When we do Kaparos, we say "this money shall go to charity" -- so I put that dollar bill in the tzedaka box; is it okay if a few days from now I count what's in my tzedaka box, write a check for the equivalent and mail it to my favorite charity, and then put the dollar bill back in my pocket? How directly "to charity" does it need to be?

Normally I'd assume tzedaka money is fully fungible, but this one is part of a somewhat-spooky ritual, so I thought I'd ask. Perhaps since we say, "This is my exchange; this is my substitute; this is my atonement.", we must give this specific money to charity.

  • Definitely not an answer, but consider the case of dollars from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. These were intended to be given to charity, and in many cases the Rebbe would say so explicitly--and yet everyone would keep this dollar and give a different one.
    – SAH
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 13:12
  • Surprised not to see Rav and Shmuel mentioned here.
    – SAH
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 20:28

1 Answer 1


Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 259:1) says that even if you say (as you do in kapparos) "this money shall go to tzedakah," you're allowed to exchange it. So, "spooky ritual" or not, it would seem that it should be fine to exchange that money for other money; at most, you would have to make a verbal declaration of the exchange (like you do when you redeem maaser sheni on coins).

However, you're asking about exchanging the money for a check; that might be more problematic, since the check is not as negotiable an instrument. Rema there mentions that for tzedakah that is to be directly distributed to the poor, the collectors shouldn't exchange coins for something else, "because poor people may come [to receive tzedakah] and there won't be anything to give them." In modern terms, your giving a check to the organization, I'd think, would slow things down as far as what they can disburse to the recipients (because there's the additional time it takes for your check to clear), and I don't know whether that delay has halachic significance.

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    You have evaluated the potential Halachic impact of the statement "this money shall go to tzedaka," but what about the prior statement "This is my exchange; this is my substitute; this is my atonement."? Mightn't this statement confer some special status on the physical object in question? I suspect that this use of money as a proxy for one's soul, in particular, is the "spooky" aspect Shalom was getting at.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Sep 17, 2010 at 16:47
  • Also, some people don't know where to give actual cash to maximize charitable benefit. Usually for Purim's matanos l'evyonim the local rabbi knows poor people he can give it to; I haven't heard the same draw for erev yom kippur.
    – Shalom
    Commented Sep 17, 2010 at 16:54
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    @Isaac: I doubt that makes a difference. Even with kapparos using chickens, after all, Rema (605:1) mentions that you can exchange them for money and give that to the poor people (and indeed Magen Avraham ibid. :4 cites Maharil and Shaloh that this is preferable) - and then, presumably, you yourself eat the chicken.
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 17, 2010 at 18:30
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    @Shalom: if nothing else, don't all shuls put out a bunch of buckets (or boxes, or plates, or whatever) on Erev Yom Kippur, for various local charitable organizations? (There is a famous story where the Baal Shem Tov said that the jingling of the coins into those boxes disperses the Heavenly accusers of the Jewish People.) So you could always bring the cash from your kapparos there.
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 17, 2010 at 18:33
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    Oh, and by the way, Isaac, about "this use of money as a proxy": apparently you have the same question as Moshe Rabbeinu did - how can a half-shekel be "a ransom" or "an atonement" for one's soul (Ex. 30:12,16). But after all, Hashem ratified it as such. (We also find elsewhere the same concept - Ex. 21:30, where one's ox has killed someone, and the Torah speaks of the owner of the ox having to pay "a ransom for his soul.")
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 17, 2010 at 20:21

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