“Charity means more than just donate” Larry Kahaner, “Values, Prosperity and the Talmud”
“Tzedakah is equivalent to all the commandments of the world combined”
Rabbi Assi, quoted from Bava Batra 9a of the Babylonian Talmud
According to many sources of the Talmud, charity is the greatest force in the universe. How could we interpret such statements accurately and comprehensively to benefit from such depth and wisdom?
The word “charity” derives from the Latin word “caritas” which means love. However, for the Talmudic rabbis charity and love were not simply acts of kindness or compassion, but also signs of justice and righteousness.
The Hebrew word for charity is “tzedakah” which is related to “tzadik” which implies to a “righteous” person, a “wise” person – and in a more modern translation we could say, a fellow who is “fair” to others, practicing “Social Justice”.
The Talmudic rabbis rated the act of charity as a “legal obligation” that must be the goal of all individuals and businesses: a practical way to create the conditions that will lead our thing-orientated world to a world governed by Love.
More than a thousand years later, one of the most preeminent medieval Jewish philosophers and Torah scholars, MAIMONIDES (Moses ben-Maimon, also known as Rambam) stated one of the most widely referred principals about “Tzedakah”. Maimonides was born in Córdoba, Spain in 1135, and died in Egypt in 1204. He was a rabbi, physician and philosopher in Morocco and Egypt.
Maimonides listed Eight Levels of Giving (Laws about Giving to Poor People), Chapter 10:7-14 of his “Mishne Torah” ( * )
The eight levels of charity listed by Maimonides – from highest to lowest – shall maintain the dignity of the recipient and strengthen society.
1. Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.
2. Giving tzedakah anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person (or public fund) which is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of tzedakah with your money in a most impeccable fashion.
3. Giving tzedakah anonymously to a known recipient.
4. Giving tzedakah publicly to an unknown recipient.
5. Giving tzedakah before being asked.
6. Giving adequately after being asked.
7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.
8. Giving “in sadness” – it is thought that Maimonides was referring to giving because of the sad feelings one might have in seeing people in need (as opposed to giving because it is a religious obligation; giving out of pity).
( * ) = Maimonides’s book “Mishneh Torah” is considered even today as one of the chief authoritative codifications of Jewish law and ethics. Maimonides turned the Talmud, a work of hundreds of scholars, covering a period of about thousand years and uncountable scrolls and volumes into just one single book. He “merged” and “reshaped” all these million thoughts in one single book. He ensured nothing to be omitted of their historical, legal and ethical values.
In the above mentioned book “Values, Prosperity and the Talmud”, the author Larry Kahaner gives following additional examples:
1 – Helping people and businesses to make their own living is the best kind of charity, it offers an opportunity for mutual and sustainable growth.
2 – An anonymous donation through a third party ensures that the recipient will not feel humiliated.
3 – A donor learns about the needs of someone through a third party, but there is nothing said about the donor to the recipient
4 – This also involves a third party, however, it is very rare today. It was more common in feudal times …
5 – A good example is the donation of clothes in wintertime to a homeless person, even if the person had not asked for it.
6 – Perhaps the most common donation: a homeless person or a beggar asks for money and the donor gives it promptly.
7 – In this case the homeless person asks for, let’s say, a dollar, but the donor gives only 50 cents …
8 – There are several interpretations: One is stated above and normally used. But it might also occur as a reaction to an aggressive beggar. The giver feels compelled to give money just to avoid the beggar or negative feelings about the situation.
Mamonides – “Mishne Torá – o livro da sabedoria” – (translation to Portuguese by Yaakov Israel Blumenfeld) Rio de Janeiro, 1992
Elie Wiesel – “Die Weisheit des Talmud” (Célébration talmudique -portraits et légendes, éditions du Seuil – 1991)
Nilton Bonder – “A Cabala do Dinheiro”, Rio de Janeiro, 1991
Alfred J. Kolatch – “Masters of the Talmud”, New York, 2003
Larry Kahaner – “Valores, Prosperidade e o Talmude”, Rio de Janeiro 2005
Wikipédia – on line