Hilchos Choshen Mishpat
Volume I : Number 37
Deducting Expenses From Our Maaser Obligation
Which expenses and losses are deductible from a person's income before
separating Maaser (tithe of our income) to charity, and which are not?
Before answering this question, we must acquaint ourselves with one of
the basic underlying principles of our Maaser obligation. To quote Rabbi
David Oppenheim (1664-1736. Author of Shaalos U'Teshuvos Nishal L'Dovid.
This quote can be found in Sefer Maaser Kesafim, edited by Dr. Cyril
Domb, page 61), "Regarding financial Maaser, a person is a (9/10) partner
with Hashem in his income. When it comes to deducting expenses, a person
may deduct any expenses or losses that occur in his business as long as
they are not due to his negligence, for there is a mutual liability
(between the business and Maaser) ...therefore any expenses incurred in
earning the income, including any clothing that must be purchased for a
business related journey, may be deducted".
This concept of a person being a partner with Hashem has direct
ramifications on what expenses may be deducted from our income before
setting aside Maaser, and on the distribution of Maaser funds. We are
only going to discuss the former in this class.
- Money spent by a person to enable him to earn an income, may be
deducted from his income before separating Maaser, even if it was used
for this purpose unsuccessfully. Any expenditures or losses that are not
for the purpose of producing more income are considered a person's
private income, and Maaser must be separated from these funds.
- In light of the above, the following may be deducted from the gross
income before separating Maaser by a self employed business owner:
Wages paid to an employee, any inventory related expenses, cost of
leasing property or vehicles, advertising, and any business related
Any financial loss caused by theft, loss, or broken machinery may also be
deducted, as long as it is not due to negligence on the business owner's
However, if property or vehicles were purchased for the business, the
money used for this purpose is not considered a business expense, rather
it is a capital investment, and Maaser must be paid on it. Depreciation
of these items due to normal wear and tear may be deducted. Obviously,
the cost of maintaining these items may also be deducted.
- Employees may deduct from their wages any income taxes, child care
costs that are necessary to enable them to take a job, transportation
costs to and from work, and the cost of any educational courses that they
must take to enable them to function properly on the job. However,
expenses incurred in hiring cleaning help for the home may not be
deducted, even though it would be difficult to keep a job and clean the
home without extra help, unless it would be objectively determined that
the person would be totally unable to earn an income without this help.
- If a person is involved in two businesses, and made a profit in one
but took a loss in the other, or if he received an inheritance or present
but had a business loss, if he makes a Maaser accounting for both at the
same time, he may deduct the loss from his overall income and only needs
to pay Maaser on his net gain from both businesses.
If he made a Maaser accounting on his profit and only suffered the loss
in the other business afterwards during the same year, there is a
difference of opinion whether or not the loss may be deducted from the
pre-Maaser income. The preferable method of dealing with this situation
is to stipulate in the beginning of the year that he will give Maaser
only on his net income after all expenses for that year.
For the benefit of those interested in delving further into this topic,
we will mention some sources worthwhile looking into. See the Shaalos
U'Teshuvos Shaar Ephraim (84), Chut HaShoni (90), Shvus Yaaakov (Vol. 2
Siman 86), and Avkas Roechel (3). See also the Pischei Teshuva (Yoreh
De'ah 249:1), Nodeh B'Yehuda (Yoreh De'ah Vol. 2 Siman 199), Chavos Yair
(224), and Ahavas Chessed (Vol. 2 18:2).
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This week's class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an Av
Bais Din and Rosh Kollel in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. His
Column originally appears in Hebrew in Toda'ah, a weekly publication in
Jerusalem. It has been translated and reprinted here with his permission
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Please Note: The purpose of this column is to make people aware of Choshen Mishpat
situations that can arise at any time, and the Halachic concepts that may be used to resolve them. Each
individual situation must be resolved by an objective, competent Bais Din (or Rabbinic Arbitrator) in the
presence of all parties involved!
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