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Giving Tzedaka During Aveilut


Rabbi Daniel Mann

Question: I was told that an aveil should not give monetary gifts. Is it permitted to give tzedaka freely during this time, or are there limitations?

Answer: It is not clear what stage of aveilut you are referring to, but let us start with the most severe stage – shiva.
The Maharil (Shut 31, cited by the Darchei Moshe and Rama, Orach Chayim 696:6) says that one may not give mishloach manot to a mourner during the year of aveilut for a parent because it is like sh’eilat shalom (inquiring about the mourner’s welfare), which is forbidden (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 385:1). If giving mishloach manot to an aveil is like sh’eilat shalom to him, it follows that the mourner’s giving to someone else is like his sh’eilat shalom of someone else. A mourner may not be sho’eil b’shalom other people during shiva, whereas thereafter it is permitted (ibid.). Thus, there would be logic to forbid an aveil from giving mishloach manot during shiva. Yet, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 696:6) rules that the aveil does give mishloach manot because he is required to fulfill mitzvot including this one even during shiva (see Darchei Moshe ibid.; Mishna Berura 696:20). However, an aveil is forbidden to give during shiva presents that are not mitzvot at this time. (Even mishloach manot should be done in a simple manner- Magen Avraham 696:11).
After shiva, as mentioned, an aveil is allowed to do sh’eilat shalom to others, and therefore he should also be allowed to give presents. Although some Acharonim forbid a mourner for a parent to give presents throughout the year (see Divrei Sofrim 385:22), this stringency does not have a strong basis. Even if one wants to be stringent on the matter, it seems clear that this is only when the present is conspicuous in its ceremoniousness, not when the nature of the gift or the relationship between the mourner/giver and the recipient makes the gift a matter of course (see Nitei Gavriel, Aveilut II 14: 10, 13). Only a festive type of gift would be parallel to the Magen Avraham’s ruling of an aveil not giving the type of mishloach manot that evoke specific joy.
Let us move on to giving tzedaka. It is very appropriate for a mourner to give tzedaka throughout the various stages of mourning, and this is true on several grounds. After shiva, it is hard to identify a good reason not to give. While we hope that giving tzedaka brings the donor joy, the joy of doing a mitzva is not something the Rabbis intended to withhold from a mourner. Only actions that are joyful by their very nature, irrespective of their religious/moral content, are problematic. If one gives money to a tzedaka organization, there is no interpersonal interaction that might even raise questions of simcha or sh’eilat shalom.
Even during shiva, the aveil is like anyone who is obligated to fulfill mitzvot, and this includes giving tzedaka. In many ways, tzedaka is considered a good way to bring merit for the deceased. As the Mishna Berura (696:17) comments, if a mourner during shiva gives mishloach manot, he certainly gives matanot la’evyonim. The same applies to tzedaka. The only difference is that matanot la’evyonim needs to be done on a specific day, whereas some donations of tzedaka can be done easily afterward. Indeed, during shiva, we would not recommend a mourner to occupy himself with his periodic writing of tzedaka checks, etc. However, if a particular need arises (a collector at the door, a pressing need, etc.), the mourner is not precluded from donating appropriately. Perhaps, we might say that shiva is a good time to decide to give significant donations, whereas the actions of carrying them out can be after shiva.
The only tzedaka-¬related limitation that a mourner might consider throughout the year of aveilut is the following. Large donors are periodically honored at dinners and in other ways. While the year of aveilut is a great time to give enough to be honored, it is better for the donor to accept the more festive honors after the year.
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