Charitable Giving in Judaism

This perspective post was provided by Howard English, Director, Charities Aid Foundation of Canada, as part of our faith and giving series. 

Imagine a world without charity.

In Jewish life, such a world is unimaginable. Charity is built into the religious, social and cultural DNA of Judaism. Jewish law even dictates the amount of charity we should give – 10% of our net earnings.

Actually, the Hebrew word for charity, tzedaka, means much more than simply giving to the vulnerable. The root of tzedaka is justice. Charity is not merely the transfer of property from benefactor to beneficiary. It is the just way of living your life, just the way God wants.

Jewish religious tradition teaches that we alone have not amassed the material treasures we cherish. They are gifts from God, divinely loaned to us during our lifetimes. By sharing these precious presents with others, we emulate God’s kindness and compassion. In fact, according to traditional thought, our earthly kindness can even sway God’s plans for our future.

On the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, and on the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, the Day of Repentance, millions of Jews, in synagogues around the world utter one of the most touching prayers in Jewish liturgy, as God decides who will live and who will die in the year ahead. The solemn supplication closes by proclaiming that prayer, repentance and charity will cancel God’s negative decree.

Yet charity should not be viewed as only an obligation or a religiously mandated duty. It should be deeper than duty. It should be seen as an act of loving kindness.

In a masterful manual for Jewish daily living, known as Ethics of the Fathers, Simon the Just, a holy high priest of ancient noted, noted for his extraordinary passion for fairness, declared that deeds of loving kindness are among three pillars on which the entire world depends and survives. Unlike basic charity which is performed with our head and our hands, loving kindness is the ingredient from which charity of the heart emerges. True charity. Charity that helps to perfect the world that God created.

A world without charity is, indeed, unimaginable, because there would be no world without it.

Whatever our faith, let’s help to sustain our world, by giving as generously as we can.



Howard English, Director, Charities Aid Foundation of Canada

Howard English has 25 years of experience as a recognized expert in non-profit governance, communications, donor relations and volunteer development whose work has benefited countless families throughout North America, Israel and beyond. Before establishing his own company in the fall of 2014, Howard distinguished himself as the Senior Vice President of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs – the Canadian Jewish community’s largest non-profit advocacy organization. Previously, he played an integral role in the United Jewish Appeal’s fundraising efforts, first as Vice President of Marketing and Communications, and then as Vice President of Corporate Communications at UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.

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