Question:

Can the money I contribute to the building fund by standing order be considered part of my ma’aser?

Answer:

Technically, the money designated for the building fund cannot be subtracted frommaos ma’aser.

Ma’aser kesafim is a halachic concept with its own set of rules. The mitzvoh oftzedokoh does not require giving a tenth of one’s assets to the poor ((Concerning the halachic criteria for acceptable recipients of ma’aser, the Ramo (Y.D. 249:1) states that ma’aser can only be given to poor people. The Chafetz Chaim (Ahavas Chesed 19:1) emphasizes that ma’aser was originally instituted for the sake of supporting people studying Torah. Only poor relatives should be provided for before talmidei chachomim.

The Chafetz Chaim also points out that charity for the poor is not only money for food and simple shelter. He broadens the category of poor people to include wedding preparations if the couple does not have the means to arrange for a wedding, medical care for poor people, hachnosas orchim and burial needs of poor people.

The emphasis on poor people seems to indicate that using ma’aser for mitzvos (e.g.,mikveeiruv, shul, esrog, matzoh or communal religious structures) is unacceptable. The Be’er Hagola, however, explains that the Ramo did not intend to exclude divrei mitzvoh from the possible uses of maos ma’aser unless the devar mitzvoh had already been the person’s responsibility before the ma’aser money was designated for that purpose. The Taz (Y.D. 249:1) seems to concur, since he allows maos ma’aser to be used for the purchase of an aliyoh in shul, provided that the person intended to use his ma’aser money to pay for the pledge when he made the pledge and did not decide afterwards to use his maos ma’aser. Apparently, the fact that the money is going to be used for the shul and not for poor people is not a reason to proscribe using ma’aser money. The Shach (Y.D. 249:3) supports this position. The Shach quotes the Maharshal and Derishoh, who add that ma’aser can only be used for a devar mitzvoh if the person would be unable to perform the mitzvoh otherwise. The Taz and Be’er Hagola omit this condition and apparently disagree. Furthermore, the Shach himself goes on to present the opinion of the Maharam of Rothenburg, who disagrees with the Maharshal and Derishoh. )) but it is a Jewish custom to do so. Should a person wish to fulfill this noble mitzvoh voluntarily, he can choose to do so according to the halachic standards for ma’aser kesofim or he can choose to give tzedokoh according to his own interpretation of ma’aser and think of it as ma’aser kesofim.

A person who has made a commitment to give ma’aser kesofim is responsible for fulfilling this commitment, whether it is a commitment to give ma’aser according to the halachic standard or according to his own formula. For example, should a person exclude certain income that halochoh would consider “ma’aserable” income or include beneficiaries that halochoh would not consider a proper allocation of tzedokoh funds, he is still obligated to maintain his commitment to give tzedokoh as he originally intended.

If a kehilla requires each member to pay a certain amount of money towards a building fund that will serve the kehilla, the money cannot be drawn from ma’aseraccording to the halachic standard. If, however, the person has not obligated himself to give ma’aser according to the halachic standard, he may deduct the amount of money given to the building fund if the “ma’aser” formula to which he has committed himself includes beneficiaries such as taxed building funds.

The reason money given to such a building fund is not an acceptable halachic use of the ma’aser is that the person is already obligated to give to the building fund andma’aser is money given as charity when the giver does not already have a separate requirement to give it. ((Be’er Hagola [249:1:(°)], Taz (Y.D. 249:1) and Chasam Sofer (Y.D. 231). Paying a debt, even a debt to a worthy cause, is not tzedokoh. If when the person obligates himself to give the money he plans to use maos ma’aser to pay it, then ma’asermoney can be used since the obligation did not precede the tzedokoh. ))

Membership fees used for a mikve, eiruv, shul, Torah library, school or other religious institution cannot be deducted from ma’aser if one has obligated oneself to give ma’aser according to the objective halachic standard. If, however, when you made your commitment regarding tzedokoh you intended to use your tzedokoh for such purposes, you can continue to do so.

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