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I just witnessed something I thought I'd never see. Someone soliciting signatures on the street for whoknowswhat gently turned someone away. The reason? "It's for fundraising."

Now I'm sure, like I was, you're even more confused. But wait, there's more. The person being turned away wanted to give! He responded, "Well, I've only got a couple of bucks..." and he seemed ready to hand it over. Yet he was denied: "No, that's your money."

By now I'm sure you're totally baffled. It turns out the would-be donor is mentally handicapped. Not severely enough that he can't walk around on a nice day and buy himself a sandwich (which he did), but probably not in a great position to judge a good cause for donating money.

My question, though, is, should someone soliciting donations (or pledges) turn away someone who wants to donate but may be incapable of making a wise decision? Should the solicitor accept a dollar from the donor to make him happy and give him the ability to fulfill the Mitzvah of Tzedakah?

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    I am confused. Was he collecting money or collecting signatures? – Gershon Gold Feb 18 '14 at 21:04
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    The question allows for someone "incapable of making a wise decision" (tag shoteh) to fulfill the Mitzvah of Tzedakah? Who says he can fulfill the mitzvah? – Avrohom Yitzchok Feb 18 '14 at 21:54
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There are two aspects to this question:

A) Is the Shoteh in danger of giving to much Tzedaka?

B) Is one allowed to accept even a pittance from the Shoteh


Part A) It is forbidden for even a rich person to give too much tzedakka (situations will vary, but often said to be 20% of one's income). Even poor people are obligated in giving Tzedakka but "Rabbi Moshe Heinemann suggests not giving more than 0.5% of your liquid assets." If the Shoteh doesn't earn money and is given a few dollars here and there to buy sandwiches, he shouldn't give multiple dollars to tzedakka and it was right for the collector to turn away his over generous gift.Taking too much money from someone who doesn't understand that he is giving too much is like Lifnei Iver.

Part B) What if the Shoteh has several dollars but wants to give a penny to tzedakka?

There are different levels of Shoteh. One level is a real lunatic who has no grasp of the world around him. Imagine a person who, when given money, compulsively casts it aside. If this person is given a coin and he throws it and it lands in a beggar's dish, he has done no mitzva. If such a person discards his property, to return it to his keepers would be like returning a lost object.

The Shoteh in this story seems to be aware that money can be used to buy sandwiches and there is a concept of tzedakka which is good to do. It is reasonable to assume that this person, although a simpleton, is capable of having daat to do a purposeful mitzva and, assuming part A isn't a problem, the collector should accept his donation, particularly if the simpleton will be embarrassed otherwise.

Source for A:

Source for B:

  • The key point here is the halachic difference between a "simpleton" (פתי), and a "shoteh". Perhaps this should be more emphasized. – IsraelReader Jun 12 '18 at 23:34

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