A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
MA'ASER KESAFIM: DISBURSING MA'ASER MONEY
In addition to giving ma'aser initially beli neder, as outlined in last
week's column, one should also stipulate that he reserves the right to
allocate his ma'aser money for any "mitzvah purpose" of his choice. If he
fails to do so, he must disburse his ma'aser money to poor people only and
not to any other charity, such as supporting a shul(1), etc.
Even when initially reserving the right to allocate ma'aser money for any
mitzvah cause, one still faces many restrictions when disbursing the money.
The general rule is that one may use ma'aser money for any dvar mitzvah for
which he is not otherwise obligated. For example, one may not use ma'aser
money to pay for matanos la-evyonim or machatzis ha-shekel, since he is
obligated to spend that money regardless(2). Similarly, many poskim maintain
that ma'aser money cannot be used to pay tuition for either boys(3) or
girls(4), since one is required to pay for a child's education regardless.
If one pays more tuition than the average parent, however, he may use
ma'aser money to pay the amount in excess of regular tuition(5). One should
consult a rav in these and in all such cases, since there are many
exceptions and differing opinions concerning the laws of ma'aser kesafim(6).
Preferably, ma'aser money should be used to support poor people or to
enable others to learn Torah. The Chafetz Chayim rules(7) that supporting
poor relatives(8), even one's grown [married(9)] children, takes priority
over supporting unrelated Torah scholars. When supporting poor people who
are not relatives, however, preference should be given to those who are
The poskim also allow ma'aser money to be used for select mitzvos if the
only way one could afford to pay for them would be by using ma'aser
Years ago, poskim permitted buying sefarim from ma'aser money on condition
that they were lent to others(11). Nowadays when sefarim abound and are
easily accessible, this leniency should not be relied upon(12).
Ma'aser money may not be used by children for the basic expense of a
parent's burial, since children are obligated to bury their parents(13).
One may put away ma'aser money for someone who will learn Torah at a later
date [e.g., after marriage], provided that the money is deposited in a
special fund for safekeeping until it is needed(14).
* * * *
In last week's column we quoted Harav S.Z. Auerbach's ruling that government
subsidy for rent (e.g., section 8) is considered income concerning ma'aser
kesafim. Some have suggested that Harav Auerbach's ruling does not apply
when the rent subsidy is paid directly to the landlord on behalf of the
tenant. They argue that in this case the tenant has not actually "received"
the money and it is therefore not considered true income.
It is clear, though, that this was not Harav Auerbach's opinion. In the
question presented to him, the questioner explicitly states that the subsidy
is paid directly to the landlord and the tenant never "sees" the money. In a
short, written ruling(15), Harav Auerbach responds that ma'aser kesafim
should be given from this money.
Harav Auerbach's ruling notwithstanding, several prominent rabbonim in the
U.S. are of the opinion that rent subsidies should not be considered as
income concerning ma'aser kesafim. In their view, benefiting from a rent
subsidy can be compared to receiving a non cash gift, which customarily(16)
is not considered as income concerning ma'aser kesafim.
Note, however, that this debate is somewhat academic. As quoted in last
week's column, the Brisker Rav ruled that "anyone who finds himself in dire
circumstances - so that he needs financial help from others - and does not
live a life of luxury at all, but lives frugally, should not give ma'aser."
In most cases, anyone who is eligible to receive a government subsidy for
rent would fall into that category.
1 Chasam Sofer YD 231; Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Ma'aser Kesafim, pg. 19). See
also Tzitz Eliezer 9:3.
2 Mishnah Berurah 694:3 - see Magen Avraham and Be'er Heitev, ibid. see also
Mishnah Berurah 605:6.
3 Ahavas Chesed 19:2; Aruch ha-Shulchan 249:10. See Tzitz Eliezer 9:5 for a
more lenient opinion.