Part II: Yoreh De'ah
Chapter 19 - CHARITY
We are commanded to give charity in accordance with our means (see 250:5)
and are forbidden to ignore the needs of the poor (247:1). No harm can
result from giving charity (247:2). If a person is merciful to the poor
G-d will be merciful to him when he is in need (247:3-4).
Even a poor person who subsists on charity is required to give some of it to
charity (248:1; see 251:12 and 253:8, and see 249:2 on the minimum amount).
The court may compel a person to give appropriate amounts to charity (248:1),
but minor orphans are usually not compelled to give charity (see 248:3), and
charity is generally not accepted from persons who have no property of their
own (see 248:4-6). Charity may be accepted from non-Jews, but a Jew should
not accept such charity if Jewish charity is available; see 254:1-2 and 259:4.
A person should be generous in giving charity in both quantity and quality
(see 248:8), but he should not give more than he can afford (see 248:7). A
person should give a tenth of his income (and initially a tenth of his
capital) to charity; he may give up to a fifth if he wishes, and on his
deathbed he may give any amount (249:1). On gifts to the poor from crops
see Ch.28. Charity should be given graciously and no poor person should
be turned away empty-handed (249:3-4,11-13).
The best form of charity is helping a poor person become self-supporting
(249:6;253:11) or giving him work (see 251:6). It is also desirable to
encourage others to give (249:5); that the giver and receiver not be known
to each other (249:7-9); to give before being asked (249:10); and to give
before praying or at the time of commemorating the departed (249:14,16).
There is special merit in charity that is used for teaching children Torah
or for making weddings for poor girls (249:15-16).
The community is required to support each poor person at the level to which
he was accustomed; see 250:1-4. Charity must be given even to non-Jewish
poor, but it is not required to give charity to Jews who regularly violate
the Torah (251:1-2). Supporting relatives or neighbors who are in need has
priority; see 251:3-5 and 257:8,10. Other persons that have priority include
the hungry (251:7); women (251:8); scholars and persons of good heredity
(251:9, and see 11). One should not give all his charity to one poor person
(257:9). On supporting community employees from charity funds see 251:13.
Ransom of captives takes precedence over other forms of charity (252:1-3),
but paying excessive ransom or attempting to rescue the captives should
usually be avoided (see 252:4-5). On priorities among captives (and
ransomers) see 252:6-10,12. A captive who can afford it must ransom
himself and must compensate anyone who ransoms him (252:11-12).
A person who has adequate resources that are available to him or assets
that he can liquidate at a fair price must not accept charity, though he
may accept loans and gifts; see 253:1-3,5,10 and 255:2. On investigating
persons who ask for charity to verify that they are actually in need
see 251:10;256:1. If a person is qualified to accept charity he need not
repay it even when he is able to do so (253:4-5). A person should avoid
taking charity if he can support himself in some other way (255:1-2), but
if he is in need he should not refuse to accept it (see 253:9,11;255:2),
and he may use it to repay debts (see 253:12).
A promise or intent to give charity is like a vow (see 257:3-4;258:1-2,5-13;
259:1,5-6) and should be fulfilled in accordance with the giver's probable
intent (see 258:3-5). If charity is collected for a specific purpose it
should be used for that purpose even if more than necessary is collected
(see 253:6-7); on using it for other purposes see 251:14;256:4,6;259:2-3;
and 356:1 (on burial expenses). Charity funds may be invested (see 259:1)
and are not subject to taxation (259:6).
Every city must appoint trustworthy persons (256:1) to collect charity
from residents of the city (256:5-6) according to their means (see 250:5)
and distribute it to the city's poor (see 256:6). On specific procedures
of collection, distribution, and accountability see 248:2;256:2-4;257:1-2,
Shulchan Aruch, Copyright (c) 2000 ProjectGenesis, Inc.