Where Do You Give?

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What are your tzedakah priorities?

Deciding where to give tzedakah can be very overwhelming.

There are so many organizations and causes that we believe are important and yet we have limited amounts of money to give. One way to deal with this challenge is to get really systematic about giving tzedakah and to articulate our priorities which can serve as guidelines for where we give. Centuries ago, Rabbi Yosef, an ancient scholar, came up with one system for guiding decisions about offering financial assistance. His system is recorded in the Talmud, Bava Metzia 71a.

Rabbi Yosef taught [about the verse in the Torah that says]: “If you lend money to any of my people that are poor with you” (Exodus 22:24).
This verse teaches that if you have to choose between:

• a Jew and a non-Jew, give to the Jew first;
• a poor person and a rich person, give to the poor person first;
• a poor relative and poor people in your town, give to your poor relative first;
• poor people in your city and poor people in another city, give to the poor people of your own town first.

Though you might disagree with his choices, Rabbi Yosef offers us a model for assigning priority to certain causes and populations, and for being decisive and systematic—rather than reactive and haphazard—about where we give tzedakah.

Using Rabbi Yosef as an example, I tried to create my own guidelines for giving tzedakah, which turned out to be harder than I imagined. I don’t think this covers all of the tough choices I make about tzedakah, and I certainly don’t always follow these principles, but even the process of trying to articulate them helped me clarify where I want to give tzedakah and why.

“Lisa teaches: When you give tzedakah and have to choose between: poverty and all other causes, poverty comes first; extreme poverty and less severe poverty, extreme poverty comes first; someone you know and someone you don’t know, the person you know comes first.”

What are your tzedakah priorities?  Post them in the comments section below!

Photo courtesy of Mykl Roventine


Lisa Exler is a senior program officer in the education and community engagement department at AJWS. In her four years at AJWS, she has developed and managed a range of educational materials that promote the values of global citizenship in the American Jewish community. Prior to joining AJWS, she taught third and fourth grades at the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan for three years. Lisa has a B.A. and an M.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University. Lisa can be reached at lexler@ajws.org

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