Are We Obligated to Give Tzedakah (Charity)?

Answered by
Rabbi Victor S. Appell

In Jewish tradition, tzedakah tzedakahצְדָקָהFrom the Hebrew word for “justice,” or “righteousness;” refers to charity or charitable giving. May also be translated as “righteous giving.”  is a mitzvah, a religious obligation. The word is derived from the Hebrew root meaning “justice” and “righteousness.” Tzedakah, conceived as justice, means that the needs of the recipient lie at the heart of our concern. Many passages in the Torah instruct us in the value of tzedakah. In Deuteronomy 15:7-8 we are instructed, “If there is a needy person among you…do not harden your heart…Rather, you must open your hand and lend whatever is sufficient to meet the need.”

Maimonides (1135-1204), one of the greatest Torah scholars, wrote extensively about tzedakah. He identified eight levels of giving, from doing so grudgingly to the highest form, helping a person with a loan or gift or employment that will allow the person to become self-supporting and no longer be dependent on others.

One of the traditions associated with Shabbat is giving tzedakah. Many people have a special tzedakah box and prior to lighting the Shabbat candles, they deposit money in the box. After a specified amount of money is collected, or at certain times of the year, such as Hanukkah, a donation is made to a worthy cause. Involving children in this process is a great way to teach the importance of this mitzvah.