Q: My sister is traditional, but not very religious. She and her husband have just moved into a new home, and I know that they will only buy one mezuzah for the front door even though they could easily afford to buy for the whole house. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to buy her a lot of mezuzos unless I use ma’aser money. Is this a proper use of ma’aser?
A: If a person is accustomed to distribute his ma’aser money only to the poor or for the support of Torah scholars, this would not be a permitted allocation. If that is your case, halachically it is as if you have made a vow to use these funds only for the poor, and you would have to formally annul your vow, in the way that it is customary to do before Rosh Hashanah, in order to allow other types of distribution.
However, Chafetz Chaim writes that if at the time a person takes on the custom of ma’aser he stipulates that he reserves the right to distribute it according to his discretion, he may then use his money to voluntarily support other worthy causes. Therefore, if you have always been accustomed to distribute your ma’aser for mitzvot like the beautification of a shul or the publication of Torah books, you would likewise be entitled to buy the mezuzot from your ma’aser money to ensure that the mitzvah will be fulfilled and that your sister will be protected spiritually. This is true especially in your case since you say that you would not be able to do the mitzvah without using ma’aser funds.
One note of caution: I would suggest that you discuss the matter with your sister beforehand to get her permission. You don’t want to appear as if you are pushing your religiosity onto her and her family. Handled correctly, your concern and kindness may inspire your sister to greater Torah observance, in general.
Incidentally, this allowance would not be limited to your sister. You could also use ma’aser money to help poor or unaffiliated Jews fulfill this mitzvah or other mitzvot.
- Sources: “Ma’aser” refers to the custom of setting aside ten percent of one’s income to distribute to charity. Rema Y.D. 249:1; Be’er Hagolah and Shach ibid.; Ahavas Chesed 2:18; Chasam Sofer Y.D. 231; Agur B’Ohalecha 2:55
Free “Mezuzah Maven” book for every question or story submitted (when published in the near future!)