By Rabbi Yair Hoffmantzedaka

We are all well aware of the dictum “Teshuva, Tzedaka, uTefilah maavirin es roah haGezairah — Penance, charity, and prayer will remove the decree.”  There are books on how exactly to  repent, and there are plenty of Siddurim and Machzorim with beautiful translations. The question is to whom do we give our charity to?  What are the best Tzedakahs in terms of halacha?  Do the Poskim enumerate a pecking order as to which Tzedakos or which aniim — poor people we should give to first?


A work printed in Yerushalayim by Rabbi Avrohom Moshe Zemmel entitled “Ahavas Tzedakah” a few years ago provides us with just such a list.


It seems that there are three types of Tzedakah where the phrase “Kodemes Lakol — precedes everything else”  is employed.  The three types are:


1] Charity given to a Torah educational institute whose very existence is threatened with closure — the future of Torah for Klal Yisroel — the Jewish people – is at stake.  There are only three things for which we must sacrifice our lives — to avoid the sin of murder, arayos, and idol worship.  Yet we see that Rabbi Akiva sacrificed his life in order to teach Torah.  How could this be?  The answer is that it involved the future of Torah for the Jewish people. [This is based upon the words of the Birchas Shmuel in his introduction to tractate Bava Basra.]


2] Charity given to save a Jew from conversion in a situation where it is permissible to violate the Shabbos in order to save him (See Orech Chaim 306:14).


3] Charity given to save a life or to possibly save a life — Pikuach Nefesh.


And now – the criterion as to which poor person receives precedence.


  • A poor person who is a relative receives precedence to a poor person who is unrelated.  This is true even if your relative is only lacking food but the unrelated poor person is hungry and requires food (of course if he will starve the hungry poor person comes first).


  • A related poor person beats the unrelated poor person even if the unrelated one is a Torah scholar (See Rabbi Akiva Eiger YD 251:3).


Ah, but which relative beats out the other relatives?  Is there a criterion for which relative should be supported first?


The answer of course is, yes.


  • The first relative that deserves one’s charity first is you. If you cannot make a living you should not be giving to others before yourself.  This is based upon the posuk “VeChai Achicha Imach — and your brother shall live with you” your existence comes first (The Tur in his Yore Deah section of Shulchan Aruch chapter 251 citing Rav Saadya Gaon).
  • The next relative is one’s parents.  A father and mother come before anyone else.
  • A son and daughter come next.
  • A brother and sister come next.
  • A paternal sibling comes before a maternal sibling.
  • One’s spouses relatives come before strangers
  • One’s ex-spouse comes before others (See Ramah 119:8)
  • A Talmid Chochom (Torah scholar) stranger precedes a stranger who is not a Talmid Chochom.even if the Talmid Chochom is not from one’s own city
  • Unrelated poor people from one’s own city precede poor people from another city.


What about where we have two equal relatives?  Is there another criterion that comes into play?  For example, if one has two siblings — both in need of assistance.  Which one comes first?


  • The one who is a greater Torah scholar receives precedence to the other.
  • The next criterion is based upon gender.  If the sibling is female she receives precedence to the male.


Are there different grades of Talmidei Chachomim?  In other words, if there are two Torah scholars and one of them has a much wider breadth of knowledge but the other has a deeper breadth of knowledge, who precedes the other?  The Vilna Gaon (in the Yore Deah section of Shulchan Aruch chapter 251:18) cites the Talmud Yerushalmi that the  breadth of knowledge scholar receives precedence to the depth of knowledge scholar.


It is important to note that one should make every effort possible to avoid supporting one’s parents with Tzedakah money. The Gemorah tells us (tractate Kiddushin folio 32a) that a curse should come upon a person who supports his parents through money that is destined for charity.”  This means that the money he should spend on them should be aside from money that he should give to charity.  Of course, if there is no other option in that he cannot afford to do so then there is nothing wrong.  The Talmud is only referring to a case where a person could have afforded to do otherwise.


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