Shiur #21: Charity in Israel and the Diaspora
The Torah's discussion of the mitzva of charity in Parashat Re'eh (Devarim 15:7-11) ends with the words: "Open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor, and to your needy in your land (be-artzekha)." The Ramban (ad loc.) comments:
Now it says that a needy person might be found at some time and in one of the places in which you live; the meaning of the expression, "be-artzekha" is like the meaning of "in all your habitations" (Bamidbar 35:29) – in Israel and in the Diaspora.
The Ramban appears to be troubled by the mention of Israel in connection with the mitzva of charity, a mitzva that undoubtedly applies in all places. He, therefore, explains that the term "be-artzekha" here refers not to Israel, but to wherever Jews may live. Rabbeinu Bachya expands on this point; after noting his difficulty with the word "be-artzekha," he offers two explanations:
1) The well-known position of the Ramban is that the fulfillment of even personal obligations in the Diaspora is meant to serve as training for fulfilling those same mitzvot in Israel; this is how the Sifrei (Devarim 43) understands "Set up markers (tziyyunim)," in Yirmiyahu 31:20: mitzvot fulfilled in exile serve as signposts, leading the way back to living in the Land of Israel according to the Torah. Rabbeinu Bachya explains that this principle finds expression here:
This indicates that the essence of charity is exclusively in Israel, even though it is a personal obligation in all places. The same applies to all other mitzvot for which the essential obligation is in Israel, as is explained at the beginning of the parasha: "These are the statutes and judgments which you shall observe to do in the land" (Devarim 12:1) — for all the mitzvot are the judgments of the God of the land.
2) Alternatively, Rabbeinu Bachya suggests that the end of verse 11 relates back to the blessing in the previous verse: "For on account of this matter, Lord your God will bless you in all you work and in all your endeavors." Furthermore, it is connected to verse 9, which discusses the shemitta (remission) year in Israel:
The section means: "Beware that you not say, 'The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand'" (v. 9), and if I have to release my money or my holdings in the land, how will I give charity there; surely, I will lose out on all sides!
Therefore, it says: "Your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, for on account of this matter" (v. 10), etc. "Therefore I command you, saying, 'Open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor, and to your needy'" even "'in your land'" (v. 11), where you release what is yours, by not working the land and by forgiving debts. There I command you about charity, because God, may He be blessed, will bless you for this, and add to what is yours. All the more so must you give charity outside the land, where there is no release of land. We learn from this that when it says "be-artzekha," it does not come to exclude the Diaspora. For were the intention exclusively in the land, Scripture would have said: "When you shall come (ki tavo'u) into the land" (Vayikra 23:10) or "As you come (be-vo'akhem) into the land" (Bamidbar 15:18), as we find regarding the mitzvot that depend on the land.
The difference between the two explanations is clear, but both stand in opposition to the explanation proposed by the Ramban. According to the Ramban, "be-artzekha" does not refer on the strictly literal level to Israel, whereas according to both understandings of Rabbeinu Bachya, the "land" in question is indeed Israel, but the law stated nevertheless extends also to the Diaspora. All three understandings, however, require examination. According to the Ramban, there is a difficulty: granted, he accounts for the words "be-artzekha" appearing at the end of the section; but it also appears as the section opens (v. 7), "If there be a poor man… in one of your gates (be-achad she'arekha), in your land (be-artzekha), which Lord your God gives you." Here the reference is undoubtedly to Israel. A similar objection may be raised against the second explanation proposed by Rabbeinu Bachya, which is based on the omission of any mention in the verse of coming into the land; surely these introductory words substitute for a formal mention of coming into the land! The reference is clearly to Israel, as is explained at the end of the first chapter of Makkot regarding the mitzva of appointing judges, the source of which opens very similarly (Devarim 16:18). This being the case, we should say that the reference here too is exclusively to Israel. The first explanation suggested by Rabbeinu Bachya also raises a question (beyond the difficulties posed by the Ramban's position in itself; this is not the forum to discuss them): why does the Torah choose the mitzva of charity through which to exemplify, if only indirectly, the "tziyyunim" principle regarding observing mitzvot in the Diaspora?
Without mentioning his predecessors, the Tur, in his Long Commentary (ad loc.), notes:
Why does it say "be-artzekha"? This is not a mitzva that depends on the land! Similarly, at the beginning of the section, [why does it say] "be-achad she'arekha be-artzekha"? It is possible that this comes to give precedence to the poor of Israel, as they expounded the verse "that is poor among you" (Shemot 22:24) to give precedence to your poor over the poor of a different city.
What the Tur refers to as a possible source for the law of precedence is a passage in Bava Metzia 71a dealing with the mitzva to lend money based on the verse, "If you lend money to any of My people that is poor among you." There, however, there is no mention of "land" in the verse, and therefore the parallel is limited to the principle of precedence in general.
In truth, however, the precedence mentioned by the Tur appears explicitly in the Sifrei (116) with respect to charity – not at the end of the section in Re'eh, but at its beginning:
"Be-achad she'arekha" – the residents of your city take precedence over the residents of a different city. "Be-artzekha" – the residents of Israel take precedence over the residents of the Diaspora.
Two things are clear from the Sifrei: first, that "be-artzekha" refer to Israel, in accordance with the plain sense. This is against what the Ramban says, unless we assume that he distinguishes between the beginning of the section and the end. Second, the mitzva, like other personal obligations, applies both in Israel and in the Diaspora, the only difference between them being the issue of precedence.
This conclusion appears to be clear and simple, requiring no further discussion. Nonetheless, there seems to be room to consider the nature and root of the law of precedence, and, based on our findings, to understand the mitzva's connection to Israel.
As for the law of precedence, the Sifrei's ruling is brought by the Semag (Positive #162) and codified in the Shulchan Arukh (YD 251:3). However, the Rambam (Hilkhot Mattenot Aniyyim 7:13) writes:
A poor man who is one's relative comes before all people; the poor of one's house come before the poor of one's city; the poor of one's city come before the poor of a different city — as it is stated: "to your brother, to your poor, and to your needy in your land."
We see that the Rambam establishes an order of priority regarding charity based on the Sifrei, but he does not say that precedence should be given to the residents of Israel over the residents of the Diaspora. This omission requires explanation and has already been discussed by several Acharonim.
The early Acharonim discuss which comes first for a Diaspora Jew: an Israeli (who is, obviously, not of his city) or a local? The Bach (YD 251) writes:
It seems, if one comes to give to paupers from a different city, that he says that the residents of Israel come before the residents of the Diaspora; but it is obvious that the poor of his city in the Diaspora come before the poor of a different city, even in Israel.
The Shakh also accepts this ruling (YD 251:6). It would seem that a very similar question can be raised regarding a clash between two other factors: should precedence be given to a relative who lives far away over the non-related poor of one's city, or the reverse? See Emek Ha-ntziv on the Sifrei (ibid.), in which the Netziv writes, based on his own reasoning and upon an inference from Tanna De-vei Eliyyahu: "This implies that relatives are given precedence, even if they live in a different city."
This is clearly implied by the wording of the Rambam, who decisively asserts: "A poor man who is one's relative comes before all people," even before he presents the order of priority in giving charity; without a doubt, this is a most reasonable position. Nevertheless, there is room to ask why there is no discussion of the issue, paralleling the question regarding the poor of one's city vis-א-vis the residents of Israel. The answer to that question, according to the Bach, is also obvious, but still he raises it for discussion.
There seems to be a simple explanation, which stems from the fundamental difference between the precedence given to relatives over the poor of one's city, on the one hand, and the precedence given to the poor of the Land of Israel, on the other. Regarding "your brother" and "your poor," the precedence that is given is based on the relationship between the giver and the receiver and the obligation that follows from that relationship. In such a contest, it is clear that the obligation towards one's relatives - which adds to "Share your bread with the hungry… when you see the naked, cover him" (Yeshayahu 58:7) the dimension of "Do not hide yourself from your own flesh" (ibid.) - wins out. Even though Scripture proclaims: "For better is a close neighbor than a distant brother" (Mishlei 27:10), that refers to utility – and even then, as implied by the verse and the commentators, in specific circumstances. However, on the level of obligations that follow from an existential relationship, it goes without saying that a familial bond imposes greater obligation, and it is unnecessary to raise the matter for discussion. Giving precedence to the poor of Israel over the poor of the Diaspora, on the other hand, does not have to be understood as rooted in their respective relationships to the givers. It is certainly possible that such a relationship depends on the identity of the givers, and that the primary relationships and connections of a giver in the Diaspora are with the people he knows in the Diaspora.
Rather, the precedence given to the poor of Israel is based on their special status, whether because each individual has the elite merit of living in Israel, or because he is part of a community about which it is stated (Horayot 3a): "Go after the majority of the inhabitants of Israel for… they are called 'a congregation' (I Melakhim 8:65)." In his Responsa, the Chatam Sofer (YD, 33-34) discusses at length the question of giving precedence to the residents of Jerusalem over the residents of the rest of the country. His discussion focuses on a single issue: are the residents of the Holy City regarded more as "men of good deeds" than the residents of the rest of the country? He expands the discussion to include issues such as the sanctity of Jerusalem in our time and the like.
What follows from this is that the precedence given to Israel's poor is on an entirely different scale than that of relatives and local poor. One might have thought, therefore, since we are dealing with a clash between separate systems, that the status and importance of the receiver should decide the matter. It is for this reason that the Bach and the Shakh find it necessary to clarify that this is incorrect, and that the factor of relationship supersedes that of the status of the receiver. The reason may be – and this is a subject for a separate and comprehensive discussion — because in general one should give precedence to one system over the other, or because in this particular instance the act of residing in Israel does not outweigh the relationship between giver and receiver, though it is possible that other cases might achieve precedence for those who perform them.
Having said this, we might be able to take the matter a step further and suggest that the preference given to the residents of Israel is connected neither to their relationship to the giver, nor to the fact that they are regarded as "men of good deeds," but rather to a third factor. Before we get to that factor, we must consider the reason for the mitzva of charity as stated in our parasha: "For the poor shall never cease from the midst of the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'Open your hand wide…'"
At first glance, this explanation is puzzling: what is the connection between the frequency of the phenomenon and the obligation to relate to it? Would it be acceptable to ignore the suffering of the downtrodden if we would only encounter them on rare occasions? It should be noted that in the parallel section in Parashat Behar (Vayikra 25:35), it is merely stated: "If your brother becomes poor and his hand slips among you, grab hold of him, even a stranger or sojourner, that he will live among you," without addressing the scope and persistence of the phenomenon.
The Sifrei (ad loc.) appears to be sensitive to this difficulty, as it states: "'I command you, saying' — I give you good advice, for your benefit." It seems that we are dealing here not with advice that is meant to be beneficial to the individual giver, but rather with advice of far greater proportions, which bestows upon charity a dimension that goes well beyond all that is stated in the section of "If your brother becomes poor." It seems obvious that in Parashat Behar, the focus of the mitzva is the situation of the person who has grown impoverished and the need to provide what he lacks. The obligation and the fulfillment restrict themselves to the plain of the individual, the receiver. Giving charity does not affect the giver, and it is not meant to bring him any benefit whatsoever, direct or indirect.
In Parashat Re'eh, on the other hand, even though here too the impoverished brother remains in the center, his personal misfortune is presented against a general background. It is situated "be-achad she'arekha be-artzekha," and it is part of a long-term and wide-scope phenomenon. Dealing with poverty is not limited to finding a solution to personal distress – though the personal dimension is emphasized and felt, and here too a real-life pauper stands before us, not an abstract concept. Rather, it is a communal challenge, part of the effort that must be made to fashion and establish a perfect society.
From this it follows that even though dealing with poverty is certainly an obligatory mitzva, its reward is implicit, whether that which is bestowed by the grace of heaven in return for its fulfillment – "For on account of this matter, Lord your God will bless you in all you work and in all your endeavors" (v. 10) – or that which indirectly benefits society at large, because the health, stability and moral drive of the nation as a whole is beneficial to all of its citizenry: "I give you good advice, for your benefit." With this, we understand the Sifrei's answer to its latent question. Were the poor to cease from the land, and were poverty only an incidental phenomenon, here today and gone tomorrow, it would still fall upon us to share our bread with the hungry and clothe the naked, but this obligation would stem from the passage in Behar, and it would only obligate that which is required by it. The obligating factor in Re'eh, with all of the novel elements that it contains, stems from the fact that we are dealing with a permanent situation, in the framework of which the giving of charity is not seen merely as the offering of assistance to the needy, but rather as a struggle over the character of society. This is what Scripture is explaining when it states: "For the poor shall never cease from the midst of the land." Opening one's hand and recoiling from hardening one's heart are part of the process of perfecting the land. "Therefore I command you, saying, 'Open your hand wide,'" even many times, "'to your brother, to your poor, and to your needy in your land.'"
It is clear that fundamentally the communal aspect of the mitzva of charity, as a response to the reality of "the poor shall never cease from the midst of the land," can be fulfilled in all places and at all times. The neglect of this aspect lies at the root of the punishment meted out to Sedom (Yechezkel 16:49):
Behold this was the iniquity of your sister Sedom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of bread, and abundance of idleness; and yet she did not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.
This relates not to the sins of individuals, but to the nature of the people as a whole. It is equally clear, however, that with respect to Israel, the fulfillment of the communal aspect of charity is connected in a special way to Israel – whether because it is there that the reality of community finds its full expression, this being directly related to several laws, e.g., guarantees, sanctification of the month, ordination, and the like; or because communal obligations apply there in greater force.
Furthermore, it may even be argued that in this context the giving of charity, beyond its being an independent mitzva, is part of the mitzva of settling Israel. This argument is supported by the words of the Pe'at Ha-shulchan, who disagrees with the Bach and the Shakh and says that in the case of a clash between a resident of one's city and a resident of Israel, precedence should be given to the resident of Israel. He explains his ruling as follows (2:29):
It seems to me that the verse and what is taught about it in the Sifrei refers to Israel, as it says: "If there be a poor man among you… in one of your gates, in your land," etc. That is to say, regarding those who reside in Israel, one's relatives come first, and the poor of one's city come before another city's poor in Israel, and the residents of Israel come before the residents of the Diaspora — that is to say, when another city's poor come from both Israel and the Diaspora, the residents of Israel come first… But it is not dealing with the poor of one's city in the Diaspora, that we should say that they are given precedence in the verse to "be-artzekha," that is, the poor of Israel. By logic, they should not come first, for when one gives to the residents of Israel, one fulfills the mitzva of maintaining the poor and also the mitzva of settling Israel.
We see from here that according to the Pe'at Ha-shulchan one fulfills the mitzva of settling Israel when one gives charity to its residents, and this precisely is the focus of the section dealing with charity in Re'eh.
This, however, may be understood in two ways. The words of the Pe'at Ha-shulchan may be understood in their plain sense, that were it not for the financial support that he receives, a poor person residing in Israel might be forced to leave the country. The connection to the mitzva of settling Israel may, however, be understood in a different manner. The Ramban is well known for his position that the mitzva of taking possession and settling Israel requires that "we not leave it in the hands of other nations or in desolation." What he means to say is that we are commanded: 1) about the very hold on the land; 2) about the quality of life, for desolation is not limited to the situation where the land is empty of people, but may exist even when the land is populated. The social fashioning of the country can be viewed, therefore, as part of the settlement of the land, for setting the social character of the land contributes to its building, over and beyond the physical presence of the people of Israel in its homeland.
In light of what we have said, we can easily explain why the Rambam, in the seventh chapter of Hilkhot Mattenot Aniyyim, establishes a scale of priorities regarding charity with respect to relatives and the poor of one's city, but omits what is stated in the Sifrei about giving precedence to the residents of Israel. The Rambam deals in that chapter with those who are given precedence owing to the laws of charity, but priority stemming from the mitzva of settling Israel does not belong there.
It follows from what we have said that we must distinguish between the two Torah sections dealing with giving charity to the poor, that which is found in Sefer Vayikra and applies to the poor all over the world, and that which is found in Sefer Devarim and is limited to Israel. This distinction is understandable in itself, and it is supported by the fact that, as pointed out by the Pe'at Ha-shulchan, Parashat Re'eh focuses on the observance of mitzvot in Israel, e.g., the mitzva of wiping out idolatry near the beginning of the parasha (12:2-3). This mitzva surely applies even in the Diaspora, but not with the same force as in Israel. As the Rambam rules (Hilkhot Avoda Zara 7:1) based on the Sifrei (61):
In Israel, it is a duty actively to pursue idolatry until we have exterminated it from the whole of our country. In the Diaspora, however, we are not so commanded; but only that whenever we acquire any territory by conquest, we should destroy all the idols found there, as it is stated: "And you shall destroy their name from that place" (Devarim 12:3). That is, in Israel, you are enjoined to pursue them actively, but not in the Diaspora.
In explanation of this ruling, my revered father-in-law, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt"l, suggested that in Israel, the destruction of idolatry, over and beyond its being an independent mitzva, is part of the process of settling the land and fashioning its character. For this reason, it is mentioned at the beginning of Parashat Re'eh, when the Jews are about to enter the Land.
We still must clarify, however, whether, besides the issue of precedence, there is a difference between the mitzva of charity in the Diaspora and the mitzva of charity in Israel, similar to what we saw regarding the mitzva of destroying idolatry; or whether, in practice, the two Torah sections are totally congruent, though they might differ as to the mitzva that is fulfilled when charity is given. The Rambam (Hilkhot Mattenot Aniyyim 7:1), in the wake of what he writes in his Sefer Ha-mitzvot (Positive #195), joins the two sections and brings verses from each one in a single sweep:
There is a positive mitzva to give charity to the pauper as befits him, if the giver has the means, as it is stated: "Open your hand wide," etc.; and it is stated: "Grab hold of him, even a stranger or sojourner, that he will live among you;" and it is stated (Vayikra 25:36): "That your brother will live among you."
It seems to me, however, that there is room to examine whether the contents of the two sections are different. On the one hand, the scope of the section in Behar is wider: it includes the stranger and the sojourner alongside the brother. On the other hand, it is possible that the demands made in Re'eh are higher, and this is with respect to at least two laws derived in the Sifrei (116-17) from the verses:
1) "That which he lacks" (v. 8) – even a horse, and even a servant."
2) From where [do we know] that [even] if one has given once, one must give him even a hundred times? The verse states: "You shall surely give him" (v. 10)
In light of what was said above, it might be inferred that these laws are specific to Parashat Re'eh, and that they apply exclusively to the population of poor people discussed in that section, namely, "a poor man, one of your brethren, in one of your gates, in your land." This distinction, however, seems to be far reaching, and I have found no support for it among the Posekim. Even if they understand that there is a difference between the two sections, as was suggested above, they still might maintain that one cannot draw any normative conclusions from this difference, because in the end we learn one from the other. This is similar to what we find regarding the twin prohibitions of chametz on Pesach, found in Shemot 12:19 and 13:7, applying elements written by one to the other, and regarding other cases.
When the Pe'at Ha-shulchan (ibid.) comes to emphasize the lower rank of Diaspora Jews regarding charity and that the section in Re'eh refers exclusively to people living in Israel, he notes the Sifrei (116), which requires a special derivation to obligate giving charity to Diaspora Jews:
There is a proof from that which it looks for a source for [giving to] Diaspora residents; for one might have thought that the Torah does not obligate giving charity to Diaspora residents. Therefore it includes them by way of the words, "'Which Lord your God gives you' – in every place."
As stated above, however, it is possible that after the derivation, there are no differences between the two sections, and all the more so within each section, so that all the details of the obligation stated therein apply to all who are included in the mitzva. Indeed, we see an indication that this is true, for in Bava Metzia (31b), the Gemara needs another derivation even for another city's poor: "'Open [your hand] wide' – I only know your city's poor; another city's poor, from where? The verse states: 'Open wide' – from every place." Regarding another city's poor, it seems to be clear that the obligations of "even a hundred times" and "that which he lacks" apply, unless somebody wishes to argue that even regarding them the law is unclear. In any event, the Pe'at Ha-shulchan's thesis – that Diaspora Jews are only included as an appendix to the section and do not belong to its essence, and that based on this, it may be suggested that the scope of the obligation might differ in its details – is contradicted by the parallel derivation regarding another city's poor in Bava Metzia. In light of what we explained above, however, there is room to distinguish. After the derivation, another city's poor are included in all the applications described in the section, for the settlement of Israel is realized through them as well. The residents of the Diaspora, on the other hand, are included in the obligations of the section, but not in all the applications. It is, therefore, possible that they are also different with respect to the details of the laws that apply to them. In any event, the Pe'at Ha-shulchan's proof is contradicted.
See also the Malbim's commentary to the Sifrei, Ha-torah Ve-hamitzva (ad loc.):
From the fact that it says "be-artzekha," it is clear that the poor of Israel are given precedence; but from the fact that it says, "which Lord your God gives you," it is clear that you must give even to the poor of the Diaspora, if they are your city's poor.
A precise reading of his words suggests that there is a halakhic difference between Israel and the Diaspora. In Israel, one is obligated to give even to another city's poor, whereas in the Diaspora one is only obligated to the poor of one's own city. This can well be understood in light of what we said above, that in Israel there is also a fulfillment of the mitzva of settling the Land, and this of course applies even with respect to the residents of a different city. In the Diaspora, however, the only obligation is to extend assistance to the poor owing to their own need, and it is possible that this is limited to those with whom the giver has a relationship and to whom he has a commitment. If this is true, it is certainly possible that there is also a difference regarding the details of other laws, as we suggested above. As stated above, however, this is a novel proposal, and it requires further investigation.
[Translated by Rav David Strauss.]
* The Hebrew version of this article appeared in Sha'arei Shmuel: Sefer Zikaron Li-Shmuel Klughaft, z"l, pp. 22-29.
 Compare, for example, the words of the Rambam (Hilkhot Shemitta Ve-yovel 10:10): "It is a positive command to blow the shofar on the tenth of Tishrei in the jubilee year… through all the borders of
I wish to note also the words of the Netziv in his Hamek Davar on the phrase "and to your needy in your land:" "In the place where you reside and know how to treat them."
 See his Commentary to Bereishit 26:5; Vayikra 18:25; Devarim 11:18.
 Even "artzekha," "your land," is generally understood as referring to
 See Makkot 7a, and Rambam, Hilkhot Sanhedrin 1:2.
 See the sources cited in Sefer Ha-mafte'ach in Rav Frankel's edition of the Rambam, ad loc.
 It should be noted that the precedence given to relatives and the poor of one's city with respect to a loan is also omitted by the Rambam, even though it is undisputed in the Gemara and it is codified as law in the Shulchan Arukh (CM 97:1).
 The mitzva of charity might not be defined as a mitzva with implicit reward for the purpose of coercion, as this principle is stated in the Yerushalmi (Bava Batra 5:5) regarding weights and in the Bavli (Chullin 110b) regarding honoring one's parents; in both those cases, the commands are directly connected by way of the term "lema'an," "in order that," to longevity, whereas in the case of charity there is a promise, but it is separated from the command. However, the Rishonim who discuss the issue of coercion with respect to charity tend to assume that it is defined as a positive commandment with implicit reward, even with regard to coercion.
 See my article, "Be-inyan Semikha Be-eretz Yisrael U-vchutz La-aretz," Beit Yitzchak 1959, pp. 82-98.
 Of course, in practice – and especially with respect to support of public institutions, which is a very real issue in our time – one must consider additional factors, e.g., the degree of need, the contribution on a national level, and others. This is not the forum in which to exhaust the issue; I have merely noted the fundamental disagreement on the level of individuals.
 Hassagot to the Rambam's Sefer Ha-mitzvot, Positive #4. The citation is from the beginning of the discussion, which deals with the communal obligation. Later, the Ramban includes in this mitzva settlement in
 In this context, we should also consider the repetition of the section dealing with forbidden foods in Parashat Re'eh (14:3-21).
 See Pesachim 5b, Rishonim ad loc.
 It should be noted that the standard reading of the Sifrei, as well as its explanation, is unclear: are the residents of the Diaspora included separately? The Sifrei reads: "When it says, "be-achad she'arekha" – if he was sitting in one place, you are commanded to support him; if he was begging at the doors, you are not obligated in anything. 'Which Lord your God gives you' – in every place (be-khol makom)." The Vilna Gaon reads: "From every place (mi-kol makom)" (as in Bava Metzia). Even according to the first reading, the words need not be understood as referring to the Diaspora, but rather to a different place in