Maimonides Laws Concerning Gifts to the Poor

In November I had the opportunity to attend a conference on Religious Fundraising presented by the Lake Institute at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. This article is one in a periodic series of articles highlighting the historical foundation of faith and fundraising throughout the ages.

Spanish-born philosopher Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), was one of Judaism’s most revered rabbis in the Middle Ages. Excerpted from the final chapter of his “Laws Concerning Gifts to the Poor”, Maimonides speaks of eight levels of “tzedakah”, often translated as “charity”. He used the term “levels” to equate to “degrees”, suggesting that the levels progressed in order of desirability. Below are his eight levels of charity, in order of best to least:

  1. The 1st or best level is Partnership; where one with the means takes the hand of another in need and either provides a loan, makes a partnership, or finds employment, to strengthen the person until they no longer need help.
  2. The 2nd level just below partnership is anonymous support; that is, the donor does not know who is receiving the help and the beneficiary does not know who is providing the support.
  3. The 3rd level is where the donor knows who the beneficiary is, but the receiver does not know who the donor is; in the past sages would toss coins in the door openings of the poor.
  4. The 4th level is opposite of the third, where the beneficiary knows who the donor is, but the donor is unaware who is benefitting from their generosity. This was supposed to allow the recipient to keep their pride or not feel shame.
  5. The 5th level is where a donor puts a gift in the hand of those in need before they are asked to help; this could be akin to the more modern “random acts of kindness” or “pay it forward” efforts.
  6. The 6th level is where a donor gives after being asked; this could be similar to what was considered “begging”.
  7. The 7th level is where a donor is asked, and gives, maybe not quite enough, but in a pleasant manner.
  8. The 8th level, and the level least desireable by Maimonides, is giving begrudgingly, or sorrowfully.

What do you think about these levels? Where do your own giving habits fall on the list? Where does the Biblical “Cheerful Giver” as described in 2 Corinthians 9:7 fall? Where would the Good Samaritan’s actions fall?

“Faith can exist without money, but religious organizations cannot.” — GW Bowersock

 

 

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