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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts The Coronavirus Pandemic

Chapter 8

Confronting Corona – a Halachic Proposal to Consider

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The Covid-19 crisis continues to take a tragic toll worldwide; not only from a health perspective, but also in relation to widespread unemployment, mental health issues and simple survival. Isolation, fear of the unknown and a radical change in our normal everyday activity requires us to gather our courage, maintain our stamina and creatively seek ways to improve our situation.
The Coronavirus Pandemic (18)
Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff
7 - P’sak Halacha during a Modern Pandemic – Interim View
8 - Confronting Corona – a Halachic Proposal to Consider
9 - Distant Learning
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I want to suggest a novel (pardon the expression!) way of helping others in need at this crucial time, even as we help ourselves.

We know that Halacha mandates us to set aside Ma’aser - 10% of our (spendable) income – to give to worthy causes. I would like each and every one of us to consider using some of that Ma’aser money to assist businesses and individuals – ideally local enterprises -that are struggling to stay solvent.

Do you normally eat out or get take-away food from restaurants? If not, then make an exception and dine or "order out," using some of your Ma’aser funds.

Do you usually buy flowers for your spouse on erev Shabbat? If not, then do it now, with Ma’aser money.

Do you ever take taxis, rather than drive your own car to various places? If not, then consider doing so during this crisis, with part of your Ma’aser money.

The possibilities are unlimited for you to "prop up" those who are struggling to survive financially, and there is no better use of Ma’aser funds than helping to keep others on their financial feet – even if you tangentially benefit in the process.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky writes, as an example of this concept, that one may buy a sefer that he normally would not purchase, using his Ma’aser money; the Chafetz Chaim in his sefer Ahavat Chesed maintains that supporting businesses is one of the highest forms of Tzedaka, as it helps a continuous chain of people along with the owner.

I have discussed this issue with several poskim and they concur that in this extraordinary time, when so many people and establishments are threatened with bankruptcy, this exceptional use of Ma’ser to help them is appropriate, justified and Halachically warranted.

There are certain simple conditions to adhere to:

- The establishment you are supporting should be one that you believe is in real danger of closing; or that the individual (e.g. the taxi driver) is in dire need of parnasa to meet his basic needs;

- The Ma’aser should only be used for something you would not normally purchase; it should not be used for items that you typically buy or need for everyday use (e.g. food for your own meals, gas for your car, etc.);

- If used at a restaurant, the average cost of the food (if it were to be bought independently) should be deducted from the Ma’aser amount; the entire tip, however, may be from Ma’aser;

- Because you are also getting enjoyment from the purchase, some suggest deducting one-third for the benefit you receive and using Ma’aser money for 2/3 of the cost of the item/service.

Of course, I am not in any way dismissing the importance of supporting worthwhile charitable organizations. Yet while giving Tzedaka in any form is a Mitzva, supporting a business that is at risk allows the proprietor to maintain his self-esteem and not feel that he is a "charity case." You should not feel guilty that you, too, benefit materially (as well as spiritually) from this act; it is a "win-win" situation that helps everyone.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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