a 'Mi Sheberach' after getting called up to the Torah the Gabbai is giving you a beracha in the merit of your pledging to give tzedaka to the Shul. One must remember to pay such pledges.

After pledging tzedaka to poor people one must give it immediately and if one delays they may (in some cases) violate a prohibition (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 34:9). Therefore, one should stipulate that they plan to give it out to poor people when they see fit (Ibid 257:3). This does not apply when pledging to the Gabbai or a shul in which case the donor only needs to pay once the Gabbai (or accountant!) asks that it be paid. If the Shul are not aware of the pledge one should make them aware of it and fulfill his pledge (Rema Y.D. 257:3).


There is a debate regarding one who decides to give charity mentally without expressing it verbally, must they fulfill that decision? The Shulchan Aruch (C.M. 212:8) brings two opinions and leans to be lenient whereas the Rema (Ibid) says one must fulfill the pledge. If a person writes a check for tzedaka they must carry through with this decision and give it to tzedaka (Chukei Chaim Y.D. 3:56).


Seeing as tzedaka is not a time-bound-commandment one can and should give tzedaka anytime. Even though some kabbalists do say that it is better not to give during the night, the consensus is that it is entirely acceptable to give tzedaka at night (Chida in Petach Enayim Bava Kama 16b).

It is a pious practice to give tzedaka before davening (Rambam Matnos Aniyim 10:15, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 249:14).

Nowadays, many give tzedaka on the Yahrtzeit day for a parent instead of fasting (Minchas Yitzchok 6:135).

Coming up in future weeks BeH, who to give, how much, priorities, fraud, the laws of Ma'aser, and some fun facts!


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