Welcome to the just-tzedakah.org guidelines section. In this section you will find a review of some major ideas from Jewish tradition relating to giving tzedakah. The section is divided into six pages including this introduction and summary. The other five pages cover how much to give, to whom to give, when to give, how to give, and ideas for calculating your ma'aser k'sofim (monetary tithe).
This is imortant: The guidelines presented here do not come directly from an authoritative source. They have been compiled from the reading and interpretation of a number of texts on the subject of tzedakah. The author has no qualifications to make halachic decisions. With regard to many practical questions of giving, the issues can be subtle and sometimes subject to apparently differing opinions among the authorities. The guidelines presented on the Just Tzedakah site are designed to acquaint you with the many issues raised in giving tzedakah and to help you formulate educated questions. They are not meant to provide final answers to real world, practical questions of giving.Summary: Five steps for giving tzedakah
Other pages in this area of the Just Tzedakah site provide some detail on how to give according to traditional guidelines. Here is a quick summary of a few major points.
Give ten percent
Plan to give ten percent of your income (twenty percent is even better). Ideally, one should give ten percent of assets as well, although contributions against wealth should be made only one time (NOT annually) against each asset. When planning to give ten percent, have in mind the specific intention that you are NOT vowing to give ten percent of your income nor are you taking on an obligation to do so. Calculate your tenth carefully. Do not rely on casual estimates.
Set your fiscal year
Select a day to begin your fiscal year for tzedakah purposes. Rosh Hashanah is the best day to start, but you can select another one that may be more convenient. Your ten percent is based on net income (income less losses) earned in the fiscal year; losses may not be carried forward to future years. You should make a final calculation of your tzedakah obligation after the fiscal year ends. Make up any shortfall. Excess payments may be carried forward to next year.
Establish a separate fund for your tzedakah
As soon as you earn income put one-tenth (or even better, one-fifth) aside in a separate fund. Money put in the fund should be viewed as the property of ultimate recipients. You are merely the adminstartor of the fund. Have the specific intention that funds will not necessarily be distributed immediately and that you may withhold funds even if approached by eligible recipients.
Give tzedakah cheerfully
View tzedakah as an opportunity, not a burden. Sympathize with recipients and try to lift their spirits.
To whom to give?
The highest priority is for redeeming captives and saving lives. In our day, that includes appropriate assistance for Jews in US jails or at risk of being imprisoned. Regular tzedakah funds should be given first to one's own relatives if they are poor. Otherwise a majority of funds should go to Torah scholars, Torah institutions and the poor. Most of the funds you distribute should preferably go to residents of, and institutions in, you own city. Have in mind when you make a contribution that you are not committing to make similar contribution to the same recipient in the future.
AcknowledgmentMy special thanks to Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz who has helped considerably with this project. He has always been extremely responsive to my questions and helped point me to several of the sources listed below. Of course, he has no responsibilty for any remaining errors.
One or more sources are given for each of the guidelines or statements brought down. Below is a list of the principal sources consulted. The volumes by Albert, Blau, Domb, Feldberger, and Oppenheimer have all been written in recent years and contain numerous detailed references to primary sources. The volume edited by Domb is particularly noteworthy; the team of researchers on whose work the book is based put specific questions to three Torah giants of our day: Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and Dayan Yitzchack Yaacov Weiss. Their answers (which provide new insights for practical questions facing us in our day) are published in the volume. It goes without saying that the material covered on the pages in this area of the Just Tzedakah site is no more than a taste of the detail covered in the volumes listed below and the many other sources that provide insights into the proper ways to give tzedakah. One can find additional information and discussion of tzedakah in the classical Jewish legal texts in Yoreh Deah 249-259.
Albert, Avraham Mordechai Sefer Ma'aser Kesofim, (Hebrew) Jerusalem 5737
Blau, Yaakov Yishaya, Sefer Tzedakah U'Mishpat, (Hebrew) Jerusalem: Yeshivas Bais Maor, 5740
Domb, Cyril (ed.) Maaser Kesafim: Giving a Tenth to Charity, Spring Valley, NY: Feldheim Publishers, 1992.
Epstein, Yechiel Michal Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah
Feldberger, Yechezkel, in conjunction with Nachum Blumenfrucht, Guide to the Maaser Forms, Brooklyn NY 1988.
Mishnah Torah of Maimonides, (Gifts to the Poor)
Oppenheimer, Joseph Ma'aser: The Precepts of Tithing, New York: Sheingold Publishing, 1971
Yisroel Meyer HaCohen (Chofetz Chaim) Ahavath Chesed, New York: Feldheim, 1976