Thursday, June 6, 2013

But Is It Tzedakah? by Rabbi Yair Hoffman

5tjt   A couple of years ago, a wealthy individual from Lawrence wanted to produce a documentary on “Meshulachim” and those who collect Tzedakah in shuls.  One of those to be interviewed was told that he would receive a rather large sum of money if he would merely answer a few questions honestly.  It was an opportunity to earn significantly more than he was to make by soliciting funds.The arrangement was that, while he did not have to volunteer information, he did have to answer all of the questions to be posed in an honest manner.  If there was any question as to his honesty, he would not receive the funds.  The person readily agreed to the arrangement.

The exchange went something along the lines of this:
“Good morning, what are you collecting for?”

“Hachnasas Kallah.”

“Mazal Tov! Whose hachnasas kallah?”
“Well, my own.”

 “Mazal Tov!  When is the wedding?”

 “Well the date has not been established yet.”

 “Okay.  Where is the Kallah from?”

“There is no Kallah yet, I have not found her yet.”

 “Oh, I see.”

“How much, do you collect on average per week?”

 “Between $700 to $800 per week..”

We will stop at this point in the conversation to get to the halachic topic at hand.  Is there a communal obligation to support an individual who purposefully chooses not to work, but rather to collect charitable funds?  [...]


  1. While it would be problematic to become overly scrutinizing about the meshulachim who frequent our shuls (it could result in HKB"H mirroring our midoh and scrutinizing us before granting us his shefa), it is equally foolish to be oblivious to the abuses.

    I have witnessed people collecting for cigarette money, to avoid working, or just because. There are also several goyim who learned that collecting in shuls is easy money. They find a way to dress the part, sporting a beard, some payos, often a black hat. They have also learned a word or two to appear to be a Yid, like someone sitting shiva, or the classic "Tizku lemitzvos".

    Worse is the disruption they cause when collecting, bothering the baal tefilo, and approaching people in the middle of davening. There are halachos about collecting, and I have yet to meet someone who learned these dinim and follows them. I have seen a few who wait until chazoras hashatz, but these are unfortunately the exception.

    Someone described having sent a letter with a checklist of every conceivable place during davening to Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit"a asking when one may be approached for tzedokoh. His response was to note that עוסק במצוה פטור מן המצוה. The assumed psak from this is that one is not obligated to give tzedokoh during davening. However, that would be because he is engrossed in his own mitzvah of tefilo. It stands to reason that if he is involved only in a perfunctory way, not really עוסק, then he should be מפסיק to give tzedokoh.

    This subject is a difficult and sore one, as it would be wrong to exclude those who are truly needy. Are letters of endorsement reliable? I have seen some clearly forged. Does anyone have a method of keeping the real causes while excluding the fake ones?

  2. The worst part, the fake meshulachim ruin it for the real needy ones.
    I have noticed in my shule, many don't give anything.

  3. Rabbi Avigdor Miller z"l said that it says that "al yatil odom pruta letzedaka ela im cain memuna olov crav shimon ben dosa", one should not put a penny into a tzedaka box unless the one in charge is like Rav Chanina ben Dosa. Ones tzedaka money is an investment in olom haba. If someone came to you and asked you to invest your money in an oil well in Oklahoma would you do it? Of course not. Here also your money could be going to waste.

    The Gra says that it says al tikpotz es yadecha but rather open your hand and some fingers are larger than the others. Give minimal amounts to unknown causes and save the large donations for well known causes such as the Lakewood yeshiva or Mir or Laniado hospital.

    Tzedaka nigvis bishtayim, charity is collected with 2 people because 1 person can't be trusted with money not for himself either to be careful not to waste it or not to steal from it. Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky said that a single person with a letter of endorsement might be viewed as 2. However, it needs to pass the smell test. Has its date expired? Does it look realistic? Ask the collector for someone from your area who could vouch for them.

    Lakewood and Baltimore issue certificates to collectors with recommended amounts for donations.

    The guy collecting for his future chasuna should rather be working that throwing himself on the public.

  4. "Give minimal amounts to unknown causes and save the large donations for well known causes such as the Lakewood yeshiva or Mir or Laniado hospital." quote
    Is there any reason you chose these ones?
    There is a seder in hilchos tzedakah.
    1) Pidyon Shevuyim ( it is deoraisoh learned out of the famous posuk oi doidoi oi ben doidoi)
    BTW family have the first chiyuv also learned from that posuk, also the shevi, must pay back the money, it is only a loan. It is a fixed ransom amount or an amount to redeem someone who sold himself into slavery or was captured and sold into slavery. This does not include legal fees for a criminal or suspected criminal, although if he is in need that would be tzedakah, & he would take his place on the list.
    2) Next is his divorcee a wife he has divorced (according to the Beis Shmuel in Gittin) she is the foremost tzedakah, "sell that to the ex-husbands".
    3) Family the order within the family is brought down in Shulchan aruch with no mention of the divorced wife, even in the noisei keilim.
    4) Neighbors
    5) Aniyei ircha local poor.
    6) Some say Aniyei Eretz Yoisroel are considered like local, but again some say so it doesn't take preference.
    7) all other aniyim.
    There are stories in the Talmud which defiantly give preference to a Talmid Chachom, but I guess the list still applies, and in each group the Talmid Chachom will take preference.
    I am not saying that the mentioned charities are not good causes, but your big donations should go to those Shulchan aruch says they go to.
    BTW you may give any one who asks ,a small amount because of al yoshuv dach nichlom,not to embarrass some one who begged you, there again you may not go in to debt to do that.
    Of course the real number one in shulchan Aruch I missed out & that is yourself, you may not go in to debt to give tzedokah, unless you have where to repay it, even then that may only be for pidyoin shevuyim, & a minimum one must give every year, and according to some maser & choimes, you may not exceed a choimesh ,see Rambam igeres Teimon.
    There is much more I could write but I suggest you learn it in SDhulchan aruch & Ahavas Chesed from the chofetz Chaim.

    1. Pidyon Shevuyim is indeed a great cause. However, it is highly doubted that this actually exists today. I have heard of collectors seeking funding to assist with legal costs for criminals to help them get reduced sentences. This has been applied to molesters, men who were recalcitrant husbands to deny their wives gittin or defaulted on owed support payments for their children. It is absurd to taint the holy cause of pidyon shevuyim with efforts to rescue such low lifes whose best place is in long term prison.

      It is worth noting that your entire list did not include a single organization, whether to help those with medical issues, or even yeshivos. No one is arguing whether these are obligations. But the hilchos tzedokoh you reported are about tzedokoh to aniyim. Hachzokas Torah is a separate issue.

    2. I recall the most important tzedakah law: I have an obligation to give, but no obligation to give to YOU

  5. Meshulach,

    I was just providing minimal guidelines distinguishing between meshulachim which pass through shuls and reliable tzedaka reciptients and not providing a seder for giving of tzedaka.

    In any case, most of the cases you mentioned in the kedima list are not presented to most people.

    Secondly, kedima doesn't mean most money. It only means that if you are presented with 2 or more categories, which one gets first. The first may get much less than a later one.

    I have asked many poskim about the order of tzedaka and have been told that hachzokas torah is equal to all other categories and my money should be split between the 2.

    Not to be mevazvez more than chomesh is no tzedaka but a limitation on tzedaka so that you yourself don't become a nitzrach.

    It was not my intent to provide a full shiur on hilchos tzedaka but to give some guidelines to those who don't know how to deal with the collectors that come around.

  6. Look around you shul and neighbohood, you are bound to find tuly needy people, without the need for going through any oganizational overhead. Ask you rov who is most needy or give him $ to pass along. Ask your local grocer who is struggling to keep up with their bill. Your local Tomchei Shabbos is also a sure bet, that your tzedaka dollars value will be maximized.

    Those who truly seek to give tzedaka have no problem finding worthy causes to support.

  7. Let me daven,
    See Ahavas Chesed from perek 17-21 where he speaks about hachzokas Torah, he still has the amily first policy. & it still looks like a particular Talmid Chochom, like a yisocher Zevulun, or Shimon Achi Azariah, I guess giving the Mir would be a lot of Talmidei Chachomim, but if you have brothers who are Kollel leit & Rabbonim, I guess you are Yoitzei both.
    He also says that some say not more than Choimesh, doesn't apply to when the ONI begs you outright or if widows & orphans in your town are starving.
    I think it is worth a peak over there maybe the blog will put it up & highlight some parts.
    As for pidyoin Shevuyim, I think I make the point in my earlier post, you just added what I purposely omitted.

  8. Meshulach,

    The limit on chomesh is a Rama directly in shulchan aruch

    שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות צדקה סימן רמט

    הגה: ואל יבזבז אדם יותר מחומש, שלא יצטרך לבריות. (ב"י בשם הגמרא פ' נערה שנתפתחה)

  9. tzoorba
    I am aware of that, but you will also not find the hachzokas Torah you or the other guy mentioned over there, whereas the Chofetz Chaim brings it, & speaks about going over the Choimesh, in many different cases.
    Just look it up.

  10. I give to meshulachim who are collecting for organizations that I have heard of and respect as long as they have a valid letter. For others, even with a letter, I have the following standard reply:

    "I do not give directly to anyone. Please go see Rabbi XYZ. Here is his name, address, and phone number. Tell him that I have sent you and that he should give you the money you need on my behalf."

    Rabbi XYZ is aware of and has agreed to this arrangement. He is authorized to give up to $180 on my behalf. -- While Rabbi XYZ's identity has changed over the years as our family has moved, the fact remains:

    Not a single person has ever come to Rabbi XYZ to collect... Not one.

    1. That is an excellent arrangement, and not because so far no one has come to R. XYZ to collect.

  11. I don't know the details of the specific young gentleman who was interviewed, but I definitely think that it's wrong to give his story as the poster boy for the question "Is there a communal obligation to support an individual who purposefully chooses not to work, but rather to collect charitable funds"?

    The implication here is that the young man in the story purposefully chooses not to work, preferring to collect charity.

    This is an unfair assumption, and may not necessarily be the case. Perhaps he is interested in working, but has limited skills which will pay him only minimum wages. While his salary will allow him to survive without having to resort to accepting charity, the fact is that he'll never be able to put together enough money to get married. He doesn't have anybody who is capable of paying for his wedding, and all the additional expenses of starting married life. The thought of a long life of loneliness is debilitating to him, which could seriously impact his ability to work and to function as a human being. He therefore sees resorting to charity as his only option.

    The fact that he hasn’t yet found a bride is of no consequence. He needs to have money in hand before he can “go shopping”. He can’t wait to start collecting until he gets engaged!

    I would say that such a person is definitely an eligible candidate for receiving tzedaka.


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.