To whom should I give Maaser — to my church/synagogue or to the poor? Somebody mentioned about giving Maaser to somebody who gives you spiritual nourishment. Is this true?

Answer:

Maaser money should ideally be given to the poor. This recalls the original biblical laws of tithing, which was used to support the Kohanim and Leviim who had no independent income. In fact, the idea is that the money be given to poor Torah scholars, who are today’s equivalent of the Kohanim and Leviim. However, the common custom is to use maaser moneys for other worthy and charitable purposes, too.

There is no particular mention of giving maaser to spiritual mentors. However, if he is poor a spiritual mentor would take precedence, both because of his being a “Torah scholar” (somebody who dedicates his life to the pursuit of Torah and its dissemination), and because in deciding which poor people to give one’s maaser to those to whom one is close take precedence.

For a more detailed analysis of the topic, please see here (para. beginning The Obligation).

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