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January 22, 1988 - Image 58

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

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Lt.1/c1° Tzedakah-G'milut Chasadim: Two Sides Of The Same Coin?

Principal, Akiva Hebrew Day School

Many statements in the Torah
map out the Jewish people's
obligation to help the poor and the
needy. Tzedakah — charity — has
been considered by the rabbis
throughout Jewish history a prime
mitzvah (commandment) of

While many would limit the
concept of charity to the act of
giving money to the poor, the Torah
paints a fuller more intricate picture,
Leket (gleanings), Shikchah
(forgotten practice), and Peah (the
corners of the field) are portions
that a Jewish farmer was
commanded to leave for the poor.
Thus, in the agricultural community
of Israel, there was a constant

Tzedakah Guideline

Continued from preceding page

demanded. An interesting
occurrence illustrates this concept:
Theodor Herzl had gone to
Baron Maurice deHirsch, who was
the actual creator of the Jewish
migration movement to Argentina
and the establishment of the Jewish
colonies there, seeking aid for the
Zionist cause. DeHirsch was
antagonistic and refused support.
Herzl then wrote to him, as is
recorded in his Diaries: "The
character of a people may be ruined
by charity."

There was another rejection of
the "charity" term. Mendele Moher
Seforim — Mendele the Book
Salesman — Shalom Jacob
Abramowitsch, who shares in the
history of Jewish literature as one of
the three grandfathers of Yiddish
literature, with Sholom Aleichem —
Solomon Rabinovitz — and Isaac
Leib Peretz, wrote in his famous
story, Di Kliatshe, in which he was
highly critical of the irresponsible
Jewish actions in the shtetel:
"Charity will not end poverty,
disease, idleness, ignorance." Di
Kliatshe (the mare) was an allegory
of Diaspora life and a protest
against anti-Semitism. It was written
in 1873.
Nevertheless, to tzedakah as
charity are assigned many important
designations. It is valued as a
mitzvah — a sacred deed — and
one of the interpretations of it is
In the Talmud there is the



20300 Civic Center Drive
Suite 240
Southfield, Michigan 48076
January 22, 1988

Associate Publisher Arthur M. Horwitz
News Editor Heidi Press
Jewish Experiences for Families
Advisor Harlene W. Appleinan

L 2



sacred rule that if a person asks for
food it should not be denied him
and no interrogation resorted to. In
Proverbs 3:27 it is stated: "Withhold
not goods from him to whom it is
due when it is in power of thine
hand to do it. Say not unto thy
neighbor `Go and come again, and
tomorrow I will give,' when thou has
it by thee."
Another symbol of the charity-
tzedakah aspect is the pushke —
the fund box. In a special chamber
of the Temple in Jerusalem a fund
box was kept for the needy. This,
the kuppah of later times, has its
origin in the pushke of our time.
Secrecy was always maintained so
that no one should ever become
aware of applicants for help, and
the donors who deposited the
charity coins in the box should not
be advertised. In the Mishnah, there
is a listing of seven virtues as
cardinal charity duties: Feeding the
hungry and giving the thirsty to
drink, clothing the naked, visiting
the sick, burying the dead and
comforting the mourners, redeeming
the captives, educating the
fatherless and sheltering the
homeless and providing poor
maidens with dowries.
Because the G'milut Chasadim
tradition is highly honored in our
community as acts of kindness —
which is the meaning of the term —
by providing loans without interest,
it must be included in the
classification of the tzedakah
principles. This was treated as a
mitzvah, which is a precept in Torah
It is clear in the enumerations
thus far assembled for the
designation of tzedakah, that the
terminology, even when disputable
in search of the preferred "justice"
to "charity" emerges as a
"mitzvah." Every expression of
kindness, all efforts to attain justice,
become adherence to a great
principle in Jewish life. That's
tzedakah to be adhered to as a
blessing in our traditions.

reminder that the harvest was a
result of the grace of God and that
concern for the not-as-fortunate was
The Rambam (Maimonides) in
his great work, The Mishna Torah,
lists eight levels of charity
descending in their levels of virtue:
• The highest level is to help a
person in need to become
independent by lending the
individual money, giving him a job,
or setting up a partnership with him.
Any of the above would prevent the
loss of self esteem.
• Give in a way that neither the
donor nor the recipient knows the
identity of the other.
• Give in a way that the
recipient does not know who the
donor is.

counted in defense of a person
wrongfully slandered displays the
kind of character which must be a
part of the practitioner of G'milut
Chasadim. It is through acts of
G'milut Chasadim that a Jew can
show his individuality and worth
separate from those in the
mainstream. It requires, sometimes,
a willingness to maintain an
unpopular view in order to right a
wrong — in the face of any

To place their own lives
on the line to defend
another human or
fundamental Judaic
principle may, perhaps,
be the ultimate act of
G'milut Chasadim.

The Jewish martyrs would
certainly qualify as practitioners of
G'milut Chasadim. To place their
own lives on the line to defend
another human or fundamental
Judaic principle may, perhaps, be
the ultimate act of G'milut
Chasadim. It is clear then, that
G'milut Chasadim includes and
goes beyond the concept of


The donor, however, knows the
• Give in a way that the donor
does not know who the recipient is.
• Give before being asked.
• Give only after having been
asked to give.
• Give less than is correct, but
in good humor.
• Give grudgingly.
The sages have said that
G'milut Chasadim is greater than
tzedakah. Tzedakah is concerned
mainly with those less fortunate
than us; G'milut Chasadim is
concerned with all of mankind.
While acts of tzedakah are directed
toward the living, acts of G'milut
Chasadim may be directed toward
the living or the dead. To remember,
revere, or recognize the attributes
and values of a deceased person
through care taken in the
preparation of the body, maintaining
the grave, and establishing a
monument, we demonstrated clearly
how G'milut Chasadim goes beyond
To speak in honor of another
person or to stand up and be

If tzedakah and G'milut
Chasadim are two sides of the
same coin, what would constitute
that coin? One reads in Leviticus a
fundamental Judaic precept, the
origin of which is frequently
attributed to another faith. As it
states in Chapter 19 of Leviticus,
"you shall love your neighbor as
yourself," and Rabbi Akiva
comments "this is an important
general rule of Torah practice." By
providing tzedakah for those less
fortunate than us, we are caring for
our neighbor as we care for
ourselves. When visiting the sick,
honoring parents and teachers, or
offering a shelter to the homeless
— we are demonstrating our
realization that we are all creatures
of the same Creator; we are loving
our neighbor as ourselves.
The coin, then, is truly the
"coin of the Realm" — The Realm
of Hakadosh Baruch Hu (the Holy
One, Blessed Be He). In this world
we have the privilege of "loving our
neighbor as ourselves." By
performing acts of tzedakah and
G'milut Chasadim, we are exposing
the entire "coin." If this "coin"
became universal currency, we
would realize Shalom — true peace.

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