Maimonides’ Eight Levels of Charity

Dear Rabbi,

I highly value your advice on practical issues more than any pastor, so with that said, I am interested in and have questions regarding the ethics and nature of tithing and giving money to charity. Do you mind sharing the Jewish view on charity and tithing?

Thank you for your time,

Rebecca

Dear Rebecca

Thank you so much for writing. I would like to preface with the meaning of the Hebrew word Tzedakah. I think through through better understanding the word, we will be able to answer your question.  The word “charity” suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy. HoweverThe word “tzedakah” is derived from the Hebrew

The word “charity” suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy. However, the Hebrew word for charity is. “tzedakah.” The Hebrew root of the word Tzedakah is derived from the Hebrew root Tzedek, which means righteousness, justice or fairness. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due.

The truth is that Giving tzedakah is, above all, a humbling experience. Before us stands a human being less fortunate than ourselves. We know that G‑d could have just as easily provided him with everything he requires, instead of sending him to us for his needs. Here is a person who is suffering poverty in order to provide us with the opportunity to do a G‑dly deed!

By the same token, if divine providence places us on the receiving end of a charitable act, we need not be demoralized by the experience. For we know that G‑d could have just as easily provided us with all that we need Himself, and that our need for human aid is merely in order to grant another person the ability to do a G‑dly deed. Our “benefactor” is giving us money or some other resource, but we are giving him something far greater: the opportunity to become a partner with G‑d in creation.

Rabbi Zalman

PS – Miamonodies maps out eight levels of Charity. I think you will benefit from seeing the way he breaks out each level.

[1] The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others . . .

[2] A lesser level of charity than this is to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who he received. For this is performing a mitzvah solely for the sake of Heaven. This is like the “anonymous fund” that was in the Holy Temple [in Jerusalem]. There the righteous gave in secret, and the good poor profited in secret. Giving to a charity fund is similar to this mode of charity, though one should not contribute to a charity fund unless one knows that the person appointed over the fund is trustworthy and wise and a proper administrator, like Rabbi Chananyah ben Teradyon.

[3] A lesser level of charity than this is when one knows to whom one gives, but the recipient does not know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to walk about in secret and put coins in the doors of the poor. It is worthy and truly good to do this, if those who are responsible for distributing charity are not trustworthy.

[4] A lesser level of charity than this is when one does not know to whom one gives, but the poor person does know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to tie coins into their robes and throw them behind their backs, and the poor would come up and pick the coins out of their robes, so that they would not be ashamed.

[5] A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person directly into his hand, but gives before being asked.

[6] A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person after being asked.

[7] A lesser level than this is when one gives inadequately, but gives gladly and with a smile.

[8] A lesser level than this is when one gives unwillingly.