Monday, August 15, 2011

Judaism: Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam

Tikkun Olam is the action of repairing the world through tzedakah. Tzedakah is defined throughout the Jewish community by one of two terms: charity or social justice. While the word itself translates to ‘charity’ (which typically tends to separate the wealthy from the poor), it can be thought of as giving, justice, or assistance. Most importantly, tzedakah is giving because you can, not because you have to.

The act of giving tzedakah is a mitzvah, good deed, and is considered by most to be one of the most important commandments. The act of giving has becomes correlated to giving of money because it is what we, as people, most commonly have to give. The correlation has been made through various texts that the concept of financial donations has taken the place of animal sacrifices. Sacrifices were used to express thanks, ask for forgiveness or to request a favor, which are many of the same reasons Jews give financially today. The act of giving Tzedakah is so great for one’s spirituality that some believe that the beggar is doing the donor a favor by allowing for the opportunity to give charity.

The guidelines for giving tzedakah vary from community to community. The general financial guideline is that all Jews should give one-tenth of their income to charity. The receiving charity can include one’s synagogue, educational institution, or organization. While the current trend is to assume that tzedakah is giving through financial donation – it does not have to be. In fact, most youth movements choose to volunteer and donate their time and energy.

When giving, time or money, it is important to recognize that no one should have the disgression to assign worth of a person or charity, thus one should give to those in need because they can. This is one of the largest hurdles to overcome because there are so many charities that are asking for financial support. The best kind of giving is that which the recipient becomes self-reliant as a result of the donors generosity. This can not be determined by the donor, thus it is not the donors responsibility to assign worth or value to the act of giving.

Next month (September-October) starts the season of High Holy Days with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur right around the corner. As such, tzedakah is highly valued within the Jewish community this time of year. While there is no time that giving is more important than other, it is stated in the text of the High Holydays that “G-d has inscribed judgment against all who have sinned, but that tzedakah, teshuvah (repentance) and tefilah (prayer) can gain forgiveness for sins.” An additional part of Yom Kippur is the idea of kapparot. Traditionally, 'kapparot' is the ritual sacrifice of an animal, usually a chicken, with the meat being donated to those who cannot afford to feed their families. More often than not these days people will instead make the kapparot blessings on money being donated to the charity of their choice which is acknowledged as a form of tzedakah.

Jewish law dictates that one-tenth of income or salary after taxes should be given to tzedakah. Even though tax dollars may go to social welfare programs, taxes do not count for an individual’s contribution to tzedakah. Even though law dictates one-tenth, the law also understands that those who utilize social welfare, assistance, or cannot give one-tenth; no one should give more than they can so that they give so much to become a public burden. Similarly, the text dictates that a person should avoid becoming in need of tzedakah by accepting work that is available even if it is below expectations or personal standards. However, if a person, Jewish or not, is in need there is no embarrassment to accept tzedakah. It is actually considered a transgression to refuse tzedakah when in need.

In practice, tzedakah is alive and vibrant at university campuses across the nation. At the University of Connecticut, the students use the name Tzedek for their organization which translates to social justice to describe the work and goals. Students integrate aspects of giving and volunteering into programming and events on and off campus.

With countless natural disasters, human tragedies, and instances of injustice occurring around the globe every day, it is more important than ever to dedicate oneself to tzadekah in an effort to achieve Tikkun Olam. Tikkun Olam is achieved through acts of Tzedakah as a means of G’milut Hasadim. Repairing the world is achieved through acts of giving as a means of loving kindness from one to another.

Pirkei Avos: Chapter 2 Mishna 21 & Chapter 5 Mishna 16...
Tzedakah & Tikkun Olam:
Tzedakah: Chatiry :
Learning to Give:

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