Magazine article Tikkun

The Ninth Degree of Tzedakah

Magazine article Tikkun

The Ninth Degree of Tzedakah

Article excerpt

The Ninth Degree of Tzedakah

Lawrence Bush and Jeffrey Dekro are co-authors of Jews, Money and Social Responsibility. They can be reached at The Shefa Fund, info@shefafund.org. Torah of Money is a service mark of The Shefa Fund.

Maimonides wrote about the eight degrees of tzedakah, with partnership at the pinnacle: "upholding the hand of a Jew ... by making a gift or a loan, or entering into a partnership." Recently, however, the United Jewish Endowment Fund (UJEF) broke through the Maimonidean "ceiling" to achieve the ninth degree of tzedakah: partnership with non-Jews based upon Jewish values.

The breakthrough came in the form of a UJEF investment in several low-income community development financial institutions (CDFIs) in the District of Columbia. UJEF combined with local Jewish family foundations and individuals to make an "affirmative action loan" of nearly half a million dollars, to be used for housing and job development in neighborhoods that have been starved for credit by mainstream lending institutions. The loans were coordinated and vouchsafed by The Shefa Fund in Philadelphia, as part of our nationwide TZEDEC program (for more about TZEDEC see our November/December 1999 column).

Investments of this kind have only minimal impact on funding for Jewish needs. Nevertheless, the use of Federation monies for "non-Jewish" activism highlights an old tension in Jewish life between "particularism" and "universalism"--what Rabbi Harold Schulweis has called the "Ezra" and "Ruth" paradigms of leadership.

Ezra, who led the Jews back from Babylonian captivity, demanded that the men renounce their foreign wives (Ezra 9:10), a decision motivated by the need to consolidate Jewish identity in order to survive. Ruth, a foreign wife herself, nevertheless rooted herself in Jewish values and became the mother of the Davidic, that is, the messianic, line (Ruth 1:4). Both paradigms have been critical to the survival and evolution of our Jewish civilization. Today, however, universalism is clearly dominant in American Jewish life. The prosperity, prominence, and safety that Jews have achieved here, in combination with the renewal of identity and literacy that we currently enjoy, obviate any need for self-imposed isolation.

But universalism faces a credibility challenge. Though America Jews have famously worked for justice, most of our twentieth century landmark activists were assimilated Jews who had only a marginal connection to Jewish communal life and rarely referenced Judaism's teachings. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.