Giving – #BlogElul 24


Yesterday the phone rang and it was a rather prominent member of our community, wanting to talk to my husband. Since she isn’t someone we socialise with, and it was the second Sunday in September, I guessed that she was calling to canvass us for the Combined Jewish Appeal, our local Federation’s major fundraising push.

We gave, of course. It’s good to give to the community, whether it’s time, money or both. Much of this money goes to support my children’s school, which, as a result, is unique in North America in being an affordable Jewish Day School.

Still, there is something that perturbs me when a woman I don’t actually know, although I recognise her name, phones me on a Sunday afternoon to ask for money. Tzedakah, roughly translated as charity, is a major virtue in Judaism as it is in Islam (with an almost identical name, which I find fascinating). The root of the word is the same as that of Tzedek, meaning justice. Jews (and Muslims) do not give charity out of the goodness of their heart or merely as a virtue, but as an obligation. If we are able, we are obligated to support the needy.

The great rabbi Maimonides established eight levels of Tzedakah. The highest level of Tzedakah is one in which the benefactor establishes a partnership with the recipient, so that the latter is no longer in need of help but is gainfully employed. Going down from there, the next highest level is one in which the gift is completely anonymous – neither benefactor nor recipient know who received and who gave, so there is no embarrassment. In the next level, the benefactor knows, but the recipient doesn’t; next one down, the situation is reversed. Giving to a person’s face but before being asked comes next. The list continues, and the one where you give when you are asked is pretty darned low down on it. Having your name emblazoned on an honour list has got to be even lower down, although it looks like Maimonides did not even conceive of the idea.

I do realise that the Federation needs the money and this is the most efficient way to do it. The synagogues all ask for money on Yom Kippur, too, which has always blown my mind (although again, this is the most efficient way – captive audience who might not be there otherwise).

Giving is good, but I wish there was a better way to support the community without sinking to names on buildings everywhere. What do you think?

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