Shabbat Parashat Kedoshim| 5764
Whether A Promised Donation to Charity is Binding on Inheritors - Based on Piskei Din Rabbani’im, vol. 16, pp. 1-16
[The following condensation of a ruling of the rabbinical court of Yerushalayim is but a presentation of certain highlights. The actual p’sak din is very lengthy in presenting the halachic background but cryptic in describing the actual case.]
A man made certain promises to give objects to charity and died before carrying out these promises. His inheritors now do not want to honor the promises, saying that they were accepted by their father, not by them, and, as the present owners of the objects, they should not be bound by his promises.
There is a concept in regard to donations to hekdesh (holy property of the Beit Hamikdash) that one’s word given to hekdesh is equivalent to handing over to a regular person. The Rashba (Shut I, 563) rules that similar promises to charity are not binding by virtue of oral assurances without an act of acquisition. Along these lines, the Rama (Choshen Mishpat 252:2) rules: “One who makes an oath to give a certain amount to a certain person and dies without giving, his inheritors are exempt from paying.” (The implication is that this ruling applies to cases where the intended recipient was poor).
The Rama (ibid. 212:7) seems to contradict himself in the case of one who makes a pledge to give the fruits of a certain tree to charity. He says that, although the pledge is not binding before the fruits grow, if he is still alive when the fruit grow, he is obligated based on the laws of oaths to give them. The implication is that even after his death, his inheritors would be obligated to give the donation, as long as the oath took effect in the donor’s lifetime.
The Netivot Hamishpat (250:4) makes the following distinction, which can reconcile the two rulings. If the donation was general, relating to a sum of money, then it doesn’t take hold until it is given and does not obligate the inheritors. In contrast, if the donation related to a specific item, then the obligation takes hold on the object (as of when it exists in the world). In such a case, the inheritors are required to hand over that specific object.
[After much discussion,] it appears that there are different understandings to the opinion of the Rama in our case, and therefore, it is not possible to force the inheritors to fulfill their father’s pledge. However, it is proper to encourage the two sides to agree to a compromise ruling on a certain percentage of the original pledge.
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