Tzedakah for Kids
Actions speak louder than words.
Link Giving and Doing with Learning
Find teachings that are appropriate for your children's age to ground what they are doing in a Jewish framework.
For ages five and above, emphasize how important it is for everyone to contribute even if they don’t have much. According to Jewish law, even poor people are required to give a portion of what they have to others, and when two poor people have to give tzedakah, they can exchange their funds with one another (Shulhan Arukh--Laws of Tzedakah, Ch. 251:12). Discussing this normalizes charitable giving for kids who don't actually have much personal property.
For kids ages seven and above, Maimonides' ladder of tzedakah is a useful tool that reflects different scenarios of giving. According to Maimonides, the highest level of tzedakah is to teach a needy person a trade. This principle makes explicit the importance of addressing poverty on a systemic level, and it can help older kids think about how to solve the root causes of poverty, not just its symptoms.
Confront Issues of Poverty Directly
If your family’s tzedakah is channeled toward projects that address poverty, hunger, or homelessness, your kids may become insecure about your family’s financial stability. Listen carefully to their questions and be honest with your answers, while assuring their safety and security. If they ask you if you will ever become poor, assure them that if that happens, you have a plan to make sure everyone in the family is okay.
In the face of injustice, kids, just like adults, can feel powerless. Teach your kids basic research skills so that they can break down social problems and learn how to offer useful help. For example, after a natural disaster, look at websites like the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, American Jewish World Service, and the American Red Cross, and see what they are calling volunteers to do. This will teach your kids about the organizations that are already set up to help people who need it, and what role they as volunteers can play.
Being intentional about developing a regular tzedakah practice in your family that includes talking openly about your decisions and research will help your kids incorporate this Jewish ethic into their own lives. This will habituate the practice for them to build on in the future.
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