Stopping a Charitable Hora’at Keva

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by R. Daniel Mann

Question: A friend wants to cancel a hora’at keva (direct debit) to a charitable organization. He asked me to find out if he may do so or if he is bound by it.

Answer: Many factors impact this question, so it is difficult to rule on all sets of circumstances. After mapping out the factors, your friend may be able to see if his question is already answered or whether he needs to provide additional details. 

Our initial focus is on the impact of the commitment’s charitable context. (A hora’at keva (=hokv) to give a gift to a not needy person would not normally be binding – discussion is beyond our scope.) Oral commitments to donate to the Beit Hamikdash (Kiddushin 28b) or to tzedaka (Rosh Hashana 6a) are binding, and Rishonim disagree whether this is only for verbalizations or even for a clear intention to give tzedaka. The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 212:8) apparently says it is not binding, and the Rama (Yoreh Deah 258:13) rules that it is. Some say there must be a basic oral commitment, in which case intent can determine its extent (Pitchei Teshuva ad loc. 15). While there is a machloket whether, according to the lenient opinion, writing is as effective as speech (Kol Nidrei 61:22), writing a check or a hokv may lack the right formulation to count (ibid.). On the other hand, perhaps besides writing the hokv, your friend also made an oral commitment. Therefore, there may or may not have been the building block of a binding commitment. 

The above applies to a hokv for a set number of charges. However, for an open-ended one, since few people would commit to a totally open-ended period of payment, the intent is usually to give until he stops it, which he can then do. The rule that one cannot take back that which he gave to a gabbai tzedaka (Arachin 6a) does not apply to a hokv for future payment. 

The reason for a change of heart can make a difference. If one feels the organization deceived him (it might be difficult to ascertain), that at times could nullify the tzedaka commitment. If your friend’s ability to donate deteriorated over time, this could be grounds for undoing the commitment with sh’eila (a form of hatarat nedarim) (see Kol Nidrei 9:7). 

Another important question is what will happen with the “saved” money. There is a machloket whether one is allowed to switch the recipient from one ani to another; the matter is more lenient regarding an undefined group of recipients (Tzedaka U’mishpat 9:1). It is not clear how to view many contemporary tzedaka organizations (ibid. (4)). 

A fine NPO which is not dedicated to tzedaka (i.e., the poor) but for other mitzvot purposes, likely lacks certain privileges of tzedaka. There is a machloket whether the latter can be taken from ma’aser kesafim (see Rama, YD 249:1 and Shach ad loc.), although the minhag is clearly to allow it. In our context, it is possible that, for a mitzva organization, the level of obligation based on an oral commitment and certainly based on a thought, as well as the ability to change the recipient from one organization to another parallel one, is not as it is for one of tzedaka

If hokv draws from a tzedaka account rather than your friend’s regular account, then your friend was not acting as a donor but as the gabbai of a tzedaka fund, who has latitude in the matter without concern for neder (Tzedaka U’mishpat 9:(3))). As a step to combine with other reasons for leniency, while we do not usually allow people to get out of the promise of tzedaka with sh’eila, it may be okay in some of the discussed borderline cases. 

Even with room for leniency about binding commitment, regarding proper behavior, there are often moral expectations to keep one’s word even in non-tzedaka contexts and in the absence of a binding kinyan (see Bava Metzia 49a). Therefore, in many of these cases, even when one is not fully obligated, he should still try to keep his word, including by not ending a hokv before its time, without very good reason (see Pri Yitzchak I:51). 

If you give more details, we can give a more precise answer.

About Daniel Mann

This column is produced on behalf of Eretz Hemdah by Rabbi Daniel Mann. Rabbi Mann is a Dayan for Eretz Hemdah and a staff member of Yeshiva University's Gruss Kollel in Israel. He is a senior member of the Eretz Hemdah responder staff, editor of Hemdat Yamim and the author of Living the Halachic Process, volumes 1 and 2 and A Glimpse of Greatness.

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