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January 22, 1988 - Image 121

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-01-22

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A Toast
To Jewish Living

Tzedakah: Guideline
To Human Kindness

Philip Slomovitz is the editor
emeritus of The Jewish News and
the author of this month's L'Chayim
theme — tzedakah. For each edition
of L'Chayim, a rabbi, a Jewish
educator or other notable from the
community will present an overview.
Tzedakah — the most frequently
used Hebraic designation for
generosity — is the most common
Jewish term for generosity. The
concept has multiple meanings. As
a guideline to human kindness in
the philanthropic sense, it is like a
Commandment in a spiritual sense.
Its very source is scriptural.
With justice as its root, it
occupies a major role in Jewish
ethical codifying. Tzedek, tzedek
tirdof — justice, justice shalt thou
pursue — is the command from the
Bible. It is enunciated in
Deuteronomy 16:20.
What the scriptural edict
actually instructs is a way to human
conduct. It gives to justice a duty to
pursue it as an approach to the
observance of charity.
There is an etymological aspect
that is very common in the Hebrew
language. Many Hebrew words often

It is not an exaggeration
to utilize the terminology
of the word tzedakah as
an "ideology."

have multiple meanings. A mere
change in a syllable of an
alphabetical letter could provide
differing meanings to a word in the
dictionary. The interpretation of the
word assumes the spirituality of
many commitments. It is not an
exaggeration to utilize the
terminology of the word tzedakah as
an "ideology."
While taking into account the
many humane aspects of the term
tzedakah, the charitable element

must not be ignored. Turning back
to Deuteronomy 15:8, we are
provided with the entire concept of
the word and its designated role in
Jewish life. We read in
Deuteronomy: "If there be among
you a needy man, or of thy brethren
in any of thy gates . . . Thou shalt
not harden thy heart, nor shut thy
hand from thy needy brother . . . For
the poor shall never cease out of
the land; therefore I command them
saying: 'thou shalt surely open thy
hand unto thy poor and needy
brother.' "
An important element in this
approach is a term as vitally
resorted to as tzedakah. It is the
ma'aser — the tithe. It is the
Ma'aser Ani — the tithe for the poor
— a symbol of tzedakah that
emphasizes God's ownership of the
soil. It defines possession of the
world's good by people who must
make products for sustenance
available to the needy.
Here we have the commitment
by all generations who are obligated
to contribute to the basic Jewish
needs. In the Talmud (Gittin) there
is the obligatory ruling: "Even a
poor man, a subject of charity,
should give charity."
Such is a ruling that has
application to the community's basic
needs and is applicable to the
support of communal, philanthropic
In the ideological consideration
of tzedakah, challenge was
constantly evidenced to its
interpretation as "charity." It was
especially unacceptable in the
nationalist-Zionist ranks. The appeal
for justice and human rights among
them could not tolerate
"philanthropy." There was a protest
against submission to "alms" and
emphasis on the principle of people
being self-sustaining by the labor of
their hands. It was equality and
justice among the nations that was
Continued on Page L-2

Maimonides' Ladder of Tzedakah

Giving to help a person
rne selt-suttiCtent.

at neither th
Giving so 1.°
th the d onor
each okher•


known recipient

GN . \\

3 .110M

to a


unknws Who t
Giving to an knohe
donor is.

before being asked.


Giving enough but only alter
being ask .

Giving less than you should
but giving cbeeviA akeT
being ask

small donate on

Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon
(1135-1205), known as Rambam and
as Maimonides, was medieval
Spain's most famous Jewish
physician and philosopher. His
major works in the Bible, literature
and religion have influenced not
only Judaism, but Christianity and
Islam as well. His famous Mishnah
Torah includes a Ladder of
Tzedakah, in which he ranks the
levels of charity. In the
accompanying figure, the highest
level is at the top of the illustration.

grudgingly only alter having

been aslced.

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