Permissible Use of Ma'aser Kesafim
Translated and adapted by Rav Eliezer Kwass
The following is a compilation of answers to a number of subscribers, all dealing with very practical questions on the topic of PERMISSIBLE USE OF MA'ASER KESAFIM.
I. Definition of an Ani
The mishna in Pe'a (8:8, 9) defines an ani as a person who owns less than 200 zuz (silver coins used at that time). This qualification was the amount of money needed for one person to purchase food for a year. A person engaged in investment so that his money brought in funds would meet the definition of ani with only 50 zuz.
The Rishonim draw a number of conclusions from this source (see Tur Yoreh De'a 253).
Why set the amount based on a year's needs - and not a shorter or longer period? Because the mishna is referring to gifts such as leket, shikhecha and pe'a which, being agricultural, were available once a year.
Does this definition only apply to the agricultural gifts? The Or Zarua says that it applies to all sources of charity.
The Tur and the Shulchan Arukh (ibid.) conclude that the definition of an ani is not frozen at 200 zuz, but rather (as the law of 50 zuz implies) means a person who lacks a regular income sufficient to meet basic needs of any types.
As for the definition of "basic needs" I have heard in the name of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l that it would be variable based on a number of factors including the society he finds himself in, and what he is accustomed to.
Obviously, it is very difficult to set an exact list of which needs are basic and which should be viewed as luxury. Indeed, in our society there are few people who could make this distinction for themselves - how much more so when judging a third person's needs.
When describing a person who is in a situation that "parnassa is tight" - it would seem that we are NOT talking about an ani.
We can address the question from a different angle - children as an independent economic entity:
II. Children as Independent Entities
The Shakh (Yoreh De'a 251:3) mentions that from the age of six years, the time that a child is capable of supporting himself by begging, the father is technically alleviated from the obligation of supporting him. A father could, at this time, use ma'aser money to support his "poor" son.
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Yoreh De'a I:143) believes this to apply according to the accepted working norms of children. A husband's obligation of demei mezonot - wife support which he takes upon himself when entering marriage includes her children until such time that they would normally go out to earn a living. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l points out that when the state law requires parents to support, one cannot consider child support as tzedaka. Otherwise, technically it would be permissible yet not commendable.
The above holds true vis-a-vis regular support - food, clothes and shelter which are included in the husband's demei mezonot obligation. What about education?
Igrot Moshe Yoreh De'a VI:113
It would appear from Rav Moshe zt"l that a person cannot use ma'aser kesafim for education, because 1 - legally you are bound to send your child to school and you can't send him to a non-religious school; 2 - halakhically, you are obligated to teach them certain basics.
We can derive a few situations that would be permitted:
a - A person who absolutely can't afford to do the mitzva without using ma'aser kesafim.
b - When the child reaches the age when education is not mandatory and ALSO is erudite in Torah beyond the parents' minimum requirement.
c - When a few Yeshiva options are open that are less expensive than the other chosen to attend - the difference could be paid with ma'aser kesafim.
d - The portion of the tuition that actually goes to support others who are poor and can't pay. (This was one quoted to be Rav Feinstein's zt"l as well as Rav S. Z. Auerbach's zt"l explicit opinions.)
III. Income Tax and Ma'aser Kesafim
Rav S. Z. Auerbach
Rav S. Z. seems to recognize three different categories of tax and money.
1 - taxes which pay for a person's fair share of services which he directly receives.
2 - taxes which pay for government expenses of halakhically recognized charitable purposes (e.g., defense, health, education and social programs).
3 - taxes which are neither of the above.
Taxes of category 3, such as income and social security tax, can be paid before separating ma'aser kesafim.
Taxes from category 1: are not deductible from ma'aser kesafim since they are payment for services which he receives.
Taxes from category 2: In Israel where there is a majority of Jews, one may use actual ma'aser kesafim money to pay such taxes. It is difficult, however, to ascertain what percent of your tax money goes to such causes.
(It seems to me that while poskim [including Rav S. Z. Auerbach and Rav Moshe Feinstein] allow using ma'aser for donations to Gentiles for darkhei shalom, Rav S. Z. Auerbach disallows using ma'aser kesafim money to pay taxes of a charitable nature when there isn't a majority of Jewish recipients. [I assume] because this would not be "darkhei shalom.") - Mordechai Friedman