Sunday, July 18, 2004

Laws of Charity

"Tziyon be-mishpat tipadeh, ve-shaveha bi-tzedakah" - "Zion will be redeemed through justice, and its returnees through charity" (Isaiah 1:27; cf. Metzudas David, ad loc.; Shabbos 139a)

In the spirit of the nine days, I present a slightly abridged translation of the laws of charity in Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah

Ch. 247

1: It is a positive commandment to give charity according to one's ability. This commandment is repeated a number of time in the Torah and there is an additional prohibition against refusing to give charity. One has to be very scrupulous about this commandment because refusing to give in a timely manner could lead to the death of someone poor.

2: No one becomes poor or otherwise damaged from giving to charity.

3: God has pity on those who pity the poor. Rema: One should remember that one is always requesting sustenance from God and, therefore, just as he want God to answer his requests he should answer the requests of the poor. One should also remember that charity is a cycle and that one who gives may end up receiving similar beneficence in the end, either himself or one of his descendants.

4: Charity tears divine decrees of punishment. Rema: It also brings wealth. One is not normally allowed to test God but in this matter, one may challenge Him. However, some say that one may challenge God only regarding giving ma'aser but not other charity. (R. Ya'akov Emden and the Shelah write that one may only challenge in regard to ma'aser of produce and not ma'aser of money. - Pis'hei Teshuvah)

ch. 248

1: Every person, even someone supported by charity, is obligated to give charity. (A poor person is only obligated to give if he will have sufficient funds to survive - Shakh) The religious courts can force one to give charity and even remove funds from one's estate for charity. (There is a dispute whether the court can remove funds for charity from an estate without the owner's presence - Shakh and subsequent commentators)

2: One may take a collateral for a charity fund, even on the eve of Shabbos.

3: A court does not assign charity requirements to orphans living off their father's estate. (Many disputes over the exceptions.)

4: The charity agent may only accept small donations from children or married women because the father/husband must authorize such donations. (If it is clear that the father/husband approves of such a donation, then one may accept it - Pis'hei Teshuvah) ("Nowadays", when women normally buy and sell items and have permission and control of a portion of household finances, one may accept donations from wives - Gilyon Maharsha)

5: If a woman hires a tutor for her children and her husband does not protest, then the transaction is valid. If he objects, then the transaction is null.

6: An adult son who eats at his father's table and a servant who eats at his master's table may give a piece of food to a poor person or to his friend's son, because such is common practice.

7: A desparate person who pledges more charity than he can afford or who pledges begrudgingly, all so he is not embarrassed for not giving, the charity agent may not collect on that pledge.
8: One who wishes to achieve merit for himself should overcome his inclination towards stinginess and give generously. Anything that is for the sake of Heaven will be good. If he builds a synagogue, it should be nicer than his home. If he feeds the poor, he should give of the best food on his table. Etc.

(b"n, to be continued)

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