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The Concept of Charity in Jewish Thought


Following is Rabbi Ari Enkin’s latest piece in a series on charity according to Torah thought.

Rabbi Yochanan says:  Separate a 10th of your earnings so that you will become wealthy!

One of the first biblically mandated forms of charitable donations concerns one’s agricultural profits. The Torah teaches us that one who harvests a field should leave a portion of the field untouched so that the poor may come and take of it. Similarly, should one accidentally drop individual stalks when gathering produce, they must not be picked up, but rather left for the poor to come and gather.

Of course, the Torah also instructs us to care for the poor in terms of our financial resources. Not only is it required to give money to the poor, but even offering a loan is considered an important form of charity. The Torah teaches us that a charitable nature is one of the signs that a person is a true descendant of Abraham our forefather.

It was actually our forefather Abraham who introduced the well-known custom of tithing one’s income, known asma’aser, namely, giving 10 percent of one’s net income to charity. This idea of tithing our resources continues in several other places throughout the Torah, as well. Indeed it is only with regard to charity that one is permitted to tease and test God, as it were. That’s right – you may “threaten” God that you’re giving charity “on condition” that you become wealthy. We are taught that God ensures high dividends for those who give charity with noble motives.

There is a difference of opinion among the halachic (Jewish legal) authorities as to whether this idea of donating 10 percent of one’s income to charity is truly an obligation per se. Some authorities insist that it is actually a biblical requirement, while others limit it to a rabbinically instituted requirement. Yet other authorities assert that the concept of donating 10 percent is not a requirement at all, but rather a recommended and meritorious custom. This latter ruling is actually the majority view. Be advised, however, that donating more than


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