Sunday, July 12, 2009

Charity for the Lazy

Is there an obligation to give charity to someone who is capable of working but refuses to? The most famous source to discuss this is the Keli Yakar (Ex. 23:5), who compares it to the following rule in that verse:

כי תראה חמור שנאך רבץ תחת משאו וחדלת מעזב לו עזב תעזב עמו
If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you shall surely help him with it.
Click here to read moreNote that you only have to help him with it, i.e. if he will also participate. So too, writes the Keli Yakar, you only have to help someone by giving him charity if he will help himself also by working. Obviously, if he is physically unable to work then that is a different story.

R. Aharon Lichtenstein discusses this issue in a 1979 article that was recently translated into English and published in the latest issue of Alei Etzion (article - DOC). R. Lichtenstein quotes a Meiri (Kiddushin 8b) who is unsure about the rule in such a case, and then R. Lichtenstein reaches the following conclusion:

The aspect of charity that derives from an obligation to walk in God's ways is unconditional and applies even to someone who will not help himself. However, the interpersonal aspect does not. Therefore, while you are still required to give charity to such a person, the obligation is contextual based on the specific circumstances and might even be set aside in preference for other opportunities to walk in God's ways.

Note, in particular, the following statement by R. Lichtenstein (p. 18):
There is indeed a saying that “God helps those who help themselves,” which implies that He does not help those who don’t help themselves; and whole generations of people who ignored the unfortunate, and even abused them, soothed their consciences with this idea. This, however, is not the Jewish outlook.
UPDATE: In the comments, R. Ari Enkin directed us to Responsa Maharshdam, Yoreh De'ah 166 and R. Ya'akov Kamenetsky, Emes Le-Ya'akov, Yoreh De'ah 253 n. 141. R. Kamenetsky writes that you should not give charity to someone who refuses to work but you have to verify, every time, that he chooses not to work and is not somehow sick and physically or mentally unable to work.

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