Maimonides' Ladder of Tzedakah

The best forms of charity make the recipient self-sufficient.

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Where the recipient is aware of the source of the charity but the giver does not know to whom the money is being given, the degree is lower [since the recipient, knowing who gave him the money, feels beholden to him and ashamed in his presence]. Yet, there is merit since the poor are saved from direct shame.

Of less merit is charity where both are known to each but [at least] the gift is made before the poor asks for it. [In this case the giver is showing care since he anticipates the needs of poor. The Patriarch Abraham does not wait for the stranger to come to ask for his assistance, but runs toward him and begs him to share his hospitality; this is the archetype of Jewish righteousness.]

[Clearly] where one gives charity after being asked for it is of a lower degree. [Since the method of giving charity is an integral part of charity], one who gives less than what is fitting but with good grace [is of higher merit than] one who gives unwillingly.

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Dr. Meir Tamari

Dr. Meir Tamari, former chief economist in the office of the Governor of the Bank of Israel, is director of the Center for Business Ethics at the Jerusalem College of Technology. His books include Al Chet: Sins in the Marketplace (Jason Aronson) and Jewish Values in Our Open Society: A Weekly Torah Commentary (Jason Aronson).

Moses Maimonides

Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) was also known as Rabbi Moses ben Maimon or the Rambam. One of the greatest Torah scholars of all time, he was a rabbi, physician, and philosopher in Spain, Morocco, and Egypt during the Middle Ages. He was the preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher whose ideas also influenced the non-Jewish world.