Charity and its meaning for the Jewish community

Almost all of us give to charity in one way or another, either by giving directly to the charity or by leaving a bit of money for any cause at the supermarket bill, even when we give a coin on the streets to somebody in need and even when we are kind to other people that need help. Everybody understands that concept: giving to the people that need it the most.

But how does the Jewish community view this activity? It is widely known that Jews are very united and they are givers by nature. But how does it work and why do they do it?

Yosef Meystel took the time to do a little research on this topic and here are some insights into the concept of charity for the Jewish community.

The term that is commonly used is Tzedakah, that is could be translated as “charity” but not exactly.  It goes a little bit further and it also means  “justice” or “righteousness,” or “doing the right thing” or “Putting your stuff where it really belongs”. So, being good to other or sharing and giving is not a special thing for the Jewish community, is the right thing and the honest thing to do. Jewish people believe that things don’t belong to them in the first place, that everything is handed to them in order to be used in a good way. Giving education to your family, eating very well with kosher and healthy food and helping others that lack what they really need is a way of giving.

The concept of Tzedakah is not only about economic aids or gifts. It can also be about sharing your valuable time with others who need it, teaching somebody something they need to know in order to advance in life, or just being kind and smiling to people who seem sad. Also, it is not only about how often or how much you give. The 12th-century sage Maimonides used to say that “How often,” will always be better than “how much.”

Take a person who gives a big amount of money every year, let’s say 365 dollars. This is good because a good cause will be benefited. But if this same person gives 1 dollar every day, that person becomes a giver, a helping hand, a habit that will bring more and more happiness.

Ok, so many people might ask how does this exactly work. There are many sets of rules in the Jewish religion and it may be confusing, but here are some insights about charity and giving:

So if a person is asked for food on the street, the mitzvah says that that person should do something about it. If the person is asked for money, the person has the right to ask why and what for. If the person cannot produce anything to help the other person, showing empathy or being kind can be a way of charity. The person in this case, cannot simply continue walking, he or she has to give something to the person in need.

Another way of seeing this charity event in Jewish life is with the Charity Box. In every Jewish house, you can find what they call a Pushka (charity box). Putting some coins every day in this Pushka will make up for the charity that Jewish people should do as a Mitzvah.

Chanakuh on Union Square

So, who receives the donations? Who is the object of the charity action? There are priorities and precedence in this topic. A family member is more important and takes precedence over other people that are not related. In the same way, local institutions are more important than the ones that work abroad. In this way, charity or Tzedakah is efficient as everybody helps somebody that is near them and everybody gets a little piece of the cake.

Another part of the Charity concept is the fact that it makes a lot of sense. “take care of others and god will take care of you”. Salomon used to say that “When you give to a poor man, you are lending to G‑d.” And the  Prophet Malachi also taught his disciples that god pays all the debts and repays all those funds that are collected with very good return on investment (ROI) in this world. God even says “ Try it and see.”