Dear Rabbi. I am accustomed to giving somewhere between 10% and 20% to various charity organizations. During the past year I lost my job and was unemployed for several months, hence have fallen into some debt from people and credit cards. I started a new job about a month ago and currently making some money again. My question is: should I resume giving maaser now, or should I wait until all the debt is paid off? Another question is: I have parents who live overseas and are retiring now and need some financial assistance, however they aren’t frum and the money will most likely to go towards purchasing non-kosher food etc. Would sending them money consider maaser as well? Thank you very much Respectfully
Shalom, Thank you for your question. May you be blessed with a good livelihood, and be able to pay off your debts, and return to a situation where you will again be able to help others. As to your question in relation to someone with debts whether they should give 10% maser on their income or wait until they have paid off their debts – there is some discussion of this issue in the sources. Some rule that they in fact should give (a minimal) 10% of their income to charity. Others say that they should record the amount of maser they would have given (10% of their wage) but not actually give it away – then, when they are financially able to (after having paid off their debt), they should pay back this amount to charity. Still others exempt a person in debt from giving maser money at all (that is they should give the maser money to themselves to pay off their debt). The major Rabbis rule today that it depends on the situation of the debtor. If one has a debt, but the payments on the debt are well organized and calculated to be "comfortably" paid off over time, such as a mortgage or collage loans, then one should still give 10% maser money on their income even while paying off the debt. But, if the debt payment put one in finical difficulties, where one is struggling to make ends meet, then one should rely on the lenient opinions, and forgo giving maser until one has paid off the debt and is again on sound finical footing. (See Halichot Maser Kesafim, Rav Bronstien, 4,14, Hebrew). As to the question about supporting your parents even though they may use the money to buy non kosher food – you should certainly help your parents out, and not be concerned with what exact food they use the money for. However, you should be aware that halachically it is better to support your parents not from maser and tzadka money. If one has the finical ability to provide for their parents from their own money, then it is considered inappropriate to use charity funds for them. On the other hand, one's first concern should be that their parents are taken care of, and if one needs to use their charity money for this, they should go ahead and do so (See Ahavat Chesed, section 2, 19a). Again, let me bless you that in the merit of all the charity you have given in the past, and will surely give in the future, may you receive only blessings of a good livelihood and health from Hashem.