Judaism: Tzedakah – Acts of Righteousness

26 July 2017 | Traditionally, Jews give 10 percent of their income to the needy. This mitzvah is not called charity, but tzedakah, an act of righteousness or justice. Jewish thought acknowledges that God is the ruler of the Earth, and the earth and all its resources belong to God as its Creator. (Psalms 24:1) People are allowed to use and enjoy these resources as Gold told Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. However, one of the responsibilities that come with the privilege of the enjoyment of God’s Earth is the obligation to share and help other people who are also created b’tzelem Elohim.

The Torah places many of the orginal laws about aiding the needy in an agrarian context. A farmer must leave fallen crops – gleanings – for the poor to come and use. A farmer also must leave the corners of his field unharvested, allowing the needy to come and take what they need. The requirement that the corners providers for the poor allows them to easily find the sections designated for them when they’re able to colllect the food, preventing the farmer from hiding what he sets aside for them and then taking it for his own profit. The designation of the corners also prevents the needy from having to travel far into the farmer’s land oso they are seen and potentially embarrassed. The preservation of the dignity of the poor is an important aspect of the justice and righteousness of tzedakah. (Leviticus 19:9-11, Mishnah, Kedoshim 1:10)

Maimonides said there are eight level of giving tzedakah, in ascending order of merit:

  1. Giving grudgingly, reluctantly, or with regret.
  2. Giving less than one should, but pleasantly.
  3. Giving what one should, but only on request.
  4. Giving before one is asked.
  5. Giving without knowing the recipient, although the recipient knows who you are.
  6. Giving without making known that you are the giver.
  7. Giving when neither you nor the recipient know each other’s identities.
  8. Helping someone to become self supporting through a gift, loan, or finding employment.


An excerpt from Idiot’s Guides As Easy As It Gets: Judaism

9 comments

  1. The Mitzvah of Tzedakah (A Letter in the Scroll, p.120)
    The word Tzedakah is usually translated as “charity,” but in fact it means social or distributive justice. In biblical law it involved a whole series of institutions that together constituted the first ever attempt at a welfare state. The corners of the field, the dropped sheaf and a grapes and olives left from the first picking were to be left for the poor. A tithe was to be given to them in certain years. Every seventh year, debts were cancelled, slaves went free, no work was done on the land, and the produce of the fields belonged to everyone. In the fiftieth year, the jubilee, anyone who had been forced through poverty to sell ancestral land was given it back. Tzedek, the Bible’s welfare legislation, is built on the premise that freedom has an economic dimension. Not only does powerless enslave, so too does poverty. So no one is to forfeit his independence or dignity One may not take a person’s means of livelihood as security for a loan or hold on to items of clothing they need, nor may one delay payment to an employee.

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