On the Ethics of Giving

I have a new piece up on the Washington Post’s site about the ethics of giving.

As usual, the difficulty was paring down what I had to say to fit within the word limit. I incorporated a bit from the Talmud, but wanted to put in a bit more rabbinic material. Since I wasn’t able to fit it in there, I’ll go ahead and include it here! Thus, these items were definitely floating around in my head, they just didn’t make it on the page:

“All men are to be loved equally; but since you cannot be of assistance to everyone, those especially are cared for who are most closely bound to you by place, time, or opportunity as if by chance.” (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine 1.28.29)

Then these gleanings from  the anthology Jewish Wisdom by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin:

Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsberg (d. 1778) said: “When a poor man asks you for aid, do not use his faults as an excuse for not helping him. For then God will look for your offenses, and He is sure to find many” (p. 15)

If a person closes his eyes to avoid giving [any] charity, it is as if he committed idolatry. [Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 68a] (p. 16)

A person who gives a thousand gold pieces to a worthy cause is not as generous as one who gives a thousand gold pieces on a thousand different occasions, each to a worthy cause. [Anonymous; sixteenth century Orhot Zaddikim (The Ways of the Righteous)] (p. 17)

The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the question of bread for my neighbor is a spiritual question. [Nicholai Berdyaev] (p. 25)

2 Replies to “On the Ethics of Giving”

  1. A wonderful piece. I love the things you’ve included here, too! The Jewish tradition is so incredibly rich – especially on topics like this one….

  2. Derek:
    I posted the following on the Washington Post site:

    “There is another dynamic in the matter of the ethics of giving. I was raised by a pastor who said that if one chose not to give a 10% tithe to the poor and needy or to the ecclesiastical community or whatever, one should go down to the bridge and through 10% of one’s income into the river—simply to make sure that one did not become enslaved to money.”

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