Tzedakah – Who To Give To?

[By Rabbi Yair Hoffman] There is a local Bais Yaakov of over 950 students in the Five Towns/Far Rockaway area that is currently in dire trouble.  Bnos Bais Yaakov of Far Rockaway’s building is in foreclosure and a receiver has been appointed.  A Kol Koreh signed by leading Gedolim is in preparation to alert the tzibbur about the situation. Yet there are many organizations in Eretz Yisroel and throughout New York that are also in need of funds.   Do these organizations and aniyim have precedence over our local yeshivos, schools, and Bais Yaakovs? Where does one’s brother-in-law who works in chinuch fit in to all this? What are the best tzedakahs in terms of halachah? Do the poskim enumerate a hierarchy or order as to which tzedakos or which aniyim (poor people) we should give to first? A work printed a few years ago in Yerushalayim by Rabbi Avrohom Moshe Zemmel, entitled “Ahavas Tzedakah,” provides us with just such a list. THREE CHARITIES PRECEDE ALL OTHERS There are three types of tzedakah where the phrase “kodemes lakol” (it precedes everything else) is employed. The three types are: 1.      Charity given to a Torah educational institute whose very existence is threatened with closure and the future of Torah for K’lal Yisrael, the Jewish People, is at stake. There are only three things for which we must sacrifice our lives—to avoid the sins of murder, arayos, and idol worship. Yet we see that Rabbi Akiva sacrificed his life in order to teach Torah. How could this be? The answer is that it involved the future of Torah for the Jewish People. (This is based upon the words of the Birchas Shmuel in his introduction to tractate Bava Basra.) 2.      Charity given to save a Jew from conversion in a situation where it is permissible to violate the Shabbos in order to save him (see Orach Chaim 306:14). 3.      Charity given to save a life—or to possibly save a life—i.e., pikuach nefesh. Regarding charity for the poor, the precedence is as follows: •       A poor person who is a relative receives precedence over a poor person who is unrelated. (Of course, if he will starve, the hungry poor person comes first.) A related poor person takes priority over the unrelated poor person even if the unrelated one is a Torah scholar (see Rabbi Akiva Eiger, Y.D. 251:3). The question is which relative “beats” the other relatives in a “claim” for charity? Are there criteria as to which relative should be supported first? The answer, of course, is, yes. THE PRECEDENCE OF RELATIVES •       The first relative that deserves one’s charity is yourself. If you cannot make a living, you should not be giving to others before yourself. This is based upon the pasuk “V’chai achicha imach—and your brother shall live with you”; your existence comes first (Tur, Yoreh Deah, chapter 251, citing Rav Saadya Gaon). •       The next relative is one’s parents. A father and mother come before anyone else. •       A son and daughter come next. •       A brother and sister come next. •       A paternal sibling comes before a maternal sibling. •       One’s spouse’s relatives come before strangers. •       One’s ex-spouse comes before others (see Rema 119:8). •       A talmid chacham (Torah scholar) non-relative precedes a non-relative who is not a … Continue reading Tzedakah – Who To Give To?