כ״ב בניסן ה׳תשע״ה (April 11, 2015)

Ketubot 68a-b: The Rules of Charity

On yesterday’s daf, we learned of the importance of charity, an idea reaffirmed on our with the statement of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korha. He taught that a person who turns away from opportunities to give charity is compared to someone who worships idols. The idea that stands behind this is that a person who recognizes that his fortune is in the hand of God is willing to share with the poor, while someone who does not give to the poor is showing that he believes that his success is due solely to his own efforts and that God plays no role in it – a belief that is not far from denying God’s role in the world.

Nevertheless, there are rules that regulate whether one is allowed to accept charity. The Mishna in Pe’a (8:8) teaches that a person is only permitted to accept charity if he has less than 200 zuz to his name, but that does not include his home or other personal items that he is not obligated to sell. Our Gemara points to an apparently contradictory statement in the Tosefta, which teaches that a person who owns gold utensils should sell them and purchase silver ones for his use; if he own silver utensils he should sell them and purchase copper ones. Thus it appears that a person is obligated to sell his property to finance himself before he can take charity.

Several answers are suggested. Rav Pappa distinguishes between kodem she-yavo le-yedei gibuy and le-ahar she-yavo le-yedei gibuy – whether or not it has reached a point of collecting charity.

Defining this enigmatic statement is the point of some controversy among the rishonim:

  • Rashi understands this to mean that we must distinguish between someone who has not taken money yet and someone who has done so illegally. In the latter case, we force him to sell personal items.
  • The Rashba quotes Rabbeinu Tam as differentiating between someone who took from charity that was left for any poor person to take, and charity that was collected on his behalf.
  • According to the Ritva the difference will be whether he had valuables that he used even before he was struck with poverty (which we do not make him sell) or if he received them when he was already getting charity (which we do make him sell). Interestingly, the Rosh quotes Rabbeinu Tam as suggesting exactly the opposite.
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