Following a very interesting and animated discussion at the Shabbos table this past Friday night, I wanted to delve more into the halachos of who is an oni? I understand very clearly from the Neviim and from the Torah that we're supposed to especially look after three kinds of people: widows, orphans, and the poor.

The real meat of my question is as follows: Am I fulfilling any obligation and share of giving tzedakah by giving to someone who is admittedly poor, but who essentially lives off of the community, shows no desire to work or to learn Torah, and has no rabbinic letter of approval?

I would feel much more inclined to give to someone if they were at least either

  1. Looking for a job.
  2. Learning Torah.
  3. Working with a Rabbi; some rabbinic figure is aware of their situation and is trying to work with them to help them.

When I posed this question at the table, I got two people telling me that in no way would I be chayev to give tzedakah to such a person. Would I be?

5 Answers 5


A source that may bear on this is Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh De'ah 250:7. After citing the various details about how much you're supposed to give to a poor person, he says that all of this applies only to those who יושבים בביתם ומסוה הבושה על פניהם - they sit at home with a veil of shame over their face (i.e., they're too embarrassed to go out and ask for tzedakah); by contrast, he says, there are no fixed rules regarding people who go around collecting door-to-door - everyone should just give them a little something (as in Will's answer).

Now, that first category sounds to me like it's describing a person who is not working - and yet there is an obligation to give him tzedakah and to "fill all of his needs" (ibid. :1-2). Although I guess that's not really dispositive, because perhaps Aruch Hashulchan simply means that he "sits at home" after he's finished his day job (or, perhaps, is unable to find one).

  • 1
    I assume it means they are too embarrassed to go collecting, but not that they made no effort to work, its not discussing that.
    – Ariel K
    Dec 19, 2011 at 3:45
  • 1
    Even in the most extreme case - a able-bodied adult who could get any number of low wage jobs if he felt like it, but chooses to schnorr - we still don't know all the details. Maybe he's embarrassed to be seen picking up garbage (embarrassment is equivalent to murder). Maybe he has learning diabilities etc. that make any work hard for him. Only G-d knows. If we shift the reason for giving from "to help someone in need" to "to serve G-d", then it doesn't really matter why he needs money - he needs it, and he's giving me an opportunity to fulfill a mitzvah.
    – user1095
    Dec 19, 2011 at 7:33

I heard that R.H.S Schachter says there is no mitzvah to give such a person Tzedaka. While this may be obvious, perhaps support for this position can be brought from the case of helping a person with his animal's burden. The halacha is that one only needs to help if the owner also participates, but not if the owner says "I'll stand aside and let you have the mitzvah". So too here, you should only need to help him if he is at least trying to help himself.

With regards to tzedakah specifically, it is obviously forbidden for a person to take tzedaka when he doesn't really need it. This applies to when he really has money, but I don't see why it shouldn't also apply to when he has the ability to earn money. "Mai chazis" that he's worth more than other people that they should work for him and give him money?

As for the title of the question, see the end of my answer "Is the market-based distribution of income fair or unfair?" which discusses what is considered poor for different levels of tzedaka.

  • 1
    What does "such a person" mean? I asked R' Schachter the following question, face to face: "When someone approaches me in shul and asks me for money, am I obligated to give to him?" His answer was "yes, you should give him something". In R' Willig's shiur, I told over R' Shachter's answer, and asked "How much is something?" and that answer appears in the post above.
    – user1095
    Dec 18, 2011 at 18:35
  • @Will: oh! So Rabbi Schachter is a source for your answer! Why don't you edit that into your answer, then? It will up its value tremendously.
    – msh210
    Dec 18, 2011 at 18:51
  • there is a discussion in the gemara and rambam whether you need to check if someone is poor when they ask you for money. the halacha is if he asks for food, then just give him, but for clothes (or something else), you should check. see Matnos aniyim 7.5 mechon-mamre.org/i/7207n.htm
    – Ariel K
    Dec 18, 2011 at 19:29
  • however, it is very easy to give someone a small amount nowadays, so maybe one should give that just to be safe. really a community should look into such matters. in Baltimore, they require aniyim to get a certificate in order to collect money.
    – Ariel K
    Dec 18, 2011 at 19:30

There is a whole chapter (251) in Yore Dea devoted to these details. For practical guidance, consult your rabbi.

  • Why the downvote? Dec 4, 2011 at 21:16
  • 1
    @TKKocheran, presumably because the answer is not a good answer at all: it's merely a reference to where answers may be found, one through sufficient study and another through simple asking. While the first one is a useful bit of information (that the halachos are in YD 251), and helps to answer your question, it's by no means a good answer to your question. I'll leave it place, though, until such time as a better answer incorporating the reference to YD 251 is given, since until that time this is IMO helpful. Then I'll delete it. If it gets downvotes in the mean while, so be it.
    – msh210
    Dec 4, 2011 at 23:03
  • +1 You at least answered the title question, even if you didn't elaborate at all. Plus, I detest commentless downvotes ;-).
    – HodofHod
    Dec 5, 2011 at 7:38

Yes. You are obligated to give him tzedakah.

"If there be among you a needy man, one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates, in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy needy brother" Deuteronomy 15:7

I asked R' Herschel Schachter the following question, face to face: "When someone approaches me in shul and asks me for money, am I obligated to give to him?" His answer was "yes, you should give him something"

If a fellow Jew asks you for money, you have a chance to fulfill a mitzvah d'oraisa (Torah level command) by giving him.

The minimum amount that counts as "something" is a prutah.

How much is a prutah? According to R' Mordechai Willig, a major posek and long time synagogue rabbi, and one of the Roshei Yeshiva of Yeshiva University: a prutah is the monetary equivalent of 1,000th of an ounce of silver.

If silver is trading at over $10 an ounce, one penny would not be a prutah.

Silver has been high recently, but as long as it hasn't gone over $50 an ounce, a nickel would be more than a prutah.

Therefore: some have the practice of carrying around a roll of nickels in their tallis bags and/or briefcase.

If a fellow Jew asks for money, and you give him a nickel, you have just fulfilled a mitzvah d'oraisa.

Think about how much money we spend on matza, lulav&esrog, tefillin - and here, G-d is giving you the opportunity EVERY SINGLE DAY to fulfill a mitzvah d'oraisa for a nickel!

There are forty nickels in a roll. If you can afford $2 to fulfill forty mitzvos d'oraisa, I would highly recommend doing it.

How often you replace the roll of nickels depends on your own personal finances, and how many Jews ask you daily for charity.

If the recipient refuses to take such a "lowly sum" (I once had a guy throw the nickel back at me) then you are not obligated to give him anything.

  • 2
    -1. Did you intend this as an answer for a different question, perhaps? I don't see how it relates to this question at all.
    – msh210
    Dec 18, 2011 at 15:54
  • The question was, if he is obligated to give to this person. My answer is, if that person is a Jew, then yes. I added an introductory sentence. I hope that clarifies things for you.
    – user1095
    Dec 18, 2011 at 18:06
  • 1
    So the entire portion of your answer that relates to the question is the first sentence, then, which claims (with no source) that, yes, a mitzva d'oraysa of tz'daka applies to the sort of individual asked about in the question.
    – msh210
    Dec 18, 2011 at 18:10
  • I added the source. Hope that satisfies you.
    – user1095
    Dec 18, 2011 at 18:28
  • i don't think theres much of point in giving someone a nickel just because of its weight in silver. for such laws, you need to look at the lowest value of money that can still purchase something, eg a quarter.
    – Ariel K
    Dec 18, 2011 at 19:33


Another perspective based on some sources mentioned in other answers, but not yet elaborated upon:

There is an obligation to fill the needs of a poor person that are lacking.

This applies even if the poor person was used to riding on a horse with a servant running in front of him, and he lost that, then people are obligated to fill what he lacked.

Source: Rambam, Hilchos Matanos Aniyim, Chapter 7, halacha 3 [and Gemara etc.]:

"3 We are commanded to give a poor person according to what he lacks. If he lacks clothes, we should clothe him. If he lacks household utensils, we should purchase them for him. If he is unmarried, we should help him marry. And for an unmarried woman, we should find a husband for her.

Even if the personal habit of this poor person was to ride on a horse and to have a servant run before him7 and then he became impoverished and lost his wealth, we should buy a horse for him to ride and a servant to run before him.8 [This is implied by Deuteronomy 15:8 which] speaks [of providing him with] "enough to [fill the] lack that he feels."9 You are commanded to fill his lack, but you are not obligated to enrich him.10

ג לְפִי מַה שֶּׁחָסֵר הֶעָנִי אַתָּה מְצֻוֶּה לִתֵּן לוֹ. אִם אֵין לוֹ כְּסוּת מְכַסִּים אוֹתוֹ. אִם אֵין לוֹ כְּלֵי בַּיִת קוֹנִין לוֹ. אִם אֵין לוֹ אִשָּׁה מַשִּׂיאִין אוֹתוֹ. וְאִם הָיְתָה אִשָּׁה מַשִּׂיאִין אוֹתָהּ לְאִישׁ. אֲפִלּוּ הָיָה דַּרְכּוֹ שֶׁל זֶה הֶעָנִי לִרְכֹּב עַל הַסּוּס וְעֶבֶד רָץ לְפָנָיו וְהֶעֱנִי וְיָרַד מִנְּכָסָיו קוֹנִין לוֹ סוּס לִרְכֹּב עָלָיו וְעֶבֶד לָרוּץ לְפָנָיו שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים טו ח) "דֵּי מַחְסֹרוֹ אֲשֶׁר יֶחְסַר לוֹ". וּמְצֻוֶּה אַתָּה לְהַשְׁלִים חֶסְרוֹנוֹ וְאֵין אַתָּה מְצֻוֶּה לְעַשְּׁרוֹ:"

But what if the poor person asks to fill what he was lacking, and the person he's asking doesn't have enough to give him?

[see Halacha 5 there]:

"5 When a poor person comes and asks for his needs to be met and the giver does not have the financial capacity, he should give him according to his financial capacity.

How much? The most desirable way of performing the mitzvah is to give one fifth of one's financial resources.12 Giving one tenth is an ordinary measure.13 Giving less [than that] reflects parsimony. A person should never refrain from giving less than a third of a shekel a year.14 A person who gives less than this has not fulfilled the mitzvah. Even a poor person who derives his livelihood from charity is obligated to give charity to another person.

ה בָּא הֶעָנִי וְשָׁאַל דֵּי מַחֲסוֹרוֹ וְאֵין יַד הַנּוֹתֵן מַשֶּׂגֶת נוֹתֵן לוֹ כְּפִי הַשָּׂגַת יָדוֹ וְכַמָּה עַד חֲמִישִׁית נְכָסָיו מִצְוָה מִן הַמֻּבְחָר. וְאֶחָד מֵעֲשָׂרָה בִּנְכָסָיו בֵּינוֹנִי. פָּחוֹת מִכָּאן עַיִן רָעָה. וּלְעוֹלָם לֹא יִמְנַע עַצְמוֹ מִשְּׁלִישִׁית הַשֶּׁקֶל בְּשָׁנָה. וְכָל הַנּוֹתֵן פָּחוֹת מִזֶּה לֹא קִיֵּם מִצְוָה. וַאֲפִלּוּ עָנִי הַמִּתְפַּרְנֵס מִן הַצְּדָקָה חַיָּב לִתֵּן צְדָקָה לְאַחֵר:"

and the note [12] elaborates upon the obligation for a "5th" on chabad.org, that it shouldn't be more than a 5ht:

This also reflects an upper limit. As Ketubot 50a states: "Even a person who distributes money to charity with largess should not distribute more than a fifth." This concept is derived from Jacob's vow to tithe (Genesis 28:22). There the verb which conveys the promise to tithe is repeated, allowing for the concept of giving two tithes. See also Hilchot Arachin 8:13 which cites Leviticus 27:28 which speaks of a person designating a dedication offering "from all that is his." The Rambam continues:

[Implied is that he should not give] "all that is his," as our Sages explained. This is not piety, but foolishness, for he will lose all his money and become dependent on others. We should not show mercy to such a person. In a similar vein, our Sages said: "A man of foolish piety is among those who destroy the world." Instead, a person who distributes his money for mitzvot should not distribute more than a fifth, and he should conduct himself as our Prophets advised [cf. Psalms 112:5]: "He arranges his affairs with judgment," both with regard to matters involving Torah and worldly concerns.

Yayin Malchut notes that in his Commentary to the Mishnah (Pe'ah 1:1), the Rambam writes that as an act of piety, a person may give more than a fifth. Nevertheless, there is not necessarily a contradiction between the two. In his Commentary to the Mishnah, the Rambam is speaking about giving to a needy person who asks for alms. In response to that acute need, one may give more that a fifth. Here the Rambam is speaking about giving to charity when there is no acute need. Hence a limit can be established. See also Ketubot 67b which states that these restrictions apply during a person's lifetime. He may leave a greater percentage of his resources to charity in his will.

In Iggeret HaTeshuvah, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi states that one may give more than a fifth of his resources to charity to atone for his sins, for just as one is not concerned with the amount one gives when it comes to healing a physical wound or blemish, so too, one should not be worried about cost when healing a spiritual blemish."

The question is if this applies to one fifth of the giver's total resources at the time the poor person asks, or one fifth of what that person makes going forward etc., and what if he already gave one fifth from the income he made before, can he give one fifth of the total if the poor man asks again?

  • I am lost, the question was on the recipient and you spend much of your time on the upper limit of giving. In general, it might be easier for readers if you summarized your answer at the beginning, then shared sources. I have edited the first of your source to show you how to identify it as a source. Makes it easier to read. You can use the quote button above the text box to do this automatically after you select the text of the quote.
    – mbloch
    Apr 7, 2022 at 3:31
  • @mbloch "I am lost" I would recommend getting a compass or GPS of some sort. "the question was on the recipient and you spend much of your time on the upper limit of giving." emphasis on "much of ..time", not all time. The main point of the question was answered, the upper limit was a side point that was added for clarity in case one might get the wrong idea. Also, it IS relevant for the recipient, so the giver doesn't give more than a 5th etc. " In general, it might be easier for readers if you summarized your answer at the beginning, then shared sources." I did, look at all the beginning Apr 7, 2022 at 5:26
  • The question was whether one should help a poor person who chooses to be poor. You answer one should help a poor person, discuss a poor who used to be rich then go on at length to show there is a limit to how much one should give. I don't see anything here which is relevant to the question itself.
    – mbloch
    Apr 7, 2022 at 12:40
  • @mbloch " The question was whether one should help a poor person who chooses to be poor. " no one can choose to be rich or poor, that is up to Hashem Apr 8, 2022 at 5:33

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