Sunday, February 15, 2009

Charity Priorities

Last week, I mentioned briefly (at the end of this post) an appeal from four national Orthodox organizations for communities to raise funds to help local families in this time of economic crisis. I was recently discussing this with a local rabbi and he mentioned his need to review the halakhic guidelines for prioritizing such money. I lent him my copy of the R. Daniel Z. Feldman's recently published Divine Footsteps: Chesed and the Jewish Souls, which has a chapter on the gabbai tzedakah and another on the rabbi's discretionary fund. I think these chapters are based on guidelines that Rabbi Feldman wrote for the RCA, but I'm not sure. Here is an excerpt from his discussion of charity priorities in general, before he gets to the discretionary fund (pp. 230-233, footnotes omitted):

In addition to a system of prioritization among recipients, there are preferences indicated between different causes, once the urgent needs of the poor without food have been seen to.

Click here to read moreThe Shulchan Arukh maintains that one who has funds to spare could do no better with them than to assist in the marrying off of poor young women.[80] This appears to be the result of several factors...

Thus, even within the category of wedding and marriage expenses, a hierarchy of needs exist. Of prime urgency is any element whose absence would prevent the wedding from taking place. Next on the list would be the provision of funds necessary for the couple to sustain their married life, adapted to the sliding scale of dei machsoro. Of course, this point will once again leave much to subjectivity and discretion.[83] Next, the needs of the ceremony itself are considered; halakhic sources authorize whatever is necessary to create appropriate joyousness and whatever is conventional and will cause humiliation if omitted, while at the same time cautioning against excesses[84]...

Another priority in charitable giving is Torah education... Halakhic authorities quote from earlier sources that in a community in which not all parents are able to afford tuition for their children, the obligation falls on the community members as a whole in accordance with their capacity to contribute.[87]

The Shulchan Arukh states that “there are those who say that mitzvat Beit Ha-Kenesset (the commandment of the synagogue) is greater than tzedakah, and the mitzvah of tzedakah to young boys to learn Torah, or to the poor of the sick, is greater than Beit Ha-Kenesset”[92]...
And see here for a recent review of the book: link

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