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Fundamentals of Judaism

In Loving Memory of Rav Shaya Kilimnick

HaRav Yeshaya Ben Yechezkel zt"l

With thanks to my friends at OU.ORG and Judaism 101

“We are obligated to be more scrupulous in fulfilling the commandment of charity than any other positive commandment, because charity is the sign of a righteous man.”

Moses Maimonides, The Rambam, 1135-1204

Charity is etymologically linked to Christianity, with the word originating with the Old French word “charité“, which itself was derived from the Latincaritas“, a word commonly used in the Vulgate New Testament to translate the Greek word agape (ἀγάπη), a distinct form of “love

Over time, the meaning of charity has shifted from one of “Christian love” to that of “providing for those in need; generosity and giving. The King James Bible translates instances of “agape” (such as those that appear in 1 Corinthians 13) as “charity“, modern English versions of the Bible typically translate “agape” as “love.

The word tzedaka derives from the Hebrew word tzedek, “justice.” Performing deeds of justice is perhaps the most important obligation Judaism imposes on the Jew. “Tzedek, tzedek you shall pursue,” the Torah instructs (Deuteronomy 16:20).

The Torah legislated that Jews give 10 percent of their earnings to the poor every third year (Deuteronomy 26:12), and an additional percentage of their income annually (Leviticus 19:9­10). Hundreds of years later, after the Temple was destroyed and the annual tithe levied upon each Jew for the support of the priests and Levites was suspended, the Talmud ordered that Jews were to give at least 10 percent of their annual net earnings to tzedaka (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, “Laws Concerning Gifts for the Poor,” 7:5).


Dennis Prager suggests a hypothetical case:

Suppose two people who have the exact same earnings and expenses are approached by a poor man in desperate need of food and money for his family. The first person, after listening to the man’s horrible experiences, cries and then out of the goodness of his heart gives him five dollars. The second person, although concerned, does not cry, and in fact has to rush away. But because his religion commands him to give 10 percent of his income to charity, he gives the poor person a hundred dollars. Who did the better thing?

70%-90% of American teenagers Prager questioned asserted that the person who gave the five dollars from his heart did the better deed.

Prager asserts that this response suggests that in secular society, even charity is becoming a somewhat selfish act. Many people care less about the good their money is doing than about how they feel giving it. When we asked these same students who they would think had done the better deed if they were the ones who needed the money, many of them were brought up short.

Judaism would love you to give 10% of your income each year from your heart. It suspects, however, that in a large majority of cases, were we to wait for people’s hearts to prompt them to give a tenth of their money away, we would be waiting a very long time. Ergo, Judaism says, Give 10% and if your heart catches up, terrific. In the meantime, good has been done.”

Because Judaism sees tzedaka as a form of self­-taxation rather than as a voluntary donation, the Jewish community regards publicizing donors’ gifts in the same spirit as the American practice of asking political candidates to release their tax returns. In both cases, public scrutiny causes people to act more justly.

Rambam’s Golden Ladder (Rambam’s Ladder) Bottom Up:

8 – Giving unwillingly

7 – Giving willingly with a smile but inadequately

6 – Giving adequately after being asked

5 – Giving to a poor person into his hand with a smile, before being asked
(whether adequately or inadequately)

4 – Giving to an unknown recipient
Sages used to tie coins into their robes and throw them behind their backs allowing the poor to take the coins out of their robes without being seen so that they would not be ashamed

3 – Giving anonymously to a known recipient

Sages would collect from the public and then secretly put coins in the doorways of the poor

2 – Giving anonymously to an unknown recipient
The Temple had an “anonymous fund” (501c3) where the fortunate gave in secret, and the poor received in secret. This is performing a mitzvah solely for the sake of Heaven.

PS – One should only contribute to a charity fund if he knows that the person in charge is trustworthy, wise & good w/finances

1 – The greatest level is to anticipate charity by preventing poverty
Enter a business partnership. Find employment. Make or arrange for a business investment or loan

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