Intercultural aspects / Concepts and Symbols of Philanthropy
|JJewish philanthropy consists of two different ideas: tzedaqah and gemilut hasadim. Firstly, the meaning of tzedaqah can be derived from its root word tsedek, meaning justice. From this, it can be deduced that tzedaqah refers to the legal aspect of Jewish philanthropy. The term has been referenced in the two law books of Pentateuco, Deuteronomus ( i.e. Dt. 14, 28-29; 15, 7-11) and Leviticus. These works demonstrate that the term tzedaqah correlates to the public and economic spheres of the community life because tzedaqah, in this religious context, means whomever has economic possibilities must help those in need within the community. In the Ancient age, this form of charity was considered a tax that every wealthy member of the community was obligated to pay, as exemplified by the Kuppah, a weekly money collection for the poor. This kind of philanthropy developed during the Ancient and Middle ages. During these periods, Jewish communities had to be self-sufficient because Christian population did not help them. |
The second form of philanthropy is called gemilut hasadim. This form of philanthropic activity is referenced in the prophetic books of Tanak, in particular the books of Isaia, Michea and Amos. They were the first to understand that social class disparities were a result of the exploitation of workers. They reasoned that since all human beings are children of the same god, everyone must be helped because they are all brothers, and not only because they have a legal obligation. gemilut hasadim was developed during IV century AD, when rabbinic Judaism began, and it was a change in the idea of tzedaqah. In fact, gemilut hasadim meant that it was morally right to help needy people, not only with money or food donations, but also to participate in their emotional suffering.
The transformation from tzedaqah to gemilut hasadim is explained by Maimonides, in his essay “Gifts to the Poor”, in which he talks about eight different levels of philanthropic acts. The highest of these acts was “that of one who takes hold of an Israelite who has become impoverished and gives him a gift or a loan or goes into partnership with him or finds work for him, in order to strengthen his hand so that he be spared the necessity of appealing for help”.
This means that there are big differences between tzedaqah and gemilut hasadim, and that it is possible to understand the differences by thinking about these different forms of the philanthropic acts in the two systems. While in the tzedaqah there were donations for maintaining the needy, in the gemilut hasadim “philanthropists” participate in funerals, courtesy visits to the sick, and improving the poor conditions of those who had some mournful events, such as widows or orphans. The whole community helped those in need by the formations of brotherhoods. These organizations also represented a way to build a community identity during the first Modern age. Moreover, the collection of money and other basic necessities were necessary during the period in which the Christian population oppressed Jewish communities.
This way of life changed after 1789 with the emancipation of the Jewish population in various States throughout Europe.
During and after the age of emancipations, Jewish philanthropy changed its modus operandi. Before 1789 the philanthropic acts depended on the synagogues because they were an essential part of each community. After 1789, the brotherhoods operated in different forms. In the education sector, it's possible to think about the Keyder tradition because it began national schools in which not only Jewish history was taught, but also the history of the country in which they lived. Communities helped those who wanted to emigrate from the country in which they lived to go to either Palestine or a country where it was possible to live without being persecuted. Of course this kind of service was not limited to assisting just the locals, but to all those within the communities in need.