Sunday, 30 March 2014

Buying Seforim with Maaser

Question: I have seen Seforim that are inscribed, ‘bought with maaser money’. Is it okay to do that?
Answer: Ideally one should give one’s maaser to the poor (Rema YD 249:1; Minchas Yitzchak 8:83). Today, this includes donations to Torah institutions which will help those who can’t otherwise afford a Torah education.
The Taz (YD 249:1) quotes R’ Menachem of Merseburg that allows one to use one’s maaser to buy Seforim if they cannot otherwise afford to buy them. One doing so must make them available for others to use and write in them that they were bought with maaser funds (See Chafetz Chaim, Ahavas Chesed 2:19:2). R’ Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 9:1:2) explains that one who borrows Seforim that they don’t have is considered poor. Such lending is akin to distributing spiritual food, and thus considered a form of Tzedaka.
Most contemporary Poskim hold that as nowadays Seforim are far more accessible, one should not rely on this leniency.
The Aruch Hashulchan (YD 249:10) asks what the difference is between using maaser money for Seforim and other Mitzvos (which is clearly forbidden). Furthermore, what is stopping others from demanding that these Seforim are kept in a Beis Hamedrash so that they are available for all? He thus advises one not to rely on this leniency.
R’ Shmuel Wosner (Shevet Halevi 7:194) writes that rather than using one’s maaser money to buy Seforim for oneself, one should buy them and donate them to a Shul or other Torah institution (See Chasam Sofer YD 245).

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Supervised Milk - Chalav Stam

Chazal (Avodah Zarah 35b) were concerned that some non-Kosher milk may get mixed into Kosher milk, and so instituted that milk production must be supervised by a Jew who must ensure that any parts or containers used don’t come into contact with non-Kosher milk. 
R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe YD 1:47-49, 2:31, 35, YD 4:5) wrote that so long as the milk production is regulated by government standards, it is considered supervised. Such milk is referred to as chalav stam. Initially R’ Moshe wrote that while a baal nefesh should refrain from chalav stam, one mustn’t criticize others who drink it. In his later Teshuvos, (perhaps as chalav yisroel became more prevalent in the US), he wrote that one should only rely on this hetter under extenuating circumstances. 
While many in the US follow R’ Moshe’s (earlier) psak, in the UK (and Eretz Yisroel), most follow R’ Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss (Minchas Yitzchak 1:138, 2:21) who didn’t rely on this hetter. Certainly, in a country where the dairy farms aren’t strictly regulated, one would not be allowed chalav stam.
R’ Tzvi Pesach Frank (Har Tzvi YD 103-104) held that the issur of chalav akkum never included powdered milk. Thus, there are some who are makpid not to drink chalav stam, though will still eat a Mars Bar. Most Kashrus authorities follow the Chazon Ish (YD 41:4) who doesn’t differentiate between milk and powdered milk (See Shearim Metzuyanim Behalacha 38:12 and Teshuvos Vehanhagos 2:373).

Maaser for Tuition

Question: May I use my maaser money to pay for my children’s school fees?
Answer: The Shulchan Aruch (YD 245:4) writes that parents have an obligation to teach their sons Torah or hire another to teach on their behalf. Many poskim (Aruch Hashulchan YD 249:10; Chafetz Chaim, Ahavas Chesed 2:19:2) therefore write that as this is an obligatory Mitzva one should not use one’s maaser to pay for it.
R' Shmuel Wosner (Shevet Halevi 5:133:2) points out that the primary obligation is to teach Torah Shebichsav. As schools today teach Torah Shebaal Peh, one may use one’s maaser if absolutely necessary. R’ Yitzchak Blazer (Shut Pri Yitzchak 2:27) writes that one may use one’s maaser for one’s older children in Yeshiva or Seminary (or even above the age of six).
Some poskim differentiate between boys and girls tuition. R' Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss (Minchas Yitzchak 10:85) allows one to use one’s maaser to pay for their daughter’s tuition if necessary as one is not obligated to teach them Torah in the same way.
R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe YD 2:113) writes that nowadays there is no difference between boys and girls as parents are legally required to send them both to school. While he maintains that one should not use maaser money to pay for one’s child’s education, if one is eligible for a reduction, they should rather pay the full amount, making up the balance out of their maaser.
One who can afford to pay without using one’s maaser should do so. Where school fees are voluntary and pay to subsidize other students too, one may use some of one’s maaser towards the tuition, providing the funds are used for Mitzva related expenses. Either way, one must pay off any school fees before donating money to other charities.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Who to Give?

Question: I see lots of adverts saying that the optimum way of fulfilling Matanos Laevyonim is by giving to charities in Israel. Should I give to them instead of my local Tzedaka?
Answer: The halachos of matanos laevyonim are similar to those of tzedaka. While you are allowed to give tzedaka to whomever you wish to, the Gemara (Bava Metzia 71a) writes that one should donate locally before sending money out of town. The Shulchan Aruch (YD 251:3) writes that there is a hierarchy of who takes precedence. One must support one’s poor relatives first, followed by one’s neighbours, then poor people in one’s city and lastly poor people in Eretz Yisrael.
The Aruch Hashulchan (YD 251:8) writes that even if the poor people from another city are talmidei chachamim, and the local poor aren’t, one should support the locals first. While the poor in Eretz Yisrael take precedence over those in other places, the Shach (YD 251:6) writes that the local poor come before those of Eretz Yisrael.
While there is a halacha on Purim that one should give to anyone who stretches out his hand, this does not necessarily apply to charity organisations. One certainly isn’t obligated to give money to every written appeal.
As some of these tzedaka organisations have large overheads (including advertising costs, and even sending people to daven at various places as a segula) many feel that it is best to give tzedaka to a local charity, especially when all the money goes directly to tzedaka.
R’ Matisyahu Salomon famously decried the practice of tzedaka organisations promising yeshuos to people in need. Tzedaka should be given out of compassion for the other, and not as a segula or promise that others will daven on their behalf.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Maaser for Mitzvos

Question: Can I use my maaser money for matanos laevyonim and kimcha depischa?
Answer: While there is a clear mitzva deoraisa to give tzedaka, there is a machlokes as to whether giving maaser (10% of one’s earnings) is deoraisa, derabannan, or just a minhag. Tosafos (Taanis 9a) writes that maaser is deoraisa and Maharil (54) writes that it is derabannan though most poskim (Bach YD 331; Chavos Yair 224; Shaalos Yaavetz 1:3) maintain that it is a laudable minhag. (See Aruch Hashulchan YD 249:5; Tzitz Eliezer 9:1). Thus, the Chafetz Chaim (Ahavas Chesed 18:2) advises one to stipulate that they are giving maaser, ‘bli neder’.
Based on this, there is a machlokes as to what one may use his maaser money for. The Rema (YD 249:1) writes that it may only be used to support the poor and not for any other mitzva, while the Shach (YD 249:1) quotes the Maharam who allows one to use one’s maaser for a mitzva that one would not have otherwise paid for.
The Chasam Sofer (YD 231) explains that if one initially intends to use one’s maaser for other charitable causes or mitzva expenditures, then one may do so. This does not apply to mitzvos that one is obligated to do, such as buying a lulav and esrog. Thus, one may not use one’s maaser for machatzis hashekel or matanos laevyonim. The Magen Avraham (OC 694:1) and Mishna Berura (694:3) write that once one has fulfilled the basic mitzva (by giving 2 coins to 2 people, Mishna Berura 694:2) one may continue distributing money from one’s maaser.
As there is no fixed amount to give to for kimcha depischa (money to assist others in additional Pesach expenses) one may use one’s maaser for this.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Buggies (Strollers) on Shabbos

Question: Can I open and close the hood on my baby’s buggy on Shabbos? Is it okay to put a rain cover over the hood?
Answer: The Shulchan Aruch (OC 315:1) writes that Chazal forbade making a temporary ohel on Shabbos. The Gemara (Shabbos 138a) writes that one may unfold a folding chair on Shabbos. While doing so creates a shelter over the space underneath the chair that is not considered making an ohel. Thus, it would be muttar to open buggies and foldable cots on Shabbos (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa 24:23)
R’ Yechezkel Landau (Noda B’yehuda OC 1:30) writes that umbrellas are not included in this category and may not be opened or closed on Shabbos. While many Acharonim (Chasam Sofer OC:72; Tiferes Yisrael, Kilkeles Shabbos, Ohel) disagreed with R’ Landau’s arguments, they did not allow their use.
Following R’ Landau, R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe OC 4:105:3) and R’ Ovadia Yosef (Yalkut Yosef, Shabbos 2:p536) write that the hood may only be closed (unfolded) providing it is already open a tefach as no new ohel is being created. Likewise, when opening (folding) the hood, one should not open it fully, though leave one tefach closed to avoid dismantling the ohel.
The Chazon Ish (OC 52:6) compares buggy hoods to sukkah roofs which the Rema (OC 626:3) allows opening on Shabbos. As the hood is already attached to the buggy, one may open and close it fully on Shabbos. Most contemporary Poskim follow this view (See Rivevos Ephraim 4:97:97). R’ Yehoshua Neuwirth (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa 24:13) and R’ Ribiat (The 39 Melochos p1079) write that if the buggy’s canopy is closed one may spread a rain cover on top.