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Weekly Halacha

Parshas Terumah

By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt

A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.


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 learning Torah.

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 money(10).

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.

4 Igros Moshe Y.D. 2:113; Harav M. Shternbuch (Am ha-Torah vol. 2, #5, pg. 4).

5 Igros Moshe, ibid.; Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Ma'aser Kesafim pg. 22).

6 There are poskim who permit paying tuition for older children who are away in yeshivah - see Pri Yitzchak 2:27 and Meishiv Devarim Y.D. 137. See also Tzedakah u'Mishpat 6:14.

7 Ahavas Chesed 19:1 and footnote there.

8 Parents, however, should not be supported from ma'aser money if their children have other sources of support for them - Ahavas Chesed, ibid.

9 Understanding of Tzedakah u'Mishpat 5:5.

10 Ahavas Chesed 19:2 allows giving to hachnasas kallah [even when the recipients are not destitute] if otherwise the giver would not be able to do so.

11 Taz Y.D. 249:2.

12 Harav Y.S. Elyashiv and Harav S. Vozner (oral ruling quoted in Avnei Yashfei 1:191).

13 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (written responum published in Avnei Yashfei 1:192).

14 Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:144.

15 Published in Am ha-Torah, vol. 2, #11, pg.13.

16 See Ma'aser Kesafim, pg. 226, Tzedakah U'mishpat 5:5 and Emes L'yaakov Y.D. 249, note 132.

Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Project Genesis, Inc.

Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.

The Weekly-Halacha Series is distributed L'zchus Hayeled Doniel Meir ben Hinda. Weekly sponsorships are available--please send email to the moderator, Dr. Jeffrey Gross

The series is distributed by the Harbotzas Torah Division of Congregation Shomre Shabbos, 1801 South Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118--HaRav Yisroel Grumer, Marah D'Asra



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