Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

Rabbi, Los Angeles, CA

Priorities in Tzedakah

by | Feb 15, 2009 | 6 comments

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstien of Bnei Brak tells the story of a wealthy man who was blessed with a child after many childless years who approached him with the following request: He wanted to donate a very large sum to a hospital and was unsure whether to donate it to the ophthalmology wing or to the fertility wing. Rav Zilberstien referred him to his brother in law Rav Chaim Kanievsky who replied that he should contribute his gift to the ophthalmology department.

He based this on the Mishnah that enumerates the four people who are considered as dead. They are the poor man, the leper, the blind man, and the childless. He notes that the order of the Mishnah is purposeful, and these unfortunates are listed in order of their severity. So the blind have priority over the childless.

Halacha dictates priorities in whom one gives their Tzedakah money. The Rema enumerates the order of priorities:
a) parents
b) children
c) other relatives (including a divorced wife)
d) neighbors
e) townsmen
f) Yerushalayim
g) Eretz Yisroel

This assumes that all of the above are truly poor and worthy.

Additionally, if one is faced with the choice of providing food or providing clothes he should first provide food.

However the Aruch Hashulchan explains that one cannot provide for his “priority” exclusively. Rather he should give the bulk of his money based on the above priorities, and the rest should be given to other poor people.

One more point – there is a common misnomer that the rule that you have to give at least a small amount to everyone who asks is only for Purim. In actuality this is always true. When a truly poor person comes to your door or stops you on the street and asks for a donation it is forbidden to turn him down, rather you must give at least a pittance to them so as not to embarrass them. The only exception to this may be when there is an incessant stream of people coming.

Happy Giving!!

By Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber is sought after by all who know him for his Halachic and practical advice. His keen ability to put complicated matters into a digestible perspective coupled with his ability to get the facts, make him the perfect blogger to help us all “Do It Right”.


  1. chester

    Thank you very much for your enlightening and helpful article. Your refreshing views on various topics in Jewish Law never fail to captivate me. However, i would really appreciate if you would quote the sources for your rulings. My previous experiences with other such similar blogs have led me to take all the information that I recieve with a grain of salt. Often I have found that much of what I have read is in reality contrary to the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, and many times not in accordance with the majority view.Therefore, I would like to encourage you to please quote the sources for your rulings. Thanks, and keep up the great work.

  2. thomas

    Chester. Your comment was very appropriate but rabbi haber is much more reliable than the average blog. I personally know he exerts much effort and research into his blog.

  3. shlomo

    i think that you must give something that doesnt embaress him not just a pittiance there is an ani where i lve that if you give him less then a dollar he throws it back at you

  4. Chaim

    Shlomo, in your case, besides for the Mitzva of Tzedaka which requires you to give a pittance, the Mitzva of Chessed says you should give him more than that so he shouldn’t throw it back at you!

  5. TH

    The Pnei Shlomo in BB 8 (I think) says that if a poor person throws the money back at you he is an ani aino hagun and you shouldn’t give him tzedaka

  6. izzy

    Rabbi Haber,
    i was doing some research and came across your article – maybe you can help me. If there is a mitzvah year round to give every ani tzedakah then what is special about purim?


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