About Jews and Charity…

This week’s New York Jewish Week contains an article I think most germane for this first yom tov following the cleansing day of Yom Kippur, during which all of humanity’s fate was sealed for the upcoming year, if not for repentance, prayer and charity.
Mr. Mark Charendorff speaks of the state of Jewish philanthropy today which, in his opinion, leaves what to be desired:

For a start, if those Jews who find themselves among the wealthiest 1 percent of the American population (taxpayers who made at least $327,000 last year) contributed just 50 percent of their net worth to charity we would see billions of dollars flowing into not-for-profits. We need to create a new ethic in the Jewish community where one’s legacy is determined in direct inverse proportion to the size of one’s estate. After all, the average American estate contributes more to taxes than to charity (22.7 percent vs. 12.2 percent in 2003). Let’s create an annual dinner to honor the memory of that woman or man who died penniless that year but made the world a better place through their lifetime of philanthropy and service.

While this sounds virtuous on the surface, this is extreme. No Jewish ethic would require, mandate, or even suggest that one should eke out their days in poverty, dying penniless relying on the community to bury them. And, fifty percent is a rather high bar to feel guilty for not reaching.
However, perhaps we can find a solution in the eternal, timeless words of the Talmud.
The Gemara in Beitzah speaks about giving extra money to perform mitzvot and comes up with the conclusion hiddur mitzvah ad shlish — for the beautification of a mitzvah, one is permitted to give up to 1/3 (of their money, here, assets). Not as a requirement, but to beautify the mitzva of charity.
Americans, says Mr. Charendorff, give almost twice as much money to taxes as we do to charity. For Jews, this ultimately means we are giving more money to keep the IRS off our backs then we are to bring the blessings down onto our heads. (And as you stop singing the ‘Mazel tov, mazel tov’ song from Fiddler…)
For those of us who are privileged enough to be in the wealthiest portion of America, perhaps this would be the straw that breaks the cosmic camel of anti-Semitism’s back.

One thought on “About Jews and Charity…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.