By: Rabbi Yitzchok Basser
I was at a Melava Malka for woman for a certain organization and heard an inspiring Drosha. I would like to make a generous contribution.
Q: Must I consult my husband before I donate? What if I know that my husband generally is not so generous and falls short of the amount of Tzedaka that a person of his financial standing is obligated to donate. May I compensate for this by giving Tzedaka without his knowledge?
The Halacha is that a married woman may give a small amount of her husband’s money to Tzedaka without his knowledge. We can assume that the husband allows her to do so. The size of this donation depends on the financial standing of the household.
However, if the husband specifically said that he does not want her to make any donations, then she can’t give any money to Tzedaka. (Shulchan Aruch 248:4)
The Miserly Husband
Aruch Hashulchan (YD 248: 11, 13) rules that in a society where Bais Din is unable to compel people to give an appropriate amount of Tzedaka, a woman is permitted to be the one to force her husband to give by doing so without his knowledge. However, Aruch Hashulchan emphasizes that this can only be done based on the directive of the local Rav, who determines that according to this person’s wealth we would force him to donate this amount.
Shevet Halevi (Vol.5 132:7) disagrees with this ruling. He references the Halacha (YD 148:1) that even when Bais Din forces a person to give Tzedaka, they may only take his property in his presence, with his knowledge. Surely the wife, even if she is acting on the directive of the Rav, has no more authority than Bais Din.
If the Woman is the Breadwinner
It’s important to note that the above discussion is in the case that the husband earns the household money and the wife wishes to donate some of it to Tzedaka. Another issue discussed by the Poskim is when the woman is the primary breadwinner. Does she then have the right to give whatever money she chooses to Tzedaka?
The Halacha is that a man is obligated to support his wife financially. In exchange, Chazal decreed that whatever money the woman earns belongs to her husband. (However a woman has the option to waive her right to be supported by her husband, in which case she retains whatever she earns.) The question is if the husband does not actually support her, does he nonetheless acquire his wife’s earnings?
This question was addressed by the Maharit (Vol. 2 CM 67). He distinguishes between if the wife supported her husband from the outset of the marriage, and when the husband initially supported his wife. In the former case, the wife definitely retains the money she earns. In the latter case, there is a debate among the Acharonim as to the Maharit’s intention. Some explain that he is unsure who the money belongs to, while others understand him to mean that it belongs to the husband (see Pischei Choshen vol. 9 Ch 10, note 21).
The Chazon Ish (EH 70:6) rules that even if the husband supported his wife only at the very beginning of the marriage, he still retains ownership of all her subsequent income. Since he was providing for her when she earned her first paycheck, he acquired that paycheck. When he uses that money to support her, he has provided her needs with his own money. That entitles him to acquire the next paycheck. This cycle repeats itself, causing the husband to perpetually acquire his wife’s income.
It is noteworthy that there is some debate among the Acharonim in the event that the woman’s parents support the couple. Shu”t Giva’as Shaul (Siman 33) considers any parental support as discharging the husband’s obligation, enabling him to acquire his wife’s earnings.
However, Maharsham (vol. 4, 92) disagrees. He says that support given to the couple by the wife’s parents is intended solely to be for the wife’s benefit, and does not constitute support by the husband. However, money received by the couple as wedding gifts definitely belongs to the husband.
Another consideration is that even if the money does belong to her, there is further disagreement among the Acharonim whether she may keep it outright, or whether it must be invested in a manner that enables the husband to benefit from the profits that accrue (see Igros Moshe EH Vol. 1:106 per Gilyon Rabbi Akiva Eiger EH 80:1; cf Bais Meir ad loc who questions this premise). According to this opinion she would not be permitted to donate the money without her husband’s consent.
On a final note, Shevet Halevi (vol. 2, 118) quotes the Maharshal that although a woman generally is only permitted to make a minor donation to Tzedaka, if she is the breadwinner she can assume that her husband gives her permission to make any donations she wants. Even if technically the money is his, since if he were to protest his wife’s generosity she might discontinue earning money, we assume that he gives her permission to donate as she sees fit.
As far as a woman who is inspired to make a donation (without consulting her husband), it depends on the circumstances. If the family is well off, and a donation of this size is not considered a significant amount of money, she is permitted to assume that she has her husband’s permission to do so. However, if he has stated that he does not want her to donate to Tzedaka without consulting him, she may not do so even if he does not give an appropriate amount to Tzedaka.
If she is the breadwinner she may give as much as she sees fit, as we assume that her husband consents. If he specifically denies consent, there is a machlokes Acharonim as to who really owns the household money and it may depend on what happened at the outset of the marriage.