Halacha Date: 30 Sivan 5781 June 10 2021
Answer: We have previously discussed that one must donate a certain amount of Tzedakah annually. It is a “middle” level for one to give a tenth of one’s monthly profits every month. Now let us deal with our question regarding those who donate a tenth of their monthly profits to Tzedakah; are they permitted to deduct the cost of supporting their older children still at home from the ten percent?
The root of this question lies in the Gemara which tells us that according to the letter of the law, one is not obligated to provide for one’s children who are older than six years old. The obligation to support one’s children above this age is only on the basis of Tzedakah, for one is obligated to donate to those closest to him and since one is obligated to donate Tzedakah, one must by default support one’s children. However, if one does not have the means by which to support them, one is not obligated to according to the letter of the law.
The Gemara in Masechet Ketubot (50a) expounds the verse in Tehillim, “Praiseworthy are those who keep justice and perform righteousness (Tzedakah) at all times.” Is it indeed possible to perform Tzedakah every moment? Our Sages from Yavneh therefore explained that this verse refers to one who supports his young children. This means that when one supports one’s young children above six years of age, although, halachically speaking, one is not required to do so, one fulfills the Mitzvah of Tzedakah by doing so. Similarly, the Rambam (Chapter 5 of Hilchot Matenot Aniyim) writes that when one sustains one’s children whom one is not obligated to according to the letter of the law in order to teach them Torah and educate them along the proper path, this is included in the Mitzvah of Tzedakah.
Based on this, the Maharam of Rottenberg writes in one of his responses that one may likewise act leniently regarding the donation of ten percent of one’s money in that one may deduct from this sum the cost of supporting one’s children above the age of six, for this indeed constitutes the Mitzvah of Tzedakah. Although Maran Ha’Chida disagrees with the opinion of the Maharam of Rottenberg based on Kabbalah and rules that one must donate specifically a tenth of one’s income and because the Poskim say that only a Mitzvah that would not be able to be fulfilled without the Mitzvah of separating a tenth can be fulfilled using the money from the apportioned ten percent, but for something which would have been fulfilled in any event, such as providing for one’s children, money from the ten percent should not be used, nevertheless, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l disagrees with the opinion of Hagaon Chida on this matter and writes that the Halacha indeed follows the Maharam of Rottenberg and one may deduct the cost of supporting one’s children from the ten percent one usually donates. Although there is currently an edict of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel that one must provide for one’s children until they are fifteen years of age, nevertheless, this does not deter one from using money from the ten percent for this cause. It is nevertheless better for one who has given the entire ten percent to Tzedakah until this point to perform the order of “Annulment of Vows” before three people regarding that which one has been accustomed to not using the money from the apportioned ten percent to support one’s children. From that point on, one should specifically stipulate that one will be using these funds for such things as well.
Summary: If one customarily donates ten percent of one’s profits to Tzedakah, one may deduct the cost of providing for one’s children above the age of six from this sum. However, if until this point one has customarily donated the entire ten percent sum to other needy individuals, it is proper for one to perform an “Annulment of Vows” before three people regarding this custom of donating the ten percent specifically to others and from then on, one will be permitted to use these funds for the expenses of one’s children as well. Clearly, this applies only to one who educates one’s children in the correct path of the Torah, for only then is there room to claim that this constitutes the Mitzvah of Tzedakah; however, if one’s children study in secular institutions and the like, this expense cannot be considered Tzedakah at all.
If Hashem has bestowed abundance upon an individual and he is capable of giving Tzedakah besides for the expenses of the members of his household, he should graciously dispense the entire sum of ten percent to the poor, Torah scholars, and yeshivas.