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Giving ma’aser ani today: here’s a half-an-orange to help you out?!

Question

How can I actually give my ma’aser ani? It’s not really practical to find poor people each time I pick a few oranges from my tree to give them a slice.

Answer

Rabbi Moshe Bloom

This year (5781) is the sixth year in the shemita cycle, when we are supposed to give 9% of our produce to the poor (ma’aser ani).

If you pick five oranges or buy five cucumbers from a place that does not have reliable kashrut supervision, that means that a little less than half of one orange or cucumber should go to a poor person. When the produce is in your home, you can decide which poor person to give the fruit to. In practice, however, poor people will not make the effort to come for such a small amount.

While there is an obligation to verbally declare the 9% as ma’aser ani and state its location in the produce (this is an integral part of the text for separating terumot and ma’aserot), in the event that a poor person never shows up, this portion is not sacred and it is possible to eat. This is what those who don’t actually give the ma’aser ani rely on.

Is there a way to actually give ma’aser ani?

At Beit HaOtzar, we employ the halachic concept of makarei ani’im. Every member of Beit HaOtzar signs a contract with a tzedaka committee that all of the ma’aser ani will go to a specific poor person. The owner of the fruit lends the poor person a sum of money on an annual basis, and then every time ma’aser ani is set aside—say, half-an-orange—this half-an-orange is halachically acquired by the poor person. The poor person then returns this fruit to the owner, and then its value is detracted from the sum of the loan. At the end of the year, if the poor person still owes any money to the owner of the fruit, the debt is forgiven. In this way, we can give ma’aser ani in practice in the most mehudar fashion, without having to leave the comfort of our homes to find a poor person each time we take terumot and ma’aserot.