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    Compulsory charity – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Is it halachically permissible for my shule to require every member to give a set amount to a certain cause?

    A. Giving charity is a great mitzvah, but generally speaking it is up to the individual to decide how much to give.

    There are guidelines in halachah, for example in the Sefer HaChinnuch, which advises, “Do not let miserliness or meanness rule over you, but open your heart to the qualities of generosity and compassion”.

    However, if an individual makes a vow or pledge to donate a certain sum, the commitment has to be honoured; the Torah says, “Observe and perform the utterance of your lips” (Deut. 23:24).

    If all (or the majority of) the citizens of a place – or by extension all the members of a congregation – vote in favour of a charitable donation towards which every individual is to contribute, the decision is binding upon them. The reason is not only that democratic decisions have halachic authority but that everyone benefits from them.

    It is possible that when the wheel of fate turns, someone who is rich today will be poor and in need of charity.

    In addition, it is good for a community to systematise its welfare work and not leave everything to the whim of the individual, which generally leads some needy people and families to fall between the cracks.

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