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Israel is the Source of Blessing

It is forbidden to take charity from non-Jews because of desecration of God’s name * Accepting charity from non-Jews also causes the exile to continue and delays the redemption *  It must be seriously considered whether the aid budgets that the State of Israel receives from the United States are included in the prohibition of accepting charity from non-Jews

It is forbidden for a Jew to accept charity from non-Jews. The prohibition against accepting charity is because of the desecration of God’s name, so that the non-Jews will not say: How despicable are the Jews, and how despicable is their religion, that they do not support their own poor, and members of other nations need to support them (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 254:1; Shach, Taz, and Levush there). However, donations to a synagogue and public needs are permitted to be accepted, since receiving those does not express humiliating dependence. But accepting personal charity desecrates God’s name, since the purpose of the Jewish nation is to be a light unto the nations, and bring goodness and blessing to all peoples. And when they need the help of non-Jews, they humiliate themselves, and fail in their role. And as our Sages said: “Since the receivers of charity from idol worshipers increased – the Jews became lowly, and the non-Jews became elevated; the Jews behind, and the non-Jews ahead” (Sotah 47b; the Gemara expresses it euphemistically).

Accepting Charity from Non-Jews Delays the Redemption

Our Sages further said (Bava Batra 10b) that when the Jews accept charity, the non-Jews become haughty over the Jews and despise them, and are strengthened to continue enslaving the Jews. Therefore, Jews who accept charity from them cause the exile to continue and delay the Redemption, as it says: “When its crown is withered, they break; women come and make fires with them. For they are a people without understanding; that is why Their Maker will show them no mercy” (Isaiah 27:11). That is, when the merits of the non-Jews who enslave Israel dry up and are used up, they will be like dry straw that is easily broken and burned, and Israel will be freed from them. But when Israel does not act wisely, and accepts charity from them, the merits of the non-Jews increase, and they continue to enslave Israel, and God does not have mercy on Israel to redeem them.

Our Sages also said (Sanhedrin 26b) that the one who transgresses and receives charity from a non-Jew is invalid for testimony, because since he committed a desecration of God out of greed for money, one must fear that he will lie in his testimony for bribery (Rashi). In addition, since he agreed to shame his honor by receiving charity from a non-Jew, there is concern he will agree to shame his honor with false testimony (Rambam, Edut 11:5).

It is Permitted to Accept Charity from Non-Jews When There is No Choice

The prohibition against accepting charity from non-Jews is on condition that the poor person can barely subsist without it, but if he cannot subsist, he is permitted to secretly accept charity from non-Jews. And when they do not give it to him in secret, and there are no Jews who can support him, he is permitted to openly accept the charity, and he is not disqualified by this from being a witness, since he did it under duress (Rambam Laws of Edut 11:5, and Laws of Gifts to the Poor 8:9; SA YD 254:1, Responsa ‘Rishon LeTzion’, Aruch HaShulchan).

Lenient Opinions and the Halakha

Some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) are lenient for an individual poor person to secretly accept charity, since in their opinion, the prohibition is specifically for charity collectors (Drisha). And some permitted this when the non-Jew is not donating specifically to Jews, but donates to Jews as well as to non-Jews, in which case he does not have a great mitzvah for it (Taz), or that the prohibition to secretly accept charity is only from an official, but not from an individual (Rabbi Chaim Palagi).

However, in practice, as long as the Jewish poor can subsist in hardship, even in secret, one should not accept charity from non-Jews. Because any acceptance of charity from non-Jews involves desecration of God’s name and shame, that their Jewish brethren do not support them, and non-Jews sustain them, and in doing so, we continue to be dependent on non-Jews, and the yoke of exile remains on our necks (Responsa Rishon LeTzion to SA YD 254:2; Beit Hillel,1; Aruch HaShulchan 254:1).

Accepting Charity from Righteous Non-Jews

It is permitted to accept charity from a kosher, non-Jew who observes the seven Noahide commandments. On another occasion we will clarify who is a kosher non-Jew, and explain that this also is only after the fact.

Prohibition against Accepting Charity from Officials and Countries

It is forbidden for Jews to accept charity from officials and countries, because if accepting from individuals debases the honor of Israel and prolongs the exile, how much more so when accepting from officials and countries. And only when refusing to accept the donation could endanger the Jews, due to ‘shalom malchut’ (“sake of peace with the kingdom”) is it permitted to accept it. As related in the Talmud (Bava Batra 10b) about Ifera Hurmiz, the mother of the King of Persia, who sent four hundred dinars to Rabbi Ami to distribute to the poor. And even though Ifera Hurmiz was personally known as a righteous woman, since she was the mother of the king who enslaved the Jews, Rabbi Ami refused to accept her donation.

Ifera Hurmiz sent the four hundred dinars to Rava, and he accepted them. They told this to Rabbi Ami, and he scolded Rava, arguing how could he make it easy to support the Jewish poor with the charity of non-Jews, and not worry that by doing so, he prolongs the exile, as it says: ” When its crown is withered, they break; women come and make fires with them” (Isaiah 27:11).

However, the Gemara relates that Rava accepted the donation because of shalom malchut, that if he had refused to accept, they might have borne a grudge against Israel for it. Afterwards, without Ifera Hurmiz knowing about it, he distributed the charity to poor non-Jews. And there was no deception towards Ifera Hurmiz in this, since it is known that Jews support the non-Jewish poor together with the Jewish poor (Gittin 61a; Rashi, Bava Batra 11a, “de’lo“). And this man who told Rabbi Ami about Rava accepting the charity money from Ifera Hurmiz did not finish the story by saying that Rava was careful to use it to support non-Jewish poor, and thereby violated the prohibition of gossip. Perhaps he sinned inadvertently, since Rava gave the charity in secret to non-Jewish poor, so that it would not become known to the kingdom, he thought that Rava supported Jewish poor with it.

However, in another case Ifera Hurmiz sent a large sum to Rav Yosef for charity, and explicitly requested he make with it a “great mitzvah”. And since this was the case, if Rav Yosef had diverted the charity to the needs of non-Jewish poor, which is not a “great mitzvah”, he would have violated the prohibition of deception (Chullin 94a), therefore Rav Yosef used her money for redeeming Jewish captives, which is the greatest charity (Bava Batra 8a; Tosafot “yativ”).

The Problem with Accepting Financial Aid from the United States

Today, there is room for concern that aid budgets the State of Israel receives from the United States are included in the prohibition of accepting charity from non-Jews, since there is desecration of God’s name in that the State of Israel needs assistance, and cannot cope on its own with the challenges it faces. And if an individual Jew accepting charity desecrates God’s name, how much more so when the State of Israel accepts aid. In addition, as a result of receiving aid, the State of Israel is forced to accept dictates from the United States and other countries, that harm fulfilling the mitzvah of Yishuv ha’Aretz (settling the Land of Israel), and its ability to defeat its enemies, and thereby, the yoke of exile continues, to some extent, on our necks.

Indeed, some claim that since there are many Jews living in the United States, the aid coming from the United States is not considered aid from non-Jews, but from a joint fund. However, in practice, since it is a large country with clear interests, and only two percent of US citizens are Jewish, the aid cannot be defined as coming from a fund jointly owned by non-Jews and Jewish partners.

Charity versus Partnership

Nor can it be argued that since the aid is not intended for the Jewish poor, it is considered a gift, and not charity. Because a gift is for someone who is self-sufficient and does not need assistance, and giving the gift is meant to express the connection to him, and make him happy. Charity, on the other hand, is for one who struggles to get by on his own and needs assistance, and it does not matter if with the assistance, he will buy food, or furniture, or security means.

Some argue that the aid money is actually money that the United States invests in Israel so that it will safeguard its interests in the Middle East for it, and assist it in developing cutting-edge combat capabilities. Indeed, if the aid is defined as dignified cooperation, which both sides are equally interested in, it would not be considered charity. But for that, the annual aid budgets would have to be canceled, and every collaboration must be privately summarized how much each party invests, as partners do.

The Big Question

However, some argue that without the aid, Israel will find it difficult to withstand its war against its enemies, and then, because of the urgency, it is permitted to accept the aid. This claim indeed needs to be seriously considered by Israel’s leaders, while at all times remembering to make great efforts to free ourselves from the need to receive charity from non-Jews. Because the fact that the State of Israel receives aid is a situation of desecration of God’s name, which causes the State of Israel to be enslaved to the interests of foreign countries, and prevents it from fulfilling its aspirations independently.

Our Situation Fifty Years Ago, and Today

When the State of Israel was poor and needed help (at the end of the War of Attrition in 1971), Rabbi Mordechai Frum ztz”l, a senior rabbi of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav, wrote that it is permitted to receive aid from foreign countries, because the State of Israel is an independent state, and the Jewish people are no longer in exile, and therefore, there is no concern that by accepting charity, they prolong the exile. In addition, it should be permitted since we are surrounded by many enemies, and involves pikuach nefesh of the Clal (saving lives of the general populace) (in the collection ‘Zachor Zot Le’Yaacov’).

In 1990, Rabbi Ben Zion Kriger deliberated whether there is still an urgent necessity or not (Techumin 11).

However, in the meantime, our situation has changed tremendously. In 1990, Israel’s annual GDP was about $61 billion, and American aid of $3 billion was about five percent of it. In 2023, Israel’s GDP was $488 billion, and annual aid was $3.8 billion, so it constituted only 0.8 percent.

Moreover, according to various economists, Israel loses money as a result of receiving aid, since receiving it is conditioned on severe restrictions on the arms industry and large deals with various countries in the security field.

Therefore, it is fitting that decision makers seriously consider the possibility of relinquishing aid funds, in order to strengthen our independence and enhance our achievements in the economic, security and social spheres, and fulfill our destiny to be a source of blessing for all the nations of the world.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.


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