Suppose one has done work of some value for a charitable organization in exchange for money. This organization would normally qualify as a destination for tzedakah, and perhaps you have also given this organization money in the past. Now one of the following situations arises:

  1. You tell the organization to keep the money as your donation to them, since this will lower your marginal tax rate (in the U.S., this donation would not count as income, but may bump you up to a higher income tax bracket, which would increase your tax liability on income from other sources).
  2. The organization asks to keep the money as your donation to them, since this will reduce their payroll tax obligation, and you consent.
  3. You agree ex ante (lechatchila) to accept a lower hourly wage than what you charge other non-tzedakah organizations for identical work, with the difference being an effective donation.
  4. You agree ex ante to accept a lower hourly wage than what your peers are charging this same organization, because you are more wealthy than them and can afford to give the organization a larger donation of your time and money. However, you do not do similar work for non-tzedakah organizations, so there is no true reference for how much the work is "worth."

In which, if any, of these situations can you count the forgone income towards your ma'aser kesafim obligation?

Note the two situations above may or may not differ in that 1-2 are ex post (b'diavad) agreements, and 3-4 are ex ante (lechatchila).

  • -what if you spend 3 hours of your time delivering food for tomchei shabbas, or doing other tzedaka work, at no expense, (or helping an older lady go grocery shopping, etc). are we (and should we) take off maaser money, because during that time we might have been working? and 2. doesn't hashem arrange things in an easier midah k'neged midah sort of way, so that if we are more easy going with our time and money (in above cases) he might be easier going with us in other cheshbonos (kashrus, shabbas, etc) which have endless minutae and details?? and in which we really don't want him pouring over Aug 19, 2011 at 16:38
  • 1
    I sympathize with the #1/#2 of your concerns, that we shouldn't be doing such cheshbonot in order to minimize our tzedakah obligation, but suppose this is not just "3 hours" but actually a substantial sum, such that the forgone income is perhaps 5-10% of one's total income from other sources. Aug 19, 2011 at 17:15
  • #3 seems like a separate question to me. Can you bring any evidence to bear on your assertion that learning is a greater mitzvah than tzedakah? Aug 19, 2011 at 17:17
  • Harvey, Welcome to Judaism.SE! I'm transforming your answer to a comment on the question, since that's actually what it is. Here's the rest of the comment that got cut off: our phone/records, (eg, mitzva/aviera records) in such a fine detail as we may imagine?? 3. should we be learning, instead of helping a tzedaka? (unless of course we need the money)??? new to the site// thanks much hb
    – Isaac Moses
    Aug 19, 2011 at 17:28

1 Answer 1


What I heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz is as follows:

If I provide a charity with $100 worth of services (let's assume that the standard going rate, had they paid for these services, is $100), I can take $90 off my maaser kesafim (tithing of funds). Had I done the work for-fee, I would have made $100, of which $10 would have gone towards tzedaka and $90 could have gone in my pocket. Hence, as I did the work for free, that's $90 less in my pocket, so write off $90 from maaser kesafim.

Based on this, I don't see the distinction between 1&2 and 3&4.

But it's a good question, what if my services would be priced very differently from the going services.

If it's legitimately $100 worth of lawn-mowing (or whatever service), then it makes no difference whether we agreed "I'll take $100" then I decline to take it; "I'll do it for $50" then I decline to take the $50; or "I'll do it for free."

If you receive some compensation but less than what the service would normally cost (e.g. you do a $100 lawn-mowing job for $50), once again, you can take 90% of that difference ($45) and write it off to maaser kesafim.

  • The reason I posted so many situations above is because my LOR did distinguish between the cases, however I would like to see more sources. In particular, not sure why, but he did recommend I change my b'diavad situation to a l'chatchila situation, and that I NOT count the services b'diavad thus far towards ma'aser kesafim. Aug 19, 2011 at 16:30
  • I wonder if there is a distinction between mechilah, where the money was earned, and a case where you lechatechila donated your services. a- Perhaps, similar to the tax code, you can't deduct chesed time, only expenses. b- What did you take off 1/10 of? On the other hand, c- perhaps, halachically, you can valuate the time and take off 100%.
    – YDK
    Aug 21, 2011 at 3:57

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