Tzedakah: History and Development

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Later on, the rabbis of medieval times sought to clarify and codify the various, disparate laws of giving tzedakah. Rabbi Moses Maimonides, a famous legal scholar and physician, even developed an eight-stage approach of varying degrees of giving tzedakah dealing with such subtleties as these: How much should one give? Should giving be done anonymously? What is the ideal form, or amount, of tzedakah? Ranked as most virtuous in Maimonides’ list is assistance that enables the recipient to become self-sufficient.

The obligations--and quandaries--involved in giving tzedakah are as much a contemporary issue as they were in ancient times. Should one give to beggars in the streets? Should we give food or money? What about our concerns that they might spend the money on drugs or alcohol? If we give panhandlers money, are we actually providing them with an incentive to continue begging? The Jewish tradition continues to address these issues because, unfortunately, the Torah’s statement regarding the eternality of the existence of needy ones appears to be only too prophetic.

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