Tzedakah: The Jewish Take on Donating Money to Charity Organizations and Sharing with the Needy and Hungry

Post on: February 22, 2022

While religious teaching is full of the obligations of charity–stemming mainly from the biblical obligation of maaser, aka tithing-doing charity has become so ingrained in Judaism that it has become a cultural act as much as a religious one. One reason for this is that doing charity, sharing with the needy, is considered the most basic kind of mitzvah a person could do. There is no second guessing an act of caring. Regardless of your intentions or of the size of your charity, if you share with a person in need, you did a mitzvah. Additionally, Tzedaka, unlike most other mitzvahs, is not time sensitive; it can be done at all times.

There is a popular Jewish teaching that “Mitzvah gorreret mitzvah,” which originates in Masechet Avot, and is understood to mean that “one mitzvah leads to another.” Jews culturally were always in the search of a starter mitzvah to start the chain of good deeds, and because Tzedaka, or charity, was so flexible and achievable, it became the go-to starter mitzvah.Since time immemorial, women bringing in the Shabbos began by giving charity; men started their day by doing tzedaka before they prayed.

Hundreds of years before the internet or money wires, when in order to be able to proliferate doing charity, a new concept was born known as the “pushka.” The pushka, a locked canister traditionally mounted on the home of every Jew, and the synagogue, was designed as an instant charity mechanism. People could put money in it at any time and it was periodically collected by a designated neighborhood collector to give to the poor. With the pushkas, Jews of all means, even the poor, became accustomed to giving charity daily, if not more than once a day. And what this resulted in is a culture of daily giving and attention to Tzedaka. Today we see this even in pre-school classes, where kids start the day by putting coins in their classroom Tzedaka box.

When Jews moved out of the shtetl and into the cities, largely because of the Holocaust, the pushka became an item issued by charity organizations, and households began having multiple pushkas in their homes.

All of this has been made easier with something that looks like this, an online donation page DONATE It’s instant, virtual, and automatic and it doesn’t take up room in your house. Now, more than ever, we can do an instant mitzvah.

But donations to Masbia, a not-for-profit charity organization, are immediate in an even more meaningful way. Every donation to Masbia gets converted into food and because Masbia is a grassroots organization, that food finds its way into a hungry person’s stomach in less than two weeks. So your mitzvah has even more immediacy.

Traditionally a Jewish community throughout the diaspora could not be formed without having a dedicated charity division. And in most places that meant a collection and distribution service of ready-to-eat food, i.e. a food pantry and/or a soup kitchen. Masbia tries to be the current day version of that, serving daily hot meals and once-a-week emergency food packages to people in need out of multiple locations in various Jewish communities.

Jewish teaching specifies that charity should be done in a high-end manner, meaning that one should choose to give the best quality to those in need, be it food, clothing or materials for a house of worship. Masbia’s mission is to live up to this, by providing the hungry men, women and children we serve the best quality, nutritious and Kosher meals in a beautiful setting.

Jewish teaching also emphasizes the importance of the table in doing charity.The Talmud explains that the act of hosting guests is rewarded with longevity because it is the equivalent of bringing a sacrifice on the altar in the times of the holy temple. The Talmud specifies that it is a “person’s table that brings them atonement,” establishing the table itself as an actual vessel of forgiveness.The Talmud also makes it clear that providing ready-to-eat food is the highest form of charity, because the satisfaction to the hungry person is immediate (mekarve ahaneise). At Masbia, our hot dinner program does exactly that, it feeds hungry men, women and children hot, nutritious ready-to-eat meals. Masbia has gained a reputation based on the incredible dignity we provide in our hot dinner service, dubbed by People Magazine as “a restaurant without a cash register.” Since opening in 2005, Masbia has been featured for the incredible dignity with which it feeds hungry people, in many prominent American Media outlets such as; People Magazine, The New York Times Wall Street Journal Newsweek New York Daily News CBS News ABC News Pix11 NY1 News12