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I often pass by a Jewish store where a person is standing outside asking for tzedaka/charity. Call me cynical but I have no way of knowing A)if the person is really poor, B) if the person is Jewish and C) what he will do with the money (possibly drugs or something else harmful).

Is there any halachic obligation (under the rubric of tzedaka or any other mitzvah) to give him money?

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+25

According to Rambam's Mishneh Torah, Seder Zerayim, Matnot Aniyiim 7:6 (or 7:5 depending on your version):

עני שאין מכירין אותו, ואמר רעב אני, האכילוני--אין בודקין אחריו שמא רמאי הוא, אלא מפרנסין אותו מיד. היה ערום, ואמר כסוני--בודקין אחריו שמא רמאי הוא; ואם היו מכירין אותו--מכסין אותו לפי כבודו מיד, ואין בודקין אחריו.

Translation from Chabad:

When a poor person whose identity is unknown says: "I am hungry, provide me with food," we do not investigate whether he is a deceiver. Instead, we provide him with sustenance immediately. If he was unclothed and he said: "Cloth[e] me," we investigate whether he is a deceiver. If we are familiar with him, we clothe him according to his honor immediately and we do not investigate the matter.

So, I would say that the strictest you can read this is that there is absolutely an obligation to give food provided they tell you they are hungry and no other obligation. But you are absolutely required to provide food without investigation.

  • +1, nice. But a source from a more practical (=modern) halacha book than the Rambam would be nice. IOW, we don't always rule like the Rambam. – msh210 May 30 '12 at 18:29
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    IMHO in this situation there is a possible mitzvah to do. Moreover it is embarrassing to solicit for charitable funds. So unless there is evidence that the person is not genuine, I advocate giving a small donation. Ideally a big city will have its agency (Vaad Hatzedokoh) verifying the credentials of those collecting. When someone there does not have a certificate from the Vaad, we normally give a smaller donation. – Avrohom Yitzchok Jun 1 '12 at 15:59
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Yoreh Deah 251:10:

Someone who came and said "Feed me!" — we don't check after him if he is deceitful; rather, we feed him immediately. If he was naked and said "Clothe me!" — we do check after him if he is deceitful; but if we remember him, we clothe him immediately.

There are your guidelines: For food, we don't check; for clothing, we check.

No acharonim on the page of the Shulchan Aruch disagree, so you can assume they agree.

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    What if he's asking for a money? – Double AA Jun 5 '12 at 2:04
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    Money would seem to be closer to clothing than food. However, if he would buy food with the money, shouldn't the money count as food? – b a Jun 5 '12 at 2:06
  • Perhaps a little tangential, but at least based on this definition, if someone was a known deceiver, that you remembered was a deceiver, you would be obligated to cloth them? Or was something lost in translation? – Jonathon Sep 17 '15 at 20:09

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