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


WHO TO GIVE?


The definition of a poor person is someone who lacks basic needs for him or herself or their family based on the usual living standard in their community. It is therefore a Mitzvah to give such people tzedaka (see B'orach Tzedaka p.348). Someone who has a steady salary that covers their expenses is not considered poor and cannot take tzedaka even if they don't have any savings (Shevet Halevi 2:120).


Someone who can work and refuses and is not learning Torah full-time should not receive tzedaka. In practice, it's hard to judge if someone unemployed isn't able to work because of a sickness or the like, and therefore one must contribute out of doubt (Emes Leyaakov Y.D. 253 fnt.141).


THE PRIORITIES OF GIVING

The order of priorities where one should allocate one's tzedaka is as follows from the highest priority to lowest priority:

  • A poor parent

  • A poor child

  • A poor paternal brother or sister,

  • A poor maternal brother or sister

  • A poor neighbor or poor friend who lives in your city

  • Other poor people in your city

  • Poor people of Jerusalem

  • Poor people of Israel

  • Poor people outside Israel


(Sources: Ran Nedarim 65b from Vayikra 25:35, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 251:3, Pischei Teshuva 251:2, Aruch Hashulchan 251:8, see also Tzitz Eliezer 7:38:10.)


When giving to a higher level priority strictly speaking one may give all of one’s tzedaka to them, however, some recommend that it is not proper to give all of one’s tzedaka to one’s relatives but to give some of it to others too (Chasam Sofer Y.D. 231). If a lower priority level needs tzedaka more than the higher priority level needs it, they have precedence over the lower priority level (Chasam Sofer Ibid). Some disagree (Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:144).


It is considered "tzedaka" to give money to one's children above 6 years of age (one is not obligated to support them beyond that age), in order to give them an appropriate Torah education. Indeed, they take precedence over other people entitled to receive Tzedaka (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 34:6).


One should be especially careful to give to a poor Torah scholar. If he doesn't want to receive it, one should try to help him make money in an honorable way or give him money to do business (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 34:14).


TURNING DOWN REQUESTS


It is forbidden to refuse a poor person’s request for tzedaka (Rambam Matnos Aniyim 7:7 from Tehilim 74:21). Therefore when a poor person is collecting from many people, whilst it isn’t necessary to give them a large donation, one should still give them a small donation to avoid the prohibition of leaving a poor person empty handed (Derech Emunah 7:49).


BACKGROUND CHECKS


Before giving tzedaka, one should check that the poor person is honest and really needs the money (Bava Batra 9a, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 251:10, Rema 256:1). Some say that the requirement to investigate a poor person applies only to communal charity funds, but if an individual is asked for tzedaka he need not check if the poor person is honest before giving to him (Mishna Halachos 13:173 also writes that it is forbidden to embarrass the person to check if they're honest).


In a similar vein, despite there being a Mitzvah for us to lend money to Jewish people (Shemos 22:24-25), a person does not have to lend another Jew money unless they know that they’re trustworthy (Mishna Halachot 14:211).


If it turned out that one gave tzedaka to someone to a fraud it is questionable if one fulfilled any mitzvah of tzedaka. Some say that a partial mitzvah has been performed (Mishna Halachos 13:173) and others say no Mitzvah has been fulfilled (heard from Rav Shmuel Berenbaum). So even though we get the reward for intending to do a Mitzvah (as per Kiddushin 40a), ideally, one should give tzedaka again (see Bava Basra 9b and Yad Ramah there). One would be required to give again in cases where there was a pledge to give tzedaka (as per last week's Halacha) or if one is fulfilling their obligation of Maaser Kesafim - tithing.


Whilst the Mitzvah of tzedaka only applies to Jews, the Jewish community should also give food and clothing to poor non-Jews because of "Darchei Shalom," keeping positive relations with non-Jews (Gittin 61a, Remah Y.D. 251:1).


HOW MUCH TO GIVE


One fulfills the basic mitzvah of tzedaka by giving at least the value of a 1/3 of a shekel annually (Shulchan Aruch Y.D 249:2). Today, this is equivalent to 4.67 grams of silver, which is roughly $3.75 (Laws of Tzedakah and Maaser p.8).


However, the standard amount of tzedaka recommended (and according to some, required) by the Rabbis is to give 10% of one's income. One who gives up to 20% is considered very generous. This is known as Maaser Kesafim (monetary tithing), which we will discuss in depth next week.


INTERESTING FACTS


  1. Despite tzedaka being a Biblical commandment, there is no bracha recited when performing the mitzvah of tzedaka. Some say this is because of the risk of a Beracha in vain if the receiver doesn't accept (Sh"t HaRashba 1:18). Others explain that since both Jews and non-Jews give charity we are unable to say a blessing as this would include us saying the words 'Asher Kideshanu' meaning that Hashem made us holy more than the nations of the world (Aruch HaShulchan YD 240:2).

  2. It is permitted to exchange one's coins or bills in a personal or communal tzedaka box, whether one wants to put in small coins and take out larger coins or bills, or to put in a large bill and take out small coins (Tzedaka Umishpat 8:5). Nonetheless, the common custom is to leave extra for tzedaka when doing so (Laws of Tzedakah and Maaser p.115).

  3. It is permitted and even recommended for the donor to get recognition for his donation by having their name written on it (Rashba Responsa 581 from Midrash Rus 5:6, Remah Y.D. 249:13, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 34:13).


In future weeks BeH, we will BeH discuss the laws of Maaser (tithing)!

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