Charity box (illustrative)
Charity box (illustrative)Flash90


Q. Microsoft founder Bill Gates is reported to have given most of his fortune to his charitable foundation. In Judaism, what is the best way to give charity, who should it be given to and how much should be given?

A. The Jewish view is that wealth is a privilege given by God and an opportunity to do something for the community.

The Torah says, "If there be among you a poor man, one of your brothers, in any of your gates… you shall not harden your heart or withdraw your hand from your poor brother" (Deut. 15:4-8).

The priorities are set out in the Sifre to this passage: "‘A poor person’ ­ the one most needy takes precedence. ‘In any of your gates’ ­ the poor of your city take precedence over the poor of another city’."

In other words, there are priorities when it comes to allocating charity funds: help should go to the most urgent cases, and your charity should start (but not finish) with your own community.

How should the funds be given?

Preferably anonymously; the Temple had a "lishkat chashaim", a chamber of the silent, where someone in need could go quietly and take what they needed without donor or recipient being aware of each other’s identity.

Maimonides, in his famous Eight Degrees of Charity (Hilchot Mat’not Aniyim 10:7-14), adds that even better than giving in time of need is to create the conditions for people to become self-reliant.

How much should be given?

As much as you can afford, but not so much as to impoverish yourself and render you in turn dependent upon others. The best way is to give one-fifth; less than one-tenth is ungenerous. Whatever is given it should be willingly and cheerfully, and if you encourage others to give also, your spiritual reward is all the greater (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 247-259).

If I were Bill Gates, how much should I give? That’s not the question. The question is, even though I am not Bill Gates, should I not be giving more than I do?


THE JAR OF OIL

Q. Why do the Books of Maccabees not mention the jar of oil from the Hannukah story?

A. The story is neither in Maccabees nor Josephus. The first time we find it is centuries later in the Talmud (Shab. 21b), where the focus changes from the military victory to the Divine miracle.

Obviously the rabbis knew of the Maccabean wars, but what they disapproved of was the emphasis on military might and political power.

With the perspective of history they saw that the spiritual dimension was lost after the victory when the Maccabees became susceptible to corruption and the other failings that often characterise politicians. History therefore needed to recognise that national independence was not the only important achievement: the crucial victory was the survival of Judaism.

There is a hassidic saying, "Hallel is said on Hannukah and not on Purim because on Purim the body of the Jew was saved and on Hannukah it was his soul".

One can go further and say that without the story of the jar of oil Hananukah would have risked becoming a Purimspiel.

Rabbi Raymond Applewas for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Judaism. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com