Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Charitable Giving, Tzedakah Style

This post starts with a bit of a lesson in how Jews view charitable giving. From there I'm going to expound on how this philosophy might be expanded upon for charitable giving over the internet.

Tzedakah (Hebrew: צדקה) in Judaism, is the Hebrew term most commonly translated as "charity", though it is based on a root meaning "justice" (צדק).

According to Maimonides (known as the Rambam) there are eight levels of tzedakah in Jewish tradition, ranging from publicly giving funds, so that the donor and recipient both know who each other is, to providing the means by which a needy person can become self-sustaining.

Maimonides defined the following eight levels of charity:

  1. Giving a poor person work (or loaning him money to start a business) so he will not have to depend on charity. This is because the person is now free from having to rely on charity. The giver has not just helped the recipient for the short while, but instead for the rest of their life. There are four sub-levels to this:
    1. Giving a poor person work.
    2. Making a partnership with them (this is lower than work, as the recipient might feel he doesn't put enough into the partnership).
    3. Giving a loan.
    4. Giving a gift.
  2. Giving charity anonymously to an unknown recipient.
  3. Giving charity anonymously to a known recipient.
  4. Giving charity publicly to an unknown recipient.
  5. Giving charity before being asked.
  6. Giving adequately after being asked.
  7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.
  8. Giving unwillingly.

Note that these are listed in order of 'righteousness', with number one being the most righteous was to give, and number 8 being the least righteous.

Judaism is very tied to the concept of tzedakah, or charity, and the nature of Jewish giving has created a Jewish community that is very philanthropic. Because Judaism puts emphasis on the doing of good deeds, one's acts of righteousness are extremely important in living a sacred life. Because the second highest level of tzedakah is giving anonymously to an unknown recipient, anonymous donations are especially common in the jewish community.

Charitable giving over the Internet

Unlike Maimonides's second level of charitable giving, over the internet it is impossible to donate to a charitable cause or to an individual's tip jar anonymously. This is because your identity as a giver is tied into your credit card information. When someone drops a tip into my tip jar, (and thank you to those that have), I know who the person is because they've used PayPal, which demands authentication through bank accounts. I'd much rather not know who donates, and I wonder if the people that donate would rather be anonymous. For example, Mir is currently raising money for the 3-day Walk for a Cure walk in Boston. When you donate to Mir's fundraising page, there is no way to make an anonymous donation. I find this mildly irritating, because I do try to adhere to the principles of tzedakah when I am considering a charitable donation to an institution.

In our home, we have several tzedakah boxes, as you would see in most Jewish homes. We tend to drop our change into the box, occasionally stuff an extra dollar or two in there as well, and when the boxes fill up we take them down to have the change sorted and counted and then discuss where we plan to donate the money. I usually buy a money order at the post office, because those can be anonymous, and then send in the donation to our charitable choice.

But what about anonymous giving over the net? Would you want to be able to do this? Would you want to be able to direct your charitable giving to the exact projects you support when donating to a large organization like the United Way or your alma mater? If you were to give to the American Cancer Society in honor of a friend who has overcome Hodgkins Lymphoma, would you want to ask that your donation go directly into fighting that particular disease? Do you want to donate anonymously to an individual with a tip jar on a blog, knowing that person might be embarassed by the small amount of your donation? Or that you might be embarassed that all you can donate is a dollar, but you still have that person in your thoughts?

I would be much more likely to donate over the net if my donations could be anonymous. I am bothered by the constant phishing for my personal information, something I believe should be kept private, especially in giving tzedakah. Much of this refers back to the issue of authentication I mentioned a few days back. I've got some ideas I'm brewing in my brain, and will be posting more about this, but I'd really like your opinions on charitable giving over the net. Do you give the same way over the net that you do in snailmail or in person? Do you give anonymously? If you receive charity, do you want it to be anonymous? Would you rather know the donator? Would you be more likely to give if you were able to ensure that your gift went right to the program that you want to support within a large institutional charity?

Lots to think about.
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Blogger OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Wow! Great post Margalit...you are pondering some very important questions...You know, though I am Jewish, I never heard these tenents about Vharitable giving. Though I did grow up in an atmosphere of giving..and generously I think...sometimes anonymously and sometimes in a very specific way to very specific people. Both my parents as individuals and as a unit while they were married, certainly lived the "Tzedakah"(?) way...and I think I picked up this feeling of wanting to help others, especially very often, anonamously...I think it would be fantastic to find a way to give over the Internet in an Anonymous manner. I also really like it when whatever I do give to a very specific charity because of the loss of someone I cared about goes to the very specific place in that charity of my choice...weather it be research, or for children, or whatever...If you can come up with an idea of how to do these things Margalit, I would love to know about them.

30/3/06 12:09 AM  
Blogger Belinda said...

Very cool lesson, thanks!

There are some very good ways to give anonymously, just, as you say, not directly TO another person...hmmm. Seems that PayPal would offer that option, just for giving. I don't see what possible harm it could do to withhold a payER's information from a payEE, if the account is set up as a "donation" account?

We have a couple of pet charities (three, actually), but our favorite for giving "in honor of" someone else has to be Heiffer International. You make a donation, and the honoree gets a card and/or animated e-card telling them that, in their name, the gift of a lamb, a cow, a basket of chickens, etc. has been given. It's a wonderful gift because it is not only sustainable, but it allows the recipient to then become a giver in their own right, down the road. I love them. And I'm very proud, because the organization is local, and really makes a difference, a lasting difference, in peoples's lives all over the world.

30/3/06 1:39 AM  

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