May I support a Kollel learner with Ma’aser?

May I support a Kollel learner with Ma’aser?

It is a partnership as old as Am Yisroel (the Nation of Israel) itself. The shevatim (tribes) of Yissachar and Zevulun entered into a joint venture: The members of Zevulun navigated ships from the shores of Eretz Yisroel for trade, then shared their bounty with the tent-sitters, the members of the brother-tribe of Yissachar, who dedicated their lives to traversing the Sea of Torah. Just as Zevulun split their earnings with Yissachar, the spiritual reward for Yissachar’s Torah-study in Olam Habah (the World to Come) was shared with Zevulun.

Today, this arrangement of investing in Torah study is still in practice, whether privately or through various institutions. May a person use their ma’aser (tithe of earnings for charity) for such an arrangement?

Traditionally, the primary use of ma’aser is in fact to support amalei Torah (those who labor in Torah study). However, the halachic source for this practice does not specifically refer to a Yissachar-Zevulun partnership, where the benefactor receives benefit—a share of the recipient’s spiritual reward. Have we fulfilled our obligation with ma’aser if we are being thus compensated?

According to most poskim, money set aside for ma’aser may be used to fulfill a Yissachar-Zevulun arrangement. One of the reasons is that the spiritual reward is considered merely a tovas hana’ah (a side benefit), while the recipient enjoys full use of the ma’aser funds. Side benefits (for example, a prestigious position on an institution’s board) are permissible when donating from ma’aser funds.

According to some opinions, a Yissachar-Zevulun partnership must include a formal agreement such as a contract; this imbues it with a level of commitment similar to that of a business venture. Even when following these poskim, the partnership would not be considered a true business dealthough one party receives money and the other Olam Habah—because Olam Habah cannot be bought (see Halachah #262). (Additionally, a reward in Olam Habah is the portion of any supporter of Torah, even in the absence of a formal agreement.)

Certainly, according to those authorities who maintain that the benefactor is not taking away a part of the learner’s reward, but is acquiring a separate, equal portion of Olam Habah for his support of Torah, it is not a business partnership in the tit-for-tat definition of such a venture, and therefore ma’aser may be used for this purpose.

Practical Halacha: One minute a day. By Horav Yosef Yeshaya Braun, shlita, Mara D'asra and member of the Badatz of Crown Heights.