Question: May one use maaser k’safim funds for kimcha d’Pischa, the special charity given before Pesach?
Short Answer: According to most poskim, since there is no set amount or specific community tax for kimcha d’Pischa, it can be paid for with maaser k’safim funds.
I. Using Maaser Money for Mitzvos
The Rama (Yoreh Dei’ah 249:1) is clear that maaser k’safim may not be used for mitzvos, such as donating candles to a shul, but rather should be spent on poor people. In practice, however, there are multiple limitations on this Rama, including the Be’er HaGolah (ibid) who understands that the Rama only would prohibit the usage of maaser k’safim for obligatory mitzvos (i.e., mitzvos chiyuviyos) as opposed to optional mitzvos not currently before the person. [A full discussion on which mitzvos can be performed with maaser k’safim is outside the scope of this article. But see P’sakim U’T’shuvos (Yoreh Dei’ah 249:30) for a robust discussion on this issue.]
II. Using Maaser Money For Community Taxes
The Taz (ibid 1) comments on the above-mentioned Rama, that surely it is prohibited to use maaser k’safim to pay off community taxes, as this is a separate obligation independent of maaser k’safim. The Taz (Yoreh Dei’ah 331:32) similarly writes that one should not use maaser k’safim to pay off any other community obligation imposed by the elders of the city (i.e., the “sheva tuvei ha’ir”).
III. Kimcha D’Pischa
Kimcha d’Pischa refers to the money that a person should give to charity during the month of Nisan in order to help the poor people afford the great expenses of Pesach. Whether kimcha d’Pischa can come from maaser k’safim should seemingly be based on the nature of the obligation to give kimcha d’Pischa.
The source for kimcha d’Pischa is found in the Yerushalmi (Bava Basra 1:4), and is paskened in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 429). Indeed, the Chochmas Shlomo (ibid) explains that we give kimcha d’Pischa in order to truthfully exclaim on the night of the Seder that “Kol dichfin yei’sei v’yeichol” – Whoever is hungry should come and eat. In other words, we have provided funds or wheat for the poor to be able to enjoy the Seder and matzah. The Avnei Derech (8:316) suggests that we give wheat to the poor specifically before Pesach, the holiday in which we will be judged, see Gemara (Rosh HaShanah 16a), on the amount of crops we will produce that year.
Notably, the Darchei Moshe (Orach Chayim 429) cites the Or Zarua who explains that the custom was for each city to tax the residents before Pesach in order to collect kimcha d’Pischa. Seemingly, then, maaser k’safim should not be used for kimcha d’Pischa, as it is a community tax. See Y’shuos Daniel (144:11:74).
IV. The Reality Nowadays
Although kimcha d’Pischa started off as a community tax, this tax does not exist today in most communities and shuls. Accordingly, many poskim rule that one may use maaser k’safim funds for kimcha d’Pischa. Specifically, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Halichos Shlomo, Pesach 2:2) writes that since nowadays we do not impose a set amount for kimcha d’Pischa, it is not a tax and maaser k’safim may be used. This is also the opinion of Rav Nissim Karelitz shlita (Chut HaShani 1:2), Rav Chaim Kanievsky (BiN’sivos B’Halachah, Pesach 34(2)), and the Meishiv N’vonim (3:68). Similarly, the Tz’dakah U’Mishpat (1:5) notes that while the Mishnah B’rurah rules that we force people to give kimcha d’Pischa, this does not apply nowadays, and thus one can use maaser k’safim for kimcha d’Pischa.
The Yalkut Yosef (429), while accepting the opinion of these poskim, adds another reason why Sefardim can be lenient and use maaser k’safim for kimcha d’Pischa. Because the Shulchan Aruch never actually rules that one must give maaser k’safim (see article #1 from a few weeks ago), and it is thus only a noble idea to give maaser k’safim for Sefardim, one can surely use maaser k’safim for kimcha d’Pischa.
V. The Stringent Opinions
There are certain poskim, however, who do not allow maaser k’safim to be used for kimcha d’Pischa, even nowadays. Specifically, the Avnei Derech (ibid) cites the Sheivet HaK’hasi (1:137) and the Migdanos Eliyahu (4:1) who appear to prohibit the use of maaser k’safim for kimcha d’Pischa where there is a set amount of money that is expected to be given or where there is a set appeal.
Further, the T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (6:109) rules that since nowadays the entire Jewish world gives kimcha d’Pischa, it is a binding obligation and should not be paid for from maaser k’safim funds if possible.
Next Week’s Topic: May one use maaser k’safim funds to purchase an aliyah to the Torah?