I have a question related to Maaser ksafim.
I recently joined an online hilchos shabbos chaburah which work through the smicha syllabus and write periodic tests on the content. The program entails a monthly subscription which I assume goes to the operating costs of the Rav who manages the program, grades the tests and associated admin staff.
I opted to join the program not in order to “get smichah” but rather to create a level of hitchayvut incentivizing me to stick to the program- I wanted to ask if my monthly subscription could be paid from my maaser ksafim money or not?
Paying for a learning program is a valid use of Maaser Ksafim. However if when you signed up for the program and obligated yourself, you did not have in mind to use Maaser, it should not be used in this instance. Once you accepted a mitzva obligation upon yourself, you can not use Maaser to “pay it off”.
The most basic purpose of maaser money is for the poor.
Thus, the Maharil rules that it is forbidden to use one’s maaser money for the purpose of purchasing candles for shul. The Chasam Sofer (Yoreh De’ah 232) understands that this is because the obligation of maaser relates specifically to the poor (the Chasam Sofer writes in siman 231 that this ruling derives from the custom of giving maaser to the poor).
Yet, both the Taz (Yoreh De’ah 249:1) and the Shach (249:3) rule (citing from the Maharshal, who in turn cites from Teshuvos Rabbi Menachem) that maaser can be used for any mitzvah that a person would otherwise not perform, such as purchasing books for learning from or for lending to others.
The Maharshal (glosses to Tur 247 and 256) adds that “today we give money to charity in the knowledge that it can be used for all public needs, and even our maaser moneys are given for any mitzvah matter.”