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The Music of Halacha: Charity and Contribution

I received the following question this week. The answer is straightforward and obvious. However, because both the question and the answer touch on important concepts of the laws

of charity, I would like to share them with you:

“I dedicated the ark in my synagogue ten years ago in memory of my father. The synagogue is having a fundraising drive and they want to rededicate the ark. The rabbi told me that since it is prohibited to derive honor from charity, it is better for me if the plaque commemorating my dedication is removed. Is the synagogue allowed to rededicate the same ark? Is it inappropriate to have a plaque honoring my contribution?”


The synagogue is not allowed to remove your name from anything you dedicated. They are permitted to add a dedication. (Rama, Yoreh Deah 259:3; JTMegillah 4; Responsa of Rashba 582) There is absolutely nothing inappropriate in having a plaque honoring your contribution of the ark to the synagogue. (S’mag, Positive Commandments 162; Beit Yosef, Y”D 247; and Rama, Y”D 249:13)


Halacha differentiates between charity and contributions. They are considered two separate Mitzvot. (Shulchan Aruch, Y”D 249:16) I will probably get into a lot of trouble for this, but actually one may not use one’s Ma’aser money, the 10% of income set aside for charity, to contribute, for example, candles for a synagogue. (Maharil) I am not stating this as an absolute. We seem to accept that people may use their charity money for schools and synagogues. I simply want to raise the issue that there is a difference in how the money will be used by the institution.


I would like to focus on another difference between charity to the poor and contributions to a synagogue: A person should not derive any honor from charity. Not only will such charity not be considered a merit, it will be considered a misdeed for which he may be punished! However, it is appropriate to receive honor for contributions of specific items to a synagogue. (Turei Zahav, Y”D 249:4 adds the limitation of “specific item”.)


I may not receive honor that is in any shape or form associated with someone else’s suffering. This is true even if the honor received by the donor does not come at the expense of the recipient. Charity must be offered with generosity of spirit as well. There must be sensitivity, not only to the needs of the poor, but to their suffering as well.


We must maintain clear boundaries between the two, charity and contributions. Our assumption that they are the same has Halachic implications, but even more serious philosophical and ethical repercussions.


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