The Jewish View of Philanthropy

By Samuel Phineas Upham

Philanthropy, according to Judaism, is not just something you can do. It is something you must do. The act of giving is a duty not just to your God but to your community, and it’s not something limited to the rich alone. Everyone is encouraged to give what they can, to give tzedakah and support their fellow man. This concept is very different from how other religions perceive charity.

Christianity, for instance, was very specific on its definition of philanthropy. This was a problem throughout the Dark Ages, as one could not trade or offer food or supplies to others for gain of any kind. As a result, this period had almost no commerce to speak of and civilization was very close to primitive. Excommunication from the Church was a major offense, and would likely lead to lifelong consequences.

This is very different from the Jewish concept, which is closer to what we think of as justice. When someone donates their money to a worthy cause, it is not an act of benevolence but an act of justice. Because God is the source of all money, you are merely giving back to the whole.

Yet the faith does recognize that money and acts of kindness are not so easily given. Though we strive in our principles to do right, and to act charitably, we are not able to save everyone from every circumstance. This is why the concept of tzedakah is more powerful than life itself. Charity can literally save someone from their own demise, and is considered one of the most powerful acts a person can do.

Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Samual Phineas Upham website or Linkedin page.