Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tzedakah and Charity: A False Choice--Elul 22

To give tzedakah (money) to or do tzedakah (acts of righteousness) for those in need is commonly distinguished from charity, which comes from the Latin word caritas, love. Charity, it is often argued, is something a person chooses to do because she or he feels kind or loving or compassionate toward those in need. In contrast, tzedakah, it is argued,  is an obligation to act toward another in justice, separate from any feeling one might have or not have toward the other; it is not dependent on pity, empathy, compassion, kindess, love, or any feeling.

This is a false choice.  Certainly, if one if offered the choice between having a fleeting feeling for a homeless person but doing nothing about it and giving a homeless person food or money even though one feels no sympathy for them it is better to give without feeling.  We keep repeating this choice as if it we a true one because of the long history of the argument between Judaism and Christianity.  We each want to claim our turf and announce that we got it right.

But Jews have never argued that it is best to give without love or chesed.  What madness would this be?  And Christians do not encourage people to feel without acting in love.  Caritas is often spoken of as a law of Christ, and this law entails feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, helping those in need, tithing. For both, Jews and Christians, the goal is to bring our actions of justice toward others, especially those in need, in harmony with deepest hearts.  No matter where we start and in what direction we are moving, from actions to feeling, or conviction to action, we are all on the way to the same wholeness. 

So when you think "tzedakah," don't think, "not charity" or "better than charity."  Think "God has shown you, O Earth Creature, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God." (Micah  6:8) 

No comments:

Post a Comment