It is a positive commandment to give charity1 to the poor among the Jewish people,2 according to what is appropriate for the poor person3 if this is within the financial capacity of the donor,4 as [Deuteronomy 15:5] states: "You shall certainly open your hand to him." [Leviticus 25:35] states: "You shall support him, a stranger and a resident and they shall live with you," and [ibid.:36] states: "And your brother shall live with you."
Anyone who sees a poor person asking5 and turns his eyes away from him and does not give him charity transgresses a negative commandment,6 as [Deuteronomy 15:7] states: "Do not harden your heart or close your hand against your brother, the poor person."
We are commanded to give a poor person according to what he lacks. If he lacks clothes, we should clothe him. If he lacks household utensils, we should purchase them for him. If he is unmarried, we should help him marry. And for an unmarried woman, we should find a husband for her.
Even if the personal habit of this poor person was to ride on a horse and to have a servant run before him7 and then he became impoverished and lost his wealth, we should buy a horse for him to ride and a servant to run before him.8 [This is implied by Deuteronomy 15:8 which] speaks [of providing him with] "enough to [fill the] lack that he feels."9 You are commanded to fill his lack, but you are not obligated to enrich him.10
With regard to an orphan for whom people are seeking to find a wife for him to marry: First, we rent for him a house, provide for him a bed and all his household necessities and then we seek to find a wife for him to marry.11
When a poor person comes and asks for his needs to be met and the giver does not have the financial capacity, he should give him according to his financial capacity.
How much? The most desirable way of performing the mitzvah is to give one fifth of one's financial resources.12 Giving one tenth is an ordinary measure.13 Giving less [than that] reflects parsimony. A person should never refrain from giving less than a third of a shekel a year.14 A person who gives less than this has not fulfilled the mitzvah. Even a poor person who derives his livelihood from charity is obligated to give charity to another person.
When a poor person whose identity is unknown says: "I am hungry, provide me with food," we do not investigate whether he is a deceiver. Instead, we provide him with sustenance immediately.15 If he was unclothed and he said: "Cloth me," we investigate whether he is a deceiver. If we are familiar with him, we clothe him according to his honor16 immediately and we do not investigate the matter.17
We provide sustenance and clothing for the poor of the gentiles together with the poor of the Jewish people18 as an expression of the ways of peace.
When a poor person19 begs from door to door, we do not give him a large gift.20 Instead, we give him a small gift. It is forbidden to turn away a poor person who asks [for charity] empty-handed. Even giving him one fig [is sufficient], as [Psalms 74:21]: "Let not the dejected turn away in shame."
When a poor person travels from place to place, we do not give him less than a loaf of bread that is sold for a punidyon21 when wheat is being sold for four se'ah a sela.22 We have already explained all the measures.23
If he stays overnight, we give him a mattress to sleep on, a pillow to place under his head, oil and beans. If he stays for the Sabbath, we give him food for three meals,24 oil, beans, fish, and vegetables.25 If we are familiar with him, we give him according to his honor.
When a poor person does not desire to take charity, we trick him and give it to him as a present or as a loan.26 When a rich man starves himself, because he is miserly with his money, using it for neither food nor drink, we do not pay any attention to him.27
When a person does not want to give charity or desires to give less than what is appropriate for him, the court should compel him and give him stripes for rebellious conduct28 until he gives the amount it was estimated that he should give. We take possession of his property when he is present29 and expropriate the amount that is appropriate for him to give. We expropriate property for the sake of charity even on Fridays.30
It is forbidden to demand and to collect charity from a soft-hearted person who gives more than is appropriate to charity31 or from a person who causes himself difficulty and gives to charity collectors so that he will not be embarrassed. When a charity collector embarrasses such a person and asks him [for charity], [the charity collector] will be subjected to retribution in the future, as [implied by Jeremiah 30:20:] "I will visit My providence on those who pressure him."
We do not impose a levy for charity on orphans,32 even for the redemption of captives,33 and even if they possess many financial resources.34 If a judge imposed a levy upon them to heighten their reputation,35 it is permitted.
A charity collector may accept small [donations] from women,36 servants, and children, but not large donations. For we operate under the assumption that a large amount was stolen or robbed from others. What is meant by a small [donation]? Everything is calculated according to the wealth or poverty of the owners.37
A poor person who is one's relative receives priority over all others. The poor of one's household receive priority over the poor of one's city. And the poor of one's city receive priority over the poor of another city, as [implied by Deuteronomy 15:11]: "[You shall surely open your hand to] your brother,38 the poor, and the destitute in your land."39
When a person went on a business trip and the people of the city to which he traveled levy an assessment for charity upon him,40 he should give it to the poor of that city.41 If there are many [such individuals]42 and an assessment for charity was made upon them, they must make the allocation43 and when they go [to return home], they take [the money] with them and use it to support the poor of their city. If there is a communal sage,44 they give it to him and he divides it as he sees fit.
15 When a person says:45 "Give 200 zuz to a synagogue" or "Give a Torah scroll to a synagogue," we give it to the synagogue which he customarily [attends].46 If he would frequent two, [the sum] should be divided among both of them.47 If he says: "Give 200 dinarim to the poor," we give them to the poor of his city.48
Ketubot 67b relates that a person from a dignified family became impoverished and the great Sage Hillel would hire a servant to run before him and announce his coming. Once Hillel could not find such a servant and performed this service himself.
Thus there are times when providing a certain person with what he feels are his needs will require a greater expense than providing another with what he views as luxuries.
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 250:1) quotes the Rambam's ruling. The Rama states that this ruling applies to a collector of charity or to the community at large, but not to an individual person. An individual is not required to personally attempt to meet all of a colleague's needs. Instead, it is sufficient for him to inform the community of the problem. If, however, there are no communal resources, he is individually obligated to help the person if he has the capacity. See also Halachot 5 and 7 and notes.
I.e., first we provide him with those matters that are essential for him to maintain a household. Only afterwards do we assist him in marrying. See also Hilchot De'ot 5:11 which states that a person should build a home and find a profession before marrying.
This also reflects an upper limit. As Ketubot 50a states: "Even a person who distributes money to charity with largess should not distribute more than a fifth." This concept is derived from Jacob's vow to tithe (Genesis 28:22). There the verb which conveys the promise to tithe is repeated, allowing for the concept of giving two tithes. See also Hilchot Arachin 8:13 which cites Leviticus 27:28 which speaks of a person designating a dedication offering "from all that is his." The Rambam continues:
[Implied is that he should not give] "all that is his," as our Sages explained. This is not piety, but foolishness, for he will lose all his money and become dependent on others. We should not show mercy to such a person. In a similar vein, our Sages said: "A man of foolish piety is among those who destroy the world." Instead, a person who distributes his money for mitzvot should not distribute more than a fifth, and he should conduct himself as our Prophets advised [cf. Psalms 112:5]: "He arranges his affairs with judgment," both with regard to matters involving Torah and worldly concerns.
Yayin Malchut notes that in his Commentary to the Mishnah (Pe'ah 1:1), the Rambam writes that as an act of piety, a person may give more than a fifth. Nevertheless, there is not necessarily a contradiction between the two. In his Commentary to the Mishnah, the Rambam is speaking about giving to a needy person who asks for alms. In response to that acute need, one may give more that a fifth. Here the Rambam is speaking about giving to charity when there is no acute need. Hence a limit can be established. See also Ketubot 67b which states that these restrictions apply during a person's lifetime. He may leave a greater percentage of his resources to charity in his will.
In Iggeret HaTeshuvah, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi states that one may give more than a fifth of his resources to charity to atone for his sins, for just as one is not concerned with the amount one gives when it comes to healing a physical wound or blemish, so too, one should not be worried about cost when healing a spiritual blemish.
The Sifri derives this from the fact that Deuteronomy 14:22, the verse that conveys the Biblical command to tithe repeats the verb, implying an obligation to tithe - not only one's produce - but all income.
One might interpret the Rambam's words as implying that only when a gentile comes together with a Jew should he be given charity, lest he feel that he is being subjected to discrimination. The Siftei Cohen 251:2, however, does not accept this interpretation and maintains that even if a gentile comes alone, he may be given charity.
In his Commentary to the Mishnah (Pe'ah 8:7), the Rambam explains that this is a loaf of bread made from a quarter of a kab of flour. The commentaries explain that a loaf this size provides food for two meals. Thus the intent is that we provide him with the minimum necessary for his immediate needs.
A punishment instituted by the Sages in many instances including the failure to observe a positive Scriptural commandment.
Tosafot, Bava Batra 8b, questions this ruling, noting that Chulin 110b states that a court is not obligated to administer punishment for any positive commandment for which a reward is given for its observance. And charity is one of the mitzvot for which we are promised a reward in this material world. The Radbaz explains that according to the Rambam, there is no difficulty, because according to the Rambam, the commandment to give charity is reinforced by a negative commandment, not to refrain from doing so. In such a situation, the principle cited from Chulin does not apply. The Radbaz also explains that we are more stringent in this instance, because the welfare of the poor is involved.
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 248:3) quotes the Rambam's ruling. The Rama states that if the donation to charity is for a specific and limited purpose or that withholding the donation will bring shame upon the orphan's family, donations may be taken from them.
The Radbaz states that we are speaking about an instance where the majority of the people in a city journey to do business in another city. Hence when they return home, it is proper that they take the money that they gave to charity with them so that they will be able to support the poor in their own city. For, otherwise, there will be no one to support them. Alternatively, he states that it applies even if only three people from one city go to another city. Since they are a significant group, they are considered as an independent entity.
The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 253:23) quotes this law with regard to a person's division of his estate on his deathbed. This interpretation explains why we do not simply ask him to clarify his intent.
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