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Purim: Giving ma'aser ani produce as mishlo'ach manot and matanot la'evyonim to the poor

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Purim: Giving ma'aser ani produce as mishlo'ach manot and matanot la'evyonim to the poor

If I give ma'aser ani produce to a poor person on Purim, can this count as matanot la'evyonim? What about mishlo'ach manot?

Rabbi Moshe Bloom

The Maharil (Yaakov ben Moshe Levi Moelin, Germany, 15th century) was asked about giving ma'aser money as matanot la'evyonim. He prohibited this for two reasons:

  1. Ma'aser money belongs to the poor person and not to the owner. There is a dispute whether the fact that the owner has the prerogative to decide who to give the money makes these funds his to a certain extent.
  2. Any halachically mandated gift, such as matanot la'evyonim, can only come from unconsecrated money. That is, it cannot be given from a sum that the owner is already obligated to give, such as ma'aser

The Maharil concludes that it is possible to give the minimum amount to matanot la'evyonim, which he holds is a shave peruta, and then one can add to this sum from ma'aser money.

The vast majority of the Acharonim cite this responsum and agree with the Maharil.

At first blush, it seems that the halacha would be the same for both mishlo'ach manot and matanot la'avyonim in this regard. However, a distinction might be drawn, since the reason for mishlo'ach manot is to strengthen unity and brotherly love among fellow Jews (as explained by the Manot HaLevi on Megillat Esther; Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, 16th century, Safed, author of Yedid Nefesh), while the actual gift received is of lesser importance. This is in contrast with the objective of matanot la'evyonim, where the importance lies in the charity actually received by the poor person . We see this distinction in several instances, where some poskim say a gift still counts as mishlo'ach manot but not for matanot la'evyonim: (1) if the poor person rejects the gift and (2) if a gift is given and then returned to the original owner.

This could also be because, in the end, using ma'aser money for mishlo'ach manot strengthens brotherly love. This would be prohibited for matanot la'evyonim since this money is not truly and completely in one's ownership.

Rabbi Yoel Friedemann (HaTorah VeHa'aretz IV, 5759) applies the laws governing ma'aser money to ma'aser ani, and holds that both tithes have the same halachic status. Albeit, I have not found any source that clearly equates between the laws of ma'aser money and ma'aser ani produce.

In practice:

  1. Ma'aser ani produce should not be given as matanot la'evyonim. In extenuating circumstances, it is possible to give the minimum, which is the value of a small meal (Rabbi Eliezer Melamed writes that the minimum today would be NIS 1), and then add the ma'aser ani produce to this.
  2. Ma'aser ani produce should optimally not be given to a poor person as mishlo'ach manot. Bediavad, if given, there are lenient halachic rulings that one can rely on. If the mishlo'ach manot already includes two different foods, ma'aser ani produce can certainly be added to the package.
  3. If a poor person gives someone mishlo'ach manot, one should not reciprocate with mishlo'ach manot comprised of ma'aser ani produce (unless the ma'aser ani is only an addition to the two types of food that make up the core mishlo'ach manot).