Jewish Social Welfare

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The high value placed by the Jewish tradition on active concern for the welfare of others has its roots in the Torah. Phrases such as “that your brother may live with you”(Leviticus 25:35) and “you shall love your fellow person as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) are found there. What is the rationale for Jews’ concerning themselves with other Jews’ welfare? The verses cited portray one Jew’s concern for another as motivated by a sense of brotherhood. As kinsmen, Jews have a familial responsibility for each other’s welfare.

Maimonides, the great Spanish/North African sage of the 12th century, develops this rationale in codifying the ways in which this obligation is to be fulfilled: “It is a positive commandment, ordained by the rabbis, to visit the sick, to comfort mourners, to bury the dead, to provide for a bride, to accompany guests, to arrange for burial, to bear the bier on one’s shoulder, to go before the coffin and to mourn, to dig the grave and to bury the dead. Also to gladden a bride and groom and to provide for all their needs.

caring for others quizThis is what is called ‘g’milut hasadim, acts which one does with one’s person [as opposed to those one does with one’s money], [and] which have no set minimum or maximum [see Mishnah Peah 1:1]. Although these are rabbinic commandments [i.e., commandments ordained by the rabbis], they are included in the Biblical commandment “You shall love your fellow person as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Everything that you want others to do for you, do for anyone who is your brother [in that he is similarly obligated] by the Torah and the commandments.” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Mourners, chapter 14.)

How is one to act on this principle? Maimonides’ “do for others…” principle implies a high degree of concern not only for others’ physical welfare, but also for their feelings and dignity. In such acts as visiting the sick or comforting mourners, one shows concern for those in emotional distress.

Providing for a bride’s material needs for her wedding and “gladdening a bride and groom” at their wedding celebration ensure that the bride and groom know that the community wants them to have a happy start in married life.

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