Tzedakah & Gemilut Chasadim: Giving & Doing

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This shows an admirable religious advocacy of tolerance, an area in which religious people have often been among the worst offenders. Naturally, it can be overdone. Judaism certainly does not encourage an attitude of benevolent acceptance of evil and the question is obviously one of achieving the correct balance. Many Jewish teachers, for all that, have preferred to err on the side of goodwill. When another Hasidic master gave some money to a poor man and his followers expressed surprise, pointing out that the man was thoroughly disreputable, the master replied: "How can I discriminate? God did not discriminate when He gave the money to a reprobate like me in the first place."

To achieve a balanced attitude is notoriously difficult. The Talmud reads the verse: "There shall be no needy among you" (Deuteronomy 15: 4) to mean that your first duty is to see that there are no needy among your own, that is, first take care of your own and your own family’s needs—an ancient version of "Charity begins at home." Yet the Talmud continues that anyone who goes through life with this as his maxim will eventually become poor, since few will place any confidence in one whose attitude is grasping and completely selfish.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.