Is it Permissible to Accept Charity from Christians?
BY RABBI DR. DANIEL FRIEDMAN
Every year, Israeli charities receive hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions from American Christians through organizations like the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, John Hagee Ministries, and Christian Friends of Israeli Communities. Many Jewish institutions welcome the funding, which they use to fund Aliyah, build settlements in Judea and Samaria, and to support other worthy causes in the Land.
Nevertheless, many rabbis have prohibited the acceptance of Christian charity, including such prominent voices as Rav Elyashiv zt”l, Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl, and Rav Dov Lior. This article examines and responds to their concerns.
What are the objections to accepting Christian donations? Rambam writes that there is a mitzvah to banish idolatry from Eretz Yisrael (Avodah Zarah 7). Some contend that accepting Christian charity ultimately strengthens missionary efforts in the Land, constituting a violation of this mitzvah. It should be noted, however, that proselytizing is illegal by Israeli law.
Rav Nachman teaches that accepting tzedakah from gentiles disqualifies one from eidut (testifying in court, Sanhedrin 26b). The Gemara lists two exceptions, permitting such charity if it is accepted privately or if one needs the money to live. The Sages further suggest that it is sinful for idolaters to give tzedakah because they generally give for ulterior motives (Bava Batra 10b). If, indeed, they are giving for pure reasons, acceptance of such charity would be meritorious for them. Since we do not wish to provide merit, thereby granting them longevity, one should not accept such charity (Ktav Sofer YD 114).
The Gemara concludes with two further exceptions, ruling that it is permissible to accept their tzedakah for the sake of peaceful government relations or if we distribute the funds to other idolaters. These four exceptions are codified in the Shulchan Aruch (YD 254). The Rema further qualifies the halachah, restricting the prohibition against accepting charity to fund the poor. We may, however, accept institutional donations.
Significantly, the Rambam rules that the prohibition only applies to idolaters. Consequently, since we have a duty to fund needy Noahides, we may likewise accept their charity. The poskim debate whether this exception includes all non-idolaters (Tzitz Eliezer 15:33) or only those who have formally accepted Noahidism (Radba”z). What then is the halachic status of Christians? Are they idolaters, Noahides, or simply “gentiles”? This debate has swirled for centuries. Some authorities consider Christians idolaters (Rambam, Noda Biyehuda, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein) while others disagree (Rashi, Rosh, Meiri, Tosafot, Aruch HaShulchan). Fascinatingly, Rav Ya’akov Emden suggests that Jesus’ mission was to promulgate Noahidism among the gentiles, furthering G-d’s will (Resen Mat’eh).
Using these principles, we may argue the case for accepting charity from Christian Zionists. Working backwards, the first defense is that Christians may be considered Noahides. Next, even if we deem them idolaters, we may nonetheless accept their charity if the following criteria apply: Do we need the money to live? Does it maintain peaceful relations? Is the money employed for institutional needs?
Counterintuitively, the Gemara permits accepting their charity if they are driven by ulterior motives. As such, the big question is: Why are they giving? As you might expect, there is no black-and-white answer to this question. Each individual and organization gives for a different reason, making it incumbent upon every recipient to determine the appropriateness of the donation. As the Tzitz Eliezer (18:66) emphasizes, even when everything is kosher according to the strict letter of the law, “the wise man’s eyes are in his head”. If the donors are seeking a greater foothold in our beloved Eretz Yisrael, it behooves us to proceed with caution.
In his discussion of the four non-kosher animals specified by the Torah, Rabbeinu Bechayei likens each animal to a regime that exiled the Jewish people. The fourth animal, representing Rome, is the chazir (pig). Many mistakenly believe, he writes, that this animal’s name indicates that it will return to its primordial kosher status in the messianic era. Rather, the name chazir indicates that just as Rome exiled us, they are destined to return (lehachzir) us to our Land! While much has changed over the course of history, to this day Rome remains the seat of Christianity. Western Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, is the result of a synthesis between Judaic and Roman traditions (Rabbeinu Bechayei, Vayikra 11:4).
Witnessing the efforts of Christian Zionists such as Lord Balfour, President Truman, and John Hagee, one cannot help but wonder if we are seeing the unfolding of Rabbeinu Bechayei’s prophecy. Maybe, just maybe, American Christian largesse is but one element of the fulfillment of our 2,000-year-old dream for the day when “the nations shall bring your sons in style and carry your daughters upon their shoulders” home to the Promised Land (Yishayahu 49:22).
Rabbi Dr. Daniel Friedman is the author of The Transformative Daf series and the founder of the Center for Torah Values, an organization dedicated to strengthening support for Israel in American churches.