A baraisa on Bava Basra 8b teaches that contributions to the kupa shel tzedakah are collected by two people and the funds are distributed by three people. The baraisa explains that two people are needed to establish an authority over the public, but distribution requires the equivalent of a Beis Din to assess eligible circumstances, and therefore three persons are required. The gemora later seeks to clarify what is meant by establishing an authority over the public. Since every resident was required to donate to the fund, in what way did the collectors exercise authority? The gemora answers that the collectors were empowered to seize a pledge for unpaid charity obligations. The gemora accepts that it is forbidden to force people to give charity if they cannot afford it, but where the donor is comfortable financially and he has not contributed as much as he is capable of giving, then collectors may seize a mashkon to secure payment. The case of Rava is then quoted where he coerced R’ Nassan, a wealthy individual, to give a donation of four hundred zuzim – an enormous amount. Our discussion will focus on the contradictory concepts of willing donations and enforced charity obligations.



As an aside, it is interesting to note the frequent use of the number 400 throughout the Talmud. Arabic numerals that we use are a comparatively late invention and in the Torah numbers are always expressed with words. However, for general counting each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is designated a number, so that 1-9 and 10-90 are allocated to the first 18 letters, leaving the last four letters for the hundreds, with taf equivalent to 400. The last letter of the alphabet equivalent to 400 conceptualizes the greatest imaginable quantity, somewhat similar to the English ‘million’ – as in ‘thanks a million!’, without intending a quantified number. Similarly, the number 300 is often used to indicate a large, but not the largest quantity, the penultimate letter being one step down.



Tosafos raises a problem. The principle of compelling performance of positive mitzvos is well established in Kesubos 86a – refusal to do mitzvas lulav or succah may be physically enforced with malkos even to the point of death. However, Chullin 110 notes that there is one category of positive mitzvos that cannot be enforced: those mitzvos where the Torah records their reward, מתן שכרן בצדם. The example in Chullin is כבוד אב ואם, honouring parents, which cannot be enforced because the Torah explicitly promises long life for complying with this mitzva. Tosafos asks how could Rava compel R’ Nassan to donate, since the Torah confers blessings in connection with tzedakahh – כי בגלל הדבר הזה יברכך and since the Torah promises reward, Beis Din should not have the right to enforce this positive mitzvah. Tosafos provides four answers. Rabbeinu Tam first suggests that Rava did not physically coerce the donation but used verbal persuasion to convince R’ Nassan to donate. Alternatively, Rabbeinu Tam proposes that the city had fixed civic obligations which can be physically enforced as a social and municipal responsibility, besides the mitzvah of tzedakah. Ri resolves the problem by claiming that aside from the positive mitzva of tzedakahh, there are two negative mitzvos – לא תאמץ את לבבך ולא תקפוץ, do not stiffen your heart nor withdraw your hand, and enforcement is appropriate for the lavim themselves. Finally, Ritzba takes a different approach saying that the limitation on Beis Din is that they are not obligated to enforce, but they have the option to do so if they wish.



Rambam (Matnos Aniyim-7:10) rules that where someone does not wish to donate according to his ability, Beis Din must utilise physical pressure until he pays the amount they have assessed he should be giving, and if he is present, they may seize a pledge to guarantee payment. Shulchan Aruch (YD-248:1) paskens accordingly. The question arises, whilst this fits well with Rava’s enforcement, how does Rambam address the question that one cannot enforce a mitzva where the Torah guarantees its reward. None of Tosafos’ answers can work. The answer that Rava pressurised verbally is countered by Rambam expressly stating that one can use malkos. The second answer that the obligations had been previously fixed is not compatible with Rambam’s description of one who does not wish to donate according to his ability. Ri’s answer that we are talking about enforcing lavim aside from the asey also does not fit, as lavim can be enforced by anyone and it does not require Beis Din as stated by Rambam. Finally, Ritzba’s answer that Beis Din can enforce if they wish does not fit with Rambam’s obligation for Beis Din to act. How can Rambam resolve the question that enforcement is not applicable to positive mitzvos with guaranteed reward?



Ritva claims that the mitzva of tzedakah is an exception to mitzvos which guarantee reward because it services the needs of poor people. His argument would appear to be that besides being a mitzva incumbent on the individual, it also imposes a monetary obligation to satisfy the needs of the poor and it is the financial component that is being enforced. Radvaz poses Tosafos’ question and explains that according to Rambam the combination of the positive mitzvah together with the lavim creates a personal obligation akin to financial indebtedness which attracts enforcement. He then adds support for this innovative approach by pointing to a special feature associated with tzedakah. Normally one is not allowed to challenge Hashem to prove that one is rewarded for one’s mitzvos. Radvaz

. ובחנוני נא בזאתsays that Hashem accepts such a challenge in connection with maaser as it says:

He adds that one is likewise allowed to test Hashem for tzedakah. How does Radvaz resolve Tosafos’ enforcement problem with this special characteristic of tzedakah that one may test Hashem?



Let us consider the underlying reason why positive mitzvos linked to reward in the Torah should not be enforceable by Beis Din. Rashi in Chullin explains that the promise of reward acts as a warning that if one does not do the mitzva, the punishment is loss of this reward. In other words, the incentive of reward should be sufficient to convince the person to do the mitzva and no pressure from Beis Din is necessary. Teshuvos Maharik 148 quotes the opinion of Rabbeinu Eliyahu who limits the principle of linked reward to eternal reward, where the Torah promises arichas yomim, which is explained to refer to reward in olam habo rather than in this world. Since the blessing of tzedakah relates to reward in this world, it is not subject to that principle, and it is left to Beis Din to enforce. Why should it make a difference whether the reward is in this world or the next? Reward in this world is very different from eternal reward. Reward in olam habo is the natural outcome of doing mitzvos and is guaranteed, so knowledge of reward in olam habo should be sufficient incentive to convince a person to perform a mitzva like kibud av. It is under the control of the Heavenly court and Beis Din should not get involved. However, where the reward is in this world, as is the case with tzedakah, it is difficult to discern that one is receiving reward at all, as it takes the form of natural outcome of our actions. The reward is not a miraculous result of the mitzva, so it is not sufficient incentive to ensure that the person complies with his obligation to give tzedakah. People may not always realise that the source of their wealth is reward for their mitzvos and can attribute it to their own abilities. This is no longer a purely spiritual reward which belongs to the Heavenly court and reverts to enforcement by the earthly court. We are now able to understand what Radvaz meant that being able to test Hashem was proof that Beis Din could enforce tzedakah as ruled by Rambam. Testing means that one recognizes that the reward is the result of his actions in this world and that differentiates tzedakah from kibud av, where eternal arichas yomim is promised.



We still need to understand how there can be any reward for a mitzva done unwillingly – has he not transgressed the prohibition of ‘stiffening one’s heart’? The answer is the same as in the case of pressurizing someone to give a get, because ultimately, he truly does want to give it. Deep down a person appreciates the need to give tzedakah, but sometimes he needs that extra push to overcome his attachment to his money. On the other hand, where a donor truly cannot afford to give, it would be forbidden to pressurize him, as that may be considered stealing basic sustenance from his family. That needs careful assessment, which requires charity collection by two people.