What can I do with Maaser?

What can I do with Maaser?


The Maaser Matchmaker 

ויקח מן הבא בידו מנחה וגו’ פרש”י מן החולין שנטל מעשר כמה דאת אמר עשר אעשרנו לך והדר לקח מנחה

My son has a wonderful Rebbe, B”H. I’d like to give him a very generous tip, especially since he’s financially tight. May I use maaser money to tip my son’s Rebbe? Also, may I use maaser money to buy an Aliyah in Shul? May I pay for my son’s tefilin with maaser money?

Another question: I work in security systems. I did a system for a yeshiva, and I promised them a 20% referral fee if they refer donors, to purchase a system from me. The standard referral fee is only 10%. May  I give the yeshiva its 20% from maaser?

The Law

Ans. Before we answer these questions we have to define the halacha of maaser k’safim, tithing one tenth of one’s income.

One of the sources to this halacha is from what Yakov Avinu said he will give one tenth of his earnings to Hashem (in Parshas Vayetze). There is a machlokes haposkim if the halacha of maaser k’safim is a chiyuv d’orayso, a chiyuv d’rabonon or just a minhag.

L’halacha most poskim accept it as a minhag. Still, if someone does the minhag of giving maaser k’safim, as one should, unless it was clearly stated before starting giving maaser that it’s done bli neder, it will have a din of nidrei mitzvah, which will in turn give it the status of a d’orayso.

The Purpose of Maaser K’safim

Now there is a machlokes haposkim what the mitzvah of maaser k’safim is primarily for. According to one opinion maaser k’safim is for tzedaka – charity, for paupers, only. According to others one may use maaser k’safim for any mitzvah purpose. The Pischei Teshuva (YD 249:2) brings the Chasam Sofer’s teshuva, that one should stipulate at the beginning of his fulfilling maaser k’safim that he intends on fulfilling the halacha by either giving to tzedaka for aniyim, or for mitzvah purposes, as he sees fit.

The Boundaries 

Now, one cannot just give to any mitzvah. If it’s a mitzvah one must do, i.e. buy matzah for pesach, or a lulav for succos, one cannot use maaser money for those mitzvos, just as one cannot use maaser of his animals to fulfil the chiyuv of a korbon that he promised. He must bring the maaser b’heima as a separate korbon and fulfil his neder with an animal taken from “chulin”.

Mitzvos, that one is not obligated to do with one’s money, such as buying an Aliyah in Shul, or donating money or seforim to a particular yeshiva, such mitzvos can be paid with from maaser k’safim. [That is provided that was his intention when he bought the Aliyah; if originally that was not his intention, the money he owes the Shul is simply a “chov” – a debt, and one cannot use maaser money to pay one’s debt (Ta”z YD 249:1)].

Likewise, one may not purchase his son’s Tefilin with maaser money as one is obligated to buy Tefilin for his son. If one is financially tight, one may pay the difference between buying simple Tefilin and a more mehudar pair for his son, from maaser money. In such a situation one should have in mind at the time of the purchase he’s paying for the upgrade with maaser money.

What about my business? 

Regarding the security system referrals, if originally you didn’t intend on giving the money from maaser,  then it definitely cannot be used as you’re paying your chov from maaser k’safim. If you intended to originally, then the regular 10% that’s given as a referral, definitely cannot be paid with from maaser money.

The second 10% which is more than a regular referral fee, can be taken from maaser, if that was your original intention to  give extra because it’s a yeshiva. Just because you’re gaining by giving the yeshiva extra incentive to refer you, does not invalidate the possibility to use maaser money. Just as one may purchase an Aliyah with maaser money for himself or someone else, despite the hana’a he receives, likewise, in your case, you may receive some side benefit from maaser money.

What for the Rebbe?

Similarly, when you tip your son’s rebbe, true he’s tight financially, but since you would tip him regardless, that amount cannot be taken from maaser money. Whatever you add on top of that, because he’s in need of financial help, that amount can be taken from maaser k’safim.

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