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Laws of Tzedakah Part I: The Basic Obligation

  1. Even the destitute must fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah. Although someone without income and reliant on charity is not subject to the obligation (or custom) of maaser kesafim, ((The details of the obligation or custom of giving (at least) a tenth of one’s income to charity will be dealt with in a later shiur.))  he remains obligated in the basic mitzvah of charity ((See RambamLaws of Giving the Poor 7:5; Tur and Shulchan AruchYD 248.)).
  2. For a woman who conducts business dealings relating to the home economy (a definition that includes almost all of today’s women), authorities dispute the application of the prohibition of giving a large sum to charity. ((Citing from RaavanYam Shel Shlomo (Bava Kama 10:59) writes that women today, who conduct business dealings in the framework of the home economy, are permitted to give even large amounts to charity, because the donation to charity is included in the general permission she has with regard to monetary matters. Yam Shel Shlomo himself disputes this, and writes that the wife’s permission to conduct monetary dealings is limited to the home economy, and does not extend to giving charity. Aruch Ha-Shulchan and annotations of Yad Avraham quote the opinion of Raavan without mentioning the dissent of Yam Shel Shlomo, a position contested by Shevet Ha-Levi (2:118).))  However, if her husband voices an explicit objection, all opinions agree that a wife may not give the donations. ((RoshKelal 13, sec. 11; see Yam Shel Shlomoibid.))  If a wife has made a vow (neder) to give a donation to charity before her husband voiced an objection, and the husband has not annulled the vow, ((Noda Biyehuda (Tinyana YD 159) writes that a husband is able to annul the vow; Maharsham (2:57) cites proof for this position fromTosafos (Bava Metzia 104a).))  authorities dispute whether the husband must give the donation to charity. (( See Maharam Mintz 7, cited in Beis Shmuel 91:13; see Maharsham 1:45 who explains that Maharam Mintz relates to a vow made by the woman before she was wed, or before the husband voiced his objection; see also Shoel U-MeishivKama 3:195.))
  3. It is prohibited for a husband to prevent his wife from giving charity to the degree that other women of similar financial status give, such that the wife would become publicly known as stingy and miserly. If a husband prevents her from giving charity under such circumstances, the wife has a right to file for divorce. ((Maharam Mintz 7; Nachalas Shiva 17:7; see also Maharsham 1:45, who writes that under such circumstances somebody who receives charity from a wife is not obligated to return the donation.))
  1. The amount that fulfills the elemental obligation of tzedakah ((Bava Basra 9a: “A person should never give less than one third of a shekel per year.” Rambam (Laws of Giving the Poor 7:5) writes that the optimal fulfillment of the mitzvah is to give one fifth (of one’s income), the median amount is one tenth, and less than this is considered miserly. He continues, “However, a person should never give less than one third of a shekel per year, which is the minimal amount that can fulfill the mitzvah. Even a poor man who is sustained from charity must give charity to another.” Shulchan Aruch (YD248:3) thus rules that a poor person is not obligated in giving a fifth or a tenth, but must give a third of a shekel.)) is one third of a (Torah) shekel per year. (( The amount need not be given in a single donation, but can be spread over the year (see ShachYD 249:4). There is room to consider whether the year spans from Rosh Hashanah to Rosh Hashanah, from Adar to Adar (when shekalim were donated for communal sacrifices), or from Nisan to Nisan (when the sacrifices were brought from the new donations of Adar).)) This comes to 0.165onkios (a weight), or 4.68g of silver, a relatively small sum. ((This is based on Rashi (Shemos 21:32), who writes that one shekel is equivalent to half an onkia. This measure is validated by Ramban(letter, printed at the end of Toras Ha-Adam), who found an ancient shekel coin whose weight proved Rashi’s correspondence with theonkia. On sixth of today’s onkia comes to 4.677g of silver, whose value (as of 26 Iyar 5770, 05.10.10) is just over three dollars ($3.0405), or 11.46 shekels.)) According to Chazon Ish, the amount comes to 6.4g of silver.((Chazon Ish bases his measure on the opinions cited in Ramban and Rashba (Shevuos 38b) who expressed the measure of a perutah as the weight of half a kernel of barley. One shekel contains 768 perutos (see Kiddushin 12a), which means that one third of a shekel comes to 6.4 grams of silver.))
  2. If somebody is so impoverished that his donation to charity would deny him his very sustenance, and leave him reliant on charity donations, authorities dispute whether he remains obligated in giving charity. ((See RemaYD 251:3, which implies that somebody who relies on charity for his sustenance need not give tzedakahShach (YD 248:1) notes that this appears to contradict the undisputed ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (see above, note 2), and resolves the contradiction by differentiating between levels of poverty. See also Nachalas Tzvi, who disputes the ruling; see Taz (OC 694), Aruch Ha-Shulchan (YD 248:3), and annotations of Yad Aharon.))
  3. Most authorities maintain that it is incumbent upon Beis Din to force a poor person, who receives his sustenance from charity, to give the required sum (one third of a shekel) to charity. ((Aruch Ha-ShulchanYD 248:4; Derech EmunahMatnos Aniyim 7:68; see Bach, below.))  However, some maintain that he retains the right to exchange his charity money with someone of similar status. ((This is the opinion of Bach, YD 253. According to Shach and Aruch Ha-Shulchan the proof to the halachah is not valid, but it is possible that they, too, agree to the ruling.))
  4. A debtor who has insufficient means to pay back his debts should not donate more than one third of a shekel (per year) to charity until he completed the repayment of his debts. ((Based on Sefer Chassidim sec. 454; see also ibid. sec. 395, 397. ))
  5. An employer who is obligated to pay a hired labored for his work should not give any money to charity if this would render him unable to pay the laborer. ((One may not give a donation to charity on account of paying a hired laborer, for doing so would transgress the Torah prohibition of lo talin. See Ahavas Chessed 9:10.))  This applies even when the prohibition of lo talin will not be transgressed. ((See Ahavas Chessed Chap. 9, Nesiv Chayim 28, who explains that the mitzvah of paying the laborer takes precedence over themitzvah of charity, reasoning that the Positive Commandment to pay the laborer has the stringency of a Positive Commandment with an attached Negative Commandment (even when the actual transgression does not apply). We might further suggest that the mitzvah of paying the laborer is considered a person need, which takes precedence over others’ needs: Your life takes precedence. Concerning the clash of paying a laborer with other mitzvos, paying a laborer takes precedence (Biur Halachah 242). ))
  6. An unmarried woman is obligated in giving charity. ((Tzedakah U-Mishpat 1:19, and note 55. She is obligated is charity as she is obligated in all positive mitzvos that are not time-related.Tzedakah also incorporates Negative Commandments for one who desists from giving charity.))  For a married woman, however, even when she is the principle breadwinner of the household, the obligation of giving charity reverts to the husband alone. ((Because her income is the property of her husband.))
  7. It is permitted for a married woman to give a small amount of money to charity, in proportion to the wealth of her husband. Such donations may be given even without her husband’s explicit consent. ((Bava Kama 119a; see Yam Shel ShlomoBava Kana 10:59, who explains that we assume the agreement of the husband to make a small donation. See also Meiriloccit., and RoshKelal 13, sec. 11.))  However, if her husband forbids her from making donations, she must follow his instructions (see also below), ((Shulchan AruchYD 248:4; RadvazCommentary to RambamLaws of Giving the Poor 7:12.))  even if the husband himself fails to fulfill his obligations towards charity. One who receives charity from a woman under such circumstances (when the husband does not consent) must return the money. ((Noda BiyehudaTinyana 158; Shevet Ha-Levi 5:132 (cf. Aruch Ha-Shulchan, 248:13).))
  8. Some maintain that it is permitted for a woman who financially sustains her husband to give even a large sum to charity without the need for prior consultation. ((Yam Shel ShlomoBava Kama 10:59.))  Although some authorities maintain that she may give charity in spite of her husband’s objections, ((MaharilChadashos 109; Aruch Ha-Shulchan 248:12.)) most agree that if her husband objects she may not give the donation. ((Shevet Ha-Levi 5:132. This is also implied by Yam Shel Shlomo (above, note 17), who bases his ruling on the assumption that the husband consents to the donation.))

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