The question has arisen in our congregation as to whether it is permissible to collect money for tzedakah on Shabbat. I am aware of a few congregations who do announce the tzedakah cause for the week and have ushers accept donations on the way out of services, without pressure of course.  I am well aware of the prohibition of carrying money and engaging in commercial activities on Shabbat in the halacha. But, as Reform Jews, we pay little heed to most of these rules. Also, we have no reservations about other traditional prohibitions, e.g. driving on Shabbat, turning on electric lights, cooking food, etc.  Most Reform Jews carry money in their wallets and purses on Shabbat without the sense that they are violating the Shabbat. No doubt, many also engage in other activities that are not traditionally permissible. These activities, I realize, are considered violations of Shabbat, whether the practices are widespread or not. However, it seems to me that tzedakah may fall into a different category for us. After all, the individual who gives tzedakah is not benefitting in any material way. Given Reform Judaism’s deeply held convictions about the importance of tzedakah, could this mitzvah override the traditional prohibition in the view of our movement?

Rabbi Michael Sternfield, Bradenton, FL



The sho’el makes two central assertions:

  1. That carrying and using money is in the category of traditional Shabbat prohibitions in which Reform Jews find no religious meaning, i.e., it does not feel like a violation of Shabbat; and
  2. That tzedakah is such an important mitzvah for Reform Judaism that there is no reason why we should not engage in it on Shabbat, by collecting money for tzedakah at Shabbat services.

Let us first point out that, for reasons that are all too well known to us, many of our Jews don’t “feel” like any elements of Shabbat are relevant to their lives.  As a criterion for deciding how synagogues should set policy, that is probably the least useful one we could possibly use, as our predecessors have pointed out many times, with respect to a wide variety of questions regarding Shabbat.  If we were to determine Shabbat observance based on “what most people do,” we would end up with an extremely truncated Shabbat.  The CCAR has been struggling with this issue, in one way or another, since 1903, when it briefly debated the question of moving the Sabbath to Sunday.  In the late 1960s our conference finally turned seriously to the matter, and the result has been a series of publications that have helped Reform Jews re-engage with Shabbat.  We would like to underscore that every one of those publications emphasizes that Shabbat is not a day for monetary transactions.  In raising this question yet again, the sho’el appears to be questioning what has been the sense of the CCAR for several decades.

Nevertheless, since the question has been raised, we address it once again.  A full survey of the halakhah of Shabbat is not needed; rather, we focus here on aspects of Shabbat observance related to money and its use.


  1. The classical halakhah
  1. Money and Shabbat in the halakhic tradition

For anyone seeking to understand how the rabbis conceptualized Shabbat, the Mishnah is a frustrating document, as this foundational rabbinic text sets forth patterns of behavior but rarely articulates the principles behind them.  Clearly, the Tannaim already assumed a great deal about patterns of Shabbat observance, as R. Isaac Klein explains:

[M]ost of the hedges and protective enactments concerning prohibited Sabbath work were not newly instituted creations in the talmudic period but had been part of the pattern of observance among the people from early times.  Since there was no clear definition of what constituted biblically prohibited work, it was only natural to refrain from all manner of work carried on during the week.  It was only later that the sages of the Halakhah gave a clear definition of work, establishing the framework of thirty-nine categories of biblically prohibited work…. Thus the regulations of shevut [“resting”] were systematic expressions of earlier practices developed by the people as a means of sanctifying the Sabbath.[1]

While the relationship between early rabbinic practice and popular practice is complex, nevertheless, M. Shabbat shows that the rabbis assumed that Shabbat observance required a separation from virtually all activities associated with weekday “work.”  In addition to the few actions the Torah and prophets explicitly prohibit on Shabbat,[2] the rabbis held that the Torah prohibited the thirty-nine melakhot, the categories of activity necessary for building the Tabernacle in the desert).[3]

The rabbis also derived a category of activities called sh’vut (“rest”), from a Torah verse.[4]  Sh’vut is an act not forbidden in and of itself, but rather because in doing it one might easily be led to do one of the prohibited melakhot.  Because of sh’vut, the Mishnah forbade a number of actions, including convening a bet din or formalizing kiddushin, ḥalitzah, or yibbum, since any of these would entail writing, a melakhah.[5]  Thus sh’vut limited legal proceedings and sophisticated financial transactions to weekdays, strengthening the identity of Shabbat as a day separate from business affairs.

Several provisions in chapter 23 of M. Shabbat make sense only if one already understands that commerce – any sort of buying and selling – is forbidden on Shabbat.  The Talmud expanded on the implicit premises on which these mishnayotrest, and thereby recast the distinction between Shabbat and weekdays as one defined primarily by the presence or absence of business and commerce.

* 23:1 states that one may ask a neighbor, “May I borrow…?” jars of wine or oil on Shabbat, but one may not phrase it as, “Will you lend me…?”  The Mishnah further stipulates that if the two do not trust one another, the borrower may leave his cloak as a guarantee until they do the necessary calculations after Shabbat.  The Gemara explains that using the term lend makes it sound more businesslike, and could lead the lender to violate Shabbat by writing down a record of the transaction.[6]

* 23:2 forbids referring to the written notes one made during the week to calculate servings for guests at a Shabbat meal.  The Gemara offers two explanations for this — avoiding the chance that one might erase something (a violation of one of the thirty-nine melakhot), and avoiding becoming accustomed to reading business documents on Shabbat.[7]

* 23:3, 4, and 5 draw distinctions among the various types of activities for which one may walk out to the Shabbat boundary to await nightfall, i.e., to do everything possible on Shabbat to get a jump on weekday activities.  Matters of religious obligation – preparations for a marriage or a burial – justify using Shabbat time to get a head start on non-Shabbat activities; business matters – e.g., being as close as possible to where the workers live, in order to hire them first – do not.[8]

In explicating the reasoning behind these laws and amplifying them, B. Shabbat 113a-b is the locus classicus, where the Gemara expands on Isaiah 58:13[9] to articulate a full and rich concept of Shabbat as a day completely incompatible with commercial activity.

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, אִם־תָּשִׁיב מִשַּׁבָּת רַגְלֶךָ
From pursuing your affairs on My holy day; עֲשׂוֹת חֲפָצֶיךָ בְּיוֹם קָדְשִׁי
If you call the sabbath “delight,” וְקָרָאתָ לַשַּׁבָּת עֹנֶג
Adonai’s holy day “honored”; לִקְדוֹשׁ ה‘ מְכֻבָּד
And if you honor it and go not your ways, וְכִבַּדְתּוֹ מֵעֲשׂוֹת דְּרָכֶיך
Nor look to your affairs, nor strike bargains… מְּצוֹא חֶפְצְךָ וְדַבֵּר דָּבָר…


The Gemara says about this verse:

And if you honor it and go not your waysAnd if you honor it [means] that your dress on Shabbat should not be like your dress on weekdays.  Thus R. Yoḥanan referred to his clothing as “my honor.”  And go not your ways – The way you walk on Shabbat should not be like the way you walk on weekdays.  Nor look to your affairs – Your affairs are forbidden; the affairs of Heaven are permitted.  Nor strike bargains (literally, speak words) – Your speech on Shabbat should not be like your speech on weekdays.  Speech is forbidden[, but] thought is permitted.

Rashi comments here:

The affairs of Heaven are permitted:  such as allocating tzedakah and making matches between young people for betrothal.

Your speech on Shabbat should not be like your speech on weekdays: such as buying and selling and accounts.

Thought is permitted:  to think to oneself, I will need to spend this much for this field.

The major codifiers developed these ideas more systematically.

  1. Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Shabbat

24:1:  There are things which are forbidden on Shabbat [because of the verse in Isaiah] even though they do not resemble melakhah and do not lead to melakhah.  Therefore it is forbidden for a person to go about their affairs on Shabbat, or even to speak about them…  Speech is forbidden; thought is permitted.

24:5:  It is permitted to run on Shabbat for the purpose of doing a mitzvah, such as running to the synagogue or to the study hall.  And [it is permitted] to make calculations on Shabbat for a mitzvah, and to take measurements, such as: measuring the mikveh to calculate whether there is sufficient water in it; or measuring a garment to know whether it is liable to ritual impurity; or allocating funds to the poor; or going to the synagogue or the study hall, or even to the theaters and reception halls of gentiles, on Shabbat, to oversee the needs of the public… And all of these, and similar matters, are [permitted because they are] matters of mitzvah, and it is written, pursuing your affairs – Your affairs are forbidden; the affairs of Heaven are permitted.

  1. Shulḥan Arukh Oraḥ Ḥayyim

306:1:  From pursuing your affairs – Your affairs are forbidden, even in a matter that does not involve any melakhah….

306:6:  It is permitted to talk about the affairs of Heaven, such as calculations for a mitzvah, allocations of tzedakah, overseeing public matters, matchmaking…

[Isserles:] Some say that in a place where it is the custom to give a mi she-beirakh for the Torah reader and to pledge [money] for tzedakah or for the ḥazzan, it is forbidden to say on Shabbat how much one is pledging.  But the custom is to be lenient, since it is permitted, after all, to allocate tzedakah funds [on Shabbat].

  1. Arukh Ha-Shulḥan Oraḥ Ḥayyim

306:1:  It is written, If you refrain from trampling…My holy day, etc.  This means that it is forbidden to do any business or commerce on Shabbat, even if it does not involve any melakhah.  This is what is meant by your affairs, meaning weekday affairs.  And we are warned against both doing them and speaking about them…. Our sages expounded this to mean that speech is prohibited, but thought is permitted, i.e., that one may think to oneself about their business affairs.  Nevertheless, for the sake of Shabbat delight [oneg Shabbat] it is a mitzvah not to think about them at all, and to make it seem as though all their business affairs are concluded.  But our sages allowed thought only when it does not cause anxiety and worry, as when all their business affairs are going well and successfully, without [causing] distraction of spirit.  But if thinking about business affairs causes one anxiety and worry, it is forbidden, for there is no greater negation of Shabbat delight than this….

306:13:  It is permitted to speak of the affairs of Heaven, such as calculations related to a mitzvah: for example, a calculation of tzedakah, or a calculation of what is needed for a se’udat mitzvah, and also to allocate tzedakah.  [None of these resemble in any way the practice of estimating or calculating the value of an object that is to be given to the Temple, acts categorized as sh’vut by the Mishnah,] for these are all mere speech, no different than an oath, which is permitted on Shabbat for purposes of a mitzvah.  And it is possible that even if one brings some object to the treasurer in charge of tzedakah on Shabbat [as a donation], this would also be permitted, since the bringer obviously already volunteered it before Shabbat.  Nevertheless, it is preferable that one not bring it to the treasurer on Shabbat.

The distinction between weekdays as the time for business, and Shabbat as the time not for business, was further strengthened as a by-product of the concept of muktzeh (“set aside, excluded”).  Muktzeh in the context of Shabbat refers to the use, or even the handling or moving, of an object on Shabbat that cannot be used – or was not intended for use – during Shabbat.  Some items are deemed muktzeh because, while they themselves don’t transgress Shabbat prohibitions, they might have been inaccessible when Shabbat started, and accessing them would be a Shabbat violation.  An example of this type is  fruit still on the tree, which cannot be picked on Shabbat.[10]  Other items, however, are muktzeh because they are, in and of themselves, prohibited for us on Shabbat; their use would be a direct transgression of the laws of Shabbat.  This category is called muktzeh meḥamat issur, “excluded by virtue of a prohibition,” and it includes money.  M. Shabbat offers guidance for a variety of situations in which residents of a household might need to move objects that are not supposed to be handled on Shabbat; in two of those instances, the presence of coins is a complicating factor.[11]  Again, the absence of an explicit statement shows that the Tannaim had no need to explain or defend the categorization of money as muktzeh.

The Talmud and codes address muktzeh in greater detail.  One example will suffice for our purposes.  In the Shulḥan Arukh R. Yosef Karo states, “A bed which has money on it, or even if it does not have now but it had on it at dusk [the time period between sunset and nightfall as Shabbat commences], is forbidden to move because something that was muktzeh during the time right before Shabbat started is muktzeh for the whole of Shabbat.”  R. Moshe Isserles adds that on Shabbat one may not even carry a purse that is usually used for coins, even though there are no coins in it on Shabbat,[12] though the Arukh Ha-Shulḥan is much more lenient about this:  “…[A] coin purse, if it has no coins in it, and did not have coins in it at dusk, is permitted for carrying [on Shabbat]….And all the more so, the purses that are hung from one’s clothing, if they do not have coins in them and did not at dusk; these are completely permitted.”[13]  We see that there is such universal agreement that money is, in its very essence, so utterly the opposite of Shabbat that it is questionable whether one may use, on Shabbat, some container that held money during the week.

It is worth noting at this point that the Mishnah was collected and redacted in second-century Galilee, where Jewish society was mostly village-based and agrarian.  Over the centuries, Diaspora Jews became increasingly urbanized and, whether by choice or under compulsion, pursued trades and occupations that were increasingly money-based.  Refraining from the use of money (whether coins or financial instruments), therefore, would have carried increasing symbolic importance in marking the difference between weekdays and Shabbat.

  1. Tzedakah as money

To care for the poor, the Torah mandates both an agriculturally-based social safety net (leaving the corners of the field, etc.[14]) and monetary support[15].  As with the laws of Shabbat, the postbiblical social safety net grew organically, in response to need, so that the early rabbis never needed to address it systematically, but only to regulate its activities.[16]  Thus, the Mishnah and Tosefta refer extensively to the gabba’ey tzedakah, the communal officials in charge of funds for the maintenance of the poor, and how they are to conduct their business.[17]  Two parallel passages in M. Pe’ah illustrate how the rabbis applied both types of tzedakah.  Note that in the first mishnah, the social reality is that even one who is given agricultural produce will not actually consume it, but will sell it to purchase food for consumption.

8:5: They are not allowed to give the poor person who comes to the threshing floor [to receive his ma’aser sheni] less than half a kav of wheat and a kav of barley (R. Meir says: half a kav [of barley]) or one and a half kavs of spelt and a kav of dried figs or a maneh of dried fig cake (R. Akiba says: half a maneh) or a quarter-log of oil (R. Akiba says: an eighth).  Regarding any other type of produce, Abba Saul says: [They must give him enough of it] so that he can sell it and have enough to purchase two meals.

8:7 They are not allowed to give the poor person who wanders from place to place less than one loaf worth a pondion, made from [wheat costing] a sela for four se’ahs.  If he spends the night, they must give him what he needs to support him for the night.  If he stays through a Sabbath – they must provide him food for the three meals.  Anyone who has food enough for two meals may not draw from the public charity kitchen; anyone who has enough food for four meals, may not draw from the poor fund.  And the poor fund is to be collected by two [officials working as a pair, to prevent any fraud] and allocated by three [officials, since this is akin to a court handling lawsuits about money, which must be decided by a court of three].

Let us return now to a line in the Gemara passage we cited above (B. Shabbat 113a-b):  “Nor look to your affairs – Your affairs are forbidden; the affairs of Heaven are permitted.”  What would lead the Gemara, in the absence of a single hint in Isaiah 58:13, to read “your affairs” as “your affairs,” and thereby deduce that discussion of communal affairs is permitted on Shabbat?  It sounds suspiciously like a way to justify an existing social practice rather than to innovate one.[18]  But this should not be surprising.  Virtually every Jewish community had an organized social welfare system.  Before the modern era, face-to-face meetings were the only possible way for a community to conduct its business.  Since the largest communal gatherings were always on major festivals, it was probably inevitable that communal officials would use those opportunities to discuss community affairs.  Thus we see that just as the Mishnah wrestled with the social reality of money and monetary concerns in individuals’ lives, so now the Gemara did the same for the community’s life.  At both junctures, concessions were made, but the prohibition of actually handling or spending money was retained.

We may summarize the halakhic consensus with the following table:





We discern here an ongoing principle of maintaining the absolute sanctity of Shabbat as a day removed from commercial activity, i.e., monetary transactions, while recognizing and allowing for the practicalities of individual and communal need.


  1. Reform Precedents
  1. Responsa
    1. In the 1950s R. Solomon Freehof was asked whether the synagogue gift shop could do business on Friday night. The questioner asserted that in addition to the convenience of being the time when the most people were in the building, it served a “religious purpose,” since its function was to enable the people to buy ritual objects and other Judaica.Freehof’s negative response relied on two fundamental assertions:
      1. While Reform is not bound by halakhah, and “certain Sabbath prohibitions have simply ceased to be actual among us,” nevertheless we should try to preserve whatever we can “as a natural mood of the people.”[19]
      2. The synagogue should set a higher standard of observance than its individual members may uphold, because “we want the temple to be an example and an influence in certain special directions.”

He went on to point out that while the halakhah distinguishes between private benefit and public good when it comes to discussions of money on Shabbat, the gift shop, though it serves a public good, is engaged in actual commerce, which is never permitted under any circumstances.  “What, then, is the good of permitting the opening of the Gift Corner if the transactions are violative of the mood of the Sabbath, especially in the synagogue?”

Mindful, however, of the absence (at that time) of any CCAR guidance on Shabbat observance, Freehof noted that the actual decision was a “matter of judgment, depending on the mood of the particular congregations involved.”  His recommendation, however, was to bring the gift shop more or less into line with the halakhic distinction between public and private benefit, by opening it for people to browse, and to arrange, somehow, for the actual financial transaction to take place at a time other than Shabbat.  This, he felt, would resolve the issue and also have the desirable effect of “strengthen[ing] the consciousness of the Sabbath in the lives of our people.”

  1. By 1985, when the Responsa Committee was asked about the propriety of a synagogue raising funds for itself and for United Way by participating in a holiday gift wrapping project at a shopping mall on Shabbat, the CCAR had published Gates of Mitzvah. R. Walter Jacob, writing for the committee, cited it in asserting that Reform Judaism has “continually emphasized the general mood of shabbat [as]…a day of rest, worship, study and family activity,” and that “it is the task of the congregation to encourage its members to live in the spirit of shabbat without involvement in any business activity.” The project, located in a shopping mall and involving actual monetary transactions, was essentially a commercial activity in which Jews should not be engaged on Shabbat, regardless of its purpose.[20]
  2. In 1996 the Responsa Committee was asked about presenting a check for tzedakah at a Shabbat service. The congregation had raised funds for an organization and wanted to celebrate the occasion by delivering the actual check to its representative on a Friday night. R. Mark Washofsky traced the halakhah we have reviewed above, and then went on to pose  virtually the same question as our current sho’el poses:  whether this halakhic prohibition of using money on Shabbat must apply in a Reform context, or whether the high emphasis we place on tzedakah and tikkun olam justifies disregarding the halakhic prohibition.[21]

In deciding that the departure from halakhah was not justified in this case, R. Washofsky articulated the following principle:  “As liberal Jews who seek to affirm our connection to our people in all lands and all ages, we should maintain the traditional practice in the absence of a compelling reason to abandon or alter it.”  Was there a “compelling reason” to give tzedakah in monetary form on Shabbat?  The committee concluded that there was not, for the following reasons:

  1. It would compromise the essence of Shabbat, not enhance it.Shabbat has a particular character; it is not “simply a day on which we do good deeds.”
  2. It would undermine the great efforts our movement has made in recent decades to rekindle Shabbat awareness and observance among its members.
  3. This is a financial transaction even though it is not “commercial” in the conventional sense, and there is no absolute need to conduct this financial transaction on Shabbat.The congregation could still celebrate its achievement by hosting a representative of the organization and announcing the gift.


  1. Existing CCAR guidance
  1. From Gates of Shabbat:

It is customary to make charitable donations just before Shabbat arrives.  This can be done at your table with everyone putting in some change in a suitable collection box (pushke).[22]

  1. From Mishkan Moeid:

The Mitzvah of Tzedakah:  It is always a mitzvah to give tzedakah.  Following the example of Talmudic sages, the tradition has recognized the final moments before Shabbat as one of the regular opportunities to perform the mitzvah.  Placing money in a tzedakah box just prior to lighting the Shabbat candles is an excellent way to observe this mitzvah and to teach it to children.  Tzedakah is often translated as “charity,” but the Jewish concept of tzedakah is much broader.  The word is derived from tzedek – “righteousness” or “justice” – and the implication is that righteousness and justice require the sharing of one’s substance with others because ultimately, “the earth is Adonai’s” (Psalm 24:1), and we are but stewards of whatever we possess.[23]


III. The question before us

As we have seen, not using money – even for the most worthy of purposes – was a distinguishing feature of Shabbat observance, whose symbolic significance only grew over time.  Our evolving Shabbat observance, in a Reform context, has digressed from that consensus by recognizing a limited number of ways in which using money may enhance an individual’s Shabbat, by deepening their experience of it as a day of spiritual renewal, e.g., paying admission to a museum.  But in that case, the use of money is an incidental means to a central purpose of Shabbat.  It is not intended to grant unrestricted approval for spending money on Shabbat.  Indeed, our Reform precedents are unanimous in insisting that giving tzedakah is a financial transaction that should not be done on Shabbat, however praiseworthy it is to link it to Shabbat.  (By way of analogy, we might consider the Conservative movement’s decision to allow driving to synagogue.  That takkanah was made to enable Jews to attend public worship on Shabbat when 1950s suburbanization meant that synagogues were increasingly not within walking distance.  It did not give Conservative Jews blanket permission to grab keys and a full tank of gas to go out and “see the USA in their Chevrolet” on Shabbat.)

It is one thing to allow an individual to make a personal decision to use money as an incidental means to enhance their Shabbat renewal.  It is quite another to declare that the mitzvah of giving tzedakah – a commercial transaction – is so important that we may, or that we should, make it a regular, i.e., essential, part of our Shabbat observance.  We would be making a  fundamental alteration in the character of Shabbat.  If we are to do that, there must be a compelling reason to do so, a matter of overriding necessity.  We do not see any such  compelling reason or overriding necessity in the question before us.

As we have seen, our tradition has long accepted that it is perfectly acceptable to discuss communal affairs, including deciding tzedakah allocations (but not actually disbursing the funds), on Shabbat, and making pledges to give tzedakah.  Nothing is stopping the congregation from including a formal tzedakah appeal in the Shabbat service.  But why is it so crucial for the actual funds to be collected then?  And how are they to be collected?  Are the ushers passing a plate for cash, as in churches?  Handing out pens for people to write checks?  Carrying around credit card readers?  Encouraging congregants to take out their smart phones and make a donation via PayPal?  How can this be done as part of a Friday night (or Saturday morning) synagogue service without fundamentally altering the character of Shabbat in a way that destroys its sanctity?

We especially do not see a compelling reason, given that a congregation can still take advantage of the larger Shabbat attendance – as did our ancestors – without actually collecting money on Shabbat.  We therefore recommend the following solution to the matter.

Our congregations tend to hold services at the same hour on Friday nights throughout the year, regardless of when the sun actually sets.  For many Reform Jews, the start of the service is for all intents and purposes the start of Shabbat, when they feel that the Sabbath has come upon us ritually, emotionally, and intellectually.  Given that established practice, we suggest that you collect tzedakah before candle lighting and the beginning of worship.  In this way, carrying out the mitzvah of giving tzedakah immediately before entering into Shabbat heightens people’s awareness of the transition from ḥol to kodesh, and the difference between the two.  We note the existing custom of putting coins in a pushke (tzedakah box) before lighting the Shabbat candles, which is mentioned in our Reform guides; just as we have brought candle lighting into the synagogue, why not bring the pre-Shabbat tzedakah contribution as well?

(One of our committee members offers an additional pragmatic solution:  Add PayPal and other donation links to the synagogue webpage, and in the weekly Shabbat brochure, remind the kahal to donate to whatever tzedakah you choose for that week’s support.)

We believe very strongly that the synagogue, as the central public institution of Jewish life,  embodies our covenant community, and therefore it must be the exemplar of Jewish life.  The standards we set for it may well differ from what we countenance on an individual level.  This is particularly true in a Reform context  precisely because we allow a great deal of latitude to individuals to determine their own Shabbat observance.  In essence, therefore, it falls upon the synagogue to provide an appropriate model.  As a movement we have made great strides since the 1960s in teaching our people how to observe Shabbat; bringing financial transactions into the synagogue on Shabbat would constitute an enormous step backward.

However, even if you do make a formal tzedakah collection your last weekday act before beginning Shabbat, we have additional reservations if it is done as a public activity.  Collecting money when the congregation is assembled for the service can make people uncomfortable for any one of several reasons: perhaps they did not bring money with them; perhaps they do not use money on Shabbat; or perhaps the appeal is for a cause they prefer not to support.  It can be very uncomfortable to refrain from giving in the presence of others.  It can also be awkward for guests and non-members:  We do not want people to feel that we are soliciting them when they enter the community to explore Judaism, check out our congregation, or attend a friend or family member’s simchah.  We therefore advise you to think carefully about how to do this, so that no one is embarrassed.[24]

In addition, though we have not based our response on this consideration, we cannot discount the issue of ḥukkot ha-goy (imitating Gentile practices).  In our society, where Christianity is still the dominant religious tradition, collecting tzedakah during the Shabbat service cannot help but resonate with echoes of passing the collection plate in church.  Our concern is not merely the imitative element, but also the implicit lesson.  In calling to mind the dominant cultural paradigm of “charity,” it will teach a very un-Jewish lesson, that tzedakah is charity, i.e., something one does voluntarily, out of the goodness of one’s heart, rather than a mitzvah, a religious obligation, as Mishkan Moeid points out (see above).



  1. The essence of Shabbat, in our tradition, is to be a holy day of rest and spiritual renewal, marked by cessation from labor and weekday occupations. Over centuries of Jewish life, refraining from the use of money – the ultimate transactional substance, and the essence of commercial activity – has been a key signifier of the distinction between kodesh and ḥol. This has been true in the Reform context despite our implicit rejection of rabbinic notions of melakhah, sh’vut, and muktzeh.
  2. Giving tzedakah is a financial transaction. Despite its stated importance in Reform Judaism, adding it to the mitzvot that ought to be performed on Shabbat would be a fundamental redefinition of Shabbat, and therefore should not be done unless there is an overriding need and compelling reason to do so.
  3. We find no overriding need and compelling reason to approve of giving tzedakah on Shabbat, since the sho’el’s stated purpose can be met in another way, even on erev Shabbat.


Joan S. Friedman, chair
Howard L. Apothaker
Daniel Bogard
Carey Brown
Lawrence A. Englander
Lisa Grushcow
Audrey R. Korotkin
Rachel S. Mikva
Amy Scheinerman
Brian Stoller
David Z. Vaisberg]
Jeremy Weisblatt
Dvora E. Weisberg

[1] Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice (New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1979), 84-85.  Klein relies here on the earlier work of Ḥanokh Albeck.

[2] Ex. 16:22, baking and cooking; Ex. 34:21, plowing, harvesting, and reaping; Ex. 35:3, kindling a flame; Num. 15:32-35, gathering wood; Jer. 17:21-22 and Neh. 13:19, carrying a burden or carrying something out of a house.

[3] M. Shabbat 7:2.

[4] Ex. 23:12:  Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest (וביום השביעי תשבות)…

[5] M. Beitzah 5:2.

[6] B. Shabbat 148a.

[7] B. Shabbat 149a.

[8] B. Shabbat 150a and elsewhere.

[9] This verse is part of the haftarah for the morning of Yom Kippur.

[10] Klein, Guide, 83.

[11] M. Shabbat 16:1 permits rescuing a bag containing tefillin from a fire on Shabbat, even if there are coins in it; 21:2 offers guidance on how to pick up a pillow from a bed if there are coins resting on the pillow.

[12] Shulḥan Arukh OḤ 310:7.

[13] Arukh Ha- Shulḥan OḤ 310:10.

[14] Ex. 23:10-11; Lev. 19:9-10; Lev. 23:22; Deut. 24:20-21.

[15] Deut. 15:8-11.  Although in context this is clearly meant as an ethical exhortation, the halakhah reads it as the commandment to provide monetary support to the needy.

[16] As in, for example, M. Pesaḥim 10:1:  On the eve of Pesaḥ, near the time for the afternoon offering, one should not eat until darkness falls.  And even the poor in Israel should not eat without reclining.  Nor should they lack the four cups of wine, even [the poorest of the poor, who are sustained] from the public charity kitchen.

[17] E.g., M. Demai 3:1, M. Kiddushin 4:5.  The activities of the gabba’ey tzedakah are addressed in much greater detail in Tosefta Pe’ah.

[18] Consider that this comment’s structure is exactly parallel to Rashi’s comment in the (in)famous discussion on women and time-bound mitzvot:  “Just as women are exempt from the study of Torah:  as it is written, You shall teach them to your sons (Deut. 6:7) – and not to your daughters.”  Rashi, s.v. mah talmud Torah nashim p’turot, B. Kiddushin 34a.

[19] Reform Responsa #9: Gift Corner Open on the Sabbath.  The following quotations are from the same responsum.

[20] Contemporary American Reform Responsa #177: A Holiday Gift Wrapping Project and Shabbat.  See also Reform Responsa for the 21st Century, Vol. I, 5757.7: Synagogue Operating a Thrift Store on Shabbat.

[21] RR21, Vol. I, 5756.4:   The committee makes virtually the same arguments in 5769.1: Congregational Fund Raising on Shabbat.  See also Mark Washofsky, “M’nuchah and M’lachah: On Observing the Sabbath in Reform Judaism,” in Peter Knobel, ed., Mishkan Moeid: A Guide to the Jewish Seasons (NY: CCAR Press, 2013), 126-129.

[22] Shapiro, Gates of Shabbat, rev. ed., 16.

[23] Knobel, Mishkan Moeid, 18.  Elsewhere in the same volume (163-64), the essay on “Tzedakah” notes that some may regard performing acts of tikkun olam or g’milut chasadim as appropriate Shabbat activities, yet maintains that tzedakah is appropriately given before the day’s observance begins.

[24] B. Berakhot 43b: “Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai:  It is better that a person should throw themselves into a fiery furnace rather than embarrass another person in public.”