On December 14, the Orthodox Union, at OU headquarters in New York, held a webcast featuring OU Kashrus’ senior halachic consultants, Rav Yisroel Belsky, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, and Rav Hershel Schachter, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon (RIETS), answering numerous questions sent in to the OU office before and during the webcast on two topics, chinuch and tzedakah.
The rabbonim opened with a discussion of eligibility: To whom can tzedakah be given, and when is a monetary gift not considered tzedakah? Rav Belsky pointed out that supporting a son (or son-in-law) in kollel is indeed considered the giving of tzedakah. However, said Rav Belsky, unless there are extenuating circumstances, one should not give more than half of one’s tzedakah to one’s relatives.
Rav Schachter explained that halacha defines an “ani” (poor person) as someone who lacks a steady income that covers basic living expenses and also lacks enough savings to cover a year of basic expenses. Rav Schachter included school tuition in the list of “basic expenses,” but he flatly rejected the inclusion of “eating out twice a week.”
The discussion moved to prioritization. Rav Belsky stated that at least half of one’s tzedakah should go to the poor (in accordance with the list of priorities delineated in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 251:3, inter alia) and the other half should go to support (a) those who study Torah full-time and (b) religious institutions. Rav Schachter discussed prioritizing one’s time if giving tzedakah interferes with other activities: What if one is in the middle of dinner or davening when a poor man comes and solicits? Rav Belsky stated that one must always give something to a solicitor, lest he be humiliated (this does not include solicitations that arrive by mail). This guideline applies even if one is suspicious of the solicitor’s integrity.
Another sub-topic discussed was giving maaser. Rav Schachter explained that the nature of this practice is debated within the corpus of halacha and it was ultimately viewed as laudatory, not mandatory. He stated that the Chazon Ish ruled that gift items that one receives should be included in one’s calculation of their income, in addition to cash and checks. The prevalent custom, though, is to exclude gift-items from the calculation.
Rav Belsky spoke about long-term plans for one’s maaser, ruling that a marriage-minded single woman can bank her maaser so that she can use it to support her (future) family, thereby enabling her (future) husband to learn in kollel. This banking should be done with the understanding that the money will be spent to prolong his stay in kollel and will not merely be hoarded as a “nest-egg.”
The topic then turned to chinuch. Rav Schachter explained that there are two types of obligations vis-à-vis chinuch. The first is Mide’oraisah (Biblical) and requires parents to teach their children about the Jewish outlook and lifestyle and provide some training vis-à-vis their behavior. The second obligation is miderabonon (rabbinic). Chazal require a parent to have their child actually practice all that will be obligatory when they reach the age of majority (bar or bat mitzvah). Rav Schachter conveyed that this second obligation takes effect for different observances at different ages for different children. This is because a mitzvah that a child fulfills must be fulfilled completely. Consequently, if a child isn’t yet able to do a particular mitzvah fully, this rabbinic obligation does not yet take effect with respect to that child and that mitzvah.
The rabbonim offered guidance on being successful in educating children. Rav Belsky stressed the need for the home to be a happy one – happy with respect to life in general and happy in observance of the Torah. He added that the proper way to train children is by example.
Among Rav Belsky’s directives regarding formal education are the following:
• A boy’s yeshiva curriculum should include Hebrew grammar and Nevi’im Rishonim.
• A yeshiva should inculcate middos tovos and instill a commitment to the Jewish people.
• If at all possible, a child should not be transferred from one school to another and another. Such transfers can wreak immeasurable damage on a child.
Rav Schachter described how a father can foster his son’s growth into a talmid chochom. Among his guidelines:
• Supplement his learning with what is not covered in school.
• Inculcate in him a sense of the importance and pleasure of both Torah study and meticulous observance.
• Inspire him to respect those who are already talmidei chachomim.
The last major discussion of the webcast was devoted to the promotion of a child’s feeling of success and feeling that he belongs.
Rav Schachter bemoaned the prevalent attitude that Torah study is without true value unless it involves in-depth study of Gemara. He vigorously asserted that less challenging areas, such as Mishnayos with the Rav or Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, are also immensely valuable.
In a related issue, Rav Belsky strongly rejected the perception of some that a boy who does not turn out to be a highly-accomplished talmid chochom is a failure. He stressed that every child must be built up, and every child must be made to feel like a success. Absent that, said Rav Belsky, a child will look upon the Torah as “his enemy,” because it made him feel worthless.
To submit suggestions for future OU Kosher webcast topics, contact Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, Vice-President of Communications and Marketing for OU Kosher, at Safrane@OU.org.