1. Tzedakah Means Righteousness

The Hebrew word for charity is tzedakah, which actually means “justice” or “righteousness.” There is an important nuance here. In Jewish thought, giving to people in need is not something extra; it’s just the correct, honest thing to do. Our money is not ours. It belongs to G‑d, who has graciously entrusted it to us. It is only right for us to distribute it as He wishes, sharing it with His needy children.

Read: The Myth of Charity

2. The Pushke (Charity Box) Is the Hallmark of the Jewish Home

In the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, there was a designated chamber (called lishkat chasha-in, “the chamber of the discrete ones”) where people could deposit money earmarked for the poor. Those who had fallen on hard times were able to come there and receive sustenance in a respectable manner.1 In recent centuries, that tradition lives on in the tzedakah boxes (pushkes in Yiddish) that grace Jewish homes everywhere.

Read: A History of the Charity Box

3. Tzedakah Can Be Goods or Services

Low on cash? Cook a meal for an elderly neighbor, visit someone who is ill, or volunteer at your kid’s school. The sages teach us that even a poor person who subsists on the charity of others should perform acts of charity.2 Each of us has something to contribute to others: time, expertise, attention, or even a simple smile.

Read: Is Flipping Burgers Charity?

4. Give in Concentric Circles

Give tzedakah to the needy, Torah schools, Jewish institutions, and humanitarian causes. The Code of Jewish Law provides some guidelines to determine where to give first. A family member who is in difficult financial straits takes precedence over non-family. Likewise, local poor and charitable organizations take precedence over their faraway counterparts. And charitable causes in Israel take precedence over non-local charities in the Diaspora.3

5. Tzedakah for Israel Is Special

Supporting the poor of the Holy Land has a long and proud history. Since at least since the 16th century, the Jewish communities in the Holy Land have sent messengers to collect funds from their brethren in the Diaspora. These messengers were often wise rabbis who were learned in Torah but also possessed the resourcefulness necessary to remain safe on the long and treacherous journeys abroad.

Chabad has been raising funds for the Jews of the Holy Land since 1788, making Colel Chabad the oldest continuously operating tzedakah network in Israel. Monies collected for the poor of Israel are often associated with Rabbi Meir Baal Haness.

Read: What (and Who) Is Rabbi Meir Baal Haness

6. Charity Saves From Death

Charity is so potent that it can save a person from death. The Talmud illustrates this with the story of a reedcutter who was destined to die by snakebite but survived in the merit of bread he surreptitiously shared with a poor coworker.4

Read: Why the Reedcutter Didn’t Die

7. Give Tzedakah Before Prayer

It is customary to give charity before praying. This is based on the Talmudic teaching: “The ways of G‑d are not like the ways of mortals. How is it among humans? If a man brings a gift to a king, it may be accepted or it may not be accepted. Even if it is accepted, it is still doubtful whether or not he will be admitted into the presence of the king. Not so with G‑d. If a person gives even a small coin to a beggar, he is deemed worthy to receive the Divine Presence, as it is written, ‘I shall behold thy face in tzedek [charity].’” Accordingly, says the Talmud, Rabbi Eleazar used to give a coin to a poor man immediately prior to praying.5

Read: Why and When to Give Charity Before Prayer

8. Give Tzedakah Before Lighting Candles

Just before women and girls light candles on Friday afternoon to usher in the Shabbat, it is customary to give charity. Since no charity can be given on Shabbat day (when money is not handled), an extra sum is given beforehand.

Read a Deeper Reason for Charity Before Candle-Lighting

9. People Like to Give in Multiples of 18

A chai pendant worn by a woman.
A chai pendant worn by a woman.

When donating charity, Jews often choose to give in multiples of 18, such as 36, 54, 72 etc. This is because chai (חי), the Hebrew word for life, has the numerical value of 18. So $180, for example, is called “10 times chai.” This expresses our prayer that the merit of the charity stand in our good stead, and that we be blessed with life and prosperity.

Read: Why We Give In Multiples of 18

10. You Can Make Deals With G‑d

While it is preferable to give charity “just because,” the sages say that one who donates in the merit that their child live is still considered perfectly righteous.6

Furthermore, G‑d assures us that through donating 10% of our earnings to charity we will prosper, and even invites us to try Him out. In the words of the prophet Malachi, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this,” says G‑d, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”7

Read: Protection Money

11. Maimonides Identified Eight Levels of Charity

Maimonides lists eight levels of giving charity.8 The loftiest is one who extends a loan, allowing the recipient to honorably support themselves with their dignity intact. The lowest is one who gives unwillingly.

Read: 8 Levels of Charity

12. Ten (or Twenty) Percent Is Best

In Temple Times, every Jewish farmer gave 10% of his produce to the Levite. A second 10% was sometimes taken to Jerusalem as a tribute to G‑d and at other times distributed to the poor, depending on the year. There were also smaller amounts given to the Kohanim (priests).

Accordingly, the sages determined that it is proper to give 10% of our earnings to charity. Those who are able should strive to give 20%. This is known as maser, “a tenth,” and chomesh, “a fifth.”9

Read: Jews and Taxes

13. Food Is Better Than Cash

Reflecting the traditional division of duties, the Talmud brings the assertion of the wife of Mar Ukva that a woman’s charity is greater than that of her husband. While he can only give money (with which food and other necessities can be purchased), the woman is in the position to give a ready-to-eat meal, which can be enjoyed immediately.10 While many contemporary women do not find themselves in the kitchen all day, the lesson is clear: Make your charity accessible and easy to use, with no strings attached.

Read: Food for Thought

14. Tzedakah Brings the Redemption

“Keep justice and practice tzedakah, for My salvation is near to come, and My benevolence to be revealed,” says the prophet Isaiah.11 From this, the sages teach that “great is tzedakah for it brings the redemption.”12

Learn More About the Messianic Era

15. Tzedakah Is Easy

Tzedakah is an easy mitzvah that requires no prior experience. Just pull out your wallet, credit card, checkbook, or smartphone, and direct some funds to a charitable cause. We’re happy if you give to any worthy organization or individual, but we will (humbly) point out that Chabad.org brings millions of people authentic Jewish teachings, inspiration, and information—including this very page. All of this is free of charge, and we would be so very honored if you choose to make Chabad.org one of your tzedakah destinations.

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