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Judaism is Nice, But Isn't it More Important to Feed the Hungry?

Judaism is Nice, But Isn't it More Important to Feed the Hungry?

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''Poverty'' by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher
"Poverty" by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher

Question:

Each year, we Jews spend so many millions of dollars, and devote so much time and energy, to building synagogues, Jewish schools, and a slew of other religious and academic institutions. Wouldn't it be better if we applied all those resources to feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and working to alleviate all the horrendous suffering that goes on in so many places in the world?

Answer:

Why do you care about the homeless? What's it your business? Are they members of your own family that you should be concerned about them?

And who's children are starving? Yours? Why should you feel responsible for someone else's child? Why is it your problem? What is it that makes you care for the needs of others?

It is certainly not logic that drives you to help others. If anything, it is illogical to give away your hard-earned money--money you may need some day for yourself or your family--to someone who you don't even know. Neither is it human nature that compels us to care for a stranger. And there is no legal obligation to share your wealth with others. So what drives your desire to do so?

The answer: You have values, principles of right and wrong, conceptions of "good" and "bad" that direct your life and demand that you behave a certain way. You don't give charity because it makes sense, or because you instinctively feel the urge to give, or because the law of the land instructs you to. You give charity because it is moral, it is right, it is good to help those who are in need.

Where do your morals come from? What is the source of the value of charity? The Torah. It was the Hebrew Bible that proclaimed that our income is only partly ours. It doesn't really belong to us at all, but is given us on loan, to use to serve G‑d, better G‑d's world and distribute to the needy. The Hebrew word for charity is tzedakah, meaning "justice." The Jewish tradition saw charity not as a noble act of generosity, but as a moral act of justice. To give is simply the right thing to do.

You have a wonderful sense of values. But values do not live in a vacuum. To survive and spread, values need institutions and communities in which they are fostered and taught. That is the function of a synagogue, a yeshivah, an adult education program. A place where values are taught and lived. By joining a community devoted to Torah ideals, we become sensitized to the needs of others. By studying the Torah's messages and following the way of life it teaches, its values are shared and passed down.

We need to give tzedakah to feed the poor and shelter the homeless. But we also need to ensure that the very value of tzedakah is nurtured and sustained, so that our children should never suffer from moral poverty.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
Image by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher. To view or purchase Ms. Brombacher’s art, click here.
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Lisa Providence, RI February 15, 2014

Judaism has Organizations to Help Try these Jewish Organizations:

1. Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger

2. Maot Chitim ("Wheat Money") for Passover

3. Jewish War Veterans: Homeless and Jewish Poor

4. Kosher Meals on Wheels

5. Jewish Volunteering Reply

Jan Schulman Oxnard, CA via chabadofoxnard.com July 27, 2009

'conditinal' tsedekah so often i hear people say that they will only give charity to those who are "deserving" of it, or they will condition it by saying, "well, I will buy them food, but not give them money to spend on drugs and alchohol." Or, "if they are strong enough to stand on a street and beg, they are strong enough to get a good honest job." Who are we to judge or have any idea of why someone is homeless, or helpless? Do we stop to inquire as to the history or the need of the individual. Do we offer a kind word with our handouts? Do we see the needy person as a human being worth of our love and caring or as just a vehicle for our Torah-mandated charity to make ourselves feel better? Do we give with love to the person and for G-d, or only because we think we are 'supposed' to? Do we only drop into Tsadakah boxes, or do we reach out to people with our hearts and souls and willingness to help? What is the true heart and soul of our charity? Your gift to G-d is to give with love & compassion. Reply

HaYatom Chicago, IL July 27, 2009

Not a trick. The soul of Judaism is G-d, not an action. Good and holy teachings are not the essence of charity, for charity can be enacted for all the wrong reasons even as crusades and inquisitions have been... BTW, the word 'nice' comes from the Latin root nicius which means 'ignorant'... therefore calling Judaism "nice" is sort of a contradiction... true Judaism teaches chesed (kindness), however so do many other philosophies so that isn't the "soul of Judaism". Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said, "since Torah is the foundation of what is True then every true idea can find its place/root in and from Torah". However we also know that the surest & most effective lie is that which is 99.9% true... "Causes" do not answer the question, if they did we would have ended hungry already. There was a time when every person in China had food, and yet there was still hunger there? So perhaps the Q is in perspective, What does having the poor & hungry in our midst say about those of us who are not poor or hungry? Reply

mark alcock Durban, SA July 26, 2009

it's a trick question ? Judaism teaches chessed (kindness); which is the soul of Judaism which reminds us to feed and help the poor and hungry, just as G-d delivered us too from slavery. Therefore, all good and holy teachings which include giving & being charitable begin & end with Judaism. Reply

Jan Schulman Oxnard, CA via chabadofoxnard.com July 25, 2009

No Easy Answers --- But Give Charity Nobody has a quick and easy fix to the problems of today's world. And charity is needed more than ever, by all people. So while we all may be struggling, it is a Mitzvah to give what you can to those less fortunate and to be grateful to G-d for what you do have. This may sound simplistic, but the truth is --- the truth is always simplistic. If each of us would do what we can do, with love and charity in our hearts, that is all we ask of ourselves. And G-d will love us for our love of our fellow man. Remember: These are ALL his children! So help them whenever you can. Reply

Paul miami, usa July 23, 2009

feeding the hungry/moral poverty it would be nice if all of us, jews and gentiles were of such high morality that we could end starvation, poverty, war, hate, racism, torture and any other disgraceful thing we have wrought upon our world.. today..however..we are corrupt and only when we decide to look inward, to accept g-d in our heart, to live by torah, to believe deeply and truly love in the purest state of mind then and only then will these things end and dear friends..we have such a long way to go but with g-d's love all is possible and I believe there is no other answer. Reply

HaYatom Chicago, IL July 12, 2009

Hmmm.... I see people asking for money to support Torah learning, and yet the same people are the ones who wouldn't stop and help me - another Jew - when I needed rent money... Yet when I said I'd go to their yeshiva they said they'd give me a $3000 stipend to help support my learning, and when I said what about my obligations they said, "oh leave those for now and after you've studied everything will be fine"... yet isn't that a violation of Torah? Aren't we suppose to teach our children a trade/a way to earn a living WHILE studying Torah? I know people who live on welfare NOT because they can't get a job, yet because all they do is study, IS that really living according to Torah? Reply

mark alcock Durban, SA July 12, 2009

G-d keeps spiritual blessings from self indulgent. Remove the scales from your eyes!! Are we not our brothers keeper? (read Torah). Does not charity start at home, but never ends, until it is unconditionally delivered outside too?? Imagine feeding the hungry Jew first (feels great!). But isn't it a greater mitzvah to reach out and beyond once all the hungry Jews are fed, in search of feeding the multitudes, even our hungry enemies?? Surely then will the imbalances & injustices disappear. A Torah life restored from above, with divine peace... showered by abundant blessings. Reply

Anonymous July 11, 2009

i.e. moral poverty thanks for the discussion forum on this issue; i think its a timely one.

is moral poverty the same as ethical poverty?

is financial poverty preceded by ethical or moral bankruptcy?

charitable giving is important, because its one of the things that separates us from the animals & (beastly) greed/consumerism ...

If you focus your mind on charity ... is there room then, for greed?

Thanks for the opportunity to comment. Reply

HaYatom Chicago, IL July 11, 2009

we need tzedakah....? What about social narcissism? Do we still live in such an "impoverished mentality" that our only focus is within our ten block radius? Modern ghetto mentality seems to think that having more yeshivot is the next step, yet we are the architects of modern civilization - our Torah values have effected every corner of the globe... What r we waiting for and when do we stand up? Why start another yeshiva when there are three within walking distance? Why not alter the educational process of our neighbors? Why build another synagogue when there is one on every corner? Why not begin actual dialogue and learning with other branches of Judaism and dare I say other beliefs? No not to be ecumenical nor to be homogenized or assimilated, yet to explain how all the differences are suppose to work together to create a better world for us all... Where's Moshiach? right here as a spark in each of us, and He won't come till we act like He's here! Do we leave the work for him, or do it now! Reply

Gail Ann Thompson Liberty, MO July 10, 2009

Feeding the hungry. Thank you. This answer needs to be read and re-read from time to time. It is all too easy to become caught up in the world. Easier, still, to become caught up in ourselves and our little problems. It is the next generation, and the teaching of them to honor and serve G-d, where the urgency lies. Reply

Ester Taieb Tel Aviv, Israel July 10, 2009

Judaism is Nice, But Isn't it More Important to Fe The question was important and I thank you very much! That way, we won this very smart and true answer!!!!

Just to emphasize Rabbi's answer, you do not need to wait for the others and look at the others to start helping people in need. It is always very simple to blame organizations or states etc... and point their weakness resolving society problems. Maybe if you start to look at your neighbours and see people in the need? Maybe you could help them yourself without waiting for an official organization to do it? Maybe you can every Shabbat invite a poor or few people in need and share your Shabbat meals? Yes think about it if every jewish family would invite a homeless in their very nice house or even simple house and share their meals, this would be a true act of Tzedaka? You do not need any organization to do so. Let's hope that this coming Shabbat you will find a homeless and share with him your plate.... !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Reply

Barney Wolfson Phoenix, AZ July 9, 2009

Feeding the hungry rather than building syngogues I love the answer Reply

Anonymous New York, NY August 15, 2008

re What's the point of ritual actions in Judaism First I want to say that Eli's comment was beautifully written and expressed a wonderful idea that I personally took to heart and felt that everyone could benefit from. The idea that being part of the community, being involved in the community is what connects us to the community. Unfortunately this was not a ritual action, it was social action. So I do not believe that this adequately addresses the actual question, which is how do we align our priorities? I think fundamentally, the answer lies in if we do not support Torah learning we are not going to foster the type of people who are truly and deeply committed to feeding the poor, the hungry, and the sick consistently. If you look at per capita giving of charity, the Jews exceed any other group of people on the planet. Still I think we can do better, as a group, and as a people. And hopefully those ritualized actions that Eli Federman so eloquently spoke about, will encourage us to do so. Reply

Eli Federman Milwaukee, WI August 15, 2008

Whats the point of ritual actions in Judaism ? Is A woman once suffered from social apathy, a condition marked by a lack of feeling, and consideration for others – total indifference. After seeking help from psychologists, psychiatrists, and other experts for her social apathy disorder, no treatment or therapy helped. As a last resort she sought advice from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe told her that she should take a break from her privileged lifestyle and spend time volunteering as a waiter, in an effort to externally foster empathy for others. It worked.

Philip Card, psychotherapist, author and trainer, encapsulated this point stating: “Symbolic action (the indirect approach to change) is not sleight of mind. It engages our psyches and souls at a deeply intuitive level, fostering change through subconscious learning.” That is why ritual actions are so vitally important in the Jewish tradition. Reply

David kings park, NY June 17, 2008

Well written What is right and wrong? Where do morals come from? Well the philosopher can ponder all he/she wants (whats right to one group or even individual might seem wrong to someone else.) Truth be told i look to the Torah. To me its Divine it came from an all Good G-d and still continues, and will always continue. I could be in the center of a hurricane, and despite the fact that im in this storm i realize that it is calm at the center. Reply

Anonymous New York, NY February 9, 2008

A contradiction where there is none If there is not a bedrock of Torah, there is not a bedrock of morality. Yes it is that simple. If we don't spend money on Jewish education, we're first doing a great disservice towards G-d. G-d gave us the Torah for a reason, to study it, and live by it. I don't know if anyone has ever observed people who are well fed and wicked, but I certainly have. There are some things that come even before food, sorry. Yom Kippur is there to remind us of that. We are G-d's children first, and we must study His book to understand who he wants us to be, because without the Torah even if we were all well fed, we would not have a bedrock of morality on which to stand. All those who believe that morality comes from outside of G-d, I challenge them to really look at the world and see if that's true. And outside of the Torah, I challenge them also to see if that's true. If you can't be an upstanding person yourself how are you possibly expected to influence someone else to be upstanding as well? Reply

jan schulman oxnard, CA via chabadofoxnard.com February 8, 2008

isn't it better to feed the hungry? reading the above comments, it occurs to me that some of us feel very strongly about helping others, and others of us feel that our first obligation is to jews. but if we are truly all god's children, then should we not reach out to all people? Reply

Shemen NY February 7, 2008

Shmor Nafsheca I don't really like putting up online comments, but for a reason beyond me I felt it necessary to put up this one.

Something my dad always tries to impress upon me is the idea in the Torah that one has to "protect your (living) soul very very much." That's to say that one must be aware of their physical health very very much. So why, when in few other places the words "very very" are used, does the Torah want us to protect ourselves physically? The same reason we put on the oxygen masks on plains before we do on children. G-d forbid we wouldn't have the physical ability to help those around us. So too it is necessary for the Jewish people to preserve their own "health" lest they wouldn't be able to help the world either. Reply

Fischel Fresno & NYC, CA & NY February 7, 2008

Judaism is Nice, But Isn't it More Important to Fe my father's question would be slightly different. he would ask: why do all the rituals instead of feeding the hungry; why care about the specifics of rituals when there are so many things that need attention directly, or something like that Reply