Jewish Texts on Giving
The following Jewish texts can help you to explore your own questions around tzedekah. How much do you want to give away each year? To whom? And why?
What are my giving priorities?
Centuries ago, Rabbi Yosef, an ancient scholar, came up with one system for guiding decisions about offering financial assistance. 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.
Babylonian 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.”1
[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.
1 Exodus 22:24. תלמוד בבלי בבא מציעא עאא
דתני רב יוסף: "אם כסף תלוה את
עמי את העני עמך."
• עמי ונכרי: עמי קודם.
• עני ועשיר: עני קודם.
• ענייך ועניי עירך: ענייך קודמין.
• עניי עירך ועניי עיר אחרת: עניי עירך קודמין.
1. The text lays out four pairs of people who need financial help. What are the four pairs and, in each case, which of the two people should be prioritized?
2. Do you agree or disagree with these statements of priority? Why?
3. Write your own version of this text in which you articulate potential recipients of your tzedekah and which ones you would prioritize.
How much do I want to give away each year?
The Shulchan Aruch, a book of Jewish law, dictates how much money one should give to tzedekah.
Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 249:1
The amount of giving: If the giver can afford it, he gives according to the poor person's need, and if the giver cannot afford it, he should give up to a fifth of his wealth. This is the greatest way to fulfill this commandment. The average way to fulfill this commandment is to give a tenth of one’s wealth. Less than this is considered an evil eye.
[AJWS Translation] שולחן ערוך, יורה דעה רמט:א
שיעור נתינתה, אם ידו משגת יתן כפי צורך העניים. ואם אין ידו משגת כל כך, יתן עד חומש נכסיו, מצוה מן המובחר; ואחד מעשרה, מדה בינונית; פחות מכאן, עין רעה. .
1. What would it mean to give according to a poor person’s need? How would you determine the need?
2. What do you think the author of this text trying to do?
3. What is a fifth of your wealth? What would it be like to give that amount each year?
4. What amount of tzedekah feels right for you to give away each year?
Looking for more? Check out these Jewish texts—spanning from biblical to contemporary times—that speak about tzedakah. These texts are brought to you by On1Foot, a web portal devoted to connecting users with Jewish resources for social justice. Visit the site for more texts, lesson plans and sermons about tzedakah.