Talmud refutes Voices writer on charity
Howard Sachs’s “Charity, the American and Jewish Way” (Voices, Nov. 3) displays a breathtaking ignorance of Judaism.
One sentence from the Talmud refutes him perfectly:
According to Rabbi Hanina (Kid. 31a) “one who is commanded and fulfills the command is greater than one who fulfills it though not commanded (i.e., voluntarily).”
Rabbi Hanina outsmarts and outshines Sachs’ “rebbe” — Walter Williams — any day.
Tzedakah as social obligation, a form of justice
Howard Sachs’ Nov. 3 libertarian drash (“Charity, the American and Jewish Way,” Voices) is a parade example of the pernicious nature of contemporary assimilation.
Charity, as derived from Latin, is a Christian word. The Hebrew term is tzedakah, whose root meaning is justice.
Sachs notes that “We are commanded to give charity by God in the setting of a great gift from our creator, the gift of free will.” The latter phrase is the disingenuous part: in standard English usage, a free will offering is what people place in the collection plate in church during Christian, especially Protestant, Sunday services, as a voluntary donation.
Following Sachs’s logic, intention is key — which is the classic Christian focus.
In rabbinic thinking, Halacha generally does not consider intention/motive; rather, it insists upon the value of the act itself.
Further, in the words of Noam Zion (who has written extensively on the subject of Jewish philanthropy): “Tzedakah is an obligatory and progressive municipal tax, outlined during the rabbinic period … (and) the only pre-20th century example of a welfare state.”
As to his dismissal of the “will of the people” or “being responsible for our fellow man” as a concern for Jews in the American diaspora, Sachs seems to be unaware that God has addressed this subject through the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 24:7).
It is not accidental that Jews (tzedakah) and Muslims (zakat) recognize charity as a social obligation and a form of justice.
Voluntarism, including voluntary charity, makes people feel good about themselves, but it doesn’t work very well: If it did, would there be a need for the welfare state? One might ask: Which has donemore good for the elderly in America: Protestant voluntaristic charity? Or Social Security and Medicare, financed by obligatory contributions, i.e., taxes?
Whatever the politics of the God of Israel may be, most definitely, in terms of both the Written and Oral Torah, it is anything but libertarian.
S. REX COHEN
Taxes allow government to promote ‘general welfare’
I agree with Howard Sachs (“Charity, the American and Jewish Way,” Voices, Nov. 3) that government spending to help individuals is not charity.
Indeed, I have rarely if ever heard it referred to as charity. But I strongly disagree with Sachs’s characterization of the government raising funds through taxation as theft or stealing. (Sachs doesn’t expressly use the word taxation in his diatribe, but clearly refers to it.)
Rather I agree with the [late Supreme Court] Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. that “[T]axes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” It is only with those funds that the federal government can “promote the general welfare” as well as the other important purposes enumerated in the Preamble to the Constitution.