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?


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 '11 at 3:45
  • 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 '11 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 '11 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 '11 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 '11 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 '11 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 '11 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 '11 at 23:03
  • +1 You at least answered the title question, even if you didn't elaborate at all. Plus, I detest commentless downvotes ;-). Dec 5 '11 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 '11 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 '11 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 '11 at 18:10
  • I added the source. Hope that satisfies you.
    – user1095
    Dec 18 '11 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 '11 at 19:33

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