Tzedaka: Those Who Refuse to Work

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by R. Ari Enkin

It is clear that one should only give tzedaka to those who are genuinely in need. A person who is known to have the necessary funds for his basic needs but nevertheless seeks money from others rather than use his own funds, should be turned away.1 However, if such a person’s wife, children, and other dependents are suffering due to his miserly ways – one should not hesitate to assist them directly, independent of him.2

Closely related to this is the somewhat widespread phenomenon of individuals who choose not to work and prefer to spend their days begging for tzedaka.  Such behavior is almost always the result of extreme laziness or a distorted sense of entitlement. Many such individuals attempt to justify their self-imposed unemployment under the guise that working for a living and supporting one’s family is an inferior lifestyle from the perspective of Torah. The mitzva of tzedaka does not apply to a person who can work and provide for himself, but chooses not to. Such a person should be told that he is forbidden to seek tzedaka and the public should be advised not to give such a person any money.3 As the Kli Yakar writes,

“…regarding some of the poor among our people who cast themselves on the community and refuse to do any work even if they are able to engage in certain work or in some other endeavor that will bring food to the table, but they complain if they are not given…It says ‘You shall surely unload it with him,’ and ‘you shall surely help him to lift them up again’ (Devarim 22:4). The needy person must do whatever he can, and if, despite all his efforts, he fails to earn a living, then every man in Israel is obligated to support and strengthen him, and to provide him with whatever he is lacking…”4

In fact, according to some authorities, it is absolutely forbidden to support such individuals as doing so encourages their freeloading behavior. One is even encouraged to cease supporting such individuals in order to force them to find employment to support themselves.5 Even a son is not required to support his father if the father’s poverty is due to his refusal to work and support himself.6 We are told that a person who doesn’t need charity, and nonetheless deceives people and takes charity, will become destitute.7

Rav Shammai Kehas Gross8 was asked if a person who has the ability to get a job, but chooses not to, is entitled to tzedakah money. After discussing the matter in detail, he concludes that someone who can find gainful employment should not be given tzedaka, although if he is committed to finding employment, one may give him tzedakah until he does. He also says that one should use caution when judging those who don’t work, as perhaps there are good, unknown reasons, why a person might not be working. Furthermore, the Midrash says that one should never tell the poor to go out and work.9 Nevertheless, if others who make a concerted effort to earn for themselves are clearly poor and need tzedakah money, they are to take priority. This seems to be the view of Rav Moshe Feinstein, as well.10

 

 


  1. Ketubot 67b; Rambam, Hilchot Matnat Aniyim 7:9; YD 253:10. 

  2. Yafeh Lalev, YD 3:253. 

  3. YD 253:10; Teshuvot Maharshdam, YD 167. 

  4. Kli Yakar to Shemot 23:5. 

  5. Emet L’yakov, YD 253.  

  6. Shu”t Chatam Sofer 229. 

  7. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 34:16. 

  8. Shevet Hakehati 5:177. 

  9. Vayikra Rabba 34. See also Smak 120. 

  10. Igrot Moshe, YD 4:37. 

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

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