Tzedakah - Pt. 3 - Jan. 4, 20062007-05-29 15:09:09
By MARK MIETKIEWICZ
So how deep are your pockets?
Jewish tradition has spelled out how much tzedakah is enough. Just-Tzedakah.org suggests that although the absolute minimum is a paltry $2, a more realistic amount is 10% of your annual income up. Interestingly, the site points out that the rabbis established 20% as the upper limit. They were afraid if people became too generous, they might eventually come to need tzedakah themselves.
I couldn't find information about Jewish donors' giving habits but statistics about the general population are available. In 2005, Canadians donated a record high $7.9 billion dollars to registered charities, up about a $1 billion from the previous year. The amount is impressive but works out to a median donation of $240. That means half of all donors gave more, half gave less. Nationally, 25% of all tax filers claimed charitable donations. http://tinyurl.com/ycam47
For more on who gives - and who doesn't - in Canada, download the booklet, Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating. For example, you'll find out that the "19% of Canadians who attended religious services weekly gave 74% of the total value of all donations to religious organizations." http://www.nonprofitscan.ca/page.asp?nsgvp
The Jewish Virtual Library section has a comprehensive overview on tzedakah but the page I was poring over to is the listing of American Jewish Contributions to Israel from 1948-2004. Over those years, American Jews have contributed over $12 billion to Israel but the percentage sent overseas has varied widely. For example, in 1948, 73% of the money raised went to Israel compared to 23% in 2004. http://tinyurl.com/y7kpg3
Once you have calculated how much to give, you'll need to decide to whom or where to give. But not all charities are equal - at least according to Jewish law. For example, the highest priority is given to redeeming captives (pidyon shevuyim) which would include someone who is wrongly imprisoned. David Carasso has gone through some classical Jewish sources and has created a graphical summary of highest to lowest
Although I've never had the pleasure of being targeted by them, the Jewish Funders Network is "an international organization of family foundations, public philanthropies, and individual funders dedicated to advancing the quality and growth of philanthropy rooted in Jewish values." Even if you don't have your own family foundation, check out the JFN's Knowledge Center and its dozens of thought-provoking articles about tzedakah and philanthropy. http://www.jfunders.org
And here's an intriguing problem that could befall a charity. One of the most thought-provoking articles that I came across didn't address the giving of tzedakah but the taking of it. In When Good Money Comes from Bad People three professionals look at Jewish sources to help grapple with the ethics of accepting donations from morally questionable sources. What would you do?
MyJewishLearning's presents a multi-level Tzedakah section which includes a Primer; a look at Tzedakah themes and history; an examination of Tzedakah in the Bible Jewish Tradition; and a deeper look at such as issues as Judaism on Greed, and Maimonides' Ladder of Tzedakah. http://tinyurl.com/yy4nsf When done, check out the site's multiple choice Tzedakah Quiz. http://tinyurl.com/yhx98l
Do you mean to give to charity but just forget to do so? Use the site's "Giving on Schedule" feature to send yourself regular e-mail reminders to donate to any of the seventy Jewish charities listed. As the site points out, Just Tzedakah itself is a charity and that up to 4% of your donation will be used to cover its processing costs. (Donations can be made through the site or you can use this feature simply as a reminder service.) http://www.just-tzedakah.org/
Speaking of a reminder, the NCSY's "Torah on One Foot Series" has created an attractive sheet that you can stick onto your fridge. It includes basic rules, Maimonides' Eight Levels of Tzedakah, and related thoughts from the Torah and Talmud including this one. http://tinyurl.com/y2g5oo
"Rabbi Chana bar Chanilai always kept his hand in his pocket so nobody would be embarrassed while waiting for him to get money for tzedakah. He kept wheat and barley outside his home so that those who were embarrassed could come and take by night."
Mark Mietkiewicz is a Toronto-based website producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.