The Evolution of Tzedakah

sduncan post on January 30th, 2013
Posted in Diaspora communities Tags: ,

By Meg Chalmers

“Tzedakah” is the Hebrew word meaning righteousness, justice or fairness. Tzedkah is often mistranslated to the English word “charity” , meaning giving without excepting any gratification and doing out of compassion. Tzedkah however , is an obligation and law found in the Torah to give : “ … set aside a tenth of all your produce..and give it to the alien, the fatherless and the widow..” (Deuteronomy 26:12).

Historically, Tzedakah was used intended primarily for agricultural giving. The ultimate act of giving was sharing land as it was the most valuable thing in society. In the Medieval Times, influential Jewish philosopher Rambam Maimonides created eight levels of giving found in the Misheneh Torah which he wrote. The Eight Levels of learning included “guidelines” on who acceptable candidates were to give money too. Later, the Jewish people in the society were no longer allowed to own land, and the main focus shifted to giving money for maintaining the temples and synagogues, building new hospitals and educating the children and youth of the community.

Many practicing Jews give their ten percent of net-income after taxes mainly to the poor, health care facilities, the elderly or educational institutions, or other non- Jewish charities. According to Jewish Tradition, family and close relatives, local Jewish community, Jewish Community in Israel, Jewish community worldwide, Local Community, and international assistance to people in need are the most prioritized people/institutions who are deserving of Tzedakah. However, an article found in the Jewish Journal, says only six percent of the money given , was specifically for Jewish organizations in order to help the society in which they were living in and not be explicit to Jewish Organizations.

There can also be special acts of Tzedakah found in the Jewish Culture. At weddings, the Jewish bride and groom may give to a charitable organization to symbolize the character of their commitment. During Passover, many give to local food banks as well as invite those less fortunate into their homes who do not have the privilege of buying or having food accessible. Furthermore , there are many ways by which Jews further show their commitment to fulfilling Tzedakah. Orthodox and more traditional Jews can be seen with a pushke , which is a box used for collecting coins to give to the poor.

Not only is Tzedakah seen as law in which every Jewish person should abide by , but there is also spiritual benefit to giving. It is believed that when a Jewish person provides for someone else, or something else, he or she can truly be able to identify how grateful they are. They see it as the person that they are giving to is doing them a favor.

Although many who are in need would be appreciative of someone assisting them , some people feel too embarrassed to take money from others. However, it is considered to be a contravention to refuse Tzedakah from someone.

Tzedakah plays an active role in the way Jewish people actively give in their communities as well as our society. Tzedkah is based on the foundations listed in the Torah and describes the fundamental importance of giving. It is an obligation in Jewish Culture to give.

“How wonderful is it that no one need wait a single moment to start to improve the world” – Anne Frank

Works Cited

1. Tracey, R. Rich (2007). Tzedakah: Charity. Retrieved from:

2. Tugend, Tom ( June 26 2003). Why Aren’t Jews Giving to Jews?. Retrieved from the Jewish Journal:

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