Is it permissible to give maaser money, knowing that you will get something in return? For example, there are some places where, when you give them tzedakah, they give you a giftcard or something in return.
Also is it allowed to use maaser money to purchase tickets at a chinese auction or is that the same thing?
I know these aren’t really black and white questions, but more “grayish” but thank you anyways.
With regard to receiving a free gift, or giftcart, it seems that one should estimate how much one would have paid for the gift by itself, which one then pays out of one’s own pocket, and then the rest can come from maaser money. For example, if an organization gives a silver cup to anyone who donates $200, and one would pay $20 for such a cup, one should give $20 from one’s own money, and the other $180 will come from maaser money.
The evaluation can be subjective: If you, personally, have another hundred cups at home, and it is therefore worthy only $10 to you personally, then you can take off $10 alone.
The question of using maaser money for buying a ticket in an auction (or similar idea) is discussed at length by contemporary poskim. The simplest approach follows on from the above: It is permitted to use maaser money, but one should deduct the value of the ticket from the contribution. Thus, if one would be prepared to pay $5 for a ticket which costs $10, this should be considered as $5 worth of maaser money.
Rav Moshe Feinstein rules in this vein: If there are a fixed number of tickets (participants) in the lottery, it follows that there is a fixed value for each ticket (based on the probability of winning), and buying it with maaser money will be problematic. However, if there is no fixed limit to how many tickets will be sold, one cannot fix any value to any single ticket, and thus one may purchase the ticket with maaser money.
According to this ruling, it will usually be permitted to use maaser money, because the number of tickets is unlimited.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky (Derech Emunah, Matnos Aniim Chap. 7 Biur Halachah s.v. ve-echad) writes (in a similar vein) that where the ticket is certainly worth less than the contribution, the (real) cost of the ticket (based on chances of winning) should be subtracted from the contribution.
The book Tzedakah U-Mishpat (Chap 1, note 85) also writes that one should subtract the value of the ticket, but adds that if one is convinced that he would not but the ticket at all (were it not for the tzedakah contribution), then no sum need be subtracted (this is more lenient that the ruling of Rav Moshe, who does not suggest this).
However, some poskim write that it is entirely permitted to use maaser money for purchasing a ticket at an auction, and it appears that many rely on these opinions (see Teshuvos Ve-Hanhagos 3:289, who qualifies the ruling by stating that one should not use more than 20% of one’s maaser money for such purchases; Shevet Ha-Levi 9:200).
Shut Even Yisrael (8:64) writes that one should not purchase a ticket from maaser money at all, and that if one does, the prize (should he win) belongs to tzedakah (see also the sources above, concerning the status of the prize if one happens to win).
Don’t worry, by the way, about “gray” questions — these are sometimes the most interesting…