Parsha Halacha

Parshat Terumah

Giving Tzedakah All the Time

By Feeding One’s Family
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The Torah portion of Terumah begins with the verse, “Speak to the children of Israel and tell them that they shall take a donation for Me; from every person whose heart moves him, you shall take My donation.”[1]
The Ohr HaChaim explains that, in the case of donating to the Mishkan, contributions were accepted from all Jews including women, young orphans, and overly generous people. As a rule, tzedakah collectors are not supposed to accept large donations from these groups.
This is because young orphans are not old enough to make decisions regarding these matters,[2] women need their husbands’ permission to give large amounts,[3] and overly generous people may give too much to the extent that they become impoverished.[4] In terms of donating to the Mishkan, however, these groups were permitted to donate. The reason for this is as follows:
  • Women who are very wealthy may donate large amounts as it is presumed that their husbands agree to it. At the time of the building of the Mishkan all of the Jews were very wealthy having taken the booty from Egypt and the splitting of the sea.
  • Similarly, in this case, large donations were accepted from overly generous people as they were so wealthy that such donations would not impoverish them.
  • Donations are accepted from orphans if they are giving to a cause that will enhance their reputation. This was certainly the case regarding donations to the Mishkan.
This is alluded to in the verse that says כׇּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ מֵאֵת – “From every man whose heart moves him.”  אֵת alludes to women, כׇּל alludes to the orphans and אֲשֶׁריִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ alludes to the overly generous people.[5]
This article will focus on the mitzvah of feeding one’s own family, which, in some cases, is considered to be an act of Tzedakah as will be explained.

Giving Tzedakah at All Times
David HaMelech writes in Tehillim אַשְׁרֵי שֹֽׁמְרֵי מִשְׁפָּט עֹשֵׂה צְדָקָה בְכָל עֵת, “Fortunate are those who keep justice, who perform tzedakah (righteousness) at all times.”[6] The Talmud says[7] that this verse is referring to one who feeds (and cares for) his young children. Alternatively, it refers to one who adopts an orphan boy or girl and brings them up and then marries them off. For all of those years, every time he feeds them, clothes them, and buys them anything, he is doing the mitzvah of tzedakah.
The commentaries explain[8] that this is referring to children who are six years old or older.  This is because one is obligated by law to feed children that are younger than six. As such, this is not considered Tzedakah.

Feeding Very Young Children
To clarify, the Talmud says[9] that there is an absolute obligation to feed one’s children up until the age of six. Some say that this is based on one’s obligation to feed one’s wife; since young children are constantly with their mother, they are included in that obligation.[10] Others say that it is a separate obligation and, as such, one is also obligated to feed (and support) his children even if they are born out of wedlock (in which case he is not obligated to support their mother).[11]

Feeding Somewhat Young Children
Regarding feeding children that are between the age of six years and adulthood (12 for a girl and 13 for a boy) according to Rabbi Ila’ah, the sages of Usha established that it is mandatory to feed them. The Talmud, however, proves from various stories of the sages that the halacha does not follow this view. Rather, we encourage the father to feed these children, and we may publicly denounce him if he does not do so, but we cannot force him to feed them.[12]
It is regarding this age that the Talmud says[13] that it is considered an act of tzedakah to feed one’s children since it is not absolutely mandatory to do so. The Talmud concludes this is only referring to one who is not wealthy. Whereas a wealthy person can be forced to feed his min children.[14]

Practical Halacha
The Shulchan Aruch writes, “Helping one’s grown-up sons or daughters in need when he is not obligated to—in order to give his sons an opportunity of studying the Law, or to keep his daughters in the right path… comes under the general principle of tzedakah. In fact, such tzedakah is to be preferred to other forms.”[15]

Using Maser Money
Certainly, one may not use ma’aser funds (the tithe of one’s income that is supposed to be given to tzedakah) for the expenses of one’s very young children as it is absolutely mandatory to support them, and one may not use ma’aser funds for mandatory mitzvot. Regarding somewhat older children, the Taz writes that one may not use their ma’aser funds to feed their children.[16] Some say that the same is true regarding supporting children above bar or bat mitzvah age, up until the age it is usual to support them.[17]
On the other hand, the Shach writes that one may use one’s ma’aser money to support older children whom one is no longer obligated to support by the letter of the law.[18]
Others go further and say that one may also use ma’aser funds to support their minor children of six years old or older.[19] Some add that this can explain why some people are not so particular to give the necessary ma’aser to tzedakah as people are likely to spend more than 10 percent of their income on the needs of their (somewhat) older children. This “covers them” for the mitzvah of ma’aser.[20]

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes[21] that nowadays even the Shach (see above) would agree that one may not use ma’aser funds to support children who are at an age that most children are supported by their parents. The reason for this is that the difference between children that are younger than six years old and those older than that age was only true in ancient times when men would live in separate quarters than their wives. Back then, the younger children would stay with their mothers whereas once they turned six, they would move into their father’s quarters. While they lived with their mothers, it was mandatory for their fathers to support them as this is included in the support one must give to one’s wife.[22]
This can be compared to the law that one must give one’s wife extra money so that she can host travelers who need a place to eat. Since this is considered common decency, it is part of his marital obligation to her.[23] Similarly, since it is basic decency that a mother feed her children, the father is expected to support it. When the children would move into their father’s quarters, however, it was no longer mandatory to feed them (as he could instruct them to work) although it was expected to do so (as explained above).
Nowadays however when (married) parents and children all live under the same roof, one’s obligation towards his wife to feed her children continues for as long as it is customary for those children to live in the home. In families where the children customarily stay at home until they get married (at a reasonable age), the father is obligated to support them until such time and may not use ma’aser funds for this purpose.
Rabbi Shmuel Wosner disagrees with Rabbi Feinstein and writes[24] that even nowadays some would permit using ma’aser funds to support one’s children aged six or above (see above as to the various opinions). In practice, however, he writes that one should not consider all of the funds used to support their older children to count towards one’s ma’aser obligation. Similarly, the Chida writes[25] that only a person in an extreme financial situation may use ma’aser funds to support his young children.

The Aruch HaShulchan writes[26] that one who adopts and brings up his grandchildren should not use ma’aser funds for this expense as it is considered standard and expected behavior. Rabbi Wosner disagrees[27] and writes that all of the expenses of raising one’s grandchildren can be taken from ma’aser funds, even from a young age.

Older Children
It is a mitzvah for a person to support one’s older children who have moved out of the house if they need support. This support is considered tzedakah and can be taken from ma’aser funds. As mentioned above, the support of one’s children takes precedence over supporting other relatives or other worthy causes.
May we merit to perform tzedakah all the time!

[5] Ohr HaChaim
[11] See Teshuvot HaRosh, 17:7. See below note 21 as to why, according to the Ran, one must feed a child born out of wedlock.
[14] Ibid 49b See Shitah Mekubetzet that some say that the court will instruct him to pay but will not forcibly take his money from him if he refuses to do so. Whereas others say that the court can enforce a monetary judgment on his property in order that his children be fed. The Shulchan Aruch rules like the latter opinion. See Y.D. 251:4 and Biur HaGra
[16] Taz Y.D. 249:1 The Chafetz Chaim says this as well in Ahavat Chessed Part II 19:1
[17] See Aruch HaShulchan Y.D. 249:7 and Chazon Ish quoted in Derech Emunah on Hilchos Matnot Aniyim 7:4 in Tziyun HaHalacha 63
[18] Shach Y.D. 249:3 See Responsa Avnei Tzedek (by Rabbi Yekutiel Yehudah Teitelbaum) Y.D. 142 that the Shach is referring to children over the age of 13.
[19] Rishon LeTziyon by Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar (author of the Ohr HaChaim) Y.D. 249.
[20] Birkei Yosef Y.D. 249:18. The Birkei Yosef himself disagrees with this practice. See below.
[21] Igrot Moshe Y.D. 1:143
[22] This is based on the Ran (see above) that the obligation to feed one’s young children stems from one’s obligation to feed one’s wife. Rabbi Feinstein writes that, if one had a child out of wedlock, he is still obligated to feed them. In a case of rape, the obligation is included in the damages he caused her. In the case of a consensual relationship, it is considered as if they had made an (unspoken) agreement before the relationship that he would pay for any children born.
[23] See Ketubot 64b
[24] Responsa Shevet HaLevi, 5:133 ot 2
[25] Birkei Yosef, ibid
[26]  Y.D. 249:7, cited above
[27] Shevet HaLevi, ibid

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

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