Why do Jews tend to be charitable ("give tzedakah")?

Torah scrollJews tend to be charitable because of "The Holiness Code" (Leviticus, Chapter 19). It is a basic principle underlying the traditional Jewish commitment to charitable giving, fairness, human responsibility, and social justice. These fundamental values, rooted in the Torah, have led Jews to establish high standards of generosity for charitable causes. Actually, the concept of tzedakah extends beyond charity--its usual translation--and includes the dual concepts of righteousness and human responsibility--something a Jew is required to do as a part of her or his Jewishness, not simply a voluntary act.

Jewish scholar and rabbi Moses Maimonides outlined the levels of charity. The lowest level of charity is where one gives unwillingly. The highest form of charity is to strengthen the hand of the poor by giving a loan, or joining in partnership or training, to help the individual out of poverty, and become independent. The highest level of charity--helping a person establish herself or himself--is the foremost ideal of our modem social agenda as we address the complex issues of poverty and welfare and seek the best ways to help people break the chains of poverty. The words of Maimonides exemplify the compassion of Judaism and also vividly show how Jewish sages have sought to point the way for Jews to help make our world a better place in which all people might live with dignity and self-respect.

Most thoughtful Jews believe the remarkable extent of active involvement of modern Jews in support of charitable causes and issues of freedom and social justice did not arise in a vacuum but rather developed out of a religious and cultural heritage and faith, nurtured and refined over a period of 4,000 years. This Jewish heritage has been a very important factor in influencing and encouraging individual Jews to speak out on behalf of freedom, compassion, love, peace and justice for all. Therefore, committed Jews seek Jewish continuity, not just for themselves, but for all humankind.

see also: Choosing Judaism: Jewish Concern for 'TZEDAKAH" (Charity) and Social Justice