Question: I have three questions. First, what exactly constitutes charity? Second, how much does a person have to give? Third, can one consider a tip to a waiter at a restaurant charity considering how little waiters make?
Answer: According to the Rambam (Hilchot Matnot Aniyim 7:5), a person should give a minimum of a tenth of his income for charity. And he should do so with a full heart.
The Mishnah (Avot 5:13) states, “There are four types of donors to charity: One who wishes to give but others not to – he begrudges others; one who wishes others to give but he himself doesn’t wish to give – he begrudges himself; one who wishes to give and others to give– he is a truly pious person; and one who wishes that neither he nor others should give – he is a wicked person.”
Wanting to share the mitzvah with others demonstrates true empathy with needy individuals. Rashi (ad loc.) explains that since giving charity increases Hashem’s blessings on one’s own possessions, not wishing others to perform the mitzvah demonstrates that one wishes that their possessions not be blessed.
Rabbenu Yonah (ad loc.) adds that the giving of a pious person is so great because he wishes to teach others how to give charity as well.
As to what constitutes charity: My uncle, HaRav Sholom Klass, zt”l, discussed this topic many years ago. Here is what he wrote:
“There are various kinds of charities. The Mechaber (Yoreh De’ah 251:3) states that giving older children (whom one is not required to continue to support) money is considered charity. Giving gifts and supporting your parents, brothers, sisters, etc., is considered charity. The Gemara (Ketubbot 50a) explains the verse in Psalms (106:3), ‘They that do righteousness (charity) all the time…’ Is it possible to do righteousness at all times? This was explained as referring to a man who maintains his sons and daughters when they are young.
“Rema (op. cit. 251:3) sets up a series of categories for charity. You come first, then comes the support of your parents, then your children, then your brothers and sisters, your relatives, your neighbors and then strangers.
“While on this subject, we will discuss the amount of charity to be given.
“A person should give up to one fifth of his net income, if he is able to afford it. Otherwise he should give one tenth. If he gives less than one tenth, he is called miserly. The one-fifth limit was set so that a person should not impoverish himself, but if he can give more he’ll be blessed (Mechaber, Yoreh De’ah 249:1).
“Tosafot (Ta’anit 9a) and the Sifrei (to Deuteronomy 14:22) explain that one is required to give one tenth of one’s income for charitable purposes. The Jerusalem Talmud (Pe’ah 2b, quoted in the Mordecai, Bava Kamma 192) derives the idea of tithing from Scripture (Proverbs 3:9): ‘Honor the L-rd with your substance and with the first fruits of your increase.’ The Pesikta derives a similar concept from Jacob’s promise (Genesis 28:22), ‘All that You will give me, I will surely give a tenth unto You.’
“On the basis of this, both Rambam (Hilchot Matnot Aniyim 7:5) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 249:1) state that one who gives less than one tenth of his income to charity is considered a miser. Some authorities such as the Taz (Yoreh De’ah 331:32), Sha’ar Ephraim (No. 84) and Chavot Ya’ir (No. 224) state that this is a Biblical injunction (necessitating a beracha) while others consider it merely a custom (cf. Teshuvot Meir Rothenberg No. 74; Ramban on Deuteronomy 14:22; Bach, Yoreh De’ah 331).
“Tithing one’s income is an ancient and honored Jewish practice, and indeed it is preferable to give as much as one fifth.
“Most authorities agree that this tithe money can be used for other good works besides charity, such as buying sacred books that will also be lent to the poor (cf. Taz, Yoreh De’ah 249 s.k. 1; Shach 249 s.k. 3). Similarly, it may be donated to a synagogue or house of study, since it is assumed that the poor also benefit from these.
“However, the Chatam Sofer (Teshuvot, No. 231) writes that if one customarily gives one’s tithe to charity, he cannot change his custom and use it for other religious purposes (compare Yoreh De’ah 214:1).
“The important lesson is that one is obligated to allocate at least one tenth of his income for religious purposes, either for charity or for sacred books, or to support yeshivot and synagogues.”
(To be continued)