But Is It Tzedakah?

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 handBy Rabbi Yair Hoffman

A couple of years ago, a wealthy individual from Lawrence wanted to produce a documentary on meshulachim and those who collect Tzedakah in shuls. One of those to be interviewed was told that he would receive a rather large sum of money if he would merely answer a few questions honestly. It was an opportunity to earn significantly more than he was to make by soliciting funds.The arrangement was that, while he did not have to volunteer information, he did have to answer all of the questions to be posed in an honest manner. If there was any question as to his honesty, he would not receive the funds. The person readily agreed to the arrangement.

The exchange went something along the lines of this:

“Good morning, what are you collecting for?”

“Hachnasas Kallah.”

“Mazal Tov! Whose hachnasas kallah?”

“Well, my own.”

“Mazal Tov! When is the wedding?”

“Well the date has not been established yet.”

“Okay. Where is the Kallah from?”

“There is no Kallah yet, I have not found her yet.”

“Oh, I see.”

“How much, do you collect on average per week?”

“Between $700 to $800 per week..”

We will stop at this point in the conversation to get to the halachic topic at hand. Is there a communal obligation to support an individual who purposefully chooses not to work, but rather to collect charitable funds?

There is a fascinating Sefer Chasidim (1035) which states: If you see a person that could learn Torah and he understands it, or a scribe who can write but they do not wish to learn and to write, I call upon them the verse in Isaiah (5:7), “Now the vineyard of Hashem.. is the house of Israel and the people of Yehudah are the shoot of his delight; He had hoped for justice, but behold, affliction! For charitable acts, but behold, an outcry!” as it states (ibid 27:11), “..for it is not a nation of understanding, therefore its Maker will not show it mercy, and its Creator will not be gracious unto it.”

The Shulchan Aruch (YD 253:10) states as follows: “A wealthy person who starves himself, and he is stingy with his own money so as not to eat from it, we pay him no heed.”

In regard to this ruling, Rabbi Shmuel di Medina of Salonika (1506-1680) writes in his responsa (Teshuvos Maharshdam YD #166) that there is no obligation to provide charitable funds even to a poor person who has the capacity to work.

This view can further be buttressed with the explanation of the Kli Yakar on Chumash (Shmos 23:5), “You shall surely help with him” discussing the Mitzvah of Prikah and Teinah – assisting one’s fellow with a load.

This (the words “with him”) teaches you that it is only when he is with you in his work – and wishes to be established with you – then you are obligated to support him. However, if he sits and says, “Since the matter is upon you – you must lift it alone..” – it does not apply.

He further writes: “From here we have a response to a minority of the poor among our nation who place themselves upon the community and do not wish to work in any area of work even though they are able to do so.. And they cry foul if they are not given enough to sustain them. For on this, Hashem did not command, rather it states, “You shall surely help WITH HIM” and you shall surely establish it WITH HIM. For the poor person will do all he can find by himself to do, and if even then his hand cannot reach it, then each man of Israel is obligated to help him and strengthen him and give him what he is lacking.. even up to one hundred times.”

In Sefer Maalos HaMidos at the end of Hilchos Tzedakah, the author writes: “Nonetheless, it is worthy to refrain from giving him Tzedakah and embarrass him and shame him until he repents and tries working again so that he not be shameful in the eyes of people.”


On the other hand, we also find the opinion of a Rishon, Reb Shmuel Ben Reb Meshulam Yerundi from Geronda Spain, in his Sefer entitled Ohel Moed (9:1) where he interprets the verse in Dvarim (15:7), “Do not tighten your heart..” in the following manner: Do not say, why should we help him? If he so wishes he can support himself..” To this [attitude] the verse states, do not tighten your heart.” Reb Shmuel is occasionally quoted by the author of the Shulchan Aruch, and therefore, we cannot assume that this is a lone opinion. This is also the view of the earlier Rabbi Yitzchok Ben Rav Yoseph (1210-1280) of Corbel, France in his SmaK Mitzvah #20. These views are based upon the Midrash Rabbah in Dvarim (34:4).

We may ask as to whether this is truly a contradiction between Poskim or whether, in fact, we can reconcile the two opinions by assuming that the latter view is only when one does not know definitively that the person can work. In other words, the latter view could perhaps be that it the Torah is forbidding us to be cruel and make the assumption that he could be working but isn’t and therefore not give Tzedakah. But it is possible that if he could be working and we know that he has chosen not to do so, then the verse in Isaiah applies.

To be clear, there are three possible views here: Possibility A is that there is no obligation to give, and in fact, it is wrong to do so. Possibility B is that one must still give in this situation. And finally, possibility C is that it is wrong to assume that they could be working and thus they must still give in this situation (although one does not have to give a large amount – a quarter may suffice), but if one does do some due diligence and finds out that they can be working then one should not give. In this author’s view this is the most logical way to reconcile these two seemingly opposing views.

What is the Shulchan Aruch’s view? In the laws of Purim (OC 694:3), he writes that we are not exacting on Purim and we give to whomsoever stretches out his hand. The implication is that at other times, we can and perhaps should be careful. It seems that the Shulchan Aruch may be subscribing to possibility A or C but writes that on Purim one should adopt possibility B. It seems more likely to this author that he does subscribe to possibility C and that on Purim he suggests following Possibility B.

The reader should consult with his or her own Rabbi as to the correct approach to this issue.

What happened to the person that appeared in the beginning of this column? He got the money and earned it honestly, even according to the Maharshdam, Sefer Chassidim and Kli Yakar.

The author may be reached at [email protected]


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  1. “In regard to this ruling, Rabbi Shmuel di Medina of Salonika (1506-1680)”

    Wow! He Reb Shmuel lived 174 years?? Amazing.

  2. its the people who try to find jobs and cant they don’t get any help they cant go around door to door if they r part of commuinty

  3. This is flawed from the beginning. You are giving the impression that all meshulachim are the same as this person. I know for sure that’s simply not the case, there are many needy people reduced to going door to door.

    Chazal tell us we should be thankful for the ramo’im (those who are dishonest) because otherwise we should not have a leg to stand on in the yom hadin. Now we can say I wasn’t sure he was deserving. One should also question whether HKB”H was so discerning when He chose to give YOU parnossa. Did YOU really deserve it? Don’t be so picky when you distribute.

    On the other hand, one need not give to all that stretch out their hand. When you have finite resources you need to allocate carefully, and there are priorities, such as family, talmid chochom, your city, etc. When Rav Pam was asked, however, how one should allocate his tzedaka money he said ‘vos es tzit em de hartz’ or however his heart pulls him.

  4. My father z’l’ through out his life gave the Tzedakah people whatever he could afford without asking what they were collecting for.

  5. The purpose of tzedaka is not what the collector will do with the money and who the collector is. Rather it is the great schar we get from giving. It is the giver’s job to determine if the collector is really ‘needy’. Even if there are those who are collecting instead of working, I truly pity them as it is not a respectable job in the least. Never mind that $700 per week is not enough to support a growing family.

    May we all merit to be on the giving end and never have to revert to knocking on doors!

  6. for a person who is a multimillionaire , it’s worth it to give a dollar to a meshulach on the safek they are real. i come from the five towns and could tell you the wealthy there anyways throw there money out on wasteful things, so whats the big deal to give someone a dollar who actually will use it for real expenses such as food.

  7. Like with everything else, one should try to have a balanced view.

    Also, it depends on how much one is giving.

    If one is not sure of the integrity of the meshulach, give him a small amount, be gracious and treat him with kovod.

    Reserve the more substantial donations for those that can objectively be shown to be honest and reputable. It is not unreasonable that a mosad that needs to raise a large budget justifies how it is to be spent and discloses certain pertinent information, such as salaries etc. If they refuse, give the money somewhere else where they are more forthcoming. There is no shortage of honestly run mosdos that need funding.

    It is important to give responsibly and with some sort of perspective.

  8. I don’t know the details of the specific young gentleman who was interviewed, but I definitely think that it’s wrong to give his story as the poster boy for the question “Is there a communal obligation to support an individual who purposefully chooses not to work, but rather to collect charitable funds”?

    The implication here is that the young man in the story purposefully chooses not to work, preferring to collect charity.

    This is an unfair assumption, and may not necessarily be the case. Perhaps he is interested in working, but has limited skills which will pay him only minimum wages. While his salary will allow him to survive without having to resort to accepting charity, the fact is that he’ll never be able to put together enough money to get married. He doesn’t have anybody who is capable of paying for his wedding, and all the additional expenses of starting married life. The thought of a long life of loneliness is debilitating to him, which could seriously impact his ability to work and to function as a human being. He therefore sees resorting to charity as his only option.

    The fact that he hasn’t yet found a bride is of no consequence. He needs to have money in hand before he can “go shopping”. He can’t wait to start collecting until he gets engaged!

    I would say that such a person is definitely an eligible candidate for receiving tzedaka.

  9. Even if sources are correct your message is wrong. Your basically knocking tzedaka and chesed and giving justification not to give,at a time when more than ever we need to encourage giving and helping. Chachomim hezahru b’divreichem.


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