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Question: When a stranger approaches a congregant in shul asking for tzedakah, should the congregant verify that the person’s need is genuine? Furthermore, what constitutes tzedakah? Is a donation to a synagogue, yeshiva, or hospital considered tzedakah?

Zvi Kirschner
(Via E-Mail)

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Summary of our response up to this point: We noted that one never becomes impoverished from giving charity. We also explained the importance of giving charity, especially via a loan so as not to embarrass one’s fellow. The Gemara (Kettubot 67b) discusses the lengths to which one must go to accommodate the needs of a poor person who formerly was wealthy.

We sought to determine who is classified as an impoverished person and thus entitled to charity funds. We also noted the dispute (Baba Batra 9a) between R. Huna and R. Judah regarding one who comes seeking food: according to the former we verify that he is indeed needy, but if he seeks clothing we need not make inquiries. The latter posits the opposite: if he wants clothing, we make inquiries, but if he seeks food, we ask no questions. The halacha follows R. Judah.

Last week we delved into two differing sources (and views) regarding the economics of poverty (a mishnah in Pe’ah and a mishnah in Eruvin). The Aruch Hashulchan explains that the aishnah in Pe’ah refers to earlier times. We also cited Rav Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss (Responsa Minchat Yitzchak) who discusses this matter in detail and cites the Chatam Sofer who connects the monetary measures set forth by our sages to leket, shikchah, and peah, which we no longer have. The Chatam Sofer connects our charitable giving to the recipients’ most basic needs.

* * * * *

If an individual before us meets the guidelines that classify him as an ani, are there any other criteria that we must take into consideration? The Mechaber (Yoreh Deah 251:1-4) writes: “One is not required to sustain or issue a loan to a sinner who has intentionally violated one of the biblical commandments and has not repented.”

The Rema adds: “And we support the gentile poor together with the Jewish poor because of darkei shalom – in order that we promote peace among the nations.”

The Mechaber continues: “It is prohibited to redeem a captive who is a sinner “to spite” – mumar l’hach’it – even if his violation involves only one commandment – for example, he eats neveila even though kosher meat is readily available.

The Rema adds: “But if one is a sinner due to an insatiable desire – mumar l’te’avon – there is no prohibition in the matter should there be those who wish to redeem him. Nonetheless, they are not obligated to do so.”

The Gra infers from the Mechaber’s initial words – “one is not required to sustain…” – that one may do so if one is so inclined. Thus, he explains that the Mechaber is initially discussing a mumar l’teavon. He cites the Gemara (Gittin 47a) which states that R. Ami sought to redeem just such a person and his act was considered lifnim meshurat hadin – above and beyond the letter of the law. He explains that since this person sinned, there is no longer a command to procure his freedom since he no longer is “me’achad achecha – from among your brethren” (Deuteronomy 15:7) nor is he included in “v’chai achicha imach – and let your brother live with you” (Leviticus 25:36) until he receives his punishment of malkot. After he receives malkut he once again falls under the category of “achvah – brotherhood” and is treated like any other poor person.

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.