While teachings about charitable giving – particularly about how much to give and to whom – permeate Jewish tradition, disagreements remain over the extent of an individual’s financial obligation.
According to Yossi Prager, executive director of the Avi Chai Foundation, some hold, for example, that biblical traditions mandating a series of tithes are the bare minimum. Others cite Maimonides, who considered giving 20 percent of one’s income to be “the ideal.”
“People who try to lead their lives based on deeply felt Jewish values should have access to the wealth of tradition [concerning] supporting the needy and ensuring that the Jewish community will thrive,” said Prager. He will speak on “The Ethics of Money: Jewish Perspectives” at the opening symposium of the Bergen County Jewish Learning Project on Jan. 18. He said that he is hopeful that attendees will use “Jewish decisions of the past” to help formulate their decisions about charitable giving today.
Prager’s talk will kick off three weeks of study, with local rabbis continuing the discussion at area synagogues (see box). A project of the Bergen County YJCC, the Learning Project is now in its 15th year.
|Mondays, 7-9 p.m., Jan. 19 and 26 and Feb. 2 at Temple Sholom in River Edge with Rabbis Shammai Engelmayer, Jeffrey Fox, and Benjamin Shull.
Tuesdays, 7:30-9:30 p.m., Jan. 20 and 27 and Feb. 3 at Temple Emeth in Teaneck with Rabbis Steven Sirbu and Lawrence Zierler.
Wednesdays, 9:30-11:30 a.m., Jan. 21 and 28 and Feb. 4 at Bergen County YJCC in the Township of Washington with Rabbis Joel Mosbacher and Arthur Weiner.
Thursdays, 7:30-9:30 pm, Jan. 22 and 29 and Feb. 5 at Glen Rock Jewish Center with Rabbis Neil Tow and Ruth Zlotnick.
The presentation will explore “Jewish wisdom on charitable giving, focusing on the concentric circles” of Jewish responsibility for giving, said Prager. The circles, he explained, clarify an individual’s responsibility to other individuals, Jewish communal institutions, and the broader community.
“Is it something we do as part of the good life,” he asked, “or do we push ourselves to do as much as we can?”
Prager acknowledged that in this time of recession – and in the wake of misdeeds such as the Ponzi scheme allegedly perpetrated by Bernard Madoff – “we need to think about Jewish giving in the context of these needs,” recognizing that there will necessarily be different discretionary incomes and levels of giving.
“We need to ask ourselves if we can be giving more, and to whom,” he said. “The recession realigns our personal priorities.”
Rabbi Arthur Weiner, religious leader of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus and rabbinic chair of the Bergen County Learning Project, pointed out that the issue is particularly timely.
“During difficult financial times, making choices about money … requires that we look beyond ourselves to the values and lessons of the Jewish tradition in order to make wise decisions that create a balance between our personal needs and those of our community,” he said.
Avi Chai is a private foundation established in 1984 to fund Jewish education projects. “Committed to the perpetuation of the Jewish people, Judaism, and the centrality of the State of Israel to the Jewish people,” according to its Website, the organization has developed numerous programs for Jewish day schools and overnight summer camps.
Prager, a graduate of Yeshiva College and Yale Law School, serves as a judge for the Beth Din of America and writes and lectures frequently on Judaism, Jewish education, and philanthropy. His talk will take place from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at the Bergen County YJCC, 605 Pascack Ave., Township of Washington.
For more information, call Carol Beyer, (201) 666-6610, ext. 266, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.