Two Views of Charity

Two articles on the view of charity. The Jewish view and understanding of charity and what charity looks like today in an article by Peter Buffett, “The Charity-Industrial Complex” July 26, 2013, New York Times.


Tzedekah – Charity in the Jewish Tradition

“We are obligated to be more scrupulous in fulfilling the mitzvah of tzedakah [charity] than any other positive commandment, because tzedakah is the sign of the righteous person.” Thus wrote Moses Maimonides (the Rambam) in his Mishneh Torah.

In Hebrew tzedakah means both charity and righteousness. There cannot be one without the other. Yet this usage of the term only appears in the Talmud.

What, then, does the Torah say about charity? “If your brother sinks in poverty, then you shall strengthen him.” (Leviticus 25:35) “Do not harden your heart or shut your hand against your needy brother.” (Deuteronomy 15) “When you reap your harvest, do not pick the [fallen grapes] … or harvest the ends of your field. [These goods] must be left for the poor and the stranger.” (Leviticus 19).”When you lend money to the poor man among you, do not press him for repayment.” (Exodus 2)

Charity expresses a Jew’s duty to their fellow humans. Accordingly, lack of charity is a sin. Sodom was destroyed because of its people’s meanness, said the prophet Ezekiel. And Rabbi Joshua ben Korhah stated: “Anyone who shuts his eyes from the obligation of tzedakah is like one who worships idols.”

Jews may not judge others as inferior just because they are poor. Judaism holds that all earthly possessions belong to God. So a Jew’s worth is measured in mitzvot (commandments) and not in material goods.

The Jewish concept of charity is concerned with the dignity of the recipient. No one should feel beholden to another, or in any way ashamed to receive. In fact, it is sinful for a Jew to refuse charity if they are truly in need.

On seeing a poor man getting money in public, Rabbi Yannai said: “Better not to have given him anything, than to have given and caused humiliation.” In his Eight Degrees of Charity, Maimonides wrote that the seventh degree is when neither the donor nor the recipient knows the identity of the other.

Put these two concepts together, the absolute good of giving and the inviolable dignity of all, and a third conclusion is reached: Even the poor should be allowed the joy of performing tzedakah. The Talmud explains: “When a person gives even a prutah [the smallest coin] he or she is privileged to sense God’s presence.”

Encouraging a sense of charity in others is itself a mitzvah. “They that lead the many to righteousness will be like the stars forever,” says Daniel 12:13. Nor is charity only meant for Jews. The Talmud states that Jews should give to all peoples, because by so doing, they foster peace in the world, tikun olam.

On Yom Kippur Jews say “Prayer, repentance and charity can avert the evil decree.” Giving charity even emulates the Shekhinah, God’s divine presence. As Maimonides wrote “No joy is greater than the joy of gladdening the hearts of the poor, the orphans, the widows and the strangers.”

The eighth and highest degree of charity, wrote Maimonides, is giving so that the recipient becomes self-sufficient and has no more need for charity.

According to Jewish custom, a person should give at least a tenth of their wealth to the poor. Yet Judaism warns that giving beyond one’s means is counter-productive. After all, if they impoverish themselves, how can they give to others?

In traditional Jewish homes it is still customary for there to be at least one tzedakah box where funds for the needy are put. Jewish tradition encourages us to give tzedakah just prior to lighting the Sabbath candles on Friday night or on any other joyous occasion as a way of remembering and doing something practical for the less fortunate.


The Charity-Industrial Complex


Published: July 26, 2013, New York Time online

I HAD spent much of my life writing music for commercials, film and television and knew little about the world of philanthropy as practiced by the very wealthy until what I call the big bang happened in 2006. That year, my father, Warren Buffett, made good on his commitment to give nearly all of his accumulated wealth back to society. In addition to making several large donations, he added generously to the three foundations that my parents had created years earlier, one for each of their children to run.

Early on in our philanthropic journey, my wife and I became aware of something I started to call Philanthropic Colonialism. I noticed that a donor had the urge to “save the day” in some fashion. People (including me) who had very little knowledge of a particular place would think that they could solve a local problem. Whether it involved farming methods, education practices, job training or business development, over and over I would hear people discuss transplanting what worked in one setting directly into another with little regard for culture, geography or societal norms.

Often the results of our decisions had unintended consequences; distributing condoms to stop the spread of AIDS in a brothel area ended up creating a higher price for unprotected sex.

But now I think something even more damaging is going on.

Because of who my father is, I’ve been able to occupy some seats I never expected to sit in. Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left. There are plenty of statistics that tell us that inequality is continually rising. At the same time, according to the Urban Institute, the nonprofit sector has been steadily growing. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofits increased 25 percent. Their growth rate now exceeds that of both the business and government sectors. It’s a massive business, with approximately $316 billion given away in 2012 in the United States alone and more than 9.4 million employed.

Philanthropy has become the “it” vehicle to level the playing field and has generated a growing number of gatherings, workshops and affinity groups.

As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.

But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.

And with more business-minded folks getting into the act, business principles are trumpeted as an important element to add to the philanthropic sector. I now hear people ask, “what’s the R.O.I.?” when it comes to alleviating human suffering, as if return on investment were the only measure of success. Microlending and financial literacy (now I’m going to upset people who are wonderful folks and a few dear friends) — what is this really about? People will certainly learn how to integrate into our system of debt and repayment with interest. People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?

I’m really not calling for an end to capitalism; I’m calling for humanism.

Often I hear people say, “if only they had what we have” (clean water, access to health products and free markets, better education, safer living conditions). Yes, these are all important. But no “charitable” (I hate that word) intervention can solve any of these issues. It can only kick the can down the road.

My wife and I know we don’t have the answers, but we do know how to listen. As we learn, we will continue to support conditions for systemic change.

It’s time for a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New code.

What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it. Foundation dollars should be the best “risk capital” out there.

There are people working hard at showing examples of other ways to live in a functioning society that truly creates greater prosperity for all (and I don’t mean more people getting to have more stuff).

Money should be spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market. Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.

It’s an old story; we really need a new one.


Peter Buffett is a composer and a chairman of the NoVo Foundation.


Judaism and Charity

How does the Bible look at philanthropy and in what way does it differ from the way we normally look at it? For those of us searching for deeper insights about charity, we should look into the rabbinical traditions, which hold much wisdom. It can provide us solutions for charity in terms of community enterprise and sustainable development. I want to hear your comments on Judaism and charity.

Judaism and Charity
Article from the by David Russell

Charitable giving is a requirement of Jewish law. It is prescribed as a mitzvah (commandment). “When your brother will become poor, you will extend your hand to him” (Leviticus 25:35) and care for the “the stranger, and the orphan and the widow” (Deuteronomy 19:29).

Ever since the time of Abraham, there has been an obligation “to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right (tzedakah)” (Genesis 18:19). But “what is right” has been a subject of rabbinic interpretation ever since. The primary sources on this vast subject are Mishneh Torah, the first systematic codification of Jewish law by Maimonides in the 12th century, and the Shulchan Aruch, collated by Rabbi Joseph Karo in the 16th century.

The practice of ma’aser kesafim, giving 10% of one’s income, derives from Jacob’s commitment to God: “of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you” (Genesis 28:22). In the Talmud, an upper limit of 20% of income is set, based on the reasoning that a higher percentage may result in the giver himself becoming needy (Talmud, Ketubot 50a), but this does not apply if there is a need to save life.

Maimonides records eight levels of giving. The highest level is to help the recipient to become self-supporting, by finding or giving a job to the person in need, or making a loan to enable them to start up a business. “The giver who knows not to whom he gives and the recipient knows not from whom he receives” is the second highest level. The least good is the giver that is pained by the act of giving.

Rashi postulates in his commentary on Leviticus 25:35 that there is an even higher level of giving, that is to help people before they even require help on the basis that if a load “is still on the donkey, one person can grasp it and hold it in place. Once it falls to the ground, however, five people cannot pick it up” (Torath Kohanim 25:71). Giving before one is asked is particularly important in protecting the self-esteem of the person in need – as well as encouraging others to give as: “greater than one who does the mitzvah, is one who causes others to do a mitzvah” (Talmud, Baba Batra 9a).

The Talmudic concept of tovat hana’ah affords givers the right to choose the recipients of the money in a manner which provides them indirect benefit (Matnot Aniyiim 1:8). It is advised, though, that all funds should not be given to a single level of priority.

The amount that one gives should be calculated with care and ideally a separate fund should be established for funds to be held in trust for the ultimate recipients (Sefer Ma’aser Kesofim 50-54). Tzedakah should be given with compassion and happiness (Mishneh Torah 9:4). It should be made easy for recipients, so each community should have tzedekah administrators so the poor do not need to go house to house collecting (Sefer Tzedakah U’Mishpat 43). One should not brag about one’s giving, but it is acceptable to put one’s name on a gift for communal use (Shulchan Aruch 249:21).

Talmudic sources also wrestle with the ever-present issue of how givers are to decide on priorities. Most sources place the saving of life first (an interesting insight into the life of the times is the inclusion of ransom for captives in this category). We are told elsewhere that first comes closeness to the giver (relatives ahead of non-relatives); second comes intensity and nature of need (priority for those requiring food over those requiring clothing); thirdly, level of education (Torah scholars take precedence over non-scholars); fourthly gender (women take precedence over men). All these come before lineage, where a Jew takes precedence over a non-Jew.

Whilst strong ties of kinship and community are priorities for giving, as they are amongst all peoples, elsewhere in the Talmud we read: “We feed non-Jewish poor together with Jewish for the sake of peace (good relations).” (Talmud, Gittin 61a).

To conclude, there are no definitive answers to practical dilemmas of giving. Every Jew is commanded to give charity and help the needy. Jewish law leaves that open to interpretation, though within the parameters of these guidelines. Ultimately, this is our choice, and privilege.

First published: Jewish Renaissance Magazine, April 2010 Issue.

For more information on Jewish Renaissance, please visit:

Holistic Solution, Carteret Islands, PNG (Cantonese)

針對Carteret島民的困境,”Carteret 海島 計划”是一套整體解決島民困境的方案。這套解決的方案是設立一個”生活學府”,以讓社區有所改變。其中包括了一個商業規模的漁場運作。這個課程將教導島上每户家庭如何在經營生活的同時,也能尋求謀生。對島民來說,這不僅僅只是讓他們學會開發漁業資源, 也意味着他們將學會如何經營和管理自己的生活。漁業的發產是一項屬靈成果,建立在上帝在聖經里的話語基礎上所結出的屬靈果子。 Blog

Carteret Islands Transformation

The Carteret Islands Project is an innovative community development project. It provides a holistic solution to the plight of the Carteret islanders. The project incorporates a School of Life that comes with a fishery workshop that teaches the islanders how to make a living within the business of making life. | Project Blog

Philanthropic Billionaires

Interesting to note the amazing philanthropy catalyzed by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Would you do it if you were in their shoes?

40 US billionaires pledge half wealth to charity
AFP – Thursday, August 5, 2010

NEW YORK (AFP) – – Bill Gates and Warren Buffett think fellow US billionaires should donate most of their vast fortunes to charity — and they revealed Wednesday that 40 are set to do just that.

“Forty of the wealthiest families and individuals in the United States have committed to returning the majority of their wealth to charitable causes,” said a statement released by

The Giving Pledge, announced just six weeks ago, is the brainchild of Microsoft mogul Gates and investment guru Buffett who want to convince the richest people in the country to give 50 percent or more of their fortune to charity.

As of Wednesday, the group includes CNN founder Ted Turner, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison and Hollywood director George Lucas, as well as Buffett and Gates.

Buffett said they simply started working their way through Fortune magazine’s list of 400 US billionaires, who between them have an estimated net worth of 1.2 trillion dollars.

“We probably called somewhere between 70 and 80 people on the Forbes list. It was a very soft sell, but 40 signed up,” the chief executive of investment firm Berkshire Hathaway told reporters in a conference call. “We’ve made a terrific start.”

The idea is to squeeze morally-, not legally-binding pledges from the super wealthy.

There’ll be no group decisions on how money is spent or when. Instead, club members are to set an example by funding philanthropic pet projects, such as health, education and arts — and preferably sooner rather later.

“You don’t have to wait to die to give it away,” said Bloomberg, a media entrepreneur and major philanthropist whose worth is estimated by Forbes at 18 billion dollars. “It never made a lot of sense to me why you’d want to change the world for better and not be around to see it.”

Almost all on the list are self-made, such as Bloomberg, and are worth about a billion dollars, or far more. A few represent longer-established fortunes, including David Rockefeller.

They are not talking about taking vows of poverty. Bloomberg said he would ensure that his children were never destitute.

But he still has more than he can ever need. “You can’t spend it if you have over a certain amount,” he explained.

US billionaires have been out of favor with the public and politicians since the 2008 financial collapse. The pledge scheme might burnish their image.

“Business people are pretty widely mistrusted and seen as overwhelmingly self-interested,” conceded investment banker and newly signed-up pledge member Tom Steyer during the conference call.

“Warren and Bill Gates’ point is an emphatically different one.”

Apart from good PR, the scheme raises the prospect of eye-popping amounts of money flowing to charity.

If Gates and Buffett secured pledges of half the wealth of the 400 richest in the country, that would total more than 600 billion dollars, according to Forbes magazine estimates.

Gates alone is the second richest man in the world according to Forbes, with some 53 billion dollars, which places him narrowly behind Mexican telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim, with 53.5 billion.

Buffett, the second richest American, already announced in 2006 that he wanted gradually to give away all of his fortune estimated by Forbes at 47 billion dollars.

Rumors of the unprecedented drive first leaked in May 2009 when it emerged that Gates and Buffett had organized a secretive dinner for billionaires in New York City.

Wednesday’s list featured some notable absences, including investor George Soros.

Buffett said that many had not been called yet and that others were simply unavailable. He would not say who had refused.

“I won’t name any specific names,” he said, adding that he expected the project to grow over the next year.

“You know, we don’t give up on them. Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.”

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