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Tzedaka – Who is entitled to receive charity?

1. Even a poor person who is entitled to receive charity should preferably ((The Mishna in Pe’ah chapter 8 mishna 9 writes, “Whoever is entitled to receive tzedaka and does not, will not pass away until he supports other people. The verse writes about him, “Blessed is the person who trusts in Hashem, and Hashem is his security”)) limit his expenses ((The gemara in Pesachim 112b writes, “Make your Shabbos like a weekday, and do not rely on others for support”, i.e. do not incur extra expenses by buying special and additional food for Shabbos. Rebbi Nechemyia and Rava attempted to convince poor people to limit their expenses so at not to overburden the charity fund (Kesuvos 67b).)) and work extra hours ((The Rash and the Rosh explain the mishna (ibid) that a person should take a job involving heavy labor and rely on Hashem, rather than taking charity.)) (even an uncomfortable trade ((The gemara in Bava Basra (110a) writes, “A person should do a ‘strange job’ and not rely on people for support”. The gemara explains that a ‘strange job’ refers to a job that he is unfamiliar with, as Rav Cahane instructed, “Skin a carcass (if necessary, even in public) and bring home a paycheck. A person should not say to himself, ‘I am an important person and cannot have this lowly occupation'”. The Rashbam explains that there is no problem of Chillul Hashem, as the gemara in Shabbos (114) writes that a Talmid Chacham should not have dirty clothes, since having a job is not lowly. The Shulchan Aruch (255:1) writes that even an honored Torah scholar who became poor should take a job, even a lowly one, so as not to receive tzedaka. However, the Aruch Hashulchan writes that if the Torah will be disgraced by him doing so, he should not do so. The Orach Chayim Hakadosh (Rishon Letziyon Yoreh Deah ibid) also writes this, explaining that this depends on each time and place. Presumably, in the days of the Rashbam, it would not have been a Chillul Hashem for a Torah scholar to have a lowly occupation.)) ) so that he does not need to take tzedaka. A person who makes this effort is guaranteed that he will not pass away until he becomes wealthy and supports other people. ((Mishna Peah 8:9.)) According to some opinions, he is guaranteed long life. ((This is the explanation of the Tosfos Yom Tov on the mishna ibid.))

2. The obligation for a poor person to limit his expenses applies even to mitzvos. Examples include not eating seuda shlishis, spending less money on the first two Shabbos meals, ((The Bach (Orach Chayim 242 s.v. ve’ha de’rebbi akiva) and the mishna brura (242:1) explain that a poor person who already takes charity should be given for seuda shlishis also. Additionally, a person who can save up the whole week to be able to buy seuda shlishis should do so. However, a person who does not take tzedaka and lives frugally, should preferably not eat seuda shlishis and spend less money on the first two Shabbos meals, rather than taking tzedaka.)) limiting Yom Tov expenses, ((Shut Betzeil Hachochma (5:47) proves from Tosfos (Beitza 15b s.v. Levu alai) that the requirement not to take from charity applies also to Yom Tov expenses.)) and possibly other mitzvos also. ((According to the gemora Yerushalmi (quoted in Tosfos kiddushin 31a), HaKadosh Baruch Hu requires a person to collect charity in order to honor his parents, in contrast to honoring Hashem Himself, where this is not a requirement. The bi’ur halacha (656 s.v. afilu mitzva overes) writes that a person must give all his money in order to fulfill any positive mitzva (tefillin, arba minim). This is in contrast to the opinion of the Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo  Bava Kama 1:24, quoted by Magen Avraham 656:7), that a person who lives frugally does not need to spend all of his money to be able to fulfill Torah mitzvos, nor does he have to take tzedaka to be able to do so. The Bi’ur Halacha (ibid) is unsure whether taking tzedaka is a requirement in such a case, proving his point from the ruling by ner chanukah and arba kosos where one must take charity. In any event, he must borrow tefillin and arba minim from someone else. See also Shut She’ilas Yaakov (1:26) at length.)) Two notable exceptions are lighting the Chanukah menorah and drinking the four cups on seder night, which a person must even go door-to-door to be able to perform.

3. Notwithstanding the above, a poor person must take tzedaka if he or his family ((The Yerushalmi on the Mishna in Pe’ah chapter 8 mishna 9 writes, “Whoever needs to take charity and does not, is a murderer, and it is forbidden to take pity on him.” The Rash and the Rosh explain that this refers to a person whose expenses are greater than his income, who lives a difficult sub-standard lifestyle.)) will suffer from malnutrition, become ill, ((The Smag (positive commandments 162) explains that the Yerushalmi is referring to a person who is old, ill, physically challenged, or has many daughters who he is unable to marry off. His explanation is brought by the Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch 255:2 and the Shach (ibid:1).)) be unable to maintain their studies, be unable to marry off children ((The gemara in Kiddushin (29a) writes that a father must teach his son Torah and marry off his children.)) or provide them with a dowry. ((The Semag writes that a father should take tzedaka to be able to ‘support’ his daughters, and the gemara refers to a dowry as ‘support’ (see kesuvos 50b). Therefore, if a person is unable to marry off his daughters without taking tzedaka, he may do so.)) A person who refuses to take tzedaka in these circumstances will be punished for the results, as if he played an active role in them. ((This is the meaning of the Yerushalmi, that he is a murderer. This is also implied by the Rambam (matnos aniyim 10:19) who writes that ‘he is a murderer and guilty with his soul’, which implies that it is regarded as if he killed himself. Derech Emuna (ibid) also explains it this way.))

4. A person should not hesitate to take tzedaka if he will otherwise be unable to learn Torah or will have to spend less time learning. ((Rishon Letziyon (255). He writes that in our times, when there has been a significant reduction in quality Torah learning, it is preferable to be supported by tzedaka and not reduce one’s learning. Similarly, the Igros Moshe writes (Yoreh Deah 1:144) that a man who wishes to get married and devote time to Torah study, may take tzedaka if he is unable to support himself otherwise, as is clear from Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 246:21. In 3:36:4 he explains at length that the Rambam who wrote (Talmud Torah 3:10) that a Torah scholar must devote part of his day to earning a living, is only referring to a person who is able to focus on his learning without being distracted by his occupation. If that is not the case, he may be supported by tzedaka.)) Certainly, a person should not hesitate to take a stipend from Kollel, which according to many opinions is not regarded as tzedaka. ((Heard from Rav Elyashiv. Even a person who is not halachically regarded as a ‘poor person’ may receive a kollel stipend. See also Shut Shevet Haleivi (8:315:1) who writes that a kollel stipend is regarded as ‘hiring a worker’ (and therefore a rosh kollel may not dismiss an avreich in the middle of the zeman). Based on the same logic, a rosh kollel who does not pay on time may transgress the prohibition of bal talin (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 3:470:9, Pischei Choshen 3:8:3 quoting Hagrasha Alfandri, Shut Be’er Sarim 5:56).))

5. A person who has a steady income either because he has a job, ((The mishna in Pe’ah (8:8) writes, “A person who has 200 zuz may not take leket, shik’cha, and pe’ah” (the parts of one’s produce normally left for the poor). The Rash explains that 200 zuz is the amount that a person needs to be able to feed and clothe himself for a year. The Or Zarua (Tzedaka 14) proves that this is also the criteria for taking tzedaka. Therefore, a person who has a steady income that will provide him support for the next year, may not take tzedaka. Although he does not have this cash in hand, the following mishna writes, “A person who has 50 zuz and is doing business with them, may not take”. The Rash (based on the Yerushalmi) explains that 50 zuz that produce money are worth more than 200 zuz that do not. Clearly, having a steady income is tantamount to having 200 zuz, and one may not take charity. This is the conclusion of Shut Shevet Haleivi (2:120), Tzedaka Umishpat (2:6), and Derech Emuna (Matnos Aniyim 9:84).)) a kollel stipend, ((According to Derech Emuna (bi’ur halacha s.v. hayu lo ma’atayim zuz) there is a limitation with regard to an avreich who receives a stipend from kollel. Only if the administration of the yeshiva or kollel commits to pay his stipend for the year, and will not dismiss the avreich within that time and pay even if their accounts are empty, is this stipend regarded as a fixed income. Otherwise, the avreich is regarded as a poor person, even if there is no apparent reason why the yeshiva would stop supporting him, since everyone knows that the yeshiva survives based on donations, and if their accounts are empty, they will not pay. In such a case, it is not regarded as if the avreich has a year’s income (unless he has savings or his wife works), and he may take tzedaka. Presumably, this would depend on the financial situation of the institution, that if it has assets from which it could support the avreichim for a year, it would be no different from a place of work. This seems to be the ruling in the sefer Tzedaka Umishpat 2:10.)) or any other type of support, ((Based on the Rash (quoted in footnote 17) that any source of income that a person has for a year removes him from the status of being a poor person and he may not take tzedaka. See Shut Sheivet Haleivi 2:120 and Tzedaka Umishpat 2:10.)) and can support his family ((The Rash (ibid) proves that the quantity of 200 zuz is for each family member.)) for the coming year, may not receive tzedaka in normal circumstances. In this context, ‘supporting his family’ includes food, clothing, and whatever else he needs ((The gemara in Kesuvos (67b) learns from the possuk (Devarim 15:8) that a poor person must be provided with whatever he needs to maintain his previous standard of living, even ‘a servant to run in front of him and a horse for him to ride on’. Today, when people are accustomed to a higher standard of living, these requirements are included in ‘supporting his family’.)) to maintain his standard of living. ((The gemara in Kesuvos (ibid) tells a story about a poor person who came to Rebbi Nechemia to ask for tzedaka. Rebbi Nechemia asked the poor man what he was used to eating, and he replied fatty meat and old wine. Rebbi Nechemia then asked if he would be prepared to make do with lentils, to which he agreed. The poor man subsequently died as a result of the change in his diet. The gemara writes that the poor man was responsible for his own death, since he should not have maintained such a high standard of living at the expense of the community. The gemara tells another story about a poor man who came to Rava to ask for tzedaka, and he was used to eating stuffed chickens and old wine. The poor man based his expensive practice on the possuk (Tehillim 145:15), “You give them their food when they need it”, that Hakadosh Baruch Hu provides food ‘according to each person’s needs, as he is used to’ (Rashi gemara ibid). At that moment, Rava’s sister, who he had not seen for thirteen years, walked in, carrying a stuffed chicken and old wine. Rava saw this as a sign from Heaven that this food was meant for the poor man, who he gave it to. In one of his explanations, the Maharsha explains that the poor man needed a stuffed chicken and old wine on a temporary basis, for health purposes.))

6. A person who has enough savings to support himself for a year ((See previous point.)) may not take charity. However, if the money is set aside for a future essential need, such as marrying off his children or buying himself an apartment, he may take tzedaka. ((If the money is set aside for a future need, such as marrying off his children, he does not have to use it for his current living expenses. We shall see, that it is permitted to set aside money for this purpose, so using it to live off would be pointless. This is also relevant to a person who puts aside money to buy an apartment in the future. If he would spend it now, he would have to save up again or pay rent. Therefore, he does not have to spend the money now. This analysis also appears in Shut Sheivet Haleivi 5:138:5.))

7. Notwithstanding the above, if a person has debts, ((Mishna Peah (ibid:8) and Rambam (Matnos Aniyim 9:13), “If he had money but he owes them to someone else, he may take tzedaka”. This ruling is brought in the Shulchan Aruch (253:1).)) even if they are not yet due, and even if there is a possibility that he will never have to pay them, ((

The Rash (ibid) brings the Yerushalmi on this mishna who says that this even applies if a man has money set aside to pay his wife’s kesuva (which he does not owe while they are married) and he may never to pay (if she passes away in his lifetime).

This raises somewhat of a difficulty these days, when it is common that the kesuva includes an obligation to pay $52,000 (according to the custom of the Sefardic community), or 100,000 shekels (according to Rav Moshe Feinstein, Even Ha’ezer 4:91-92). A man would be able to put aside this amount of money and still take tzedaka. Possibly, since the common practice is that a woman does not collect these amounts, as Rav Moshe Feinstein himself writes, but rather the couple comes to a divorce agreement, the kesuva is not regarded as money owed.)) their amount should be deducted from his savings. If his savings exceed his debt but he does not have enough to support himself and his family for a year, he may take charity.

8. The rule that a person who can support himself for the next year may not take tzedaka, only applies if there is a reasonable likelihood that he will have a source of income for future years also. (( The Tur brings this opinion in 253. This is based on the sociological situation of their times, when a poor person could assume that leket, shik’cha, and pe’ah would be available each year, as required. These days, this is the equivalent of there being a reasonable likelihood of a person having income for the years to come. Since the Tur and Shulchan Aruch do not bring any opinion who disagrees, and the Shach (ibid:1) explains the Shulchan Aruch according to this opinion, as does the Gra (Shenos Eliyahu Pe’ah 8:8, and Bi’ur hagra 253:6), the halacha is like this opinion. This rule is also brought by the Aruch Hashulchan (ibid, who praises the logic of this opinion), Shut Sheivet Haleivi (2:120), and Derech Emuna (Matnos Aniyim 9:81).)) However, if it looks like he will not have income for future years, ((However, if it is likely that he will have a source of income, even though he does not know exactly what it will be, he may not take from tzedaka. The logic being, that even in their times, in years of famine there would not be leket, shik’cha, and pe’ah either, yet there was no blanket allowance to take tzedaka. This is ruled by Shut Sheivet Haleivi (2:125) and Tzedaka Umishpat (2:6 and note 10).)) even if he has for this year, ((Based on Shach (248:1). Although the Aruch Hashulchan (ibid:2) asks on the Shach, the Shach is clear, since he is describing a case where a person has a source of income for this year, but it is not clear that he will have this source next year, in which case he may certainly take tzedaka.)) he may take charity until he has accrued enough wealth ((Tur, ibid. Once a person has reached a situation that he has enough money to profit from for his livelihood, his situation will be the same as a poor person in their times, when each year he would have leket, shik’cha, pe’ah, and ma’aser sheini.)) that he can invest prudently ((If his investment is not secure, he has not guaranteed himself an income for the years to come, so the investment is pointless. For the same reason, he must not make an investment that is regarded as high risk by the investment world, such as investing with a person who is not licensed. Presumably, this leniency only applies if he able to invest in a way that he could guarantee high returns, since it would not be permitted to deposit in a bank a large amount of tzedaka money for a return of 2%, and live off the interest. This is clear from the Tur, who proves this rule from the fact that a person who has 50 zuz cannot take charity if he is trading with them, since this is tantamount to him having 200 zuz. If taking tzedaka to invest will only provide a 2% return, it would appear that this procedure may not be followed.)) and live off the dividends. This only applies if he knows how to make such investments, and intends to do so. ((If he does not know how, or does not intend to support himself in this manner, he may only take tzedaka for the coming year (Tzedaka Umishpat 2:9).))

9. Notwithstanding the above, a person who foresees that he will have significant expenses in the future, may collect tzedaka for that purpose now, if he sees that he will not have time to collect it when he needs it. ((The Igros Moshe (Yoreh Deah 1:144 s.v. velachen) writes, “Even a person who has 200 zuz, may take tzedaka if he needs to marry off a child, since 200 zuz will not be enough for this purpose. Clearly, he may take charity for this purpose not only once the child is engaged and the wedding is imminent, but even if the child is not yet engaged.” This is echoed in Derech Emuna (Chapter 9 bi’ur halacha s.v. lo yitol), who writes “Finances that one will be unable to arrange in the coming year, such as marrying off one’s children, one may take for even this year, since it is like this year’s expenses”.)) For example, a person who has children approaching marriageable age, who does not currently have the required funds to marry them off and will be unable to collect the funds required immediately when they are needed, may start collecting years in advance. (( A parent who wishes to put away tzedaka money for his children so that they will be able to learn Torah after they marry, may open an investment account in their name when they are young and make monthly deposits into it. If the child chooses not to learn after his marriage, he will not receive the funds, which should instead be given to an alternative tzedaka (Igros Moshe ibid s.v. u’mimeila).))

10. If a person collected enough funds for his next year’s expenses, he may continue collecting, if he will need the funds in future years. For example, a man who travels to chutz la’aretz to raise funds to marry off his children or pay for a medical expense, and during his trip he collected all the required funds, may continue with his trip as planned ((This ruling is based on a mishna in Pe’ah (8:8) that a poor person who has just under 200 zuz, my accept at one time a donation of a thousand zuz. According to Rav Shlomo Hacohen Hagarsan (brought by the Or Zarua [tzedaka 15] and the Mordechai [Bava Basra 501]), a person who sets out on a fund raising trip to support his family, may continue on his plans, even after he has received 200 zuz. All the funds he receives during his trip are regarded as a one time donation, and although he is no longer a ‘poor person’ once some of his trip has elapsed, he may still receive tzedaka. Although the Or Zarua does not provide any source for his ruling, the Chida (Birkei Yosek Shiu’rei B’racha 253) quotes the Minchas Cohen who brings the source from a mishna in Ma’asros (4:3). The Chida himself disagrees that this is the source of the ruling. The Rema (153:1) rules that the poor person may continue his trip as he originally planned.

Shut Radbaz (2:714) rules the same way (without quoting the Or Zarua), and adds that were this not to be the case, a poor person would collect 200 zuz, spend some, collect more, spend some more, and never be able to return home. He adds another explanation, that the donors are aware that he needs a large amount of money to support his family, and give his their donation as a gift, which he may accept even if he is not officially a ‘poor person’. According to this reason, he would not be able to take money from the local charity fund. This would not be the case according to the Or Zarua.)) and collect more money, if he estimates that he will need this money in future years to marry off other children. Similarly, if he sent letters to solicit funds and received all the money he needed, he may keep any money that he receives later ((Tzedaka Umishpat (Chap 4 in footnote). This ruling is not exactly the same as the case of the Or Zarua, since allowing the poor person to accept this money will not create a situation where he will not have to travel again, since he is anyway at home. However, since in both cases the person can in general be regarded as poor, receiving a large amount of money that temporarily extracts him from that category, does not defy the comparison. Especially if we take into account the opinion of the Kiryat Sefer (brought in Derech Emuna ibid) that the law that a person who has 200 zuz cannot take charity is only derabbanan; According to Torah law, even if he has this amount he may accept tzedaka, if he will need it next year.)) and does not need to inform the donors that they need not send, if he estimates that in the future he will need this money for a similar purpose. Otherwise, he must return it to the donors. ((Based on what we wrote in another place, that once sufficient funds have been received for a particular cause, the collection must cease and all extra funds returned. This is also written in Derech Emuna (matnos Aniyim 9:86, and in Bi’ur Halacha s.v. lo yitol), who explains that one is allowed to receive tzedaka based on the verse (Devarim 15:8), “that which he is lacking” – once he is not lacking, he may no longer take tzedaka. This is in contrast to a poor man who may take a thousand zuz, which although it is beyond this year’s requirements, it will be needed in future years. Using tzedaka money for a cause for which one is not ‘lacking’, is certainly forbidden.))


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