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What does tzedakah mean?

Tzedakah is derived from the Hebrew tzedek, which means justice or what is right. It is also described in the Torah as righteousness. One cannot become a tzadik until one lives a righteous and just life by helping the needy. Even though the concept of charity appears right through the Torah, there is no specific phrase for it. It was only later during the development of the Talmud and thereafter, that the term tzedakah generally come to define charity.

How are the poor regarded in Jewish tradition?

The disadvantaged cannot be blamed for their condition and according Jewish law, have the right to receive tzedakah. The Talmud states that donors are given the opportunity to perform a mitzvah by those who receive it. The reasoning behind this based on the belief that all earthly possessions belong to Hashem and that one's worth is measured in mitzvoth - not in material goods.

Who is required to give tzedakah?

Everyone including, including poor people who themselves receive charity are obligated to give. The poor must also experience a sense pleasure and self-worth resultant from performing the mitzvah of tzedakah.

Should charity also be given to the non-Jewish poor?

Absolutely - charity should be given to all, as in doing so we advance peace throughout the world.

Should tzedakah be given to someone we suspect of deception?

It is better to give to a fraud than to risk depriving those who deserve it.

Is it preferable to give tzedakah openly or anonymously?

The recipient of tzedakah effort must be made to avoid feel indignity or humiliation. As it is written in the Talmud: "Better not to have given him anything than to have given and caused humiliation." The laws concerning the relationship of donor and recipient include Maimonides' Eight Degrees of Charity.

From the highest to the lowest level:
  1. So that the recipient becomes self-reliant, avoiding the loss of self-respect that may result from receiving the lower degrees of charity.
  2. So that neither knows the identity of the other
  3. So that the recipient doesn't know who the donor is
  4. So the donor doesn't know who the recipient is
  5. Before recipient asks
  6. Only after the recipient asks
  7. Less than enough but to give
  8. To give with a heavy heart
How much should one contribute to charity?

One is expected to give up to one-fifth of one's possessions to fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah to its fullest degree. Less than one-tenth is considered miserly. The law cautions against giving beyond one's means, for it is no benefit to society if a person becomes impoverished by giving excessively. Consult your rabbi to find out how much you should be giving.

 


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