From the American Jewish World Service Education Module on, "Addressing Global Poverty: International Aid, Debt Relief, and Trade Justice"
*Universe of Obligation is "the circle of individuals and groups toward whom obligations are owed, to whom rules apply, and whose injuries call for amends." (Accouting for Genocide, Helen Fein, Free Press, 1979, p. 4)
What do each of these texts suggest about the extent of our obligation? What do we owe to those inside our universe of obligation?
The Torah uses a number of different "stock characters" to discuss various obligations: brother, neighbor, stranger. What might be the implications of using neighbor here?
Why make exceptions for these three particular things?
(א) מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה לִתֵּן צְדָקָה לָעֲנִיִּים כְּפִי מַה שֶּׁרָאוּי לֶעָנִי. אִם הָיְתָה יַד הַנּוֹתֵן מַשֶּׂגֶת. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים טו ח) "פָתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת יָדְךָ לוֹ" וְנֶאֱמַר (ויקרא כה לה) "וְהֶחֱזַקְתָּ בּוֹ גֵּר וְתוֹשָׁב וָחַי עִמָּךְ" וְנֶאֱמַר (ויקרא כה לו) "וְחֵי אָחִיךָ עִמָּךְ":
וְכָל הָרוֹאֶה עָנִי מְבַקֵּשׁ וְהֶעֱלִים עֵינָיו מִמֶּנּוּ וְלֹא נָתַן לוֹ צְדָקָה עָבַר בְּלֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים טו ז) "לֹא תְאַמֵּץ אֶת לְבָבְךָ וְלֹא תִקְפֹּץ אֶת יָדְךָ מֵאָחִיךָ הָאֶבְיוֹן":
(1) It is a positive commandment to give charity to the poor, as is appropriate to the poor person, providing the giver can afford it, as it says, “You shall open your hand to him,” and “You shall strengthen the stranger who dwells with you,” and “Your brother shall live with you.”
(2) And any who sees a poor person begging and hides his eyes and does not give him charity transgresses a negative commandment, as it says (Deuteronomy 15:7), “Do not harden your heart or close your hand from your
poor brother.” [translation by AJWS]
Beyond providing for the physical needs of the poor person, with what else is Rambam concerned?
(ה) בָּא הֶעָנִי וְשָׁאַל דֵּי מַחֲסוֹרוֹ וְאֵין יַד הַנּוֹתֵן מַשֶּׂגֶת נוֹתֵן לוֹ כְּפִי הַשָּׂגַת יָדוֹ וְכַמָּה עַד חֲמִישִׁית נְכָסָיו מִצְוָה מִן הַמֻּבְחָר. וְאֶחָד מֵעֲשָׂרָה בִּנְכָסָיו בֵּינוֹנִי. פָּחוֹת מִכָּאן עַיִן רָעָה. וּלְעוֹלָם לֹא יִמְנַע עַצְמוֹ מִשְּׁלִישִׁית הַשֶּׁקֶל בְּשָׁנָה. וְכָל הַנּוֹתֵן פָּחוֹת מִזֶּה לֹא קִיֵּם מִצְוָה. וַאֲפִלּוּ עָנִי הַמִּתְפַּרְנֵס מִן הַצְּדָקָה חַיָּב לִתֵּן צְדָקָה לְאַחֵר:
(5) If a poor person comes and asks according to his or her need and the giver cannot afford to give, the giver should give according to his ability. And how much is that? The greatest way to fulfill this commandment is to give up to one fifth of your wealth. The average way to fulfill this commandment is to give 10% of your wealth. Less than this is considered an evil eye. One should never give less than 1/3 of a shekel in a year, and anyone who gives less than this has not fulfilled the commandment. Even a poor person who is supported by tzedakah is obligated to give tzedakah to another. [AJWS translation]
What does it mean to give "as is appropriate to the poor person?" Beyond providing for the physical needs of the poor person, with what else is Rambam concerned?
Why does Rambam limit the "choicest mitzvah" to 1/5? Why cap it at all?
Emmanuel Levinas, "Philosophy, Justice, and Love," in Entre Nous (English Ed. New York: Columbua Univ Press, 1998.)
If [the Other] were my only interlocutor, I would have nothing but obligations! But I don’t live in a world in which there is but one single ‘first comer’; there is always a third party in the world... my central idea is what I called an ‘asymmetry of intersubjectivity’: the exceptional situation of the I. I always recall Dostoyevsky on this subject; one of his characters says: we are all guilty for everything and everyone and I more than all others. But to this idea...I immediately add the concern for the third and, hence, justice. If there were no order of justice, there would be no limit to my responsibility.
What does Levinas mean by an "asymmetry of inter-subjectivity?"