There they sit, the pile of unopened solicitations and appeals. Direct marketing charity drives are the modern replacement for the communal tzedakah (charity) appeals of the past.

Food for the poor, tuition assistance for children in need of a Jewish education, support services for single moms, outreach work, hospitals, medical research…take a deep breath, because there are thousands of organizations struggling to make the world a better place. And they are all good causes.

In order to make sense out of this barrage of requests, it may help to know that within Jewish thought there is a recommended hierarchy to one’s order of giving. 

The Torah states that top priority in giving should be to those nearest and dearest to you–your family. Within this category itself, there is a hierarchy that depends upon the closeness of the relationship (siblings before cousins, one’s family before a relative’s family, etc.).

Giving to those to whom one is not related has a different hierarchy. A friend or acquaintance has priority over a stranger, and a stranger in one’s own community has priority over a stranger from another community.

These rules apply when giving to individuals, but similar rules apply to the mass fundraising appeals mentioned earlier. One has a priority to give to organizations that work within one’s own town, before giving to out of town organizations. (The land of Israel is considered as your own town.)

While every Jew has an obligation to give to charity (see Jewish Treats: Tithe Means Tenth), how one chooses to give is left to one’s own discretion. While one may certainly give all of one’s tzedakah to one individual or one organization, it is considered praiseworthy to support a variety of individuals and organizations.

This Treat was originally published on February 1, 2010.

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