Avi and Sara Hyman were a young kollel couple who lived a simple but happy and fulfilling life. They lived in a tiny, rented apartment, which managed to contain their growing family.
After their third child was born, though, the Hymans bought a small house of their own.
To help their children set up home, Mrs. Hyman’s parents gave them $20,000. They attached a note: “Enclosed is $5,000 for kitchen appliances; $10,000 for living and dining room furniture; $5,000 for seforim shanks.”
The children thanked their parents for their generous gift.
“Your parents gave us $10,000 for living and dining room furniture,” Avi said to his wife. “We can get away with second-hand furniture for much less, and I’d rather dedicate $5,000 of that for a new car. Our old one won’t last much longer. It’s much more important than a nice breakfront.”
“But they gave us the money to buy furniture,” objected Sara. “If they wanted us to buy a new car, they could have earmarked the money for that. I can’t justify second-hand furniture when they expect to see a proper living room and dining room set!”
“They gave us the money to use for our needs,” replied Avi. “They don’t know what our priorities are. We could ask them if it’s okay to use part of the money to buy a new car, but I’m not sure that it’s necessary to ask.”
“I certainly wouldn’t use money for a car without asking them first,” replied Sara. “Even that I’m not so comfortable with.”
“I think it’s certainly fine if we ask them,” replied Avi.
Avi decided to consult with Rabbi Dayan, and asked:
“Must the money be used as earmarked, or can we decide to buy a new car? Must we ask them?”
“The Gemara (B.B. 134) indicates that a gift given insincerely, when the giver intends to limit the recipient from using the gift as he wishes, but rather only for the giver’s purpose, is not a valid gift,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “This is when the giver’s intent is evident from actions or indirect statements” (C.M. 241:5; Pischei Choshen, Kinyanim 15:42).
“However, a person can give a sincere gift with a stipulation, even earmarking it for a specific purpose or granting only a specific usage, since then the giver and recipient are like partners in the item. Shulchan Aruch requires, though, that the stipulation be formulated properly, as any other legal stipulation. If not formulated properly, the stipulation is considered irrelevant and the gift remains valid without the stipulation” (C.M. 241:9,12; Pischei Teshuvah 241:14; Sma 241:15; Aruch HaShulchan 241:10; E.H. 38:2-3).
“Elsewhere, the Gemara (B.M. 78b) mentions Rabi Meir’s opinion that if a poor person receives money to buy a suit, he may not buy a coat, since this violates the giver’s intent. Similarly, he maintains that a poor person may not use money given for the Purim seudah for other purposes. This is part of an overall viewpoint of Rabi Meir that one who goes against the owner’s intent is considered a thief.
“However, the Sages disagree and maintain that unless clearly stipulated otherwise, the recipient can do with the money as he sees fit” (O.C. 694:2).
“In this case, although your parents earmarked the money, they did not stipulate in any formal way that the money be used only for these purposes or make the gift contingent on such usage.
“Thus,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “you are halachically able to use the money for a new car, but it is appropriate to ask them first. This is especially true regarding parents, where going against their intent could be construed as a lack of respect. However, had they stipulated that the money be used only as earmarked, you could not use it otherwise without their permission.”
Verdict: A recipient of a gift can use it as he sees fit unless the giver properly stipulated that it was given on condition of using it for a certain purpose.