Materialism Unexpected

How Poor Is Poor Enough?

Who, according to halacha, is eligible for charity? The question is practical, since halacha seems to present a clear threshold and only individuals living beneath the threshold may receive charity.

What, exactly, is that threshold? Here’s what the Shulchan Aruch (Yore Deah 253:1) rules:

מי שיש לו מזון שתי סעודות, לא יטול מהתמחוי. מזון י”ד סעודות, לא יטול מהקופה. ואם יש לו ר’ זוז ואינו נושא ונותן בהם, או שיש לו חמשים זוז והוא נושא ונותן בהם, לא יטול צדקה

Someone with enough food for two meals may not take from the ‘tamchui,’ food for 14 meals may not take from the ‘kupa.’ If he has 200 zuz that he’s using for his business, or 50 zuz that is not being used for business, he may not take charity.”

I suspect that, these days, 200 zuz would be worth a few thousand dollars. So it would seem that anyone with more than a thousand dollars or so in liquid cash – or a few thousand in, say, retirement savings – should not be taking charity.

That, of course, leaves many other questions unanswered. Has the precise definition of charity changed? Where do social welfare programs and other government entitlements fit in? Are tuition scholarships considered charity?

But the very next section in Shulchan Aruch (253:2) turns everything upside down:

יש אומרים שלא נאמרו השיעורים הללו אלא בימיהם, אבל בזמן הזה יכול ליטול עד שיהיה לו קרן כדי שיתפרנס הוא ובני ביתו מהריוח. ודברים של טעם הם

“Some say that those thresholds applied only in those times, but these days, one may receive charity unless he has sufficient capital to provide his family’s needs from the profits alone. And these are reasonable words.”

Assuming mortgage/rent and private school tuition payments count as “family needs,” which of us can live off profits without dipping into core revenues and savings? Are we all עניים in the eyes of the Shulchan Aruch?

4 minim Unexpected Yerushalmi

The Four Species: waved but never shaken

The נענועים are an integral part of the mitzva of lulav (see Mesechte Sukkah 37b). But how is that waving supposed to be done? As anyone who’s ever been in a shul over Sukkos knows, the question seems to inspire a wide range of answers. The gemara’s conceptual source is the waving associated with the מלואים (see שמות כט:כז). There, the הנפה and הרמה referenced by the verse suggest to ר’ יוחנן that we should move the four species outwards and inwards, and then up and down.

One popular interpretation involves shaking the lulav with each movement. The source for this seems to be the Rema (תרנא:ט) who wrote:

ומכסכס הלולב בכל נענוע

The popular translation of כסכס is “shake.” However, from the Yerushalmi to Sukkah (פרק ג הלכה ח) this would not seem to be correct:

תני צריך לנענע ג’ פעמים ר’ זעירה בעי הכין חד והכין חד או הכין והכין חד או הכין הכין חד

One must wave (the lulav) three times. Rabbi Zeira asks: this way is one and this way is one, or this way and this way is one? (i.e., are those three waves made up of three sets of “in and out” movements, or one inward movement, one outward, and a third inward).

The Yerushalmi answers via a proof from the laws of Niddah (found in the Bavli in Niddah 62a). There, the required steps for properly cleaning a stain involves כסכוס three times in each direction. Here’s how the Yerushalmi concludes:

תמן תנינן צריך לכסכס ג’ פעמים בין כל דבר ודבר ר’ זעירה בעי הכין חד והכין חד

Which would seem to clearly limit the Rema’s ומכסכס to simple outward/inward/upward/downward movements. And there seems to be no source for shaking.

Just sayin’.

Unexpected Yerushalmi

Who Wants to Learn?

You’re probably familiar with the mishna in the third perek of Eiruvin:

…אם בא חכם מן המזרח עירובי למזרח בא מן המערב עירובי למערב

(A person may make an eruv techum – extending the distance he may travel outside his town on Shabbos – conditional, saying:) “If a wise man will come from the east, my eruv will (extend my techum) in the east (so I can go to meet him). If the wise man will come from the west, my eruv will be in the west.”

But you may not be aware of an alternate reading quoted in the Yerushalmi (עירובין פרק ו הלכה ג):

אית תניי תני במערב מאן דמר במזרח באילין חכימי’ מאן דמר במערב ברגיל

“There is a tana who taught: ‘(regarding the wise man who comes from the east, that he wants his eruv in the) west. The one who would say (his eruv should be in) the east refers a to (true) wise man. The one who says (his eruv should be in) the west refers to a wise man (who only teaches things everybody already knows).

The scenario presented by the alternate version gives us a man whose motivation for setting an eruv techum is to escape from the chochom, presumably so he wouldn’t need to sit through his lecture.

But this gets more interesting. Later in Eiruvin (פרק ח הלכה א), we find that one should only set an eruv techum for the purpose of a mitzva. Meaning that, according to the Yerushalmi’s version, not only is it reasonable for a person to wish to escape a chochom, but it can even be a mitzva!