May 22, 2024

Unpacking Jewish Charity Tradition In Its Various Forms

Assortment of Colel Chabad Pushkas

Jewish charity tradition spans back millennia. Chabad leaders and Jewish philanthropists have long considered it to be a crucial aspect of leading a fulfilling life and likewise emphasize its powerful role in strengthening individuals, communities, and society as a whole. Let’s explore the practical and cultural significance of giving in the Jewish community and how it is incorporated into various aspects of our lives.

Core Concepts of Jewish Philanthropy

Conversations about Jewish philanthropy tend to revolve around a few core terms with specific meanings. These include:


Tzedakah is a Hebrew word that means “charity” or “acts of righteousness”. It stems from the belief that every person has an obligation to help those in need. This can look like many things, including providing for the poor, supporting charitable causes, and donating time or resources to meaningful non-profit initiatives.


Chesed is a Hebrew word that can be translated as “loving-kindness” or “mercy.” The term holds multiple meanings in Jewish tradition, encompassing both divine and human acts of kindness.

In the Hebrew Bible, chesed is often used to describe G-d’s loving and merciful nature. It is seen as one of the essential attributes of G-d, along with justice and truth. In fact, many Jewish prayers and blessings begin with the phrase “G-d who is merciful” or “G-d full of loving kindness.”

But chesed also extends beyond the divine realm and is seen as a fundamental Jewish value in human relationships. Every Jew has the obligation to practice loving-kindness towards others through acts of charity, kindness, compassion, and generosity.

Tikkun Olam

Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew phrase that translates to “repairing the world” or “healing the world”. Jews consider it an overarching, guiding principle in living life. One can take on the responsibility of Tikkun Olam in a variety of ways, whether that’s through acts of loving kindness or regular tzedakah donations. It is about making positive changes in the world and actively working towards creating a more just and compassionate society.

Why and How Jewish Philanthropy and Culture Are So Intertwined

Jewish beliefs about helping the poor and needy are rooted in the teachings of the Talmud and centuries of work by prominent Chabad rebbes throughout our people’s history. It is considered a mitzvah, or commandment, to make the world a better place. We aren’t just encouraged to get involved with charities against hunger and other critical issues because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s tied to our greater purpose. Acts of loving kindness have also become a source of strength for our community over the years. The phrase ‘Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh‘ speaks to a collective duty to look after one another. Its meaning has held great significance during times of persecution and is once again a source of galvanization as Israel faces its current crisis.

Six Examples of Jewish Charity Tradition In Practice

The beautiful thing about philanthropy and tzedakah is that it can be practiced in a multitude of ways. In fact, the Eight Degrees of Giving outline eight entirely different capacities in which one can give back, ranging from financial charitable donations to signing up for volunteer work to helping someone become self-sufficient through job training. Regardless of the method, the goal remains the same: to make a positive impact in someone else’s life. The interwoven identities of Judaism and charity further make for an abundance of Jewish practices and customs that involve giving back. Charitable holiday giving is an opportunity to reflect on one’s blessings and share them with others, while the importance of community service in Jewish life is sustained throughout the year by principles of regular giving.  See six examples of Jewish charity tradition and what each of these practices involves below.

The Pushka (Charity Box)

The Pushka, or charity box, serves as a great example of the many ways giving is part of everyday Jewish life. It’s a small container made of metal or wood, often adorned with intricate designs and inscriptions, used to collect money for various charitable causes. Israeli families contribute to Pushka boxes regularly but are especially encouraged to do so on Fridays and holidays.

Giving Chai

The Hebrew word “chai” means life, and in Judaism, this number is seen as auspicious. Giving Chai involves donating an amount that ends with the number 18 or multiples of 18 to represent good luck and blessings. This practice is often done in honor of a special occasion or to commemorate the memory of a loved one.

Ma’aser Kesafim (Tithing)

Referred to as Ma’aser Kesafim in Hebrew, tithing is the practice of devoting 10% of one’s income to charity. This practice is derived from the story of Abraham and his tithing to King Melchizedek in the Torah. Today, many Jews continue this tradition by donating a percentage of their income or profits to charitable causes.

Matanot L’evyonim

Mordechai and Esther established the mitzvah of Matanot L’evyonim as part of the celebration of Purim. This commandment requires every Jew to give gifts or charity to at least two poor people on the day of Purim and serves as a reminder of our obligation to help those in need and spread joy during times of celebration.

Bikur Cholim

Bikur Cholim, which translates to “visiting the sick,” is another important mitzvah in Judaism. This commandment requires us to visit and bring comfort to those who are sick or in the hospital, as well as provide them with any necessary support.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah Giving

The role of Jewish youth in philanthropy is just as prominent as that of Jewish adults. Everyone, regardless of their age or ability, can practice compassion in some way according to Halacha (Jewish law). Those going through their rite of passage, or Bar/Bat Mitzvah, are encouraged to give back to their community by incorporating tzedakah, or charity, into their celebrations. This could include volunteering time at a local soup kitchen or donating a portion of their gifts to a cause they care about.

Support Israel Charity Organizations That Honor Jewish Traditions of Giving

Giving should be practiced as more than just a cultural tradition. For all of the economic and psychological benefits giving can have, charity is a strategic pillar of long-term community prosperity. Since being founded over 200 years ago, Colel Chabad has remained focused on bringing the values of the Chabad movement to fruition in every way possible. To us, building support networks for Israeli families in need is an existential matter that goes beyond the symbolic meaning of philanthropy. While many historic Jewish non-profit charity organizations focus on one issue and one issue only – such as charities for orphans, charities for healthcare, and charities for children’s education – our efforts span the entire breadth of struggles Israeli families need help with today.  As an organization that supports nutrition security for poor families, widows and orphans, and children in need, Colel Chabad is the best organization to donate to when you want to ensure that your donation goes somewhere meaningful. Honor the Jewish tradition of giving by supporting Colel Chabad today. 

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