Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Let's Talk about Money

I'm going to start with two foolish assumptions:

1. Each one of us, regardless of income, feels crunched for money at times.

2. Each one of us is asked to pony up cash to support our synagogue / temple / Jewish day school / other Jewish organization, and has to make choices between what to keep for ourselves and what to give.

Tzedakah is often poorly translated as "charity" but more accurately means "justice" or "righteousness." We give money not out of the kindness of our own hearts, but because this is how one maintains a just and righteous world. The assets of this world -- land and money -- are not equally divided. And never will be, I presume. So we redistribute those assets by writing checks to help the hungry, the homeless, the needy and... the synagogue building fund.

It's so natural to give when you hear about hurricane Katrina. You want to help someone whose home has been destroyed. But to give another pledge to the synagogue, another check to the building fund, one more to this school or that. Oy, how much is enough? When do you give? When do you not give?

I'm not questioning paying temple or synagogue dues, of course we should, but we're also asked to give over and above that. How do you decide how much is enough? When you make your household budget, what is allocated to tzedakah, and to which worthy causes do you give? Do you give only to Jewish causes or to all kinds of charities?

I have to admit I haven't until now thought these questions through. It's always worked like this: Requests for money arrive at the door or call on the phone, and I or my husband do some quick but vague calculations and offer a dollar amount that we figure will help the organization, give us a little glow, but not leave us cursing later when we can't pay the emergency room bill for child 1 or 2 who fell out of a tree.

But I have a feeling... that we're not giving enough. Tzedakah is not a minor thing in Judaism. It is one of the pillars of our religion. I was putting my pennies in the pushka when I was barely tall enough to reach the kitchen counter. We teach it to our children and proclaim it in all our communities. But between the recognition of tzedakah's importance and the writing of the check... there falls doubt. Does [organization x] really need this money? What about the kids' college education - can I ever save enough?

So, tell me, how do you and your family deal with giving tzedakah? Let's talk about money.

(Tecnical note: To comment, click on the little number next to the title of this post. It's ZERO now. How sad. Please help. Comment generously.)


Anonymous said...

This is one of the problem's I have had long before I even started considering converting. If anything, this has made things easier for me. I can pick out causes and issues that mean more to me because it's just a subset of all the possible places to send money in the wider world.

That said, I suspect my answer in the long run will be the same as in the past: Whatever I can identify with best at the moment. It's so hard to have a real plan when you are inundated with choices.

Anonymous said...

I once pondered this, particularly because we are in some restricted circumstances and have had to be the beneficiaries of tzedakah...which may be even more painful than actually GIVING it.

Anonymous said...

Loved the ending,” comment generously”!
I also find that Tzedakkah is very important.
So many people and institutions depend on it, it's sad but a reality.
In principle I only give Tzedakkah to Jewish causes, there are plenty to choose from and it feel right.

Anonymous said...

We give tzedakah as we can. I always try to impress upon my kids that tzedakah is one of the most inmportant things we can do as Jews. Being pretty middle class, there is only so much money to go around!! We are at the point right now where we don't even belong to a synagogue because it is just too expensive. So, we try to do tzedakah in other ways. We've packed lunches for the homeless shelter, and we donate old clothes/toys on a regular basis.

Anonymous said...

Meshugganah Mom, I hear you loud and clear. Even though our synagogue dues are ridiculously low by comparison with those of other shuls in our area, many of our members complain that they're too high for some to afford. Shoot, *we* have trouble paying them (on top of our son's college tuition), and my husband is our shul's treasurer! The worst part is that the dues would have to be roughly double what they are now to come anywhere close to meeting our synagogues expenses.

Right now, we're pretty limited in how much we can contribute, given the cost of college tuition. We hope that that will change once our son graduates in 2007. Kol hakavod ("all honor") to folks with multiple kids in yeshiva who somehow manage to keep up their tuition payments and still keep a roof over their heads.

On a totally unrelated note, maybe it's just because I'm technology-impaired, but, in my opinion, if you have to *explain* how to leave a comment, you've made your blog inaccessible. When it comes to blog design, there's such a thing as overkill.

And by the way, your "preview" is too small for me to read my comment, and can't be expanded, either. Grumble, grumble, kvetch and mumble, yakker bummed and comments stumble.

Anonymous said...

Oh, cute--your "comments counter" shows 5, but your comments "moderator" feature has the fifth comment in a "comments holding cell" awaiting a declaration of "not guilty" (or a certified check for bail, payable to your favorite tzedakah :) ). I'll be back later to see how long it takes my comments to become visible.

To quote our favorite Cro Magnon Man, "ROAR!!!!!!" :)

Anonymous said...

There are a few ways to go about this. One is the talmudic dictum of giving a 10th(and a prohibition against giving more than 20%, unless there are special circumstances). Of course, how to calculate the 10%(before tax, after tax, does tuition or dues count....). Another way is to realize that yes tzedaka is very very important, but one is not allowed to endanger one's family or person by giving more than one can afford. Also, recall that a rich person who becomes poor, and needs monetary help, the goal is to restore him to his usual standard of living(even if it is higher than should be for one on the public dole). The lesson of this, I think is that all of us have a unique internal balance between tzedaka and, well, need for monetary security or material things. As long as you are giving some tzedakah, and are not being miserly, you shouldn't torture yourself that you are not giving enough. Some saintly people feel comfortable giving lots and lots away and having very little in reserve, others are not happy unless they have more comfort. As long as you feel you are doing your part, and doing your best, you should not feel guilty at all for not giving more. Perhaps, if you want, you can give in other ways such as volunteering etc. Also, it is better to give less, and give with a full heart, showing your kids that you are giving tzeddakah, and value giving tzedakkah, than to give more and be grumpy about it, showing your kids you resent the imposition.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insights.

Dilbert - I did not remember that there was a prohibition against giving more than 20 percent of income. That's very interesting. (Though admittedly I'm in no danger of being that generous.)

Sally - Thanks for the note about commenting. Yes, we probably should tweak that .... Though overall I do like the new look. And see how easy it is to add bold and italics and links now, in comments!

Anonymous said...

Ok, I sat down and played the code some more. Tell me if guys like it better like this. the only problem is I don't know how to change it so that if there is only 1 comment it says it without the "s"

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, keeping a jewish community running is an expensive prospect. There are a lot of instituions in the infrastructure, and they're all reaching into the same pockets. Here in Milwaukee, we support a shul, a Kollel, a Mikveh, a day school, and two high schools. And that's just what affects ME personally. Many of these institutions are repeated in other parts of town. So how do you decide who to give to? And should you be placed in a position to judge who is worthy and who isn't? I get annoyed when I receive calls for money from some school in Brooklyn. Do you really need another cheder in deepest darkest Flatbush?? Why do I have to pay for it.

Mostly, I am trying to make sure that I cover my obligations here, pay my kids' tuition, pay my shul dues, and for now, I make sure that the Meshulachim who show up at my door never leave empty handed (but not always with what they want).

Oh, and Chaim, I really think the comment link should be at the bottom of the post, not the top. Or both. But it's annoying to have to scroll all the way back up (especially with this new MEGA FONT) to leave a comment. I'm finding myself commenting on the wrong posts.