Hilchos Choshen Mishpat
Volume III : Number 11
Distribution Of Maaser Funds
Which Mitzvos may be performed with Maaser funds?
- The Mitzvah of separating Maaser from one's income was instituted to
benefit and support Torah scholars so that they may study with peace of
mind. It was also instituted for the support of other impoverished Jews.
However, the custom today is to use Maaser funds for other Mitzvah
causes, as long as the person distributing the money does not have a
Halachic obligation to perform that Mitzvah. (1)
If a person wishes to use Maaser funds for causes other than support of
Torah scholars and the poor, it is preferable that he make a stipulation
before separating his Maaser that he is doing so on condition that it may
be used for the other causes also. If a person did not do so, he may
still rely on the lenient opinions that Maaser funds may be used for
other causes also.
- Even if someone has made this stipulation that he will be using Maaser
funds for other causes, he may not use them to perform Mitzvos that he is
personally obligated to perform. For example, Maaser funds may not be
used to acquire Tefillin, Lulav and Esrog, or to purchase food for
Shabbos for himself. However, a person may use Maaser funds to "purchase"
an Aliyah to the Torah in the synagogue, to donate furnishings for the
synagogue, or to build an Eruv or Mikvah in his community, even though
these funds are being used for the community and not for the poor.
However, this is only if at the time that he pledged the money he
intended to pay for his pledge with Maaser funds. If he intended to use
personal funds, it would not be permitted for him to pay this pledge at
the "expense" of his Maaser account.
If a person always uses Maaser funds to pay his pledges, it is considered
as if he expressly had intention to do so at the time of the pledge.
- If a person hires a poor worker to do work for him, or if he purchases
something at a sale which advertises that all "profits will go to
charity", he may not use Maaser funds to pay for the work or the item,
even though he could have hired someone else. However, if he paid more
for the work or the item than the market rate because he knew the
proceeds were going to benefit Tzedakah, he may use Maaser funds for the
extra money that he is paying above the going market rate.
- A person is permitted to purchase Sefarim with Maaser funds, on
condition that he clearly mark them as having been purchased with
Tzedakah funds, and that he leave them in a Shul or Yeshiva so that the
public may benefit from them. Obviously, he may then also benefit from
them. He should not leave them at home unless he places a sign in a
neighboring communal building in a permanent manner that he has Sefarim
in his home available for all to borrow. These Sefarim are not to be
considered the personal property of the person who purchased them, and
his family does not inherit them upon his death. Since they were
purchased with Maaser funds, they forever belong to "Tzedakah". (2)
(1) The Maharam MiRottenberg writes in his Teshuvos (Prague Edition Siman
74): "After separating Maaser funds, a person must make sure to give them
to the poor. They should not be used for other Mitzvos, as this appears
as if you are stealing from the poor, even though it is not a Torah
obligation, rather a custom. Maaser funds have already been acquired by
the poor through the Minhag that is customary throughout the Diaspora."
It is clear from the above words that in the opinion of the Maharam
MiRottenberg, not only is the entire obligation to separate Maaser from
our income based on a custom, but also the obligation to distribute these
funds only to the poor is based on the local custom. This obligation is
not part and parcel of the overall obligation, rather it is an entirely
separate custom. Therefore, it would follow that, if, for whatever
reason, the custom has changed and many people do use Maaser funds for
other Mitzvos, this would become permitted. We do not say that the poor
"acquire" the funds when they are separated, since this only happens when
that is the prevailing custom, as the Maharam MiRottenberg clearly
Based on this, it seems likely that although many Achronim state that a
person should make a stipulation when separating Maaser funds that he
intends to use them for other causes, that is only because in their
locale it was customary to use Maaser funds specifically for the poor.
Today, when the prevailing custom in most places is to use Maaser funds
for other communal and charitable needs as well, it would not be
necessary to make such a stipulation. However, a person should only rely
on this B'Dieved (after the fact).
It seems to me however, that since, as we mentioned in last week's class,
the Ridvaz (Vol. 3 Siman 441) and other Achronim state that the guarantee
of wealth to someone who gives Maaser properly is only if it is
distributed to the poor and to Torah scholars, since this is whom the
this obligation is meant to benefit, as much as possible should be
distributed to them.
(2) This is stated by the Taz in Yoreh De'ah (249:1). His student, the
Nachalas Shiva (Siman 8:7) writes that the reasoning of the Taz that
Sefarim may be purchased with Maaser funds is because this is also
considered support of Torah study, for which this obligation was
intended. By making more Sefarim readily available, we are increasing the
amount of Torah that will be studied. This is why these Sefarim must be
made readily available to the public, and may not in any way be reserved
for private use only.
This week's class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an
Av Bet Din and Rosh Kollel in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. His
column originally appears in Hebrew in Toda'ah, a weekly publication in
Jerusalem. It has been translated and reprinted here with his permission
and approval. His columns have recently been compiled and published in a
three volume work called Mishpetei HaTorah, which should be available
from your local Sefarim store.
Feedback is appreciated! It can be sent firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week's class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an Av
Bais Din and Rosh Kollel in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. His
Column originally appears in Hebrew in Toda'ah, a weekly publication in
Jerusalem. It has been translated and reprinted here with his permission
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Please Note: The purpose of this column is to make people aware of Choshen Mishpat
situations that can arise at any time, and the Halachic concepts that may be used to resolve them. Each
individual situation must be resolved by an objective, competent Bais Din (or Rabbinic Arbitrator) in the
presence of all parties involved!
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