On Jews Giving Tzedakah to non-Jews, Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

 

1. The Place of the Enemy and Stranger

 

Exodus 23:5

Translation Original
When you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him. [JPS translation]
כִּי תִרְאֶה חֲמוֹר שֹׂנַאֲךָ רֹבֵץ תַּחַת מַשָּׂאוֹ וְחָדַלְתָּ מֵעֲזֹב לוֹ עָזֹב תַּעֲזֹב עִמּוֹ:

Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 62a

Translation Original
Two people were traveling, and [only] one of them had a canteen of water.[There was only enough water so that] if both of them drank they would both die, but if one of them drank [only] that person would make it back to an inhabited area [and live].Ben Petura publicly taught:'Better both should drink and die than that one see their friend's death,' until Rabbi Akiva came and taught: 'Your fellow should live with you' (Leviticus 25:36) - your life takes precedence over the life of your friend's. [Translation Rav Eliezer Kwass. Edited for gender neutrality]
שנים שהיו מהלכין בדרך, וביד אחד מהן קיתון של מים, אם שותין שניהם - מתים, ואם שותה אחד מהן - מגיע לישוב. דרש בן פטורא: מוטב שישתו שניהם וימותו, ואל יראה אחד מהם במיתתו של חבירו. עד שבא רבי עקיבא ולימד: וחי אחיך עמך - חייך קודמים לחיי חבירך

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Do you agree with Rabbi Akiva? Why?
2. Why does this text specify that the two people are friends? How does this affect our understanding of the text?
3. What can we learn from this text about how we should divide surplus resources?


Deuteronomy 16:18-20

Translation Original
You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that Adonai your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that Adonai your God is giving you. [JPS translation edited for gender-neutrality]
שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים תִּתֶּן לְךָ בְּכָל שְׁעָרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ לִשְׁבָטֶיךָ וְשָׁפְטוּ אֶת הָעָם מִשְׁפַּט צֶדֶק: לֹא תַטֶּה מִשְׁפָּט לֹא תַכִּיר פָּנִים וְלֹא תִקַּח שֹׁחַד כִּי הַשֹּׁחַד יְעַוֵּר עֵינֵי חֲכָמִים וִיסַלֵּף דִּבְרֵי צַדִּיקִם: צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the role of government and courts of law according to this text?
2. What does the text guard against? Who is most susceptible to corruption?
3. What is the reward for pursuing justice?
4. The text repeats the word "justice" several times in this text. What effect does this repetition have?


Rashi, Exodus 23:9

Translation Original
"Don't oppress a stranger"- You know the feelings of the stranger-how painful it is for him when you oppress him. [Nechama Leibowitz Haggadah]
וגר לא תלחץ - בהרבה מקומות הזהירה תורה על הגר מפני שסורו רע: את נפש הגר - כמה קשה לו כשלוחצים אותו:

Suggested Discussion Questions

[From Nechama Leibowitz Haggadah, citing Leibowitz's "Studies on Shemot"]

The ethical imperative: Nechama pointed out that the Torah cautions us regarding our behavior toward the stranger no less than 36 times, the most repeated injunction in the Torah. Empathy is an outgrowth of experience. Nechama summarized, "We are bidden to put ourselves in the position of the stranger by remembering how it felt when we were strangers in another land."


Exodus Rabbah 31:12

Translation Original
There is nothing in the world more grievous than poverty; it is the most terrible of all sufferings. Our sages have said: If all troubles were assembled on one side and poverty on the other, [poverty would outweigh them all]. When a man is rich and has a poor relative, he does not acknowledge him; for when he sees his poor relation, he hides himself from him, being ashamed to speak to him, because he is poor. [AJWS translation]
אין בעולם קשה מן העניות שהוא קשה מכל יסורין שבעולם. אמרו רבותינו כל היסורין לצד אחד והעניות לצד אחד .מי שהוא עשיר ויש לו קרוב עני אינו מודה בו, רואה קרובו נטמן מפניו שהוא מתבייש להשיח עמו לפי שהוא עני.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the connection between the first and second part of the text?
2. Where does the rich man's shame come from? How can his shame be expunged in order that he might help his relative?
3. Have you ever experienced this kind of shame - either as one who was in need of help or as one who could offer help? What would have made the experience easier?


Albert Vorspan and David Saperstein, Jewish Dimensions of Social Justice (New York: UAHC Press, 1998), p. 94.

Original
By the Middle Ages, community responsibility encompassed every aspect of life. The Jewish community regulated market prices so that the poor could purchase food and other basic commodities at cost. Wayfarers were issued tickets, good for meals and lodging at homes of members of the community, who took turns in offering hospitality. Both these practices anticipated "meal tickets" and modern food stamp plans. Some Jewish communities even established "rent control," directing that the poor be given housing at rates they could afford. In Lithuania, local trade barriers were relaxed for poor refugees. When poor young immigrants came from other places, the community would support them until they completed their education or learned a trade. The organization of charity became so specialized that numerous societies were established to keep pace with all the needs. Each of the following functions was assumed by a different society on behalf of the community at large: visiting the sick, burying the dead, furnishing dowries for poor girls, providing clothing, ransoming captives, supplying maternity needs, and providing necessities for observing holidays. In addition there were public inns for travelers, homes for the aged, orphanages, and free medical care. As early as the eleventh century, a hekdesh ("hospital") was established by the Jewish community of Cologne, primarily for poor and sick travelers. Many later medieval Jewish communities in Poland and Germany adopted this pattern. Spanish Jewish communities hired doctors to serve the entire community to
ensure that health care was available to all

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How can we use the systems described here as a model for our own activism?
2. What is missing from this list?
3. In what ways has the Jewish community lapsed in its care for those in need?


2. Rabbinic Texts on Tzedakah and Acts of Loving Kindness to non-Jews

Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 61a

Translation Original
Our Rabbis taught: We sustain the non-Jewish poor with the Jewish poor, visit the non-Jewish sick with the Jewish sick, and bury the non-Jewish dead with the Jewish dead, for the sake of peace. [AJWS translation]
ת"ר: מפרנסים עניי נכרים עם עניי ישראל, ומבקרין חולי נכרים עם חולי ישראל, וקוברין מתי נכרים עם מתי ישראל, מפני דרכי שלום.

Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 104a

Translation Original
The Rabbis told R. Joshua b. Levi: Children have come to the Beit Midrash (house of study) and said things the like of which was not said even in the days of Joshua the son of Nun. [Thus]: Alef Beth means “learn wisdom” [Alef Binah]; Gimmel Daleth, “show kindness to the poor” [Gemol Dallim]. Why is the foot of the Gimmel stretched toward the Daleth? Because it is fitting for the benevolent to run after [seek out] the poor. And why is the roof of the Daleth stretched out toward the Gimmel? Because he [the poor] must make himself available to her [the benevolent]. And why is the face of the Daleth turned away from the Gimmel? Because she must give him help in secret, lest she be ashamed of him. [Soncino translation. Edited for gender neutrality.]
אמרי ליה רבנן לרבי יהושע בן לוי: אתו דרדקי האידנא לבי מדרשא ואמרו מילי דאפילו בימי יהושע בן נון לא איתמר כוותייהו: אל"ף בי"ת - אלף בינה, גימ"ל דל"ת - גמול דלים, מאי טעמא פשוטה כרעיה דגימ"ל לגבי דל"ת - שכן דרכו של גומל חסדים לרוץ אחר דלים. ומאי טעמא פשוטה כרעיה דדל"ת לגבי גימ"ל - דלימציה ליה נפשיה. ומאי טעמא מהדר אפיה דדל"ת מגימ"ל - דליתן ליה בצינעה, כי היכי דלא ליכסיף מיניה

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. According to this text, who is responsible for ensuring that the poor receive charity?
2. Why would the benevolent be ashamed of the poor? Do you see examples of this today?
3. How do the values in this text translate to our tzedakah practice?


Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra, 8a

Translation Original
It was taught: [One must dwell in a place] thirty days [before giving] to the soup kitchen, three months for the charity fund, six months for clothing, nine months for burial, twelve months for paying taxes. [Translation by Uri L’Tzedek. Edited for gender neutrality]
והתניא: שלשים יום - לתמחוי, שלשה חדשים - לקופה, ששה - לכסות, תשעה - לקבורה, שנים עשר - לפסי העיר

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why does the Talmud stagger one’s responsibility to these different areas of charity?

2. What does this text assume about the development of one’s relationship to their community? Can a dweller contribute immediately if he or she desires to do so?


3. Exploring the Concept of "For the Sake of the Paths of Peace"

On Giving Tzedakah to Non-Jews, Arthur Waskow, "Down to Earth Judaism," (1995 HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.)

Original
"For the sake of the paths of peace," said the Rabbis, non-Jews as well as Jews should be given tzedakah. This phrase has two sides. It can be understood either as grudging or as transformative. It might mean that although non-Jews are not really entitled to be helped, keeping peace in the world requires that they be given help. Or it can be understood to mean that for the sake of shalom, the highest communal good and goal, it is not only an obligation but a joy to help all human beings. It may be whichever aspect of this phrase spoke most deeply to people--the fearful and prudential one, or the one that was visionary and hopefully--depended on what the relationships between Jews and their neighbors were in any given time and place. In our own generation, when most Jews are not oppressed or outcasts, both the prudential and the hopeful may fuse into one.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Are you more inclined to believe that the phrase "for the sake of paths to peace" is grudging or transformative?
2. Has the reasoning for caring for the non-Jewish poor shifted in our modern context?
3. How do you react and respond to Waskow's reasoning in the last line of the text?


Rashi, Leviticus 25:35 (cf. Torat Kohanim, Sifre Behar, Chapter 5)

Translation Original
"And you hold [your fellow]" - Do not let your fellow slip down until they fall completely, for then it will be difficult to raise them; rather, strengthen your fellow as they begin to fall. To what is this comparable? To a burden upon an donkey. While it is still on the donkey, one person can hold it and set it in place. If it falls to the earth, even five people cannot set it back. [AJWS translation]

 

והחזקת בו - אל תניחהו שירד ויפול ויהיה קשה להקימו, אלא חזקהו משעת מוטת היד. למה זה דומה, למשאוי שעל החמור, עודהו על החמור אחד תופס בו ומעמידו, נפל לארץ, חמשה אין מעמידין אותו:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. In today's world there are millions of people who are slipping and millions more who have already fallen completely. Knowing this, how can we still utilize the wisdom of this text?
2. How does this text impact how we might think about foreign aid?


Mishna, Baba Batra 1:5

Translation Original
Mishnah: He [a resident of a courtyard] may be compelled [by the rest] to [contribute to] the building of a porter's lodge and a door for the courtyard. Rabban Shimon b. Gamliel, however, says that not all courtyards require a porter's lodge. He [a resident of a city] may be compelled to contribute to the building of a wall, folding doors and a cross bar. Rabban Shimon b. Gamliel says that not all towns require a wall. How long must a man reside in a town to be counted as one of the townsmen? Twelve months. If, however, he buys a house there, he is at once reckoned as one of the townsmen. [Soncino translation]
כופין אותו לבנות בית שער ודלת לחצר רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר לא כל החצרות ראויות לבית שער כופין אותו לבנות לעיר חומה ודלתים ובריח רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר לא כל העיירות ראויות לחומה כמה יהא בעיר ויהא כאנשי העיר שנים עשר חודש קנה בה בית דירה הרי הוא כאנשי העיר מיד:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What is the significance of contributing to communal needs?
3. What social justice themes emerge from this text?
4. What makes the purchase of property such an important act in becoming a member of the community?


4. The Principle of Proximity

Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 71a

Translation Original
R. Joseph learnt: If you lend money to any of my people that are poor with you: [this teaches, if the choice lies between] a Jew and a non-Jew, a Jew has preference; the poor or the rich the poor takes precedence; your poor [i.e. your relatives] and the [general] poor of your town, your poor come first; the poor of your city and the poor of another town the poor of your own town have prior rights. [Soncino translation]
דתני רב יוסף (שמות כ"ב) אם כסף תלוה את עמי את העני עמך, עמי ונכרי - עמי קודם, עני ועשיר - עני קודם, ענייך ועניי עירך - ענייך קודמין, עניי עירך ועניי עיר אחרת - עניי עירך קודמין.

Leviticus 25:35

Translation Original
And if your fellow becomes poor and their means fail with you, then you shall strengthen your fellow, whether a stranger or a settler, your fellow shall live with you. [[JPS translation] Edited for gender neutrality]
וְכִי יָמוּךְ אָחִיךָ וּמָטָה יָדוֹ עִמָּךְ וְהֶחֱזַקְתָּ בּוֹ גֵּר וְתוֹשָׁב וָחַי עִמָּךְ:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean that your fellow's means fail with you?
2. Why does the law specify whether a stranger or a settler?
3. How would this law read if it were on a national scale, rather than a personal directive?