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Shabbat Parashat Vayechi 5775

Ask the Rabbi: Raising Charitable Funds on Shabbat

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I am one of the organizers of a charity that provides free transportation for a broad spectrum of underprivileged New Yorkers. May I try to drum up support for it among fellow Jews I see on Shabbat?


Answer: In general it is forbidden to discuss monetary matters and prohibited activities on Shabbat (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 306). This is derived from the pasuk (Yeshaya 58:13, so that this is a Rabbinic, not a Torah-level, law) about the proper atmosphere of Shabbat, which requires refraining from “metzo cheftzecha v’daber davar (tending to your interests and speaking of [forbidden] matters). However, the gemara (Shabbat 150a) derived that only “your interests” are forbidden, whereas “interests of heaven” are permitted. It is thus permitted to discuss money and other actions forbidden on Shabbat in the context of plans for mitzvot. Generally, mitzva opportunities do not override Rabbinic prohibitions. Rather, metzo cheftzecha and daber davar are lesser prohibitions (see Shulchan Aruch Harav, OC 306:12). Furthermore, there is likely a more sweeping distinction. Metzo cheftzecha and daber davar are context-oriented, rather than objective Rabbinical prohibitions, so that if the activity is for the sake of a mitzva, the context is appropriate for Shabbat.

Among the mitzvot that are explicitly mentioned as justifying discussing money (Shabbat 150a, Shulchan Aruch, OC 306:6) is pledging money for tzedaka. The Ran (Shabbat, ad loc.) is surprised by this application of the heter of interests of heaven. After all, the mishna (Beitza 36b) says that it is forbidden to be makdish (donate to the Beit Hamikdash) on Shabbat because this can be confused with commercial activity. Ostensibly, this should also apply to pledging to charity. The Ran answers that the prohibition of making hekdesh refers to specific objects, whose transfer to hekdesh is more similar to a monetary transaction than a pledge to charity is. The Beit Yosef (OC 306) extends the distinction and points out that even pledging an object to a shul or the like is different from hekdesh, for in the latter the pledge takes effect immediately.

There are times when one may get involved in semi-commercial discussion but is not allowed to mention a sum of money (see Shulchan Aruch ibid., Rama ibid. 3). However, in regard to tzedaka pledges, the pledges may include specific amounts (Rama ibid. 6; Mishna Berura 306:33; Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 29:55). Of course, if one is allowed to make pledges, then it is also permitted to try to interest people in doing so.

The non-profit organization you are, baruch Hashem, involved in serves a cross-section of the New York population. One might think that raising money on Shabbat might be permitted only if the recipient is a Jew, who keeps the laws of Shabbat. However, this is not so (see the Magen Avraham 306:21). As long as the money is for a valid tzedaka cause it is under the category of the interests of heaven. Giving tzedaka to any human being, Jew or gentile, is a mitzva, as the baraita (Gittin 61a) states, and the Rambam (Melachim 10:12) so beautifully formulates. This is the case not only when the charity is given to a cross-section of society, which applies to Jews and non-Jews alike, but even if the charity would be for non-Jews exclusively (Shach, Yoreh Deah 251:2). Money that is raised for tzedaka, including from ma’aser funds, can be used for Jews and non-Jews alike. Therefore, your organization is worthy of the special dispensation to allow raising interest in it on Shabbat and even to receive specific oral pledges.

Of course, our general focus on Shabbat should be on activities that are special for Shabbat. However, you do not seem to be describing anything of the nature of “a day at the office,” which would be troublesome even if involved in a fine charitable enterprise. So if you are talking about mentioning your fine activities in a way that interests others or even an occasional concerted effort, this is permitted and appropriate.
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