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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.

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 mishnah 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.

We noted that there are some poor people who might not be entitled to our largesse, namely sinners. The Mechaber, however notes that there is a difference between one who transgresses due to an insatiable desire – mumar l’te’avon – and one who does so out of spite – mumar l’hash’chit. We are more lenient with regard to the former. We also touched upon the concept of tinok sh’nishba as it applies in our day and age. In sum, there are few today who can readily be considered as sinners out of spite.

We discussed to whom we should give our charity funds first; gabba’ei tzedakah; and the propriety of giving tzedakah funds to institutions like yeshivot and hospitals. We noted that a person should give charity relative to his means. We also discussed whether one may use one’s charity money for another mitzvah.

We then sought to define the annual amount of tzedakah one must give. The Mechaber, based on the Gemara (Bava Batra 9a), says the minimum is a third of a shekel. The Shach, in the 17th century, says it is one Polish zloty. Perhaps the requirement to give this minimum amount is why many shuls have the minhag of having the gabbai circulate the synagogue, collecting charity. In this manner, everyone is sure to at least give the minimum amount over the course of a year.

We also noted the importance of giving tzedakah in a good frame of mind and never turning anyone away empty handed. We also went through the eight levels of charitable giving and noted the importance of maintaining the right temperament when giving charity.

We cited from a related article by my uncle HaRav Sholom Klass, zt”l. He was asked, “Until what age is a father to support his children and may he use his charitable donations for their support as well as paying for their Torah education?” He cited the Gemara to the effect that one must support them until age six; if he is wealthy, he must support them after that as well. The Rambam, based on the Gemara, notes that a father who refuses to support them should be shamed into doing so.

Rabbi Sholom Klass also discussed supporting children from one’s charitable funds and cited many authorities who permit doing so. Last week, we cited authorities who disagree. Even Birkei Yosef who claims that it is permitted discourages doing so. The Aruch Hashulchan claims that one who deprives the poor of support by using charitable funds for one’s own children. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein notes that social conditions have changed in that children today remain dependent for much longer thus obviating use of ma’aer kesafim for their support.

* * * * *

The following was asked of the gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein (Me’ah She’arim Responsum 158): “Is one allowed to accept charity a second time from an elderly individual who suffers from memory lapses?”

This question is based on an incident that happened many years ago in pre-war Europe. A fundraiser for the yeshiva in Navhardok came to the town of Karlin and found his way to the home of Rabbi Dovid of Karlin, popularly known as Reb Dovid’l Karliner, author of She’lat David, who was by then very elderly. He saw the gaon sitting and reviewing his Talmudic studies from memory since his vision was very weak due to old age.

Due to his diligent study he was unaware of the fundraiser’s presence. After a few minutes the gaon raised his head and asked the fundraiser who he was and the purpose of his visit. The fundraiser replied that he was raising funds for the yeshiva in Navharadok. Reb Dovid’l asked him, “How much do I usually give you each year?” and proceeded to give him a donation.

The gaon then returned to his studies, humming to the tune of a sweet melody. The fundraiser, due to the beauty of what he beheld, found himself glued in place for another few minutes. Suddenly Reb Dovid raised his eyes and greeted the fundraiser as if he hadn’t seen him earlier and asked him who he was. The fundraiser understood that the gaon was suffering from advanced memory lapses and responded, “I am the fundraiser for the Navharadok yeshiva, and I received your donation just moments ago.

It did not take long before the entire sequence of events repeated itself yet a third time. The gaon sighed and responded that he was overtaken by lapses in memory to such a degree that he forgets what has transpired from one moment to the next; however, insofar as his Talmudic studies are concerned, he remembers with the same degree of clarity as when he was a lad of 16. He has not forgotten a thing.

Shortly after this incident the fundraiser arrived in the town of Radin, where he related the entire incident to an obviously impressed Chafetz Chaim. A few months later the Reb Dovid’l Karliner passed away, and the fundraiser received a telegram from the Chafetz Chaim requesting that he come to Radin on a certain day. When he arrived the Chafetz Chaim explained that he was organizing a hesped for the rabbi of Karlin and asked that he ascend the bimah and relate the incident to the large assemblage expected to be present.

(To be continued)

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