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Hilchos Choshen Mishpat

Volume III : Number 11

Distribution Of Maaser Funds


Question:

Which Mitzvos may be performed with Maaser funds?


Answer:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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)


    Sources:

    (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 indicates.

    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 toatendler@torah.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 and approval.

    We hope you find this class informative and stimulating! If you do not see a subscription form to the left of the screen, access the Advanced Learning Network to subscribe to Business-Halacha.

    For information on subscriptions, archives, and other Project Genesis classes, send mail to learn@torah.org for an automated reply. For subscription assistance, send mail to gabbai@torah.org.

    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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