Mr. Sender was the gabbai of Congregation Tiferes Yisrael. He was in change of aliyahs, would organize the siddurim after davening, and make the announcements. His special joy, though, was walking around the shul on weekdays with the pushka (tzedakah box). “Tzedakah tatzil mimavess,” he would quietly declare. “Charity saves from death.”
Each year, on Erev Yom Kippur, the bimah was covered with pushkas and plates for kapparos on behalf of various institutions. “Please try to collect your pushka before Yom Kippur,” Mr. Sender would instruct the people who left the boxes there. “Afterward, the money is liable to get lost.”
There were always some organizations, though, that would not come to collect the money until after Yom Kippur. Mr. Sender was careful to place each tzedakah plate neatly under the bimah.
This year, when Mr. Sender came to prepare the shul for Sukkos, he saw that someone had dumped all the remaining money from the plates into a single box. There was about $150 from four plates. “What do I do now?” he thought. “How much should I give to each institution?”
Mr. Sender asked the president if he knew who had mixed the boxes together. “No, I don’t,” replied the president. “Just divide it evenly between the organizations. That’s the simplest thing to do when in doubt.”
“I recall, though, that two of the organizations had more than the others,” said Mr. Sender. “I don’t know how much though.”
“I don’t really think it makes a difference,” said the president. “It’s all tzedakah and the respective institutions haven’t acquired the money yet. So it’s not a problem even if you switch from one plate to another.”
“I’m not convinced,” replied Mr. Sender. “If people put money in a certain pushka, it should go there”
“Perhaps the shul’s responsible for not protecting the plates?” chimed in someone else. “You should give the maximum amount, let’s say $100, to each organization and fill in from the general tzedakah fund.”
“That seems excessive to me,” said Mr. Sender. “I did put away the plates properly. I’ll ask Rabbi Dayan.”
Mr. Sender called Rabbi Dayan and asked: “If plates of kapparos tzedakah got mixed up, what do I do with the money? Can I give it to whichever institution I want?”
“Once money was placed in a tzedakah box, it should be given to that institution and cannot be given freely to another tzedakah,” said Rabbi Dayan. “If the boxes got mixed and you cannot ascertain how much money was in each box, you should divide the money according to your estimation. You are not required to add of your own if you were not negligent.” (Tzedakah U’mishpat 8:9; Pischei Teshuvah Y.D. 259:13)
“Could you please explain?” asked Mr. Sender.
“A person’s courtyard [chatzer] acquires for him, even without his knowledge,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “Similarly, a person’s container can acquire for him money placed in it, provided that the person has permission to place the container there. Thus, according to many authorities, a tzedakah box acquires the money placed inside of it on behalf of the institution, even though they do not know that money was placed in their box. It is considered as if the money was already given to their representative.” (See C.M. 200:3; Shach 200:7)
“Then how do we deal with our case?” asked Mr. Sender. “Maybe we’re not giving the money properly to each institution?”
“When the boxes got mixed up, you should do according to your estimation, because all the money is in doubt,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “No organization is muchzak (in possession). If there is no reason to assume one plate had more than the other, you would usually divide evenly.” (See C.M. 164:3; Nesivos 164:7)
“What if all the money was dumped into one of the tzedakah boxes?” asked Mr. Sender. “Would it now all go to that institution?”
“No, since you know that some of that money was already acquired by the other institutions,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “However, that institution would have the upper hand, since it’s now muchzak. It would be entitled to the uppermost amount reasonable for that box. Beyond that, the remaining amount should be divided as the gabbai estimates.” (See C.M. 90:9-10)
“Thank you,” said Mr. Sender. “I’ll do my best!”
About the Author: Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail email@example.com.
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