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I have read about concentric circles as a guideline for giving Tzedakah. If a family member is struggling, I assume I should give to them. But I have seen that this can be designated as a loan, and additionally it can be a "pay me back when you can" loan.

First of all, that doesn't sound like Tzedakah. Is it? If I am giving it as Tzedakah, then I am not expecting it back. Also, I don't think the family member wants to take a loan.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Seems like the family member could be in this state of struggling for a long time into the future.

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  • The way this question post is phrased, it sounds like you may be seeking advice with respect to a particular situation that you face personally. If that's the case, please don't take any answers offered here as personal guidance, and please consider instead consulting with your rabbi for guidance, possibly armed with information you find here.
    – Isaac Moses
    Dec 18, 2023 at 15:32

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The notion of Tzedaka has a lot of focus on someone's dignity. The notion to offer it as a loan is a suggestion if someone wouldn't want to take "charity"; they might feel better if it's viewed as a loan -- at least they can tell themselves that hey, rich people get loans too, and hopefully he'll pay it back.

If you're truly expecting the money back (and prepared to fight for it), then no, that's not Tzedaka. It is Tzedaka if you're prepared to write it off, but calling it a loan to spare the recipient's self-esteem.

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  • Thank you for the explanation. That is a beautiful idea and I appreciate it.
    – Jen
    Dec 18, 2023 at 3:01
  • I don't think the relative intends to pay it back and may be hesitant to accept it if I say they will have to pay it back. And honestly, I don't know that the relative will "get back on their feet" in the future but of course I hope I am wrong.
    – Jen
    Dec 25, 2023 at 0:59
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The Rambam writes (MT Matanot le'anyim 10:7) that loans are the highest form of tsedakah because you are enabling someone to get back on his feet without hurting his feelings.

The highest level beyond which there is none is a person who supports a Jew who has fallen into poverty [by] giving him a present or a loan, entering into partnership with him

The Chofets Chaim writes similarly (Ahavat Chesed II:18)

The Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch include loans to the poor in the category of tsedakah

If you give no-interest loans you should discuss with your Rav whether you can consider the opportunity cost (i.e., the interest rate you would have gained if investing the money) as a maasser/tsedaka deduction.

You can also make a provision that, should the loan not come back, it will count full as tsedakah thus removing all risk and worry from your shoulders.

Additionally, once the money comes back you can lend it to others, thus enabling the same pool of money to perform multiple mitzvot, something you cannot achieve through straight gifts.

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