Tzedaka Benefits for Jerusalemites

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

Tzedaka Benefits for Jerusalemites

             Do the residents of Yerushalayim enjoy any preferential treatment over the residents of other locations, with regards to the allocation of charity funds? In other words, if only limited funds are available for distribution, should they be made available to needy Jerusalemites before the needs of others are considered? This question is addressed by the Chatam Sofer in two consecutive Teshuvot (Yoreh Deah 233, 234) and will form the subject matter of this week's article.  

            The Chatam Sofer takes a two-pronged approach in dealing with the issue: First, he determines criteria for establishing priorities in distributing funds, and then, he applies these criteria to Jerusalemites. We shall discuss both stages of the argument and carefully examine the assumptions of the Chatam Sofer.  

            With regards to the allocation of charity, there are existing criteria - family members receive preferential treatment followed by local residents; talmidei chakhamim take preference over the unlearned. In addition, the Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh Deah 251) states that residents of Israel take precedence over Jews of the Diaspora. However, no special mention of Jerusalem is made. Nonetheless, the Chatam Sofer generates a new category which favors residents of Yerushalayim. The source for this is the commentary of the Ran to a sugya in Kiddushin (33b). 

            The gemara in Kiddushin discusses the mitzva of standing up as a sign of respect when a talmid chakham, parent, or elderly person enters the room. The gemara questions whether a teacher should stand for his father who is also his student, and cites an episode in which Rav Yehuda was urged to stand for his father, Rav Yechezka'el (who was also his pupil). This seemingly proves that a son is never exempt from rising in his father's honor, even if he is his father's Rebbi. However, the gemara rebuffs this proof and claims that Rav Yehuda's father (Rav Yechezka'el) is an exception since he was known as a 'ba'al ma'asim' - someone who performed outstanding mitzvot. As such, this father was deserving of respect both because he was a parent AND a well-known righteous man. One who is not renowned as such (and is also a pupil of his son) might not receive the same treatment. 

            The Ran deduces from this passage that anyone who is scrupulous in his performance of the mitzvot deserves the same signs of respect that a talmid chakham or elderly person receive. In fact, according to the Ran, a talmid chakham is deserving of our respect ONLY because his erudition will ultimately lead to the performance of mitzvot. Hence the Ran claims there are four people for whom we must stand - a parent, talmid chakham, elderly person, and one who is a ba'al ma'asim.

             The Chatam Sofer infers from the statement of the Ran that the attribute of mitzva performance can establish priority in a situation where two people are otherwise equal in stature. The entire question of the gemara was posed based upon the parity between a son (who must stand for his father) and a father-pupil (who must stand for his Rebbi-son). The fact that the father in this case is ALSO a ba'al ma'asim tilts the situation in his favor. Not only does this trait mandate a show of respect but it also tilts the scale in a case in which two people were otherwise equal. 

            Since we rule in accordance with the Ran, the Chatam Sofer states that the performance of outstanding mitzvot can be used to establish priority in other cases where we are faced with dilemmas of two 'equals'. For example, given limited funds, one should redeem the captive who is a ba'al ma'asim. Similarly, we should favor such a person when it comes to tzedaka distribution.

             In general this trait (ba'al ma'asim) is rarely factored into the actual equation since it is difficult to discern and to gauge. According to the Ran, this is why the Torah emphasizes 'chokhma' and not ma'asim. Even though a chakham receives respect only because of his assumed ma'asim, chokhma is easier to detect. However, if an objective and explicit mitzva is regularly performed it should factor in the decision of whom to prioritize. According to the Chatam Sofer, living in Yerushalayim is such a mitzva. Hence those who live in Yerushalayim deserve preference for receiving tzedaka funds.


            By establishing the category of ba'al ma'asim based upon a Ran in Kiddushin the Chatam Sofer reasoned that residents of Yerushalayim, by performing such an important mitzva are more deserving of tzedaka funds than residents of other cities in Israel.  

            In truth each of the Chatam Sofer's two assumptions remains open for debate. Indeed the Ran inferred a mitzva to stand for ba'ale ma'aseh. But does this category necessarily apply beyond the context of the gemara in Kiddushin? In that situation the Torah defines certain character traits which should be recognized and revered. The Torah does not list performance of mitzvot although the Ran reasons that this is the real basis for standing before a talmid chakham. One might have argued against this very conclusion: Indeed in general, performance of mitzvot must serve as the goal for every talmid chakham and anyone who learns without intent to fulfill the mitzvot is perverting the Torah (see Yerushalmi Berakhot 1:2) and does not even receive reward for the Torah he studies. Still the Torah never mandated standing for mitzvot only for a talmid chakham who ALSO performs mitzvot.  

            Even if we accept the Ran's basic position of standing for a ba'al ma'asim one wonders what applicability this trait of performing mitzvot has in other areas of Halakha - namely prioritizing the distribution of funds for captives or for impoverished people. In each case the gemara provides very specific lists and does not list performance of mitzvot as a criteria. With regard to a mitzva whose entire purpose is to confer and demonstrate honor, performance of mitzvot warrants the same. When it comes to fund distribution, however, we are not conferring honor but engaging in the economization of funds.

             The second assumption of the Chatam Sofer is that it is a mitzva to live in Yerushalayim. This of course is problematic since no such mitzva is known to us. Truth be told, the Chatam Sofer addresses this concern from a different angle. He cites several positions which argue against a mitzva to live in present day Yerushalayim since no halakhic kedusha dwells in Yerushalayim in the absence of the Mikdash, and no korbanot may be offered (this too can be disputed - recall the Rambam's famous position that the Shechina dwelling in Yerushalayim and the potential to offer sacrifices is ETERNAL and is not a function of the presence of the Jewish people or a Beit Hamikdash) . His response is clear and of course quite pertinent: The value of living in Yerushalayim cannot be gauged merely by halakhic tools. There is value in living near the site of the Shekhina even if the halakhic kedusha no longer applies. As the Chatam Sofer reasons: "What difference does it make if halakhic kedusha exists; Yerushalayim is still the Sha'ar Hashamayim (the gateway to heaven - as described by Ya'akov in Parashat Vayetze and even before this site was conferred with halakhic kedusha in the days of Yehoshua, Adam and No'ach had already offered sacrifices at this location and Yitzchak had been bound for a sacrifice, and Ya'akov experienced his prophetic dream." The Chatam Sofer cites additional sources describing Yerushalayim as the center of the world. He cites a Maharik (Rav Yosef Kolon the 15th century French-Italian Rishon) that today there is no greater mitzva than building a beit knesset in Yerushalayim so that the tefilla will ascend upward to heaven. The Chatam Sofer effectively establishes the importance of residing in Yerushalayim regardless of its formal halakhic status.

             Though the concept invoked by the Chatam Sofer is true one might wonder whether residence in Yerushalayim qualifies as a LEGAL mitzva and the resident himself as a ba'al ma'asim. One could very well accept the opinion of the Chatam Sofer but maintain that only formal mitzvot qualify one as a ba'al ma'asim.  

            As the Chatam Sofer himself writes 'Would it come true that God would grant me the ability to be of the builders of Yerushalayim - but certainly not from the destroyers - those who extend the galut.' May we all be zocheh to appreciate the opportunity which God has given us to realize these words written close to two hundred years ago.