24 and DovBear hits the tz’dakah nail on the tz’dakah head

24 days into the Omer and I’m gonna talk about tz’dakah again. I also wrote about it a couple of days ago.

The blog DovBear is written by a few diverse traditional Jews of a variety of subtly different, but generally progressive outlooks. The blog functions, for me, as a supremely sarcastic window into the frum world.

Today DovBear brings us “My insight of the day”. His insight is this:

“Charity” and “helping the poor” aren’t one and the same. The torah obligates us to help poor people, not to have our names, and the names of our grandparents put on as many plaques in as many shuls as possible. The idea is to improve the lives of other people, not to glorify our own names.

And because supporting the poor is a Torah value, someone who cares about Torah values might legitimately choose to support a political program that promises to help poor people.

I totally agree. I recall a conversation I had with my mother months ago, which I recalled today. Contributing to your synagogue, no matter what they tell you, is not tz’dakah, unless you’re contributing to a specific program targeted at the poor. Contributing to a local museum or to a local theater group or arts group, while a good thing to do that I totally support, is NOT tz’dakah. We are obligated to give to the poor, not to the arts.

I’ll refer you to Partners in Health and their segment on 60 Minutes again.

And now for the Omer.

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2 responses to “24 and DovBear hits the tz’dakah nail on the tz’dakah head

  1. What the IRS lets me deduct and what counts as ts:dakah are obviously different. However, doesn’t giving more to my community than I get count for something?

    I’m not defending situations that don’t obviously benefit the poor, like having a plaque on the wall at a wanna-be-hoity-toity art museum. But what about a cultural arts center for a group that is disproportionately poor?

    What about the money sent to the Paramount Theater so they could afford to entertain kids staying at the convention center post-Katrina? Was that ts:dakah even though it went to an arts group?

    If I give more to my congregation than my fair share, does it not help the less-affluent members? Surely money to help kids go to Israel this summer is ts:dakah, even if it went through my congregation to fulfill that purpose.

    And if contributing to a candidate who you believe will help the poor counts, I don’t see why contributing to your NPR station doesn’t. Obviously, we would have to subtract the value of the chicken dinner/tote bag if we are calculating 10%….

    Of course, food and medicine and housing are all more immediate needs, so giving to the Food Bank or Partners in Health or Habitat for Humanity seems more laudable than the other recipients I’ve mentioned above.

    If I’m remembering correctly, this conversation started with speculating about over-tipping the waitstaff as the modern equivalent of not harvesting the corners of the field. It’s leaving a bit that doesn’t really hurt for the benefit of someone who is willing to work. Not saying that’s ts:dakah, exactly, just saying that we need to think of ways to help when we can.

    (This was really all just an exercise in using a colon for transliterating sh:va.)

  2. Good remembering on the beginning of that conversation. Anyway, I think all of the examples you mention are a sort of grey area and certainly something I don’t have a concrete opinion of yet. To be on the safe side, though, I think I’ll stick to medicine, food, and housing-related organizations.

    I’m sure we all appreciate your punctuation exercise.

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