Can someone explain to me the difference between tzedaka and maaser?

Is one the obligation to give daily, and the other the requirement to give 10% of yearly income?

Can they overlap?

Are some people exempt from one but not the other?

Related: Tzedakah and Maaser - one obligation or two?

2 Answers 2


Technically, ma'aser is the obligation in the Torah to give a tenth from animals and certain crops. Tzedakah is the obligation to support the poor and does not have a fixed amount. Nowadays, people (in effect) make a neder to give one tenth of all income to tzedakah (similar to the neder that Yaakov makes in Vayeitzei 28:22). They call this ma'aser kesafim as explained in the sefer Maaser Kesafim: Giving a Tenth to Charity. Thus, when talking about the torah obligation, there are those who say that even in Eretz Yisrael, one is obligated only by rabbinic decree. Even in the Torah, one is obligated only in Eretz Yisrael.

Ma'aser Kesafim is tzedakah, and, as I said, is only a neder to give a certain minimum amount.

  • One should give ma'aser bli neder, without making a vow, to avoid Halachik complications that can arise.
    – LN6595
    Nov 29, 2015 at 20:07
  • @LN6595 true. However, I was referring to why people give a tenth to tzedakah and why the term ma'aser is used as asked in the question. Nov 29, 2015 at 20:31

Tzedaka is a positive Torah commandment to give charity. The requirement amounts to a few dollars per year.

Maaser is a separate but related idea. The Torah command is to give 1/10 of produce to members of the tribe of Levi. An ancient Jewish custom, or possibly Rabbinic decree, was derived from that to give 10% of one's income (regardless of source) to charity. A person should accept this practice explicitly "bli neder", without making a vow, to avoid complications that can arise.

Everyone is obligated in Tzedaka, while many are exempt from ma'aser (such as someone who genuinely can't afford it.) There is no daily obligation to give charity, though it is a strongly recommended practice.

  • Great answer. Just wondering, do you know if the idea that we must support poor people to the extent that they themselves can give charity refers to tzedakah or maaser?
    – SAH
    Dec 1, 2015 at 7:14
  • 1
    @SAH The idea that we must support poor people to the extent that they themselves can give charity refers to tzedakah, not maser.
    – LN6595
    Dec 1, 2015 at 18:06
  • Still wondering (hypothetically) whether the "penny a day" for tzedakah may double-count toward my maaser?
    – SAH
    Dec 3, 2015 at 15:28
  • @SAH Why would you think not?
    – LN6595
    Dec 3, 2015 at 19:26
  • I don't know; I just wanted to be sure...
    – SAH
    Dec 3, 2015 at 22:15

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