Question: May one use maaser k’safim funds to purchase an aliyah to the Torah?
Short Answer: Maaser k’safim funds can be used to purchase an aliyah if you intended to use maaser k’safim funds at the time of the purchase. There is a disagreement, however, whether the funds have to ultimately reach poor people or whether they can be used for shul upkeep. Regardless, some poskim only allow the purchaser to use maaser k’safim funds for the extra amount paid to outbid his friend.
I. Using Maaser Funds for Mitzvos
The Rama (Yoreh Dei’ah 249:1), as mentioned last week, 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.]
Practically, we rely on the lenient opinions and allow maaser k’safim funds to be used on non-obligatory mitzvos. See Rav Ari Marburger, A Practical Guide to Giving Charity.
II. Purchasing An Aliyah
The Taz (ibid 1) comments on the above-mentioned Rama, that a person may use maaser k’safim funds to purchase “mitzvos of a shul” – namely an aliyah – since the money ultimately is being used for “tz’dakah.” Indeed, the Taz explains that it can be purchased from maaser k’safim funds despite the fact that the purchaser will receive tangential benefit by either using the aliyah or giving it to someone else. However, the Taz qualifies that this heter only exists where the purchaser had in mind to use maaser k’safim funds at the time of the purchase.
The Chofetz Chaim (Ahavas Chesed 2:19:2) adopts the Taz, and rules that maaser k’safim funds can be used to purchase an aliyah so long as the funds ultimately go to poor people.
III. Where Do The Funds Go?
The sefer Y’shuos Daniel (144:11:77) notes that based on the language of the Taz, a person can only use maaser k’safim funds to purchase an aliyah where the funds will ultimately go to “tz’dakah” – i.e., poor people. However, nowadays, where the funds often are used for shul upkeep, etc., a person would not be allowed to use maaser k’safim funds to purchase an aliyah.
Similarly, Shaarei Ezra (1:70) posits that in a case where the funds raised by selling the aliyos are used for shul upkeep, and these expenses would otherwise fall on the membership of the shul, a member may not use maaser k’safim funds to purchase an aliyah, as he is essentially just paying the obligation of membership.
IV. A Different Understand of the Taz
However, many Acharonim understand the Taz differently and do not require that the funds paid for the aliyah go ultimately to a poor person. Indeed, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Halichos Shlomo, T’filah 12:19) rules, based on the Taz, that so long as you intend to use maaser k’safim funds when making the purchase, you can purchase an aliyah with maaser k’safim funds. He does not mention any requirement that the funds be used for poor people.
Likewise, the Tz’dakah U’Mishpat (6:12) explicitly understands that the Taz does not require that the funds ultimately go to poor people, but rather assigns this opinion to the K’neses HaG’dolah. Rav Ari Marburger (ibid) also does not list this requirement when discussing the Taz. [See also P’sakim U’T’shuvos (Yoreh Dei’ah 249, n. 283) for further discussion regarding interpreting this Taz.]
V. How Much Counts?
Even if we interpret the Taz as allowing maaser k’safim funds to be used for purchasing an aliyah, regardless of where the funds end up, there is another issue that needs to be addressed. The Taz appears to allow the entire donation for the aliyah to come from maaser k’safim funds. The Chidushei Rabbi Akiva Eiger (ibid), however, cites the Shelah who appears to disagree and would only allow the extra amount – more than you outbid your friend – to come from maaser k’safim funds.
While the sefer Y’shuos Daniel (ibid) cites Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l, who paskened like this Shelah/Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the sefer P’sakim U’T’shuvos (ibid) cites many Acharonim who agree with the simple interpretation of the Taz – that the entire amount of the aliyah can come from maaser k’safim funds.
Next Week’s Topic: May you use maaser k’safim funds to pay for your child’s wedding?