As a Jewish community we have limited means and a great many financial causes which need our support. Understanding the need to help the individual prioritize how to allocate tzedakah funding, rabbinic scholars offered a strict set of legal and ethical guidelines for giving. These guidelines set a Jewish communal standard for how much to give, the most compassionate ways to give and to whom we are most obligated to support.
In an era when philanthropists and organizations seek not only to feed the poor people who come to our door, but also to create systematic global social change, it can be worthwhile to examine the Jewish traditions and principles of face-to-face and communal tzedakah.
We may not feel obligated to uphold these rabbinic standards, or even agree with all of the underlying values, but it can be powerful and informative to study the strategic planning and theories of social justice and the Jewish tradition of tzedakah.
Did you know?
- Rabbinic scholars set a standard that at a minimum every individual is obligated to allocate 10% of their annual income for tzedakah. This sets a tone where all share in the communal responsibility of supporting those in need. At the same time, a cap of 20% of annual income was placed on the individual’s giving so as not to create a culture where the wealthiest members of the community are expected to carry the community. Instead everyone has the opportunity to feel significantly invested in the process of philanthropic giving.
- The obligation to give tzedakah extends even to poor people themselves. This demonstrates that in the Jewish tradition giving is not simply about raising funds, but more so, the transformative act of linking principles to practice; an opportunity so important, no one should be denied it.
- Maimonides explains that because the Torah says you should give a person “whatever he needs” our obligations differ for each person. For a poor person, we may be obligated to provide him with the basic means to purchase food, clothing, and shelter. For a person who enjoyed a more comfortable lifestyle, we are obligated to give at a higher level so as not to make them feel ashamed. As the same time, we are not obligated to restore this person to his wealthy status.
- Even if the community chest or our individual resources have depleted, we are obligated give some small contribution to every person (not only Jews) who extends his hand asking for assistance.
- After assuring for one’s own livelihood, one is first obligated to support his immediate family, then his extended family, neighbors, local community, and so on.
- The Torah states, “for the sake of paths of shalom, peace” we are obligated to give tzedakah to all people in need, not only Jewish people. Some scholars explain this to mean that when striving for shalom, a true peace, we must extend our obligation beyond the Jewish community and to the entire world.
To learn more about tzedakah and Jewish thought on philanthropy and social justice go to www.MyJewishLearning.com.