Maaser for Membership and Mitzvos

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By Rabbi Berach Steinfeld  

The Torah in Devarim 14:2 teaches us that a person must give one tenth of his crops for tzedakaChazal learn from the additional word of “kol” that a person must give maaser of all of his earnings.

The following question arises. May I use my maaser money to buy things for the purpose of a mitzvah? The Maharil is quoted by the Rema 249 as saying it is forbidden to use maaser money to buy neiros in shul. The Gra and the Be’er Hagolah qualify this issur as something the person has a chiyuv to buy. (In those days everyone had to buy neiros for shul.) However, one may use maaser money for any mitzvah that may be optional. The Shach and Taz  249 opine that one may spend maaser money on mitzvos that he would not do if he didn’t have the option of using maaser money; for example, someone is a sandek and then pays for the bris. The Chasam Sofer 231 explains that the reason the Maharil said one may not use maaser money for neiros in shul is because maaser money is designated for poor people. In the event that the person separating maaser money does so on condition that he will use it for mitzvos (versus donating to the poor) then it would be allowed to be used even for a mitzvah that one has a chiyuv to do.

The Taz 249 opines that one can buy aliyos in shul with maaser money since the money collected goes to poor people. In those days, the shuls would provide for the poor people in the community. The Taz qualifies this hetter that this would apply only if he bids for the aliya with maaser money. If he did not have any thought process while bidding, then the default would be that he is paying for the aliyah from his own funds. He would not be able to change his mind after the bidding and decide to use maaser money to pay for the aliya. The Ksav Sofer says that the hetter of the Taz is only applicable in shuls where the money goes for the poor; however in shuls where the money goes to the upkeep of the building, then using maaser money would be forbidden since it is not going to the poor. The Bikkurei Yaakov disagrees with the Ksav Sofer and his opinion is that as long as the money is going to hekdesh one may use maaser money. According to the Bikkurei Yaakov one would be able to use maaser money to pay for membership to shul provided that the city does not obligate everyone to pay membership. Regarding paying for seats; one would not be able to pay with maaser money because one would have a personal benefit of having a seat. In the event that there would be seats available even if he didn’t pay for a seat and he just would not have his designated seat, one would be able to use maaser money according to the Bikkurei Yaakov.

The same would apply for Lulav and Esrog or Sukkah. One may not exempt himself from his chiyuv mitzvah by using maaser money since the benefit will only go to the owner of the lulav and not poor people.

Lemmaseh, regarding using maaser money for aliyas, one would not be able to use maaser money unless he would otherwise not afford to buy the aliyah. In addition, one would need to have kavana when one originally separates maaser money that it will be set-aside for this purpose. Some say that the default today is that one will use the maaser money for aliyas and other mitzvos and one would not need special kavana. What’s the bottom line? If one wants to be from the bnei aliya, he should not use maaser money for aliyos, nor for the use of any mitzvah.

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