This year American billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates established a campaign called The Giving Pledge to encourage the wealthiest people in America to make a commitment to give most of their money to philanthropic causes. Forbes Magazine said the United States is home to more than 400 billionaires, the most of any country. Currently 57 billionaires in the US have joined this campaign and pledged to give 50% or more of their wealth to charity.
Tzedakah is derived from the Hebrew root Tzadei-Dalet-Qof meaning justice or fairness. In Judaism, giving to the impoverished is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty.
According to Jewish law, we are required to give one-tenth of our net income (after taxes) to underprivileged Jews and gentiles. This obligation can be fulfilled by giving money to the underserved, to health care institutions, to synagogues or to educational institutions. Supporting your adult children or your elderly parents is included in the mitzvah.
Certain kinds of tzedakah are more meritorious than others. Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, The Rambam, organized the different levels from the least to the most honorable as:
Giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully
Giving after being asked
Giving before being asked
Giving when you do not know the recipient's identity, but the recipient knows your identity
Giving when you know the recipient's identity, but the recipient doesn't know your identity
Giving when neither party knows the other's identity
Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant
If you find it overwhelming to decide how to distribute your 10%, consider contributing to a general fund like the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh or United Way. And, I am a very proud trustee of the Jewish Assistance Fund that is always grateful for your donations.