In every city where Jews live, they are obligated to appoint faithful,1 men of renown as trustees of a charitable fund. They should circulate among the people from Friday to Friday and take from each person what is appropriate for him to give and the assessment made upon him. They then allocate the money from Friday to Friday, giving each poor person sufficient food for seven days. This is called the kupah.2
Similarly, we appoint trustees who take bread, different types of food, fruit, or money from every courtyard from those who make a spontaneous donation and divide what was collected among the poor in the evening, giving each poor person sustenance for that day. This is called the tamchui.3
We have never seen nor heard of a Jewish community that does not have a kupah for charity. A tamchui, by contrast, exists in some communities, but not in others. The common practice at present is that the trustees of the kupah circulate [among the community and collect] every day and divide [the proceeds] every Friday.4
On fast days, we distribute food to the poor. Whenever there is a fast day on which the people eat and went to bed without distributing charity to the poor, they are considered as murderers.5 Concerning them, the Oral Tradition says [Isaiah 1:21]:6 "Charity is held overnight and now [you are] murderers."
When does this apply? When they did not give them bread and fruit which is [usually] eaten together with bread, e.g., dates and grapes. If, however, they delayed the delivery of money or wheat, they are not considered as murderers.7
[Money for] the kupah should be collected only by two people together,8 for no less than two communal trustees should ever be appointed over the financial interests of the community. It is permitted to entrust the money of the kupah to one person, but [the funds] should not be distributed by less than three trustees, because [the allocation] is comparable to a judgment concerning financial matters, since each person is given his needs for that week. [Donations for] the tamchui should be collected by three - because it does not involve a fixed amount9 - and it is distributed by three.
[Donations for] the tamchui are collected every day. [Those for] the kupah are collected from Friday until Friday. [The gifts from] the tamchui are given [also]10 to poor people at large.11 [Those from] the kupah are given only to the poor of that city.
The inhabitants of a city have permission to give [the donations given to] the kupah to the tamchui and [those given for] the tamchui to the kupah. Similarly, they may exchange [these donations] for any communal purpose that they desire even though a stipulation to that effect was not made when they were collected.12 If there is a great sage in that city dependent on whose judgment all collections are made13 and he is the one who allocates the funds to the poor according to his assessment, he is permitted to use [these funds] for any communal purpose he sees fit.
Trustees of a charitable fund are not permitted to depart from each other in the marketplace14 [except for a brief time], e.g., one goes to the gate to collect and the other to a shop.15
If a charity trustee finds money in the marketplace,16 he should not put it into his own pocket,17 but instead into the wallet of the charitable fund. When he comes home, he should take it [for himself].
If a charity trustee is owed money by a colleague and [the latter] pays him in the marketplace, he should not put [this money] in his pocket, but instead into the wallet of the charitable fund.18 When he comes home, he should take it [for himself].
He should not count out the money of the charitable fund in pairs, but rather one coin at a time, lest suspicions be aroused,19 as [implied by Numbers 32:22]: "And you shall be guiltless in the eyes of God and Israel."20
When the trustee of a charitable fund does not have poor people to whom to distribute the money, he may exchange the coins for dinarim.21 Another person, however, [should carry out the transaction], not he himself.22
When the trustee of a tamchui does not have poor people to whom to distribute [the food he collected], he should sell it to others,23 but not to himself.24
We do not enter into a reckoning with the trustee of a charitable fund concerning the charity he collected25 or with the treasures of the Temple regarding funds consecrated to them, as stated [in II Kings 22:7]: "No reckoning shall be made with them for the money entrusted to them because they are acting in good faith."26
When a person has lived in a city for 30 days, we compel him to give charity to the kupah together with the inhabitants of the city.27 If he dwelled there for three months, we compel him to contribute to the tamchui.28 If he dwelled there for six months, we compel him to contribute to the fund used to clothe the poor of the city. If he dwelled there for nine months, we compel him to contribute to the fund used for the burial of the poor of the city and the provision of all their burial needs.29
When a person has enough food for two meals, it is forbidden for him to take from the tamchui.30 When he has enough food for fourteen meals, he should not take from the kupah.31 If he has 200 zuz, even if he does not invest or do business with them - or 50 zuz that he invests32 - he should not take shichachah, peah, or the tithe for the poor. If he has 200 zuz less a dinar, even though 1000 people give him at one time,33 he is permitted to take [the above]. If he has money in hand, but he owes a debt or it is under lien to his wife for her ketubah, he is permitted to take.34
When a poor person is in need, but owns a courtyard and household utensils - even silver and golden utensils - we do not obligate him to sell his house and his personal possessions. Instead, he is permitted to accept [charity] and it is a mitzvah to give him.
When does the above apply? With regard to eating utensils, drinking utensils, clothing, bedding, and the like.35 If, however, he owns a golden comb or pestle or the like, he should sell them and buy less valuable ones.36
When does the above37 apply? Before he has descended to the level where he takes charity from people at large.38 Once he collects charity [from the community], we obligate him to sell his utensils and purchase lesser ones and then accept charity.39
When a man of means is in the midst of a journey from city to city, he used up all his money on the journey, and he does not have anything to eat, it is permitted for him to take leket, shichachah, pe'ah, and the tithe for the poor and he may benefit from charity. When he returns to his home,40 he is not obligated to pay, because he was poor at that time.41 To what can this be compared? To a poor person who became wealthy who is not obligated to pay back [the charity he received while poor].
When a person possesses homes, fields, and vineyards42 which were he to sell them in the winter, he would be forced to sell them cheaply,43 but were he to leave them until the summer, he would be able to sell them at their worth, we do not obligate him to sell them [in the winter]. Instead, we enable him to partake of the tithe of the poor [until he partakes of] half the worth of his property44 [so that] he will not be pressed to sell outside the [appropriate] time to sell.
If people at large were purchasing property at high prices,45 but he could only find people to purchase from him cheaply, because he is pressed for funds and preoccupied,46 we do not require him to sell [at a low price]. Instead, he is allowed to continue to partake of the tithe for the poor47 until he can sell his property at its worth and everyone will know that he is not under pressure to sell.
When funds were collected for a poor person to satisfy his lack and [the collection] exceeded his needs, the additional funds belong to him. Extra funds [donated for] the poor should be given to the poor. Extra funds [donated for the redemption of] captives should be used for that purpose.48 Extra funds [donated for the redemption of] one individual captive should be given to that captive.49 Extra funds [donated for the burial of] the deceased should be used for that purpose.50 Extra funds [donated for the burial of] an individual deceased person should be given to his heirs.51
When a poor person gives a p'rutah to the tamchui or to the kupah, we accept it from him. If he does not give, we do not require him to give.52 If he was given new clothes and he gave them back his worn clothes, we accept them from him. If he does not give them, we do not require him to.
On fast days, it was customary to distribute food to the poor after the evening service at the conclusion of the fast. Since the poor would look forward to this meal and rely on it to break their fast. If it was not provided to them, they would go to bed without food (Rashi, Sanhedrin 35a).
This bracketed addition is based on the gloss of the Radbaz who emphasizes that the kupah was intended to provide the local poor people with their essential needs, while the tamchui was intended as a supplement for them from which others were also allowed to take. From other authorities, however, it appears that the intent is that only poor people from other places are allowed to benefit from the tamchui.
This verse describes the practice conducted by King Josiah with regard to the money collected from the people for the renovation of the Temple. It, however, is understood as applying beyond immediate context and applying with regard to all those who oversee charitable funds.
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 257:2) quotes the Rambam's ruling. The Rama adds that, in the spirit of the verse from Numbers cited above, it is desirable for a trustee to give an account. Moreover, he continues, the above applies only with regard to those trustees who have an honorable reputation and who were appointed to their position by the community. If a trustee does not have such a reputation or he seized his position by force, he is required to make an accounting.
I.e., the kupah represents the most urgent needs of a community. Hence, as soon as a person has been there for a significant time, he is required to pay the levy for that fund. The longer he stays in the community, the more communal responsibility he is required to take.
The commentaries note that the standard version of Bava Batra 8b, the source for the Rambam's ruling, reverses the text and makes one responsible for the tamchui before the kupah. They explain, however, that there are versions of the text that support the Rambam's ruling. It is quoted by Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 256:5).
The Radbaz and the Shulchan Aruch (loc. cit.) emphasizes that these guidelines apply when a person has not expressed his intentions to become part of the city he is visiting. If, however, a visitor decides to become a permanent resident in a city, he immediately becomes responsible for all charitable levies.
Because it is improper that a person of some means should receive communal funds and, in this way, reduce the amount given to poor people who have no resources whatsoever (the Rambam's Commentary to the Mishnah, Pe'ah 8:8).
After quoting the Rambam's ruling, the Shulchan Aruch (loc. cit.:2) states: "There are opinions that maintain that the above measures applied only in their era. In the present time, by contrast, a person may accept [charity] until he has sufficient principle [to invest] so that he and his family can sustain themselves from the profits. These are words of reason."
We do not give him more than that amount, for a person will never lose more than half the value of his property by selling it at an unsuitable time (Radbaz).
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 253:3) quotes the Rambam's ruling. The Tur and the Rama interpret the passage from Bava Kama differently. According to their perspective, we enable him to receive charity until he finds someone who is willing to purchase his property at half price.
The intent is not that the deceased acquired the money and his heirs inherited it from him, for he never formally acquired it. Instead, since there was a certain measure of embarrassment involved for the deceased in having the money raised, he is willing to grant the financial benefit for that embarrassment to his heirs (Sanhedrin 48a).
After quoting these laws, the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 253:6) states: "If the communal officers see that there is an immediate need and they wish to change [the objective to which charity is given], they have that authority."
Even though, as stated in Chapter 7, Halachah 5, even a poor person who derives his livelihood from charity is obligated to give charity, that obligation is his own responsibility. The community does not compel him to give (Radbaz). Alternatively, that obligation applies only when he has enough for his livelihood. If he does not have enough, he is not required to give (Siftei Cohen 253:11).
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