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Friday, February 9, 2007

Tzedakah Priorities

Frum Jews live their lives according to the guidelines and parameters of Halacha. In almost every area of life we strive to do what is Halachikly preferable, and if necessary will approach a Rav for guidance.

However, the laws of Tzedaka seem all but forgotten, and seemingly there exists little motivation to do what is Halachikly correct.

I am not referring to the giving of Tzedakah. Fortunately, people are constantly giving and donating money and objects, often above and beyond their means.

What I am referring to are the Tzedakah priorities as defined by Halacha.

One who studies the relevant material realizes that there are very clear-cut guidelines on whom and what takes precedence.

Family comes first. If there are family members who are in need of financial help, they take precedence over all other causes.

Supporting Torah scholars is second. Obviously, if one has a relative who is a budding or accomplished Torah scholar and is in need of financial help, he would take precedence over all other Torah scholars as he encompasses both of the two highest priorities.

Although the list of Tzedakah priorities continues, I would only like to focus on these, as they relate to the subject of my previous post. (For further information, one can study the Halachos in Shulchan Aruch with its commentaries, or read Rabbi Feuer’s wonderful English Sefer on Tzedakah.)

Nowadays, we are bombarded with letters and brochures, much of which are cleverly written to play on the recipients’ emotions and arouse their sympathy for the cause. We are also bombarded with glitzy & ostentatious Chinese auction brochures designed to appeal to our base materialistic instincts.

Without delving into the methods being used to raise funds, we should always keep in mind the priorities as defined by Halacha.

Sending a check to that poor cousin is more important than supporting the family with the heart-wrenching story. Sending a check to your local Kollel, or better yet directly to the Kollel members themselves, is more important than buying that ticket for the luxury cruise in the Chinese auction. There may be less fanfare surrounding Tzedakohs that focus on supporting Torah scholars, but after all it is the number two priority.

I am not, Chas V’Shalom, questioning the validity of any other Tzedakos in any way. Unfortunately, there are many needs in our community and each has its merit and importance. I am just attempting to raise awareness to the fact that there are unambiguous Halachos determining Tzedakah priorities, just like there are Halachos in other areas of our lives.

Personally, I feel there is enough, or at least close to enough, money in the community to adequately support all its basic needs. But we should not allow for glitzy ads to replace the Halachik sense of proportion.

Let giving Tzedakah enjoy the same status as other Mitzvos, where we seek to perform them in the ideal way.

53 Comments:

Jacob Da Jew said...

I give my money to my Rabbi who is learning and has children who are getting married. Chinese auction, nope.

socialworker/frustrated mom said...

Good issue to bring up. It is tough to decide which tzeddakahs to give to. Eretz yisroel is considered your own community. People should realize that as well.

Anonymous said...

Where does it say ,Erezt Yisrael is considered your community?
And even if so, should one first support his closer community.
I myself have relatives in EY whom I try to help out, but most of my money goes to my childrens tuition.
I am paying close to $40,000, and I feel that is more important. Why should we support other Mosdos and not the ones we send our kids to.

Anonymous said...

Rav Moshe paskened that Kollel America has adin of aniy ircha.

megapixel said...

ift, good topic, one i think about alot- a product of my jewish guilt. i see all the ads and my mailbox is full of these sob stories daily and i wish i could help them all...but i cant. sometimes i get to the point where i actually resent these letters and also the shnorrers holding their hands out in front of all the groceries. for making me feel guilty.
a recent gadol (R' Yakov? cant remember) said that if every jew gave maaser, there would be no need for all these tzadakos.
anyway, as with all consumers, when you spend your tzedaka dollars, you want to be sure the money is actually going to help someone who is worse off than you in some way. one of my kids schools has a nice program, they ask every parent to give 18 dollars per kid to pay for the rebbe's life insurance. but i never gave for the simple reason that most of those rebeim are in better shape financially than I am, and my husband never had life insurance cuz it just wasnt in the budget.

arnie draiman said...

great question!

a) who is considered a Torah scholar? certainly not everyone who learns in a yeshiva, right? I am sure that the powers that be meant outstanding excellence in Torah scholarship. It is hard to justify supporting a 'stam' kollel student whose family is hungry when he could be working and earning some parnasa.

b) Israel is important and needs to fit in somewhere, but certainly immediate family needs and true superstar Torah scholars can come first. (and I make a living giving money in Israel - so understand, that i do understand!)

arnie draiman

Rafi Goldmeier said...

the problem is there is a little selfishness in our giving tzedaka as well. we like some of the glamor involved in the glitzy brochures.also, we like the opportunity to give tzedaka and get something in return (in chinese auctions)..
If we would be less selfish inour performance of tzedaka, we would give according to halachic priorities more.
The ultimate way of giving tzedaka is matan b'seter - anonymous. But how many of us do? Because we aare human and have needs and are a bit selfish and want to be appreciated, etc.. (myself included).

It's All Good Now said...

Personally, I feel a much bigger satisfaction when I pay for someone's suit while picking up my husband's, and giving my son's rebbe generous "tips" throughout the year, than I do by spending $200 on 2 tickets to the Zichron Shlomeh auction;s show. Fortunately, I don't haveto choose, but if I am ever in a situation that I do haveto be more selective, I would like to think that glitz n' glamour will not win.

Independent Frum Thinker said...

Jacob Da Jew –
Great choice.
Just for clarification, I have nothing against Chinese Auctions per se, I’m just advocating a return to the Halachik priorities. Your Rabbi who is learning is definitely at the top of the list.

SW/FM –
Allow me to check on that.

Anonymous Feb 9, 3:46 –
I’m going to check into the Halacha regarding Tzedakah for Eretz Yisroel.

Anonymous Feb 10, 8:57 –
I can’t seem to find the Tshuva. Can you write the exact source?

Megapixel –
Thank you for sharing your feelings on the subject.
By the way, even a poor person is expected to give a little something to Tzedakah. Hence, the guiding principle can not be that if one can’t afford something for himself he shouldn’t give towards that for others. One has to keep to a healthy balance. Not over-giving if one can’t afford. But still giving even towards something one wouldn’t spend for himself if he can afford to do so.

Arnie Draiman –
Welcome!
A) You are touching on a very unclear point. On one hand what you are saying makes sense. But on the other hand many Gedolim were not of “superstar” status until much later in their lives. Their continuous diligence eventually added up. One shudders to think what would have been if they had not been supported through their years of growth. I think it’s almost impossible to discern amongst serious learners who will eventually become a Gadol or at least a Rav, Rebbe, etc. Therefore one should give without questioning, of course as long as they are truly serious about their learning.
B) About the poor of Eretz Yisroel, I need to look into that more.

Rafi G –
Very good point. People feel the need to feel appreciated and recognized. However, as you yourself make clear it ideally shouldn’t be that way.

IA GN –
B”H you don’t have to choose. And thankfully your priorities are quite in order. Giving these Rabbeim falls into category number two on the Tzedakah priority list.

Anonymous said...

Being that we are on the topic of tzedakah, I wanted to get everyones opinion on a particular issue. Very often I see people collecting during davening, at the grocery store, and many people refuse to give them. From my understanding there is an issur to turn down a poor person when you are asked for tzedakah. Am I wrong. If someone out there could clarify this issue for me I would greatly appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

to the person who said that many people who are learning should not be supported bec. they wont become superstars. I dont ynderstand since when did the mitzvah and zechus hatorah have anything to do with how great the person will become isnt the main thing the yegia the time spent learning the time spent doing the greatest mitzvah in the world.
and beside wouldnt the world be a better place if eveyone spent some time learning before they go out into the world. wouldnt it be better if they go out into the world a stronger and better yid a more toradika yid.

socialworker/frustrated mom said...

I know it's true and that giving to eretz yisroel is equal to giving to your community first. If you find a source for it great.

Anonymous said...

IFT,
You can call Kollel America and they will be happy to fax you the letter Rav Moshe wrote on their behalf saying thet have a din of aniyay ircha.

David_on_the_Lake said...

The Pardas Yosef brings...from (i think) the Nod B'Yehuda...that the greatest form of tzedaka..is supporting a son in law..

Independent Frum Thinker said...

Anonymous Feb 12, 8:59 –
Tha Halacha is that if poor people are in front of a person, he has an obligation to give.
I can think of a few reasons why people may not always do so. Either people are unaware of this obligation, or they simply don’t have money on them, or they feel they have already given as per their ability.

Anonymous Feb 12, 9:22 –
Very good point.

SW/FM –
I found the source. It says that the poor of Eretz Yisroel take precedence over the poor of the Diaspora. However, if one has money for both he should support both.

Anonymous Feb 12, 12:37 –
That’s okay. I was only curious as to why I had no recollection of seeing it in the Igros Moshe. I would assume he is referring to Shulchan Aruch Yorah Deah Siman 251:3.

David_on_the_lake –
Without looking it up, I would assume he is referring to a son-in-law who is learning. Hence he is both a relative and Torah scholar, combining the two highest Tzedakah priorities into one.

Sephardi said...

Great post and good point about the glitzy ads. Regarding glitzy ads, banquets, auctions, etc: It is really ashame that there is so much overhead just to get people to give.

(Great blog. I'm enjoying it a lot. Welcome aboard!)

Anonymous said...

what about a guy who hocks all day in the cofee room?
what level of tzedakah is he?

Lakewood Venter said...

Good post. I agree with most of it.

Lakewood Venter said...

David- Can you email me that PY. I want to forward it to my Father in law! lol

Anonymous said...

Are you a posek??
who are you to decide which mosad is more important
there is a psak from rav elyashiv Shlita that lev leachim is number one did you bother to mention it!
I am not affiliated with lev leachim at all I just want to point out what about Pidyon shvuyim?

and if your in kollel (IFT)I dont think giging you directly is a priority!!!

shmaya gestetner said...

hi ift,
the topic is great, the comments, not so.
it would be nice for everyone to take a look at hilchos tzedaka. however, it is more important to remember what tzedaka is. "giving money to the poor!!!" everyone can quote any one gadol or tshuva to support whatever you want, the fact is, if you have someone by your door that needs money for his childs life-saving operation, you have every torah and human responsibility to help that person.
please don't close your heart to someone in need because you want to get the most s'char for your buck. if the sob stories bother you, you can rebuild sedom.
and the reason why they have to write all these sob stories is because they have to compete with corporate style mosdos that have professional marketing teams working on every auction, dinner, building campaign etc. etc.

sorry, i'm a bit frustrated with some of the attitude on the topic.
hugs and love,
shmaya

Independent Frum Thinker said...

Sephardi –
Thank you for the kind words.
Unfortunately, overhead may be a necessity to get the message out. However, every organization should minimize their overhead to what is absolutely necessary.

Anonymous Feb 13, 12:03 –
I think the answer to that is obvious.
Please keep the level of discussion intelligent and informative.

Lakewood Ventor –
Thank you.
How did you Father-in-law react?

Anonymous Feb 13, 12:27 –
As I clearly wrote in my post, one can do further research on the subject by learning through Shulchan Aruch Hilchos Tzedakah or by reading Rabbi Feuer’s English Sefer on Tzedakah.
This post was not intended to be a Shiur Klali on Hilchos Tzedakah.
Had you gone through the Tur, Beis Yosef, Bach, Shulchan Aruch, Nosei Keilim, Aruch Hashulchan, and the appropriate Teshuvas of the Achronim, as I did before writing my post, all you’re questions regarding Kiruv Rechokim and Pidyon Shevuyim would be answered.
Please do not allow your questions to over-ride clear-cut Halacha.
As for you snide comment; this blog is for serious discussion of self-improvement. If you fail to appreciate other people’s sincerity, there is no need to make that public. It never fails to amaze me how the cover of anonymity allows people to show their true colors.
Also, please read my posts on the issue of being to judgmental.

Shmaya –
Finally!
I was just about to write “where are Shmaya and Steve?”, and B”H at least you came along.
Thanks for the great comment, as usual. I understand your frustration, but little by little a difference can me made. It’s wonderful how your Ahavas Yisroel always shines through.

Sephardi said...

I posted more comments at my blog (orthonomics.blogspot.com). Overhead is necessary. But we are kicking ourselves in the foot by spending so much on overhead. Check out my comments at my blog please. And goodnight.

mj said...

some of the overhead may be a form of tzedaka too
maybe the tzedaka hires another secretary bec they sort of need the help and the woman is an almonah who needs a job.....
so although alot of the overhead may be unnecessary some of it may to help out those in need.

Anonymous said...
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Independent Frum Thinker said...
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Independent Frum Thinker said...

Sephardi –
Thank you for linking me up in your post.

Mj –
Thank you for your interesting twist.
Actually, my post was in regards to WHO takes precedence in Tzedakah. However, in regards to HOW Tzedakah should be given, the Rambam writes that there are eight levels. The highest level is helping a person be self-supportive by helping him find employment, which is exactly the scenario which you describe in your comment. If that is what is happening, Kol HaKovod to them!

steve said...

We know that Yeshiva tuition is not considered as tzedaka and cannot be deducted from one's maaser obligation. Let's say someone is on a fixed income and is presented with a huge tuition bill, say $40,000. He then reaches a settlement with his childrens' yeshiva and pays half that amount. Now where does he give his tzedaka/maaser money? Is it fair to give it to any other institution than his childrens' yeshiva, since he is "shortchanging" them?

mj said...

steve it is a nice question bu twho said there is any maaser obligation for those who can not pay for their normal monetary obligations i m not so sure one should ask for a tuition break only to use some of the money saved on maaser mayb he should pay as much tuition as possible and not give maaser. ask ur local orthodox rabbi but there are times such as when a person does not have enough to live that he is patur from maasur- i have heard that at a shiur from a well known posek

Independent Frum Thinker said...

Steve –
You raise a very valid point.
Please also see what I wrote to Mj.

Mj –
The source to the Halacha that one who can not support himself is exempt from Ma’aser, is the Ramo in YD Siman 251:3. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Yd 2, 112) maintained that one is only exempt from Ma’aser if one can’t meet his needs for the next day or two. If he can manage for more than two days, even though he is destitute, he should still give Ma’aser!
An interesting note; Minchas Yitzchok (Vol. 6, 101) writes that even one who is exempt from giving Ma’aser should still separate the money before keeping it for himself!

mj said...

yes but i have heard from rabbi fuerst in chicago that one does not need to separate first and i have heard bishaimhim and others a dif. geder that what u quoted from r' moshe. all i m saying is being that there is a wide range of opinions one should talk to a posek be4 deciding that he should be giving maaser and not paying full tution.
additionally isnt getting a tuition break a form of tzedaka- shouldnt that be a consideration - should a person take tzedaka so that they may give maaser? again this should all be asked to acompetant rav/posek

Anonymous said...
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mj said...

correction:( i said should a person take tzedaka so that they may give maaser) i meant is someone who is taking tzedaka michuyuv to give maaser? is he supposed to take from the public pot only to give it back in the form of his maaser?
i am talking about giving maaser not giving tzedaka. that is a dif. geder.
than maaser which is less of a chiyuv that giving tzeddaka?
i dont know wat the halacha is but it does sound a little odd that one who has to take from tzedaka to live -no that he doent have enuff to live- he is actually taking from tzedaka shoudl now be michuyav to give maaser wouldnt it make sense to not give maaser and not take from the public funds especially when his maaser may be going to another tzedaka than the one he took from?
again i m just asking what the halacha says and to answer this posek has to be consulted

Independent Frum Thinker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Independent Frum Thinker said...

Mj -
I hear you loud and clear. You raise very good points, and one should definitely discuss his situation with a competent Rav.
It doesn’t surprise me that R’ Fuerst feels one does not have to separate the money before keeping it. After all, the opinion of the Minchas Yitzchok is a Da’as Yochid. I only mentioned it as I thought you would appreciate the Chiddush.

mj said...

thanks for the chiddush it def. is interesting. i misunderstood you i thought u were saying what tthe halacha is definitively. i now understand.
p.s. i enjoy ur blog immensely. keep it going

Independent Frum Thinker said...

Mj –
That’s okay. I’m glad you appreciated the Chiddush, and I enjoy “talking in learning” with you.
Thank you for the kind words about my blog.

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