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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Can I use my tithes to pay shul membership?


Daf Yomi Chagigah 8

Today's Life Yomi has been dedicated by Chuck Feinstein in memory of Debra A. Feinstein,  Shendel Yehudis bas Edel z"l.  May the neshama have an aliya.  

Kenny recently started coming to minyan (services) every day and he was initially wearing the tefillin his grandfather bequeathed him.   They looked a little worn and so I suggested to him that they should probably be checked to see if they’re still kosher.  Off we sent them to Toronto, and unfortunately they were indeed passul (invalid). 

“I’d like to purchase a top-of-the-line new pair,” Kenny tells me, “but can I use my maaser (ten percent tithe) money?  After all, it’s for G-d, right?”

Throughout the pilgrimage festival, one would bring peace offerings of joy. The House of Hillel taught: One may use one’s tithes for these offerings.
The Gemara asks: Why is that so, is it not an obligatory matter?  Any obligatory matter must come from unconsecrated funds, as the Torah states, “You shall give of the ‘tribute’ of your hand, as Hashem your G-d has blessed you.”
How do we know that tribute refers to unconsecrated property?  It is written in the Book of Esther, “King Ahasuerus placed a tribute on the land.”

What can you use your maaser money for?  You may apportion your tithe money for any charitable giving, i.e. not for religious items that you must otherwise purchase.  Any obligatory payments cannot come out of maaser funds.   Do you need tefillin?  Yes, you do.  So you can’t use your maaser to buy them.  Do you need a lulav and esrog?  Certainly.  So once again, that must come from your other ninety percent.

The Gemara distinguishes unconsecrated from consecrated funds.  Maaser is consecrated.  It is a pre-existing tax that must come off your income and immediately dedicated to G-d.  Would you consider using your tax money to make a beautiful garden in front of your house?  After all, it’s beautifying the neighbourhood!  Of course not.  It’s not yours to spend as you please.  Similarly, maaser is consecrated and you need to view it as G-d’s.  He has merely given you the honour of distribution.

Our Sages tell us that one who is generous gives one fifth of his earnings to charity.  That’s not easy for most of us – we have mouths to feed and bills to pay.  But what you can try and do is to apportion ten percent to charity and the next ten percent to your other religious needs, such as the beautiful tefillin, gorgeous esrog and a home full of seforim (holy books)!  And remember, G-d promises that when you tithe properly, He will bless you with abundant prosperity in return!