By Krishna Mistry
Tzedakah, a Hebrew term, translates to the English word charity. However, while charity can be defined as, “generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering” or, “aid given to those in need” many people have argued that there is a large difference between tzedakah and charity. Tzedakah is a fundamental value of the Jewish culture and is a way of life followed by many Jewish people. This paper will explore the roots and history of the term tzedakah and how it plays a role in North American giving.
“The word “tzedakah” is derived from the Hebrew root Tzadei-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice or fairness.” Simply from looking at the meanings of the two terms, charity and tzedakah, we can see that there are differences. As previously mentioned the word charity describes generosity for the needy, while Judaism sees generosity for the poor as a duty or an act of justice.
Tzedakah is so ingrained in Jewish tradition, that there are specific guidelines which when applied to one’s life help align oneself with these values. First it is encouraged that one gives ten percent, at least, of their income on an annual basis. In addition, the suggestion is made that ten percent of the value of all assets is given as a one-time donation. Although several resources make special note that Judaism does not ask people to give only to Jewish charities , some suggest that priority should be given to Jewish people in your area and torah scholars and institutions . Additional guidelines are quite specific and include setting a fiscal year for your tzedakah to ensure complete accuracy, and establishing a separate fund for your tzedakah to avoid any confusion with your personal finances. A final guideline suggests you give tzedakah cheerfully. Judaism supports that one should view, “tzedakah as an opportunity, not a burden,” and should attempt to, “sympathize with recipients and try to lift their spirits.”
It is both fascinating and important to note that this tradition of tzedakah has followed Jewish immigrants to the western world and is still a very important part of many of their lives. Organizations such as tzedakah, Inc., an American organization with the primary focus to advise Jewish people on tzedakah and how to effectively incorporate it into their lives in America, are a great resource for people who follow Judaism in America and would like to ensure that these values continue to resonate in their lives. These resources can also provide important information for those hoping to understand the philanthropic culture of those who follow Judaism. As development professionals in North America we must acknowledge the religious beliefs and traditions of the people we come across. By understanding our constituents’ culture and values, we will be better able to fulfill our roles.
Tzedakah: Charity. (2007). In Judaism 101. Retrieved January 27, 2019, from http://www.jewfaq.org/tzedakah.htm
Charity. (2010). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved January 29, 2010, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/charity
Tzedakah in Jewish Tradition. (2009). In Tzedakah.Info: Information for Effective Tzedakah. Retrieved January 27, 2010, from http://www.just-tzedakah.org/guidelinesIntroduction.asp