Question: May a person deduct necessary household expenditures, such as food and clothing, before giving maaser k’safim?
Short Answer: Some poskim allow a deduction for necessary personal and household expenses. However, the consensus of the contemporary poskim is to the contrary, that no such deduction is allowed.
I. Household Expenditures – Deduction
The Avkas Rachel (3), attributed to the Shulchan Aruch, writes that a person only needs to give maaser k’safim from the remaining income after deducting necessary household expenses. This tremendously lenient opinion is likewise cited by the K’neses HaG’dolah (brought in Gilyon Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Dei’ah 249).
Importantly, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (34:4) rules like this opinion. [Note, however, that there is a bit of controversy whether the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch himself wrote the words “deducting household expenses” or whether it was added in later editions. See Y’shuos Daniel (p. 79) and Journal HaMaayan, 11:1, Tishrei 5731, and 47:3, Nisan 5767]
II. Household Expenditures – No Deduction
Many Acharonim disagree. The Birkei Yosef (Yoreh Dei’ah 249:5) firstly doubts that the Shulchan Aruch authored the t’shuvah in Avkas Rachel. Indeed, he notes that others ascribe this t’shuvah to R’ Matisyahu Trivish, someone whom the Birkei Yosef had never heard of. Secondly, the Birkei Yosef notes that maaser k’safim is learned from maaser on produce, and certainly no household expenditures are deducted before such maaser is given.
The sefer Beis Dino shel Shlomo (cited in the Tzitz Eliezer 10:6) likewise doubts the authorship of this t’shuvah in Avkas Rachel and rules that household expenses cannot be deducted before taking off maaser k’safim. The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Dei’ah 249:7) also adopts this ruling.
III. Practically – Yes Deduction
This important issue is likewise debated by contemporary poskim. The Tzitz Eliezer (ibid) rules leniently like the Avkas Rachel, that household expenses can be deducted before taking off maaser k’safim. He defends the author of the t’shuvah – whoever it is – by noting that the comparison to maaser of produce is limited to extracting the proper amount of maaser that needs to be given, but is not an absolute comparison, especially according to the opinion that maaser k’safim is merely a minhag. He likewise cites other Acharonim who follow this ruling, and concludes that personal clothing and food expenses can certainly be deducted.
Likewise, the Be’er Moshe (Am HaTorah Journal 3, 5749) follows this leniency, and rules that necessary clothing, food, and household expenses can certainly be deducted, including telephone, and gas and electric bills. However, expensive food delicacies, such as candies and chocolate cake, cannot be deducted. His ruling is also based on the premise that maaser k’safim is only a minhag. Finally, he suggests that a person should condition his acceptance to give maaser k’safim on the ability to deduct these personal household expenses.
Furthermore, the sefer Kinyan Torah B’Halachah (1:102:5) relies on the lenient opinion in allowing a father to deduct necessary tuition payments before giving maaser k’safim. Similarly, Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Y’chaveh Daas 3:76) appears to rely on the lenient opinion with respect to allowing a father to deduct payments made to support older children. [Note that the issue of deducting tuition and support payments is beyond the scope of this article].
IV. Practically – No Deduction
On the other hand, many poskim disagree and rule that household expenses cannot be deducted before taking off maaser k’safim.
This is the opinion of the Tz’dakah U’Mishpat (5:8), Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Kol HaTorah, Vol. 39, 5759, p. 91), Sheivet HaLevi (5:133:4), Minchas Yitzchak (5:35), and Sefer Hilchos Tz’dakah (p. 43). [But see Sheivet HaLevi who allows such deduction if the person is in a dire financial situation.] The Practical Guide to Giving Charity, by Rabbi Ari Marburger shlita, appears to rule this way as well.
Interestingly, Rav Ari Wasserman shlita, author of Workplace Halacha, available at http://www.workplacehalacha.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Chapter-22-Maaser-k’safim.pdf, writes that Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein once asked Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l whether one can rely on the lenient opinion and deduct household expenses before giving maaser k’safim. While Rav Yaakov didn’t directly respond “No,” Rav Yaakov told him that it is very hard to define “necessary” expenses, especially in light of the fact that in pre-war Europe many were sustained by a mere potato per meal.
V. Opinion of the Chofetz Chaim
The opinion of the Chofetz Chaim on this crucial issue is debatable. While the Chofetz Chaim (Ahavas Chesed 2:18:2-3) initially does not mention this deduction, he later appears to allow the deduction of personal expenses for small shopkeepers.
Next Week’s Topic: May a person deduct business expenses before giving maaser k’safim? May he offset profits with losses from a different transaction?