For years, I have always been makpid to separate maaser kesafim and a second maaser – chomesh. I am under the impression from previous rabbonim that I have spoken to that (1) this is the optimal amount of tzedaka to give and that (2) one is not supposed to give more than this.
BH, my business endeavors have been successful; at the same time, I am now at the stage of life in which I am supporting children in Kollel and similar such expenses, all of which (I have been told) are legitimate maaser expenses. As a result, although I could afford to give more tzedaka than I currently am, I am under the impression that I am not supposed to give more than I am since the support I currently provide my children and grandchildren is more than 20% of my earnings. This sounds strange to me, but it is what I am currently doing. Should I be giving more tzedaka than I am, and if so, how much more?
It is permitted to give more than one fifth.
Although the Gemara writes that a person should not give more than one fifth of his income to tzedakah, we find in a number of sources that it is permitted for somebody who has the means to give more than one fifth.
This is implied by the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 249:1), who writes that the amount one must give depends on the need of the poor, yet somebody with limited means should give no more than one fifth.
Based on this source, the Shevet Ha-Levi (Vol. 2, no. 121; Vol. 5, no. 133) writes that somebody with the means can (and should) give even more than a fifth to charity, the limitation of one fifth applying specifically where the poor are taken care of by a communal fund. He proves his point from a number of sources, including the Perishah, She’elas Yaavatz, and others.
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Yoreh De’ah 143), however, writes that the Rema disputes this principle, and maintains that a person should never spend more than one fifth on charity. The Minchas Yitzchak (Vol. 5, no. 34, sec. 2) argues and writes that it is possible that the Rema agrees to the Shulchan Aruch that it is permitted for somebody with the means to give more than one fifth.
Thus, according to many authorities, it is at least permitted for somebody with the appropriate wherewithal to spend more than one fifth on charity. This is actually stated explicitly by the Rambam (Pe’ah 1:1) (writing that out of midas chasidus it is permitted to give more than one fifth).
The Shulchan Aruch Harav (Iggeres Ha-Kodesh 10) further explains that although out of the mitzvah of tzedakah one must not give more than one fifth, it is permitted to give more to tzedakah by was of teshuvah, or to increase one’s merits.
In addition, a number of authorities, including the Chochmas Adam (143:10) and the Ahavas Chessed (2:20; see also Yaavatz 1:3) write that the enactment of Usha limiting tzedakah to a fifth does not apply to the exceedingly wealthy. Of course, one can debate who, precisely, is considered “exceedingly wealthy,” and this will not apply to regularly “above average wealth” individuals.