Ethics in Everyday Life Situations

Is a poor man obligated to give charity - Loans or charity

Is a poor man obligated to give charity

Situation

Before Pesach, many people donated to a special synagogue fund that provides for the Pesach needs for the poor.
One day, I went to synagogue with my father, where we were very surprised to see one of the needy poor of our community, himself donating money to this fund.
I asked myself, "Does this man really have to contribute to the poor? He himself is need help!"

Is it that...

  1. A poor person is obligated to give charity?
  2. A poor person is not obligated to give charity?
  3. A poor person is obligated to contribute to any fund that provides for the basic holiday needs of the distitute?

Sources

Code of Jewish Law - I, Ch.34 - Laws Concerning Charity

  • 1. It is a religious duty to give alms to the poor of Israel, as it is written (Deuteronomy 15:8):
    "Thou shalt surely open thy hand unto him";

    and it is reiterated in Leviticus 25:36:

    "That thy brother may live with thee."

    If a poor man asks for help and we disregard his supplications and offer him no relief, we transgress God's command, for He ordered (Deuteronomy 15:7):

    "Thou shalt not harden thy heart nor shut thy hand from thy poor brother."

    The giving of charity is a characteristic of the descendants of our father Abraham, as it is written of him (Genesis 18:19):

    "For I know him that he will command his children...to do Tzedakah (charity)."

  • 2. Every man must contribute to charity according to his means even if he himself is supported by charity; and a person who has some money of his own, though not enough to fuly sustain himself, is allowed to receive charity as well. Nevertheless, the recipient of charity must donate something from the alms he has recieved.
  • 3. How much should a poor man be given?--enough to provide his basic needs. (...) In any event, a poor man should be given in each town at least enough food for two meals and a place to stay overnight. And for the sake of peace, the poor of all nations must be supported in the manner of poor Israelites.
  • 7. He who gives alms to the poor with an unfriendlly mien, even if he gives as much as a thousand pieces of gold, is without merit. Any potential merit he nullifies through his ill-will, and a Divine command he transgresses (Deuteronomy 15:10):
    "And thy heart shall not be grieved when thou givest it to them,"

    but the person must give charity with a cheerful countenance and a joyful feeling.

    Indeed, he should attempt to relate to the poor person on a personal level, to condole him and to cheer him, as Job said (Job 30:25):

    "Did I not weep for him who was troubled? Was not my soul aggrieved for the needy?"

    And it is additionally written (Job 29:13):

    "And the heart of the widow I caused to sing for joy."

Loans or charity?

Situation

In one of our classes on Jewish law, we learned about loans and charity. A debate followed in class.
Rachel said, "Charity is more important than giving loans because a poor person doesn't have to return the money he borrows."
Devorah disagreed. "Loaning money is more important because it doesn't embarrass the poor person," she claimed.
Moshe disagreed with both, saying, "It appears to me that both laws are of equal importance."

Is it that...

  1. Charity is more important than extending loans?
  2. Extending a loan is more important than giving charity?
  3. The two laws are of equal importance?

Sources

Popular Halacha- IV, Ch.17, Loans

  • 1. One of the Torah's commands is to lend money to a colleague in need. Indeed, by supporting the colleague while he remains financially viable, one prevents him from sinking into poverty. This Mitzvah is popularly referred to as a "Gemilut Chesed," a deed of kindness.
  • 2. Lending money is not a voluntary matter, but an obligation incumbent upon all Jews. Though Exodus 22:24 states:
    "If ("eem") you lend money to My people, to the poor man among you, do not behave like a creditor to him",

    our Sages in Mechiltah explain that the term, "eem," should be interpreted in this context as "when," implying an obligatory act. This interpretation is reinforced by Leviticus 25:35 that commands:

    "....When your brother becomes impoverished and his hand slips, you must support him."

    Similarly, Deuteronomy 15:7-8 relates:

    "....When...any of your brothers are poor, do not harden your heart or shut your hand against him. Open your hand generously and extend credit to him."

  • 3. Though it would appear that the merit of direct financial donations might surpass that of making a loan (i.e., due to the fact that the lender is ultimately reimbursed, whereas the one who simply offers money gives something of a "free gift"), lending money surpasses making a donation in certain respects, i.e., in the Mitzvah of Tzedakah. Tzedakah aids the person struggling to provide his bare necessities, but a loan prevents a person from sinking to this level.
  • 4. Lending money to a poor person takes priority over lending to someone rich.

    Similarly, lending money to the needy of one's family takes priority over lending to others, as Isaiah 58:7 states:

    "Ignore not your own flesh."

    The poor of one's own city take priority over the poor of other cities, and the poor of Eretz Yisrael take priority over the poor of other lands.


 

 

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08 Jun 2005 / 1 Sivan 5765 0