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The shul was packed with people for Kol Nidrei. Before Ma’ariv, the shul president held the annual Kol Nidrei appeal. Mr. Rubin pledged $360, adding, “bli neder.”

On Motzoei Yom Kippur, Mr. Rubin wrote out a check to bring to shul with him the following morning to shul.

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Zerizin makdimin l’mitzvos!” exclaimed his son, Hillel. “I see that you are prompt in honoring your pledge!”

“It’s not just general zerizus (alacrity),” replied Mr. Rubin. “One is required to fulfill his tzedaka pledges promptly.”

“Really?” asked Hillel. “Why is that?”

“I’m not a hundred percent sure,” replied Mr. Rubin, “but that’s what I learned from my father.”

“But you said bli neder,” said Hillel. “I thought that then you’re not obligated at all.”

“I don’t think that’s true!” exclaimed Mr. Rubin. “You still have to uphold your commitments.”

“Then why do you say bli neder if you’re obligated, anyway?” asked Hillel.

“I learned that also from my father,” said Mr. Rubin, “but I can’t explain exactly what it does.”

“I see that you learned many good things from Zeide,” Hillel noted, “but I’d like to understand this better.”

“Zeide could probably explain it,” replied Mr. Rubin. “But if you want, we can also ask Rabbi Dayan tomorrow. I’m sure he can explain.”

The following morning, Mr. Rubin gave the check to the gabbai. He approached Rabbi Dayan with Hillel and asked:

“Why should one honor his pledges promptly? What does saying ‘bli neder’ accomplish?”

“Regarding pledges of sacrifices,” Rabbi Dayan replied, “there is a mitzvas asei to bring them by the first holiday, and a prohibition of bal t’acher in delaying past the Shalosh Regalim (R.H. 4a-b).

“The Gemara (R.H. 6a) extends the prohibition of delaying to tzedaka pledges. Moreover, Rava rules that one is required to fulfill tzedaka pledges immediately since needy people are readily present. Tosafos indicates that this is because otherwise, one violates bal t’acher, whereas Rashba bases this requirement on the mitzvas asei of ‘motza sefasecha tishmor v’asisa (observe and fulfill what you utter)’ (Devarim 23:24; Tzedaka Umishpat 8:1-4).

Nonetheless, Rosh writes that a person can dedicate a certain sum of money for tzedaka and initially stipulate that he will distribute it over time as he sees fit (Y.D. 257:3).

Therefore, to avoid potential violation, when a person commits to give ma’aser kesafim or designates money for tzedaka, poskim recommend that he stipulate to distribute it slowly or that the money not be considered tzedaka until he is ready to give it (Aruch HaShulchan Y.D. 275:3-5; Derech Emunah, Hil. Matnos Aniyim 8:1[8]).

Moreover, Mordechai (B.B. #291) writes that where a gabbai collects the tzedaka and distributes it, if the gabbai knows of the pledge but does not request the money, the person does not violate if he delays, since seemingly the funds are not needed immediately. Some suggest that this applies even if the gabbai requested the money but the donor knows that he will not distribute now and it will remain with him anyway (Rema Y.D. 257:1; Derech Emunah, Hil. Matnos Aniyim 8:1[12]).

“Additionally, Shulchan Aruch recommends that a person say ‘bli neder’ when donating tzedaka to avoid the severity of nedarim, which are almost like oaths. Presumably, this also spares the person from bal t’acher, since this prohibition is associated with nedarim.

“However, ‘bli neder’ does not exempt him – without justifiable cause – from honoring his word, as with any other verbal commitment,” Rabbi Dayan concluded. “It is questionable whether it eliminates the mitzvas asei of motza sefasecha in fulfilling the pledge promptly (Y.D. 257:4; Shevet Halevi 10:156; Teshuvos V’hanhagos 2:476, 3:160).”

Verdict: Tzedaka is included in the prohibition of bal t’acher (delaying payment). When needy people are readily available, a person should distribute it promptly, but one can stipulate that he will give little by little as he sees fit. Saying ”bli neder” alleviates the severity of the pledge, but the verbal commitment remains.

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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 [email protected]. 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 protected].