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, 5-7,10-11.
Shulchan Aruch, Copyright (c) 2000 ProjectGenesis, Inc.