Written by Horav Yosef Yeshaya Braun, member of the Badatz of Crown Heights
Many shuls sell seats for Yamim Noraim.
There is a discussion among contemporary poskim whether maaser (one tenth of one’s earnings that is earmarked for tzedakah) may be used to purchase a seat.
According to many poskim, maaser money may be used not only for tzedekah but also towards fulfilling certain non-obligatory mitzvos.
However, buying a seat in shul does not fall under that category. Davening in shul is a mitzvah, but having a seat simply facilitates the mitzvah by adding to the person’s comfort; albeit they will be davening with more kavanah, which is considered a mitzvah, it doesn’t justify spending maaser money for it.
Whereas money goes to the shul, they are actually buying a product for themselves – a seat – which has market value.
However, if one owns a seat permanently, or if there are many empty seats in their shul and they are buying a seat in order to support the shul, they can certainly pay for it with maaser money.
In the same vein, if the shul sells more expensive seats and less expensive ones, and one buys the more expensive seat when they could have managed just as well with a less expensive one, then they may use their maaser money to pay for the difference between the cheaper seat and the one they are buying.