From NISHMA JOURNAL Special Edition

Beyond Tzedakah:

Understanding the Torah Expenditure

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht


As a people whose mark is chesed (see T.B. Yevamot 79a), our commitment to others is a distinction we carry with pride. Our duty to society, both as Jews and as human beings, and our obligation to those less fortunate are of great significance to us. Understanding Torah's guidance in these matters, a subject unfortunately not investigated to the extent it should be, is, therefore, necessarily important.

Colloquially, the term tzedakah is used to include almost all financial outlays to the community motivated by Torah. While all these expenditures may still remain equally valid, by expanding the tzedakah term, we have lost sight of the true motivations in our giving. What is the exact nature of the particular obligation of tzedakah? Do we fully recognize the other Torah reasons for expenditures and the true nature of the mitzvot that we fulfil through these financial gifts?

In this article, Rabbi Benjamin Hecht addresses the issue of Torah demanded expenditures. His goal is to identify various Torah motivations for financial outlays and to begin a process whereby we gain a fuller understanding of our Torah obligations in these matters. In this manner, Rabbi Hecht argues, we will have a greater appreciation for the complete Torah view on our financial responsibilities as well as for the precise mitzvah of tzedakah.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht is the Founding Director of NISHMA.



IN ECONOMIC THEORY, INCOME CAN BE DIVIDED into three general categories reflecting usage: consumption, savings and taxes. Each one of these categories represent fundamentally distinct approaches to the use of money with various resultant effects upon the economy. For example, while the decision-making in regard to consumption rests in the hands of the consumer, the decision-making regarding taxes is in the hands of the government. Income used for consumption is, in this regard, fundamentally different than income used for taxes. Identifying these categories of usage is important in determining how personal income will eventually affect society's economy.

Adherence to Halacha also necessarily affects the way one uses income. Decision-making within this realm does not rest solely with the individual but also includes the halachic process. The Torah demands certain expenditures and, while the individual still has some involvement in deciding the exact nature of these expenditures, our use of income is, as such, affected by the dictates of the halachic system. Almost to the extent of being a new category of income usage, Torah-demanded expenditures play a significant role in the finances of the halachically-adherent family.

The exact nature of this category of expenditure, however, may be elusive to most individuals. The term, tzedakah, is often used to reflect all community directed outlays that may fall within this category. This over-extension of this term, however, is most unfortunate. It does not fully reflect the various different decision making apparati that should be included in determining one's Torah expenditures. The exact nature of the mitzvah of tzedakah is often ignored with a subsequently weak understanding of the specific obligations within this category. In addition, the specific mitzvot that are the true motivators behind many of our expenditures are often not known; subsequently, we suffer poor decision making regarding our general and particular obligations.

The purpose of this article is to begin the investigation of this important issue. The goal is not necessarily to change our expenditures but, at least, to motivate us to learn and to understand the true Torah motivation for these financial outlays. It is, however, felt that the information that will be provided will, in fact, assist in our decision making regarding Torah demanded expenditures.



The starting point in investigating how the Torah affects our use of income must begin with the recognition that the Torah alters our consumption patterns. This effect upon our consumption can be divided into two categories: changing regular consumption and creating new consumption.

The Torah modifies what we may term regular consumption. For example, the laws of kashruth or shatnez. Because of the commitment to these mitzvot, choices of consumption are not only limited but also entail additional cost. Another example of this nature may be our preparations for Shabbat whereby our regular consumption pattern is affected by the kavod and oneg Shabbat standards of this day. We purchase more expensive clothing and food for use on this day. These are Torah expenditures.

The Torah is fully aware of these expenditure commitments. The halachic literature clearly recognizes that these demands will affect one's disposable income and that the Torah is making specific demands upon our expenditures that must be considered in a broader context as well as within the exact confines of the particular mitzvah. For example, in regard to Shabbat, we are to extend our expenditures for this day even if it means limiting consumption the rest of the week. We, though, are not to meet this Shabbat demand if it means being dependent on others[1]. Parameters for this Torah demanded expenditure are established and, as with all Torah expenditures, must be analyzed within the fuller context of one's abilities and other commitments.

The Torah further recognizes that it is demanding expenditures a person would not otherwise undertake, that it is imposing new financial responsibilities on an individual. This is substantiated by the promises we find in T.B. Shabbat 118a,b which include assurances of wealth and the satisfaction of the "heart's requests"[2] for those who spend for Shabbat. We also find the Torah concerned that these expenditures not be too onerous. One of the concepts that we are to apply in halachic decision-making is that the Torah is concerned with the money of Israel[3]. The Torah recognizes that it is imposing financial demands, in a variety of categories, and wishes to ensure that these demands are not expanded to create non-warranted financial concerns.

The Torah also creates new consumption demands, new needs that flow solely from a mitzvah. Examples of such needs are tefillin or mezuzah, which do not only change our consumption patterns but actually demand expenditures that we would not otherwise contemplate. Included in this category must also lie such things as donations to mikva'ot and synagogue dues.

When we consider mitzvah consumption items, we usually think only of those things that meet our personal needs. In fact we have consumption requirements that can only be met as part of a community. We,need shuls, mikva'ot, schools[4] and we are obligated to assist in the payment for these items just like any other mitzvah consumption purchase. Our assistance in the payment of these items, at times, may colloquially be referred to as tzedakah but that may not necessarily be the case. This is still an important Torah expenditure nonetheless.

What exactly is the nature of this Torah expenditure and what is the proper halachic motivation in this regard? Rabbi Aaron Levine in Free Enterprise and Jewish Law, chapter 9, "The Role of Government" deals with the issue of personal financial responsibility to the needs of the community. Of particular interest is his section on Communal Religious Obligations[5]. It would seem that the basic opinion within Jewish Law is equal responsibility based on the benefit principle. Those who benefit should share equally. In regard to a communal mitzvah object, those who will use the object should share in its cost. This expenditure would be classified a mitzvah consumption purchase and, simply for the purposes of clarity and the correct understanding of our Torah actions, donations made to a communal body within this parameter should be so recognized.

Determining this benefit principle, however, is not so simple. Benefit may not accrue to all people equally. For example, if a wall is built around a city to protect the inhabitants from thieves then the cost of the wall should be determined by that which is protected, that is property. Rather than an equal tax per capita, the tax should be determined proportional to wealth.[6] This same difficulty may apply in determining the personal financial responsibility to the communal mitzvah purchase: how do we determine benefit and proper commitment within this category?

We may also wonder what if the members of the community wish different purchases or can afford different purchases? What if one individual wishes to give more in order to purchase (or build) a finer mitzvah object?[7] The determination of a communal expenditure on a sefer Torah would seem to parallel similar analysis by the individual in determining how much to spend on a succah. In this light, a donation to ensure a more beautiful synagogue would be similar to the purchase of a more beautiful ethrog or kiddush cup - a fulfilment of the concept of zeh keli v'anveihu, this is my G-d and I shall adorn Him[8]. While colloquially referred to as tzedakah such donations are not technically within that category but still represent a very proper Torah motivation and expenditure.

Interestingly, this recognition that donations for communal consumption items may fall both within the category of basic utility and hiddur, the enhancement of the mitzvah, is actually fundamental to the halachic formulation of the individual's obligation to the communal purchase. Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 53:23 states, in regard to the salary expenditure for a chazzan for the yomim noraim, the basic rule for all mitzvah consumption expenditures of this type: half the expense shall be divided according to wealth and half according to headcount. Although there is some halachic discussion regarding this rule and the reasons behind its formulation, Mishneh Brura, Orach Chaim 53:69 states what is the normative reason: "for there is an argument to say that the poor person needs the chazzan just like the rich person yet there are times that the rich person will give more money to a chazzan whose voice is more beautiful..."[9], therefore we determine part of the expenditure requirement by headcount and part by wealth. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Iggrot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 1:41, in regard to mikvah construction expenditures, states the law in general terms: "such it is with all mitzvah matters of the community, there is the essential mitzvah that is impossible with less and there is the beautification of the matter and the like and therefore there is this compromise that the early scholars have initiated."[10] This payment determination process should represent an important guideline in determining our contribution to communal mitzvah purchases of this type. This Torah expenditure is not motivated by tzedakah but rather the need for the mitzvah object, zeh keli v'anveihu and the halachic requirement to the community.



The question still arises: how can this payment formulation process be reconciled with the benefit principle enunciated above. Rabbi Levine proposes the following:

"...What also emerges from the above analysis, in our mind, is the view that an individual's assessment in a communal levy is not determined by the amount of benefits he actually reaps from the associated project, but rather on the basis of his presumed money demand for the project at hand. Hence, though the poor and the wealthy enjoy (sic) the services of the cantor in an equal manner, the presumption that the poor would not spend the same absolute sum as the rich to secure this enjoyment reduces the assessment of the poor in the matter accordingly."[11]

The words of Rav Hai Gaon[12], who originally formulated this distinction in payment requirement, however, seem to point to a different theory that actually limits the benefit principle. Rav Hai compared the equal responsibility for the most basic requirement to the shekalim of the Temple period which was an equal requirement for all and represented equal involvement in the communal sacrifices. He, though, argues that the additional payment for the beauty of the mitzvah should be determined according to wealth "like the tzedakot and other responsibilities of the community". It seems that the additional obligation of the wealthy does not originate from the fact that they will "benefit" more from the finer chazzan but rather that the hiddur mitzvah category represents a different communal obligation (or purchase) that should be divided by wealth[13].

Within a somewhat different context, Rabbi Feinstein actually distinguishes between two different types of communal mitzvah consumption. One, like mikvah, is actually a requirement of every individual but the community joins together to build the requisite item that meets every person's individual need. It is in regard to cases such as this that the above formulation applies. There are other cases, though, where the community as a unique entity onto itself has the obligation and, therefore, the requirement to purchase the mitzvah item. Even if the individual gains in the mitzvah, since the obligation rests on the community as a whole and not on the individual, Rav Moshe states that in these cases the expense distribution is determined only by wealth - as is the case with communal purchases and obligations in general.[14]

Communal mitzvah purchases represent but one type of communal expenditure that ultimately must be carried by individuals forming the community. How these expenses should be divided was a continuous halachic issue throughout the generations. In times of strong autonomous Jewish communities, this question was asked by the communal authorities to know how much to ask from each individual or family. In modern times, we, perhaps, now ask the question to know what our requirement as good citizens of the Jewish community should be.

This expenditure may simply be perceived as a personal consumption purchase, paying your fair share for what you gain from the communal outlay. In a non-mitzvah context, this would seem to be devoid of a Torah expenditure quality. Yet, in that the communal obligation may not always have a specific benefit to the individual and we also do not strictly adhere to the benefit principle, there is a Torah motivation in meeting what the Halacha describes as our communal responsibility. Furthermore, as the community no longer has the power to demand payment, the voluntary nature of such gifts does lend support to a classification as, not tzedakah, but the equally important Torah expenditure to meet our communal responsibilities[15].

Determination of what constitutes a legitimate communal expense and how that decision is rendered is a complex matter beyond the scope of this article[16]. The classic case is that of a city wall - an expenditure that will affect all inhabitants but can only be a decision of the collective. One must be willing to carry one's share and not be a "free rider"[17]. Yet a closer examination of the sources indicates that the motivation does not just rest on carrying one's weight but actually arises from the obligation of community.

Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 163:3 states that for all the community needs, even if one does not personally have a specific need, one should still pay his/her share. Meirat Einayim 163:32 and Netivot Hamishpat 163:28 defines this matter as referring to "inyan klali," a general command matter. We can see a community in two ways. One is that the community is the sum of its members. Within this view a community purchase is simply a purchase by the individuals involved in the community. If one had no need to purchase the item and could be excluded from its benefit (or truly had no benefit) then an argument could be made for this individual not to be considered one of the purchasers and therefore not have to pay. Rema, however, is presenting another view of community. The community is an entity onto itself, in gestalt terms, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The community has obligations and purchases that the community must undertake as a responsible Jewish community. Members of the community have a responsibility to act in order for the community to meet its goal. This is like the many mitzvot which fall on the kahal, community or defined group, whereby the individual is commanded to do what is necessary to ensure that the community meets its obligations[18].

In this light we can, perhaps, understand the movement away from the strict benefit principle in defining individual commitment and payment. On one hand communal purchases do reflect a personal purchase of each individual and, as such, the members of the community should carry their fair share. On the other hand the community qua community has a responsibility and our assistance to the community obligation is determined by wealth, i.e. ability to pay[19]. An early source for this is in Tshuvot HaRashba, Book 3, Response 381 that refers to the community chest. People paid to the community and then the community met its expenses and this payment formulation was determined by wealth.[20]

The Aruch Hashulchan 163:1 outlines in detail many of these communal obligations. Included in his list of community necessities are seforim, books so that one who wishes to learn may do so, and a communal Rav. It would seem that donations to advance Torah knowledge and education are not tzedakah but, at least to the extent they meet one's basic halachic obligation to the community's need for Torah achievement, are Torah expenditures reflecting commitment to the kahal. Expenditures of this nature present an interesting distinction in modern times in that we do not have functioning communities that can collectively make a decision that can be imposed on the members of the community. As such our decisions of this nature can be made personally, deciding individually what we believe to be best for the community. The force of obligation, I believe, to some extent, is still the commitment to community and, generally, our obligation to ensure that the Jewish community, in broad terms, is functioning the way it should be (at least, as each of us individually believe it should be).

Interestingly, in regard to elementary education, the community responsibility is constantly referred to as providing education to the poor and orphans. This prompts Biur HaGra, Choshen Mishpat 163:70 to note that this particular expenditure reflects meeting the community obligations and tzedakah[21].



This obligation to meet community needs introduces another significant concept that may initiate another form of the Torah expenditure. Part of the commitment to community arises from the benefit principle. Paying for what one benefits is, in itself, an important Torah value that may yield a Torah demanded expenditure at times.

T.B. Chullin 44b reports the case of Rabbi Eleazer who refused the gifts of the Nasi referring to the verse soneh matanot yichyeh, those who hate gifts shall live.[22] There is a concept within Torah that we should limit our dependence on others and attempt to always carry our own weight. This supports a Torah view that we should always be in the mode to give and not to receive. As is stated in Mishneh Avot 5:10, the chassid is the one who states that what is mine is yours and what is yours is also yours.

The famous story of Rabbi Pinchus ben Yair[23] is significant in explaining part of the underlying motivation for this rule. Rabbi Pinchus was very careful before taking a gift because there were those who wished to give but did not have really the means while there were others who did have the means but did not wish to give. He did not wish to take from the former for he did not wish to burden them; although they truly wished to give, they were unable and Rabbi Pinchus was sensitive to their needs. As for the latter group, he did not wish to take from those who would not be giving with a full heart.[24] This rule is perceived, within this context to represent a commitment to sensitivity.

Rashi, Mishlei 15:27 presents another reason for this rule. He states that the one who hates gifts will obviously hate theft[25]. This rule tells us not to be avaricious, to be someach b'chelko, happy with our share[26]. For these reasons - to focus on giving and not taking, to be sensitive to others, to limit selfishness - the Torah demands that we limit that which we accept for free and to cover our share of benefits. This attitude may lead to expenditures that we will undertake that others may not, especially in regard to usage of communal items. I believe that the custom of many to give a donation to a shul that they attended on vacation is very much connected to this idea.

Does this idea of soneh matanot mean that we should never receive a gift from anyone? In many ways this would break the social fabric[27] and cause tension, creating islands rather than people who connect. There are times that people want to show appreciation by giving a gift or inviting someone for a meal. In fact, this was the very reason of Rabbi Zera in accepting invitations. Rabbi Zera was not just taking but in turn giving pleasure and honour to hosts by accepting their invitation.[28] There is also inherent in the words of Rabbi Pinchus that when someone truly wishes to give to another and has the means to do so that there is value in receiving as well. "All of Israel are holy" and, as Rashi, Chullin 7b, states: "it is worthy to benefit from them".[29] Soneh matanot is a concept that must be approached with common sense yet does create Torah expenditures as it demands a sensitivity to these matters that otherwise may be non-existent.[30]



What about the individual who wishes to give more than his/her fair share? We already noticed that one motivation for a further gift may be may be zeh keli v'anveihu. Another may be tzedakah. Paying the share of an ani, poor person, or covering the costs of a benefit, such as Torah education, would be tzedakah.[31].

What exactly is tzedakah? Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Matanot Aniim 7:1 defines tzedakah as giving an ani according to his/her needs. It is clear from halacha 3 that Rambam does not only mean sustenance needs,[32] but all that is personally necessary. Once someone falls into the category of ani, then any donation to that person, within the confines of dai machsarah, that person's overall personal needs, is tzedakah. Dai machsarah can be considered as the removal of a pain rather than the giving of a pleasure but the definition of painful can be understood broadly. It is interesting to note that although one should make his Shabbat as a weekday and not be dependant on others, once someone falls into the category on ani, that person is given enough to make his Shabbat the way it should be i.e. three meals.[33] The defined personal need is the true full need of Shabbat. It is also clear that the spiritual needs of the ani, such as providing Torah education or giving a male ani a lulav and etrog, is also tzedakah.

It would seem the operative word for the classification of tzedakah is an ani, poor person. The verse of command, Devarim 15:8, clearly refers to an evyon, someone in need, and would support a contention that the ani status is necessary for a definition of tzedakah. T.B. Succah 49b specifically mentions that tzedakah only regards aniim. Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot Aseh 195, although one may question the significance of this specific language, does not mention ani but talks of strengthening those who are weak. Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 476 however states the following:

"...Now you, my son, are not to think that the subject of the precept of charity applies to none but a poor man who has neither bread nor clothing. For with men of great wealth, too, the precept of charity can be fulfilled at times: for example, if a wealthy man is in a place where he is not recognized, and he needs to borrow money. Even for a wealthy man in his own town, among those who know him, there can be times when, on account of illness or some other event, he needs one thing that is in your possession, and he will not find any of it anywhere else.

"This too is included in the scope of the precept of charity, without any doubt. For the Torah always prefers deeds of kindness, and it commands us to fulfil the wishes of those human beings who are members of the covenant, insofar as we are able. The nub of the matter is that whoever benefits his fellow-man, whether with goods, food, or any other needs of his, or even with good words, words of comfort - it is [all] within the meaning of the precept of charity, and his reward will be very great. Let my words enter your ears, for they are good in an ear that assay's words."[34]

It would seem that according to the Chinuch, giving to any person in need represents tzedakah and that the distinction between tzedakah and gemilat chesed (to be discussed infra) is very blurry. The narrative language of the sources, however, do not seem to support this contention although in regard to the rich person that is not recognized, the operative definition of tzedakah may not be if one is technically an ani but functionally one. Regardless of the exact nature of the mitzvah, however, the lesson of the Chinuch is meaningful.[35]

The definition of poor would, as such, be significant to the confines of this mitzvah. Mishna Peah 8:7-9 provides the opening source for an investigation of this matter. Maaser Kesafim, pp. 122-126, devotes a small section to this discussion which can provide further direction.[36] Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach is quoted as defining the poverty line, in modern times, as a reasonable standard of living with reasonable determined by various factors including the neighbourhood in which one resides and the standard of living to which one was formally accustomed.

Tzedakah is, obviously, an important Torah expenditure, however it is perhaps the strangest of mitzvot in that it is one that we should really wish not to do. Giving tzedakah means that someone is in pain.[37] While tzedakah must have significant consideration in our Torah expenditures, our real desire must be for there to be no tzedakah. In a certain way, it is this very thought that provides the basis of Rambam's highest category of tzedakah[38] - to assist someone in supplying himself or herself so that there will be no need of tzedakah.

It is also interesting to note Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Matanot Aniim 7:6 which implies a duty to genuinely verify someone as an ani. We must ensure our Torah expenditures are meeting their goals. I also find it significant that Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Matanot Aniim 10:6, in stating that providing sustenance to grown children is technically tzedakah, informs us of the purpose of the support - for the sons to learn Torah and for the daughters to be instructed in the right path. Is the Rambam inferring that without these reasons, it would not be tzedakah and we have an obligation not to assist those who simply wish to live off the community? Rabbi Aaron Levine, Economics and Jewish Law: Halakhic Perspectives, pp. 133-135, discusses this issue favouring some requirements on the recipients in general terms. This may further connect the highest category of tzedakah noted above and the essence of the mitzvah.



What about helping someone who is not poor? What if, in the context of the communal donation, a person covers more that his or her share in a situation when there are no aniim? This may be classified under a Torah expenditure motivated by the mitzvah of gemilat chesed.

"Our Rabbis learned: In three things, gemilat chassadim is greater than tzedakah. Tzedakah is with one's money; gemilat chassadim is with both with one's person and with one's money. Tzedakah is only for the poor; gemilat chassadim is for both the poor and the rich. Tzedakah is for the living; gemilat chassadim can be done both for the living as well for those who are dead." (T.B. Sukkah 49b)

What, though, exactly is the mitzvah of gemilat chesed? Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Evel 14:1 states that gemilat chesed which includes such concerns as visiting the sick and comforting the mourners, is a Rabbinic decree connected to the Biblical command of loving one's neighbour as oneself. Orach Mesharim 17:1 presents an additional argument that gemilat chesed is also tied to the mitzvah of emulating G-d. Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot, Aseh 8 specifically states that the mitzvah of emulating G-d means to follow His ways - as He is caring, you should be caring. The very source for this idea is T.B. Sotah 14a which uses, as examples for emulation, the very same actions that Rambam defines as gemilat chesed in Hilchot Evel[39]. The operative mechanism of gemilat chesed, however, whether we connect it to emulating G-d or loving one's neighbour or both, is the development of sensitivity. We are to be sensitive to the other and to act upon that sensitivity.

This is perhaps the essential distinction between tzedakah and gemilat chassadim. Tzedakah originates with the ani, a person with a definition that declares a need to be satisfied. This need, perhaps, is so acute that to ensure its satisfaction the Torah wished to codify it and provide a clear definition. Gemilat chesed, however, originates with a specific human feeling - a loss, a situation, a reality of life - that demands not a defined action but also a sensitivity to the other that leads to action. It is within this vein that we can understand the general concept of gemilat chesed being more significant than tzedakah although tzedakah obviously reflects a greater need. Tzedakah does not preclude gemilat chesed but actually should include gemilat chesed to achieve its fullness as an act. See T.B. Succah 49b and Rashi d.h. eleh lifi gemilat chassadim she'bah.

This concept of gemilat chesed as reflecting a sensitivity to that which is outside oneself is significant in the broadest of terms. T.B. Succah 49b asks what is meant by Torat chesed, a Torah of chesed, in the famous verse of "Eishet Chayil."[40] The gemara presents two reasons. The second one is straightforward. It refers to Torah which is learned in order to teach; teaching Torah reflects gemilat chassadim. The first answer is that Torat chesed is Torah lishma, the study of Torah for its own sake. What does this have to do with chesed? B'Derech Tovim 3:12, paragraph 19, footnote 38 explains that this learning expands the honour of Torah and there is no search for honour or purpose for oneself. Chesed is the recognition that we live in a world beyond us and that we must also consider the greater whole[41] and not be limited by narrow inappropriate self-centred concerns. I also believe that the reason Torah is connected to chesed is that it is the life force of sensitivity. Torah taught correctly breeds chesed[42] and is its very life source. In this way, Torah ultimately presents a long term investment in the caring of others although one cannot ignore short-term needs as well. I have often wondered about the numerous references to Torah without ma'asim, commitment to study without action. Is it possible for someone to study Torah and not be influenced? If someone is not influenced by this studying, then it must be because it is not true Torah that is being studied, so why call it Torah? The answer, I believe, lies in that the one who studies without ma'asim, sees Torah as the force of chesed and is committed to this necessary force and the benefits it will eventually bring to the world. One, however, cannot ignore the immediate. One, though, also cannot ignore the future.

Gemilat chesed represents a Torah expenditure that may cover a wide spectrum of donations. Extra expenditures that ensure that an ani receives his funds in a caring manner may technically be within this category rather than strict tzedakah. Expenditures to help a friend and donations to hospitals may also fall within this category as would donations to foster Torat chesed.



With our discussion of gemilat chesed, a new understanding of the Torah expenditure and its connection to mitzvot has developed. In regard to tzedakah, the mitzvah is defined by the act of giving money. In regard to gemilat chesed, the mitzvah is not necessarily defined that way. There is a mitzvah to be sensitive to another and to act as such. It just happens that one way to fulfil the mitzvah may be through a financial expenditure. The question now arises whether there are other mitzvot which may also be fulfilled in this manner thereby defining Torah expenditures.

Rabbi Moshe Weinberg, Jewish Outreach, chapter 9, "Is a Contribution to a Kiruv Organization Zedakah?" technically doesn't really respond to the question posed in the title of the chapter.[43] Rabbi Weinberg, however, introduces the interesting question of the monetary obligation in regard to the mitzvah of tochacha, admonition, which really entails our mutual responsibility for each other's Torah observance. Kiruv is actually a development of this mitzvah. While Rabbi Weinberg's discussion focuses on the obligation to spend money for kiruv - especially in light of Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 334:48, which states that one is not required to do so - no doubt a donation in this regard would be a Torah expenditure under this mitzvah of tochacha.[44]

One can, of course, think of many mitzvot that may fit similar definitions. One would be kibud av v'em, honouring one's parents where the act of honouring may involve an expense. In that case, there is a famous Talmudic disagreement whether expenditures are to be covered by the child or the parent.[45] The essence of that argument, in the language of this article, is whether within this command the Torah also obligates a Torah expenditure or makes the beneficiary obligated to pay any expenses. This question also applies to various other mitzvot. I would venture to argue, however, that even according to the view that the cost should be carried by the parents (which is the halacha), the child that covers the expense inherent in an act of kibud, could still declare this a Torah expenditure defined by the mitzvah of kibud av v'em.[46] The actual discussion of whether financial assistance to poor parents is, or should be, classified as tzedakah is, I believe, a clear indication in the sources that the exact definition of the Torah expenditure is an important halachic consideration.

Of course, mention should be made of the various Torah expenditures that would exist in Temple times involving the agricultural tithes and the sacrificial duties.



Finally, we must recognize that some Torah expenditures are motivated by the desire to be specifically connected to certain mitzvot. On many occasions, donations to cover the entire expense of a certain communal object are motivated by the wish that the person making the donation be connected to that mitzvah. This is similar to Dovid Hamelech who wanted to be so involved in the building of the Beit Hamikdash that he did all he could. He was subsequently assured by Hashem that the Temple would be called by his name - Beit Dovid[47]. The desire to be so involved in the performance of a mitzvah by a community is praiseworthy and a proper Torah expenditure.[48]

In fact, the fostering of a mitzvah is sometimes considered more significant then the actual performance of the mitzvah. In regard to tzedakah, the one who causes the giving is considered to have performed a higher function then the one who gives.[49] In limud haTorah, Zevulun, who worked in order to support his brother's involvement in Torah study, is placed ahead of Yissachar who actually did the learning.[50] A blanket statement, however, that supporting Torah study has priority over the actual Torah study must be approached with caution. In any event, the support of Torah study is a significant Torah expenditure and it is perceived as if the ones assisting were themselves learning. See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 246:1.[51]


What we have seen is that our gifts to community services and needs, as well as many other expenditures dictated by Torah, actually reflect many different considerations. These include: communal mitzvah purchases, zeh keli v'anveihu, communal responsibility, soneh matanot, tzedakah, gemilat chesed, mitzvah fulfilment, and mitzvah involvement. The list of motivations presented in this article is not necessarily exhaustive. While we may refer to any donation as colloquially tzedakah - and there is nothing necessarily wrong with this continued colloquial reference[52] - it is important for our analysis of these obligations and our personal response to these needs that we understand the multi-faceted nature of these demands. We invite you to continue the investigation.

Rabbi Sheldon Steinberg, in a lecture sponsored by Nishma in Toronto[53], presented an important distinction, formulated by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, between mitzvot bein adam l'Makom, the commandments between man and G-d, and those bein adam l'chaveiro, between man and man. The Rav argued that the former usually involves precise rules and parameters; shechita, for example, has very definite rules. The latter mitzvot, however, have very general commands with much left to the discretion of the individual; whether you chose to give to many in small amounts or to one need in a large amount is very much up to the individual[54]. How we meet our requirement of the Torah expenditure is, largely, a personal decision. Yet with this greater flexibility arises a greater onus to make responsible decisions; ultimately the freedom which G-d awarded us to make the decision includes accepting accountability for them. Understanding the true halachic motivation in our commitment to others and the nature of these halachically demanded Torah expenditures, must be a significant factor in arriving at the proper personal decision in this regard.



1) The Personal Decision and the Communal Decision - The material presented focuses on the factors one should ponder when making a personal decision regarding Torah expenditures. One of the beneficiaries to be considered is the community chest. The community through those who supervise the community funds, however, then have to, in turn, make decisions on how to spend or allocate these funds. In many ways, the factors considered parallel a personal decision but, in certain ways, the determinants vary. Priority, for example, is one area where the factors to be considered differ greatly from the considerations an individual has to recognize. See Iggrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:154. For an example regarding the very nature of the obligation, see Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 250:1. One may also wish to include in this investigation the question of when it is appropriate to maintain personal decision-making control and when one should give certain funds to the community and thereby give it the decision-making control. While certain decisions can only be made by the community, one can wonder: should I give my funds for tzedakah (technically) to the community for it to allocate or should I give the aniim directly. Similar questions can be asked in regard to other Torah expenditures. This question is extremely important when considering donations to such organizations as United Jewish Appeal which in turn allocate the funds to the various different needs within the community here and abroad. Should UJA be, in part, the alternative for those who for one reason or another are unable to make the personal decision of detailed allocation or is it actually better for these decisions to be made communally? Or is the answer some combination of the two? A further component is that UJA does not give to all organizations or meet all needs.2) Economic Structure and Efficiency - Usually discussions of Torah focus on spiritual or moral issues. Torah, as the blueprint of the world, however is not limited to such parameters. Halacha can also include within its discussions insights into and deliberations on other aspects of existence. This article intentionally began with a brief reference to the basic model of an economy and the recognition that the Torah expenditure decision will affect the economic structure of a Torah society. Those with an interest in economics may wish to research this matter further and the works by Rabbi Levine, cited in the article, are excellent starting points. The purpose should not be only descriptive but also investigative. How does the Torah expenditure affect the economic model, both in macro-economic and micro-economic terms? Is the Torah presenting insights into such matters as economic efficiency, the best use of factors of production? Will the Torah economy suffer less from economic cycles and grow in a more sustained manner? How does the Torah economic model specifically connect with Israel and that land's specific resources and regions? The laws demanding expenditures in Jerusalem will obviously affect that region's economic vitality. The tie between a shevet's section of land and the tribe's economic endeavours may also be of interest. See, for example, Bamidbar 32:1. Consider also the lack of a section for shevet Levi which was to devote its time to teaching Torah. See, further, Bereishit 49:7 and the commentators thereon. A review of the second half to the Book of Yehoshua with this in mind may yield some interesting results.

NISHMA-Torah articles broadly cover the complete spectrum of Torah study - from Halacha to Tanach, from Gemara to Hashkafa, from Rationalism to Mysticism. Their objective is not only to increase Torah knowledge, but to encourage us to think about Torah issues and to draw us into the Torah discussion.

Suggested Study Topics follow each article, providing issues and questions intended to spark further intense Torah investigation and discussion.


[1]Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 242:1.

[2]This is similar to the assurances we find in regard to the actual mitzvah of tzedakah. See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 247:2,3. It would seem, almost generally, that when G-d requests financial outlays, He assures us that these monetary commitments will not cause us difficulties in meeting our necessities of life. This does seem to indicate the recognition by the Torah that it is demanding expenditures that otherwise would not be made.

[3]See T.B. Rosh Hashanah 27a.

[4]Aside from the individual obligation to educate oneself and one's children (that would require school expenditures), there is also an obligation on the community qua community to provide schooling pursuant to the gezarah of Yehoshua ben Gamala (see T. B. Baba Bathra 21a). This would represent a different Torah expenditure motivation for even the individual who is not "consuming" education would still be obligated to meet that demand. We will investigate this motivation infra, but the matter at hand refers to expenditure motivation tied to an actual mitzvah consumption.

[5]pp. 150 - 159.

[6]See pp. 136-147.

[7]The case of the individual who simply wishes to give more than his share will be discussed infra.

[8]Shemot 15:2. See T.B. Shabbat 127b for this verse's halachic application.

[9]Of significance is that a good voice is a requirement for a chazzan. See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 53:3 and the Ateret Zekanim thereon. The desire for a chazzan with a better voice could easily be justified through Torah arguments yet, in that it does not represent the most basic requirement, it opens the door for a greater obligation for the wealthy. This wealthy person's donation would be considered a Torah expenditure under zeh keli, not simply a personal consumption item i.e. to further the enjoyment of the singing. This would apply, also, it would seem, to a special donation beyond one's share, to enhance the matter even further.

Of course, one could argue that the desire for a chazzan with a better voice is motivated by personal desire to enjoy the voice and not religious concern as represented by zeh keli v'anveihu. Yet, upon investigation, we will see that most cases of hiddur actually involve this thin line between personal enjoyment and the enhancement of the command. Do we not enjoy a more beautiful succah at the same time that this beautiful succah fulfils the idea of zeh keli? The connection is even tighter when one considers that the performance of a mitzvah such as eating matzah is enhanced when we are hungry and enjoy the eating from a personal perspective. See T.B. Pesachim 99b and succinctly Rashi, d.h. lo yachol.

[10]Rav Moshe himself writes that this is not a universally accepted guideline however a fuller discussion on this matter is beyond the scope of this article.

[11]Page 152. Further to our discussion in endnote 9, one may consider Rabbi Levine's words as indicating that payments beyond the basic requirement are matters simply of personal desire and consumption. I do not believe that this conclusion is necessary. In any event, the words of Rav Moshe, and those of Rav Hai Gaon forthcoming in the body of the article, clearly demonstrate, in my opinion, that additional expenditures to improve the mitzvah object do fall in the category of hiddur mitzvah and that these monies do reflect an important Torah expenditure (unless, of course, the additional payment is for an item that is totally unconnected to the mitzvah).

[12]Quoted in Beit Yosef, Tur, Orach Chaim 53.

[13]See Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 658:9.

[14]The words of Rav Hai Gaon, where he uses the case of shekalim as a model for distribution by headcount, may present an interesting problem for Rav Moshe in that these funds were for the daily sacrifices which were community obligations. Interestingly, the very source of Rav Moshe's distinction, Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 163:3, uses the case of mikvah without what seems to be concern for this distinction. One may also wonder if Rav Moshe can reconcile this categorization of communal mitzvot with Chatam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat, Responsa 159 who uses a unique formulation incorporating headcount, usage and wealth in determining payment responsibilities for a synagogue, an expense Rav Moshe, it would seem, would argue should be determined solely by wealth.

[15]See Aruch HaShulchan, Choshen Mishpat 163:2 who refers to intention l'sheim Shomayim in regard to communal responsibility.

[16]To begin an investigation of these issues, see T.B. Baba Bathra 7a and Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat c. 163.

[17]See, for further discussion on the "free rider" phenomena and Jewish Law, Free Enterprise and Jewish Law, pp. 136 ff.

[18]It is interesting to note that Rav Moshe was very reluctant to bar those who did not pay their share from using the mikvah.

[19]Interestingly, this greater responsibility in payment may also yield a greater voice in the purchasing or usage decision. See Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 163:3.

[20]See Mishneh Brura, Orach Chaim 53:68 who, matter of factly, states that the Shulchan Aruch's reference to the communal chest means a determination by wealth.

[21]There is some argument to say that the Gra believes that there is a tzedakah element in all communal need expenditures in, perhaps, the amount paid beyond benefit that theoretically helps the poor individuals to gain this benefit which he or she could not otherwise afford. We will discuss this further infra.

[22]Mishlei 15:27.

[23]T.B. Chullin 7b.

[24]In support, the Talmud quotes Mishlei 23:6,7 which makes a straight-forward statement in this regard.

[25]In a similar vein but moving from the opposite perspective, see Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah 4:4.

[26]Mishneh Avot 4:1.

[27]See the interesting comments of Rabbeinu Yonah, Avot 5:10 which finds value in the one who says mine is yours and yours is mine for exactly this reason.

[28]Rashi, T.B. Chullin 45a. See also T.B. Kiddushin 7a which states that the pleasure a woman may receive from the fact that an adam chashuv, an important man, took her gift may be considered of sufficient value as to affect marriage.

[29]A musar note on hachnasat orchim, although somewhat off topic, is appropriate. I have noticed a trend whereby individuals, perhaps half in jest, invite themselves to others to give their hosts the opportunity to fulfil this mitzvah. While welcoming guests is an important mitzvah and many would be hosts are more than happy to have guests, it is incumbent on these guests to ensure that their hosts truly wish to invite them. The issue to me is the development of this sensitivity; this is also part of Torah.

[30]The concept of hakeret hatov, recognizing the positive actions of others from which you have benefited, is also very much connected to this idea.

[31]See Biur HaGra referred to above as well as Hatshuvot She'heishivu Geoni Zmaneinu shlita B'inyon Maaser Kesafim, Tshuvot Rav Moshe Feinstein p.25 (at the end of the book Maaser Kesafim, ed. by Cyril Domb).

[32]Although these would have priority.

[33]See Mishneh Brura 242:1.

[34]Translation from Charles Wengrov.

[35]I though have wondered whether the statement that it is tzedakah to provide a horse and servant to one who was used to this and now lost this luxury applies only when the person is truly an ani, as the language of the sources would imply, or whether the loss of the luxury itself is sufficient for the classification of tzedakah. Gemilat Chesed it is in any event.

[36]See also Rabbi Aaron Levine, Economics and Jewish Law: Halakhic Perspectives, pp. 118-125.

[37]See my The Essence of Chesed, Nishma Update, December 1990.

[38]Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Aniim 10:7. Also consider 10:9. The embarrassment of taking tzedakah is obviously, also, a factor.

[39]Another possible source could be that it is a derivative of tzedakah, which would seem to be the understanding of the Chinuch. There is, as mentioned, the problems with the distinctions that are stressed between the two.

[40]Mishlei 31:10-31. Torat chesed is referred to in verse 26.

[41]Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto's Da'at Tevunot is, in part, devoted to the expansion of this idea especially as it ties chesed to Oneness of G-d.

[42]See Ibn Ezra, Mishlei 31:26.

[43]Tzedakah (sic) is obviously used in its colloquial sense. See footnote 52 for a further discussion in this regard.

[44]Rabbi Weinberg introduces other reasons for giving to kiruv organizations similar to arguments within our parameters of the Torah expenditure. Mention should be made, though, of one important view that various commentators have presented. Danger to life may not only refer to physical life but spiritual life as well. Therefore, all the forms of obligation that concern danger may be part of our obligation of kiruv. While this concept must be approached carefully, especially in consideration of such ideas as pikuach nefesh, threat to life, overriding other mitzvot, its significance should be noted and contemplated. See also Avotot Ahava, chapter 1.

[45]T.B. Kiddushin 32a.

[46]See Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 240:5. Note Taz, Yoreh Deah 240:6.

[47]See Ishei HaTanach, Dovid, Beit Hamikdash which quotes many sources in this regard

[48]The desire to give a donation in memory or in honour of someone arises from our desire to connect that person to the mitzvah in such a way.

[49]Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Matanot Aniim 10:6.

[50]See Rashi, Devarim 33:18.

[51]Of interest are the words of Prisha, Tur, Yoreh Deah 246:3 which presents an interesting explanation of Devarim 33:18. One should feel good about having the money to spend on Torah expenditures.

[52]Recognizing that tzedakah has both a technical and colloquial meaning is important and halachically significant. For example, our reference to tzedakah in the Kel Maleh or a Mi'she'berach is obviously to the colloquial meaning; it is the commitment to a voluntary Torah expenditure not technical tzedakah that is operative. The colloquial term tzedakah actually provides a convenient term for the voluntary Torah expenditure in general. However, it is not always clear which meaning - whether the technical, the colloquial or some hybrid of the two - is intended. For example, when the word tzedakah is used in the Netanah Tokef prayer of the yomim noraim, does it mean tzedakah narrowly and technically defined or would it also include acts of gemilat chesed. Referance to its broad colloquial understanding is, I believe, clearly not intended.

[53]The Torah and Human Wisdom Series: Judaism and the Helping Social Professions

[54]There are, of course, certain parameters on this choice as can be determined from the body of this article, but the Rav's words, nonetheless, are extremely significant. Our choice of who benefits from our tzedakah (used colloquially) is very much in our hands.

A further parameter that should be mentioned, although a fuller discussion is beyond the scope of this article, is the quantification of how much of one's wealth or income should be directed to Torah expenditures. One consideration in that regard is maaser kesafim, the concept of donating or giving a minimum of a tenth of one's income. For a full discussion of that subject, see Maaser Kesafim. While the first chapter regarding the obligation of maaser kesafim would be, obviously, of interest, of more particular importance, within our context, would be chapter 4. Framed in our terms, that chapter considers which Torah expenditures can be covered with maaser and the different views on that subject.

Another quantification parameter is the rule that sets a limit of one-fifth of one's possession on the expenditure on a mitzvah aseh, a positive command. See Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 656:1. There is some controversy on the exact formulation of this parameter including some discussion on the halachic basis of the parameter with subsequent effect on the Halacha. Is the one-fifth parameter applicable to each mitzvah separately or does it provide a general parameter on Torah expenditures, or some expenditures, collectively? Are there different forms of this parameter with actual differences in the parameter figures? What is its applicability to income as well as possessions? To begin a discussion on this matter, see the commentators on this section including Magen Avraham, Machtzit Hashekel, Mishneh Brura and Biur Halacha. See also Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chaim 656:4.

It should be noted that Rema specifically points out that regarding a negative command one must be willing to lose all his/her possessions rather than transgress. There is some controversy whether the distinction between positive and negative mitzvot, in this case, refers to the classic distinction that one finds in a categorization of mitzvot or whether it refers to the action of transgression with a passive transgression having the one-fifth parameter while an active transgression demands a total loss in order to prevent it. If we apply the latter formulation then a man who is threatened with the loss of all his money if he does not put on a four cornered garment without tzitzit would have to forfeit his possessions, although this is technically a mitzvah aseh, because this transgression is active. For a further discussion, see Sedei Chemed, Divrei Chachamim, chapter 39. This issue is actually an important question in regard to many issues.

Specific mitzvot may also have additional quantification considerations, both expanding and limiting the general rules. Our own needs and ensuring that we do not impoverish ourselves is an important contemplation that should also not be overlooked in our zealousness -make Shabbat as a regular day and don't be dependant on others (see footnote 1) - yet must be balanced realistically. See Yoreh Deah 248:8 which states that our Torah acquisitions must, in certain ways, be better then what we have for ourselves. I am further reminded of a woman who, sincerely, believed herself unable to afford Hebrew School for her children and asked for assistance, yet her children took private lessons in other, extra-curricular matters. On the other hand, one must remember that it is still tzedakah to give an ani who was used to a certain luxury that luxury. Balancing one's personal and familial needs with the needs of others is perhaps the hardest part of what is already a most difficult decision making process. (We should note that there is a strong connection between the one-fifth rule noted above and the concept of not impoverishing oneself.)

Another consideration is priority. Is there a hierarchy of importance that should be invoked? The above noted source from Maaser Kesafim discusses the matter to some extent and provides a good introduction for further study. The prime sources, themselves, actually discuss the matter in great detail. See, for example, Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 249:16.

It is interesting to note that Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Matanot Aniim 8:10, in declaring pidyon shevuyim, redeeming captives, to have first priority, indicates why it is a category of tzedakah and what other mitzvot are fulfilled in this regard. On the ultimate priority of pidyon shevuyim, see also Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 252:1.

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