This week’s article will focus on how to operate a tzedakah or other public fund. May one person collect the funds? If not may a pair of collectors split up, each going to knock on different doors? Are tzedakah collectors assumed trustworthy, or are they obligated to provide ongoing reports? May a collector buy an object donated to the fund for himself, and give the proceeds to the fund? How must one treat a collector? Does the halacha change if a collector is paid for his service? Of this, and more, in the come article.
Donations in the Parasha
After reading in last week’s parasha about the donations Moshe and Aharon collected for building the Mishkan and the bigdei kahuna, this week’s parasha starts out with machatzis hashekel – the half-shekel coin every male who was of age was required to donate, both wealthy and poor.
This week we read of three kinds of donations:
- Donations to the Mishkan: these were of various materials and amounts, and depended upon the donors generosity of spirit. The materials were used for building the entire Mishkan besides the adanim – those weighted base-sockets used to support the wooden planks surrounding the Mishkan.
- The half-shekel donation of silver which was used for the adanim. This donation was a unique donation that obligated every Jewish adult over twenty.
- Regular donations that were used to pay for public sacrifices. This donation was a regular compulsory levy every adult male over twenty had to pay. And this donation was also a fixed amount – a half-shekel quantity of silver. The first time this donation was collected it also served towards a population census.
How much was the value of the silver half-shekel? Chazal tell us it was the minimum a person needed for one month’s food in the time of the Gemara.
Last week we discussed charity collection in halacha, focusing on how many people are necessary for every function. The following is a short summary of the halachos:
According to the Shulchan Aruch, money collection must take place in pairs but two relatives don’t suffice. Once the money is collected and accounted for, a fund may be run by a single person, as well as two relatives.
The Shach maintains that a solo individual cannot serve as the collector, but may serve as the treasurer because trustworthiness is not the issue here, but rather authority. In his time, the collectors had the authority to forcefully extract funds in the amount determined by the city council, and positions of authority cannot be delegated to a single person.
Today, whereas collectors have no authority to forcefully collect funds, even a single person may be appointed to collect tzedakah for a public fund.
Some Achronim understand that the Shulchan Aruch sees trustworthiness as an issue here as well. According to their opinion, the Shulchan Aruch allows for a single person or two relatives to serve in a public fund only after the money is counted and accounted for.
These halachos pertain only to a public tzedakah fund. A private fund, though, can delegate a single individual to solicit funds.
In this week’s article we will focus on the contemporary collector’s and treasurer’s trustworthiness and authority in various public funds –tzedakah funds, housing funds, and others.
Obviously, one can donate towards private funds if he so wishes, regardless of how they operate (single or multiple collectors, treasurers, and trustees).
An additional dispute pertains to a private fund for which the original founder appointed two trustees. If one of them dies or retires, the Rama rules the remaining trustee can continue running the fund alone, but the Taz requires the appointment of a second trustee, since trustworthy people are few and far in-between in our times (!).
Freeing a Collector of Suspicion
Seemingly, halacha trusts a tzedakah collector to pass the funds he collects towards the cause he claims they will go, and no additional treasurer is not required to oversee the process. Many poskim maintain that nowadays a person may solicit on behalf of a public fund alone since he has no authority to forcefully extract monies. However, the collector is obligated (Bave Basra 9a – 10b; Shulchan Aruch 257:1-2) to take certain measures to ensure that he will remain free of suspicion. While not viewed as suspect of abusing monies, he is obligated to ensure that his name remains untarnished.
Collecting in Pairs, Alone
The Shulchan Aruch rules (YD 257:1) that when two people collect together, they must not split to speed up the collection if they lose sight of each other in the process. Therefore, when collecting tzedakah in a building, if the doors are opposite each other on the same floor – each collector can knock on a different door, but if the doors are not opposite each other, both must knock at every door.
Pischei Teshuva (footnote 1) cites the Beis Yaakov (70) as ruling that if the donations are small, collectors may split up even if they lose sight of each other, because no suspicion will be aroused.
Seemingly, the reason that a tzedakah collector may not collect alone is in order to remain above suspicion. Other halachos, as we will detail below, stem from the same reason. Here the question arises – if , according to the poskim, collectors are seen as trustworthy, why do these halachos exist?
Several reason for this are mentioned in the Achronim:
- The Prisha (YD 257:1) writes that, indeed, for collection the collector is not trusted implicitly. Only after the money is counted is the treasurer seen as trustworthy.
- The Taz writes (YD 247:1) that where the collector does not forcefully extract funds he is permitted to collect alone. However, where the collector has the authority to employ force, collection must take place in pairs and the collectors cannot split up for the “easy” addresses, and only join forces for the “difficult” cases. Rather, where people know their tzedakah is collected in pairs, a single collector may not make the rounds alone because it arouses suspicion.
- The Ohr Hachyim (Rishon L’etziyon, YD 257:1) and Aruch Hashulchan (YD 257:10) write that while the collector is trusted to collect alone from the managerial aspect, he must take precautions to ensure his integrity is preserved intact in fulfillment of the pasuk “…You shall be clear before Hashem and before Yisroel” (Bamidbar 32:22). A tzedakah collector must take extra precautions because there are always suspicious-natured people out hunting for prey.
Another halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (YD 257:1) that pertains to maintaining one’s integrity is that if a collector who is soliciting funds has to suddenly deal with his own money, he must place his private money in the tzedakah box, and only later, at the privacy of his home, remove it. Therefore, if he finds money on the ground or someone returns a loan owed to him while he is out collecting, he may not pull out his own wallet and place the money inside so that onlookers should not mistakenly think he is taking tzedakah money for himself.
The Shulchan Aruch mentions a related halacha (YD 257:1): when counting tzedakah money, every coin must be counted individually so that onlookers will not mistakenly assume that two coins are being counted as one in order to conceal the real sum. Nowadays, this halacha is irrelevant because coins have a small value, as the Pischei Teshuva (footnote 1) quotes from the Beis Yaakov (chapter 70): one need not be concerned when the sum involved is minute. When counting bills, however, one must abide by this rule and count every bill by itself.
Another halacha (Shulchan Aruch, YD 257:1) pertains to exchanging coins or foreign currency. The Shulchan Aruch rules that exchanging a large coin for several small ones must not be done by using one’s own money, but rather via a reliable money changer, so that people will not be led to suspect that the collector is benefiting from the exchange. Therefore, when a fund manager has to exchange currency, he should use a reputable money exchanger and not exchange it with his own money. This remains the halacha even if he gives the fund a better exchange rate than it would otherwise receive.
For small sums of money there is no need to be concerned of this, as mentioned above.
A tzedakah gabbai who sells items to benefit the tzedakah fund may not buy the items himself, even if he needs the item and is willing to pay more than anyone else. Again, this is to ensure that he remains above suspicion – so people won’t think he is selling it to himself at a discount.
Halacha forbids demanding an activity report from the gabbai (Shulchan Aruch YD 257:2). This is derived from Melachim (II 12:16): “And they would not reckon with the men into whose hand they would give the money to give the foremen over the work, for they did [the work] honestly.” When King Yoash and Yehoyada the high priest renovated the Beis Hamikdash, they did not require a reckoning of the money used. Rashi explains (Bave Basra 9a) that this was due to the magnitude of the job and the urgency to complete it as soon as possible. Had they been forced to give an exact accounting of the money they spent, their pace would have slowed considerably.
The Rama writes (ibid) that while they have no right to demand a report, a public fund should issue periodic reports to ensure that the trustees remain above suspicion. The Shach (footnote 3) adds that the report should not be publicized because a tzedakah fund has expenses that are better kept secret (such as which poor people received funds). The Aruch Hashulchan clarifies that the report should be presented to two or three key figures in the community.
However, writes the Rama (ibid), this is only true if the gabbai was appointed by the public. If the gabbai assumed his position by force [or was appointed by the government], even if he is known to be an honest person, the public can rightfully demand an activity report. The Gra explains the distinction: by appointing him for the position, the public effectively proclaims their trust in him. Therefore, they may no longer demand an accounting. However, one who was not appointed by the public can be required to issue a report.
Yad Eliyahu (chapter 54) cites the Pischei Teshuva (YD 257:1) that one who sees a tzedakah collector during collection must stand up for him as a show of respect, just as one must stand before people coming to offer Bikkurim. Whenever a person performs a mitzva he deserves respect. However, adds the Pischei Teshuva, if the collector receives payment for his services, despite the great mitzva he is performing, there is no obligation to stand up for him.
A collector who collects for a private fund is not obligated to give a report and is permitted to collect tzedakah alone. He is, however, encouraged to take steps to ensure he is not suspected of abuse.
The Achronim are split over the assumed trustworthiness of a gabbai who collects for a public fund. While some maintain he is trusted before the money is counted, others maintain he is only trusted as a treasurer after the money is counted. Collectors and treasurers are not obligated to report on their work and the public should trust that they are doing their job faithfully, unless there is a reason to doubt their honesty.
The gabbai, on the other hand, is obligated to do everything possible to ensure that his name remains untarnished. Therefore, giving a periodic report is encouraged. Where a gabbai is suspected of abusing funds, he is obligated to provide a report. This is also the case where he is paid for doing the job, or where it is the norm.
Since the above halachos pertain to every public fund and not only a tzedakah fund, wherever the fund has the legal authority to collect monies and refusal allows for taking legal action, collection must take place at least in pairs.
Where there is no authority to demand monies, the Achronim are split regarding collection. While some still require collection to take place in pairs, others suffice with periodic activity reports so that members will know where their money went.
The obligation of reporting depends: if the collector receives compensation for his services or it is the accepted norm, or if the collector was appointed by forces other than the community, he must provide a periodic report. However, a collector who was appointed by the public is above suspicion and cannot be obligated to provide a report.
Small amounts are beyond suspicion and one is not obligated to go to any great distances in order to prove his honesty when only a small sum is involved.