Spreading the Wealth
‘Giving to Only One Poor Person’
Should a person donate all the charitable funds at his disposal to one cause? Or should he rather divide his money among several worthy causes? Poskim discuss this question based on R’ Abba bar Zavda’s statement in our sugya: “Anyone who gives all his priestly gifts to one kohen brings famine to the world.”
Famine in the Land
As we know, kohanim are entitled to a variety of tithes of agricultural produce. The Gemara teaches us that it is improper to give all of one’s tithes to a single kohen. The source for this is Shmuel II. Chapter 20 verse 26 states, “And Eera the Yaari was kohen to David” and immediately afterward, chatter 21 verse 1 states, “And there was a famine in the days of David.” David gave all his tithes to Eera, leaving other kohanim hungry. As an appropriate punishment, middah keneged middah, Hashem caused a famine to strike the land (Iyun Yaakov).
Accordingly, the Rosh rules that it is forbidden to give all one’s tithes to a single kohen. However, the Rambam omits this halacha. The Rashash explains the Rambam’s omission by noting that this Gemara contradicts the principle of makirei kehunah – “recognized kohanim.” According to this principle, if a Jew is accustomed to giving his tithes to a certain kohen, it is forbidden for him to exchange his chosen beneficiary for another (Bava Basra 123b, see Tosafos).
An Indigent Kohen
Rabbi Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld (Salmas Chaim 15) attempts to resolve this contradiction based on the Or HaChaim (Rishon L’Tzion Y.D. 257 s.k. 9) who writes that it is forbidden to give one kohen more than his basic needs at the expense of others who are left hungry. This Or HaChaim indicates that if the chosen kohen does not have enough to meet his needs, it is permitted and, indeed required, to give him all one’s tithes.
24 Priestly Tithes
Rabbi Chaim Kanievski (Derech Emunah, Hilchos Maaser 7:s.k. 38) offers an alternative explanation. He argues that while it is forbidden to give all 24 types of priestly tithes to one kohen, it is permitted to designate one kohen as makirei kehunah to routinely receive one particular type of tithe.
In any case, the Mordechai (Bava Basra 502) accepts R’ Abba’s ruling at face value and rules “that it is forbidden to give all the charitable funds at one’s disposal to a single poor relative and forsake his other relatives. It is also forbidden to give all one’s charitable funds to a single poor person, and ignore the rest.” The Shulchan Aruch follows this ruling (Y.D. 257:19).