Question:

My company has the custom of giving staff members a gift before holidays—usually money. I usually put some extra money in the envelope for my personal assistant, and she does not know what is from the company and what is from me. This year I will not be able to give her as much as I have in the past—nor as much as I think she expects or would like. The question is, can I add in maaser money (which I don’t do usually) to keep her bonus similar to the amount she received in the past? (In case this is relevant, the additional amount is not really performance related; I try my best just to focus on what I think her needs are, and not my personal feelings towards her at the time.)

Answer:

You can add maos maaser to her bonus if she qualifies as an oni.

  1. In simplified terms, an oni is someone who does not have a regular income that meets his or her yearly expenses and does not have assets (other than a home and its contents) that can last for a year. If your assistant can meet her regular expenses on the salary and regular benefits she receives, she does not qualify as an oni. If she is married, you calculate her husband’s income as well. If she has an irregular expense (e.g., medical expenses or home purchase), then that will raise her threshold below which she qualifies as anoni. The difference between her income and her yearly expenses is the amount that can be considered tzedokoh and can be taken from maaser kesafim. ((Y.D. 253:1; Chasam Sofer on Y.D. 249; Tzedokoh U’mishpat 2:6. ))
  2. A person who is a mumar lehachis should not be given tzedokoh. ((Taz and Shach on Y.D. 251:2. )) One may give tzedokoh to a mumar letaiavon who has repeatedly committed an aveira,although there is no chiyuv to do so. ((Taz and Shach on Y.D. 251:1. )) In order to avoid eiva and encouragedarchei shalom, it is permissible to give tzedokoh to nochrim.
  3. A rebbi, shaliach tzibbur or rav should not be paid his salary or bonus from a fund that is widely known as tzedokoh money. It is considered disgraceful for him and for the community. A private individual who offers his (or his child’s) rebbi or rav a respectable gift may use maos maaser, since it is not noticeably tzedokoh money. ((Ramo Y.D. 251:13 and Gro there (251:23). )) The implication is that it is permissible to pay someone else’s salary or bonus with tzedokoh, even if they know about it. In the situation you discuss neither the employee or anyone else will know she received tzedokoh, which is even nicer.
  4. The fact that the maaser money is given to your assistant together with other, non-maaser money does not detract from the mitzvoh. You can even make a purchase and overpay in order to give tzedokoh and retain the recipient’s dignity. For example, if you know you can receive a discount on a specific item by using a coupon or taking advantage of a special offer, but instead you pay the full price in order to give tzedokoh, the amount that was “overpaid” can be deducted from maaser. ((See Maharam Shick on Y.D. 230 and Tzedaka U’mishpat, chap. 6, note 7. The Maharam Shick mentions the possibility that maos maaser kesofimshould not be given in the form of payment for a purchase, but he seems to backtrack on that idea by the end of the teshuvoh. ))

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