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Ma’ot Chittim

 

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Ma’ot chittim, also known as “kimcha d’pischa”, refers to the obligation upon everyone to donate funds prior to Pesach in order to help the poor to cover their holiday expenses. Not only is Pesach the festival of freedom but it is also intended to impart within every person a feeling of royalty. As such, efforts must be made to ensure that even the poor can feel this way. It is for this reason that Pesach is the only holiday which merited having a charity collection dedicated entirely to it. While on most other holidays one is encouraged to invite the less fortunate to eat their holiday meals in one’s home[1], on Pesach one should rather ensure that every person has the means and ability to experience their own seder in their own home.[2] 

Everyone who has been living in a city for twelve months or more is obligated to contribute to that city’s ma’ot chittim fund.[3] Conversely, anyone who has been living in the city for at least thirty days is entitled to receive such funds,[4] though all poor people should be assisted in some manner.[5] No one is exempt from contributing to the ma’ot chittim charity, not even the greatest Torah scholars who are generally exempt from paying taxes and other communal collections.[6] 

The origins of a specific Pesach fund are quite ancient and are even mentioned in the Talmud.[7] It is taught that the origins of the ma’ot chittim project were as a response to the lack of availability of kosher for Pesach flour with which to bake matzot. As such, many less fortunate families were forced to make due without matza for much of the holiday. In some communities it was customary to distribute money, flour,[8] wheat[9] and/or matza[10]as part of the ma’ot chittim campaign. It is interesting to note that some authorities argue that providing flour is to be preferred over providing ready made matzot. This is because the effort that must be invested in order to turn flour into matza will make the poor feel as if they themselves were responsible for producing their own matza. In this manner, one also ensures that they maintain their sense of dignity.[11] Indeed, everyone should make an effort to be personally involved in baking the matzot which they intend to use over the course of Pesach.[12] 

Today, ma’ot chittim has taken on a number of forms. In many communities, all sorts of food and supplies are distributed for free or at a great discount as part of ma’ot chittim campaigns. Only those who make an effort to help others have the right to begin their Pesach seder with the words: “Let all who are hungry come and eat with us”. Those who refuse to donate to the ma’ot chittim fund can be compelled to do so.[13] 

There is a wonderful story, whose source is attributed to a number of different great rabbis, of a woman who approached the local rabbi with a somewhat unusual halachic query. She wanted to know if one could use milk instead of wine for the “four cups of wine” at the seder, as she simply could not afford wine. He answered her by giving her a rather large amount of money in order to go buy wine. The rabbi’s wife was a bit confused and asked him why he gave the woman such a large amount of money to buy wine. The rabbi explained that if she is intending to drink milk at the seder it is clear that she has no money to buy meat for the holiday, either. Therefore, I gave her enough money to purchase both.


[1] Rambam Yom Tov 6:18

[2] Bishvilei Haparasha p.189, Pesachim 109a

[3] Rema O.C. 429:1

[4] Be’er Heitev 429:3

[5] Kaf Hachaim 429:13

[6] Be’er Heitev 429:4, Kaf Hachaim 429:7

[7] Yerushalmi Bava Batra 1:6, Mishna Berura 429:3

[8] Pitchei Olam 429:2, Kaf Hachaim 429:12

[9] Rema O.C. 429:1

[10] Kaf Hachaim 429:12

[11] Bishvilei Haparasha p.188

[12] O.C. 460:2

[13] Kaf Hachaim 429:15

 

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About the author

Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of “The Dalet Amot Halacha Series” (6 Vol.) among other works of halacha. rabbiari@hotmail.com

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

15 Responses

  1. joel rich says:

    Hmmm, so it wasn’t R’ Chaim only????????????
    KT

  2. Nachum says:

    Meir Kahane says the Beit HaLevi. :-)

  3. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    nachum — its was first r levi berditchever, but like all such chassidishe stories, litvaks have adopted it as their own.

  4. Barry Kornblau says:

    Who is the author of Bishvilei Haparasha, when/where was it published, and what is his source for the idea at footnote [2]? Rambam quoted in source [1] specifically rejects that idea: “אבל מי שנועל דלתות חצרו ואוכל ושותה הוא ובניו ואשתו ואינו מאכיל ומשקה לעניים ולמרי נפש אין זו שמחת מצוה אלא שמחת כריסו”; i.e., the phrase “שנועל דלתות חצרו” means that these individuals are to be fed in one’s own home, not elsewhere. This is, indeed, the widespread practice of gedolei (and ketanei) Yisrael hakesheirim for centuries – including on Pesach and at seders in particular.

  5. Ari Enkin says:

    Rav Kornblau-

    The author is Rav Elyakim Dvorkis. He was once a Rav in Beit Shemesh, I think he is now in Bnei Brak. He has written alot on halacha and minhag.

    He bases himself on Pesachim 109 and Shibolei Haleket 408.

    ….Reading the sources closely, it does make sense, actually.

    Ari Enkin

  6. Alter says:

    What about using ma’aser money for ma’os chittim—okay or not okay?

  7. Ari Enkin says:

    Assuming you hold there is a chiyuv to give maaser (;-)) – yes, I think it is okay. (i.e. It is unlike matanos la’evyonim)

    Ari Enkin

  8. Rafael Araujo says:

    Reb Ari – I believe on the question of using maaser kesafim for kimcha d’pischa, RSZA has a psak that since today there it is no longer an obligatory payment enforced by the community ie. not voluntary, maaser kesafim may be used.

  9. Barry Kornblau says:

    Rabbi Enkin,
    Can you please cite the text of the sources R. Dvorkis and explain how he uses them to demonstrate his rulin? As I wrote, they not only contradict clear implication of Rambam (which is fine) but they also contradict common practices of generations of rabbis and common Jews who have gone out of their way to host the needy at their seders in keeping with the simple meaning of kol dichfin (less fine).
    Thanks!

  10. Ari Enkin says:

    Refael-

    Shkoyach. Exactly what I was thinking in my comment above.

    Ari Enkin

  11. Ari Enkin says:

    R’Barry-

    I suggest looking up the two sources, or calling me and Ill read the page off to you. Sorry…I dont know how to use a scanner.

    Ari Enkin

  12. Barry Kornblau says:

    My Bar-Ilan CD’s version of Shibolei Haleket has no #408 at all. Nor does my perusal of all of hilchot Pesach turn up any discussion of maot chitim. Nor does my search of the entire Shibolei Haleket turn up any reference to maot chitim. Pesachim 109a has no discussion of maot chitim either and its discussion of simcha be’regel makes no (direct) reference to the idea quoted in fn [2].

    So something isn’t adding up here. Can anyone help out?

  13. Rav Avraham says:

    Shalom Rav Enkin,

    I would like to write you an e-mail. May I please have you direct contact?

    B’hatzlacha
    Rav Avraham

  14. aenkin says:

    My email address is rabbiari@hotmail.com

    Ari Enkin

 
 

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