For the week ending 3 November 2012 / 17 Heshvan 5773

Distributing Charity Funds

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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Question: Together with some other people in my community I have established a charity fund to assist needy families in our midst. There is a list of one hundred such families, so we have a choice of distributing one thousand dollars to each of these one hundred families, or two thousand dollars to the fifty most needy. What is the right thing to do?

Answer: In his commentary on the statement in Pirkei Avot (3:14) that everything depends on the quantity of deeds, Rambam writes that the more times a person gives charity the more he develops his characteristic of generosity, and that it is therefore preferable to give a thousand gold coins to a thousand needy people than to give the entire sum to one alone.

Whether this rule of thumb applies as well to a situation in which one family is in greater need than another is a question which was put before the leading halachic authority Rabbi Yosef Sholom Eliyashiv by Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein of the Ramat Elchanan community of Bnei Brak. The response was that since all hundred are needy and are entitled to receive charity funds, there is no justification for distinguishing between more and less needy because there is an obligation on the part of the donors to the communal fund to provide for all hundred.

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