Q: Is one obligated to give 10% of his earnings to ma’aser?
A: While there is a biblical commandment to give 10% ma’aser from one’s produce to the poor , whether this extends to money (referred to as ma’aser kesafim) as well is a debate amongst the Poskim. While there is a minority view which holds that one is biblically commanded to give ma’aser kesafim , and others who hold that the obligation was rabbinically enacted , most halachic opinion goes with the understanding that ma’aser kesafim is only a minhag (tradition). Nonetheless, even according to this last view one who anyway takes upon himself to give ma’aser kesafim is definitely worthy of high praise.
Q: Does one ever have to be matir neder (annul his vow) in order to stop giving ma’aser?
A: If one were to take on the view that ma’aser kesafim is only a minhag, then just as any minhag that one takes on and/or practices three times, it would then become like a neder and therefore obligate one to always give 10% of his earnings. To avoid this conflict one should say (or think) before accepting on himself the minhag of ma’aser kesafim that he is giving ma’aser “bli neder”. In the event that one was not aware that many hold that ma’aser kesafim is a minhag, one need not be matir neder if he can no longer give, as his practice of giving previously would be considered a neder b’taus (vow made by mistake).
Q: If one chooses not to give ma’aser does that free him from the mitzvah of tzedakah?
A: It does not. As mentioned in last weeks article, the mitzvah of tzedakah is a biblical commandment to open one’s hand and to help the poor. Therefore, if one has an indigent person in front of him who is in needs of funds, or if one knows of someone who needs money then he is obligated via the mitzvah of tzedakah to give the necessary funds. It is only if there are no poor people coming to collect and one does not know of anyone in need that the mitzvah of ma’aser kesafim becomes relevant.
Q: What is the most preferable way to give ma’aser kesafim?
• It is encouraged for someone to separate ma’aser immediately upon realizing any kind o f profit. This may be in the form of a paycheck of his monthly salary, interest from a bank, stocks, bonds or profits from any real estate deals that may have taken place. If the funds are immediately placed into a separate account (it is quite simple to set up a charity account with your local bank to help expedite this arrangement) then it will be much easier to give as one does not view it to be “his” money.
• The Chofetz Chaim Zt”l suggested taking one third of all ma’aser kesafim and creating a gemach (free-loan).
• If one is not sure how much money he earned he should approximate to the best of his ability and give ma’aser on that amount.
Q: Is one required to give ma’aser on an increase in value of one’s assets (i.e. home/car/jewelry/stocks that appreciated over the year)?
A: Only realized profits are included in the mitzvah of ma’aser kesafim. For example, if one has mutual funds which increase in value and one does not sell them, there would be no mitzvah of ma’aser. The same would hold true for real estate, gold silver etc., only when the profits are received is one required to give ma’aser.
Q: How does one figure out how much ma’aser one should take off from his monthly salary?
A: One may first deduct certain business expenses and only then give ma’aser on the net profit. These expenses include:
• Car- If leasing a car for a business costs $200 a month then one would be able to deduct that from the overall amount that he will be taking ma’aser from. If however he want to lease a fancier car that is not necessary for the business, he would not be allowed to deduct the extra amount spent on this upgrade. Gasoline and normal repairs may be deducted as they are all business related.
• Clothing- If one purchases a suit solely because of his business, and not because he would have purchased it otherwise then this too would be permitted to deduct. Similar to a car, if one were to purchase a more expensive suit then average, and this is not necessary for the business then the extra amount would go into the sum total of money that he is tithing.
• Babysitting- If one were to pay a certain amount for babysitting each month, then this expense would be able to be deducted from the total amount to be ma’asered. If however the babysitter does work that one would otherwise pay for (i.e. cook, clean, press clothing) then one would not be able to deduct the entire amount. For example, if one pays a babysitter $800 a month, but the babysitter is laundering clothing and cooking, services that one would pay $200 for anyway then in essence the “business expense” of babysitting in regards to these halachos is only $600, and that would be the amount deducted from any realized profit.
Q: May one use ma’aser money to purchase mitzvah items?
A: Any mitzvah chiyuvis (mitzvah that is obligated) such as lulav and esrog, matanos l’evyonim, tefillin mezuzah and even kaparos etc. may not be purchased with funds from ma’aser. Using ma’aser to fulfill a mitzvah kiyumis (mitzvah that one is not obligated on) is complex and dependent on specific variables and a Rav should be consulted. In general ma’aser may be used to buy an aliyah and for a mi sh’abairach, providing that the funds go to an institution that supports Torah and at the time of purchasing the aliyah or making the mi sh’bairach one had in mind to use his ma’aser funds for this kibbud.
Q: Are there any miscellaneous items that one may buy with ma’aser money?
A: In general, purchasing seforim for private use (as opposed to public use when being donated to a shul, yeshiva etc.), paying tuition, buying yomim noraim seats, and renting flowers from a tzedaka organization should not be purchased using ma’aser funds. It is a dispute amongst the Poskim whether or not one may use ma’aser funds for a raffle that is selling an unlimited amount of tickets (i.e. Chinese auction) and as is with all these complex situations involving ma’aser funds, one should consult with his halachic authority as how to proceed.
See S.A. Y.D. Siman 331where this is discussed in greater detail
Taz Y.D. 331:32
Birchai Yosef 249:3 D”h V’chazeh
Sheilas Ya’avetz 6 D”h Elah
S.A. Y.D. 214:1
Sefer Moadim U’zmanim 1:13
Ahavas Chesed 2:18;2:1
Ibid:1, see Avos D’Rav Nasson who explains the concept of a gemach to have the power to forgive Klal Yisroel for their sins in the place of the Bais Hamikdash that has unfortunately been destroyed
It seems from the Sefer Ma’aser Kasafim pg. 26 that one should be aware of any dividends and capital gains as that is considered to be realized profit even if it was reinvested automatically.
Sh”ut Chaves Ya’er 224
Sh”ut Minchas Yitzchok 5:34:6
Sefer Tzedaka U’Mishpat 5:35
See M.B. 605:6
Rama Y.D. 249
See R’ Akiva Eiger 249 who allows one only to use the amount higher then the lesser bidder to come from ma’aser, but the amount equal to what someone else pledged may not be taken from ma’aser. As mentioned above many Poskim allow one to take the entire sum from ma’aser monies.
Sefer Derech Emunah Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 7:5
Igros Moshe Y.D. 2:113