Tradescantia Zebrina .:. The Wandering Jew


tales and opinions of the wandering Jew


Maimonides famously wrote that there are eight levels of tzedakah – charity. The highest form of giving is in such a way that you prevent someone from becoming impoverished in the first place (giving someone employment, an interest free loan, teaching a man to fish, etc.). The next to greatest form of charity is giving tzedakah anonymously to an unknown recipient (usually via a trusted intermediary organization or person).

Let’s put that on hold for a moment.

Since returning from Israel, I have been trying to give up coffee. I was at the point where I could drink several large cups a day and still not feel a jolt. It was time to give it up. Now I’m down to about one cup a week. (Unfortunately, it’s hard to go cold turkey when your sleep schedule involves waking at 5:45 and going to bed around 1:30 or 2:00.) So I’m saving money, not buying beans to make coffee at home, not buying a couple coffees from cafés.

Before going to Israel, my tzedakah giving was routine. Each Friday, just before turning off my computer for Shabbos, I would make a donation online. I tried to vary the donations, rotating through a list of organizations that had missions I believed in. I bought bees and goats, sponsored programs for at-risk youth, supported film festivals… Which was only nominally anonymous. The youth didn’t know who funded their programs, but the fund development staff did.

Now, my practice is a little different. On my way to buying my weekly coffee, I check in with someone I see on the street, ask if s/he would like a coffee too. If they ask for a different drink, I’m happy to fulfill that request too. If they ask for something a little fancier, or specify the milk/sugar, I’m down with that too. I go, get our coffees, and return. We usually end up having a chat – talking about the weather, the drink, the neighbourhood, people watching… it doesn’t really matter what we talk about.  But we talk. I sit with them on the church’s front steps, on a park bench, in the middle of Columbus Cirlce, and we talk. The transaction is more than a simple gift of a drink, it’s a personal interaction.

And that leads me to thinking about how Maimonides would judge this exchange. It’s far from anonymous – it’s personal and lingering. I’ve been thanked, told that it’s made their day (one person said it made his month). And it’s not the charity that they’re thanking me for – it’s the conversation, being treated as an equal, having their eye contact met for more than a fleeting second. It’s not a grand gesture, but it’s an honest one.

Is this, then, an inferior way of giving?


Filed under: gifts, judaism

4 Responses

  1. great question. the answer lies within what you wrote, though.

    the highest form of giving (according to the rambam) is to do so – NOT anonymously – but via an interest free loan, or vocational boost, or entering into a partnership with someone.

    but, he says, if you can’t do those, then do tzedakah (with cash) anonymously.

    so, if you are at level one, then no need to worry about anonymous.

    (oh, and by the way, you wrote: “prevent someone from becoming impoverished in the first place” — i don’t think that this is what the rambam said. he said that the person is indeed “impoverished”, and by doing the loan/job/partnership thingie, you prevent him/her from becoming that way again.)

    yasher koach and keep up the great mitzvah thinking.

    and check out: for more ideas about efficient and effective ways to do tzedakah!

    arnie draiman

  2. Loan holder says:

    Nice blog.Keep up with the good work!

  3. feygele says:

    Arnie, the answer is not in what I wrote. I’m specifically questioning the entire Rambanic system, suggesting that personal, face-to-face giving, which he lists low, can actually be better, a higher form of giving.

  4. wolfman says:

    Bava Batra 9b appears to support your idea:

    בבלי בבא בתרא ט:ב

    אמר רב יצחק: כל הנותן פרוטה לעני מתברך בשש ברכות, והמפייסו בדברים – מתברך בי”א ברכות.

    I don’t know how Rambam reads this gemara or how he/if he incorporates it into his hilkhot tzedaka.

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