Service/Volunteerism Texts
1 א
Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 49B
Translation Original
Our Sages taught: Gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness) is greater than tzedakah in three ways: Acts of tzedakah involve only one’s money – gemilut chasadim can involve both money or one’s personal service. Tzedakah can be given only to the poor – gemilut chasadim can be done both for the rich and for the poor. Tzedakah can be given only to the living – gemilut chasadim can be done both for the living and the dead. [AJWS translation]
תנו רבנן: בשלשה דברים גדולה גמילות חסדים יותר מן הצדקה, צדקה - בממונו, גמילות חסדים - בין בגופו בין בממונו. צדקה - לעניים, גמילות חסדים - בין לעניים בין לעשירים. צדקה - לחיים, גמילות חסדים - בין לחיים בין למתים.
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. In what ways can acts of lovingkindness be done for the wealthy?
2. How can we add lovingkindness to our tzedakah?
3. How can we add lovingkindness to our foreign assistance policies? to our domestic policies?

2 ב
Rambam's Eight Chapters, Chapter 4
Translation Original
Goodness of heart - [falls] between meanness and excessive kindness. (And because these virtues do not have a name in our language - it is necessary to explain them and to explain what the philosophers wanted: A good heart - this is called to one for whom all his intentions are to improve the state of man with his body, his wisdom and his money to the maximum of his ability but without causing any harm or contempt. This is the middle path. The mean one - he is the opposite of this and he is one who does not want to contribute to humanity a thing, even things which he is not lacking and would not be a bother to him nor cause him damage. This is the fartherest extreme. And the excessively good heart - this is one who does all the things listed above in "good heart" but does them even when they cause him great damage, or contempt, or trouble, or great loss. This is the first extreme.) [AJWS translation]
וטוב-לב - ממצע בין הנבלה ויתרון טוב הלבב. (ומפני שאין למדות האלה שם ידוע בלשוננו - צריך לפרש עניניהם, ומה שרוצים בו הפלוסםפים: לב טוב - קוראים: מי שכל כונתו להיטיב לבני אדם בגופו, ועצתו, ובממונו בכל יכלתו, בלתי שישיגהו נזק או בזיון, והוא האמצעי. והנבל - הוא הפך זה, והוא: מי שאינו רוצה להועיל לבני אדם דבר, אפילו במה שאין לו בו חסרון, ולא טרח, ולא נזק - והוא: הקצה האחרון. ויתרון טוב הלבב - הוא: שעושה דברים הנזכרים ב"לב טוב" ואפילו אם ישיגהו בזה נזק גדול, או בזיון, או טרח רב והפסד מרבה - והוא: הקצה הראשון).
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How can we find the middle path and contribute to humanity?
2. How do we evaluate what counts as a loss or damage to the giver?
3. How can we continue to grow as individuals and as communities while repeatedly finding the middle path?

3 ג
Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 9:1
Translation Original
When R. Joshua ben Levi went to Rome, he saw marble pillars there which had been carefully covered with wrappings to keep them from cracking during the heat and freezing in the cold. At the same time, he saw a poor man who had no more than a reed mat under him and a reed mat over him to protect him from the elements. [AJWS translation]
ר' יהושע בן לוי סליק לרומי וראה שם עמודים של שייש מכורכים בקיטיות, בשרב שלא יפקעו ובצינה שלא יקרשו, וראה שם עני אחד מחצלת קנים מתחתיו ומחצלת של קנים מעל גביו.
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What is the criticism of Rome here?
3. In what ways could the same criticism be made of our society? Of our global community?

4 ד
Jerusalem Talmud, Demai 4:1
Translation Original
In a city where non-Jews and Jews live, the tzedakah collectors collect from Jews and non-Jews and support Jewish and non-Jewish poor; visit Jewish and non-Jewish sick and bury Jewish and non-Jewish dead, and comfort Jewish and non-Jewish mourners, and return lost goods of non-Jews and Jews, to promote the ways of peace. [Soncino translation]
תני עיר שיש בה גוים וישראל הגביים גובין משל ישראל ומשל גוים ומפרנסין עניי ישראל ועניי גוים ומבקרין חולי ישראל וחולי גוים וקוברין מתי ישראל ומתי גוים ומנחמין אבילי ישראל ואבילי גוים ומכניסין כלי גוים וכלי ישראל מפני דרכי שלום.
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. According to this text, what does it mean to promote the ways of peace? According to you?
2. What would you add to this list of actions?

Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 17b
5 ה
ותניא: כל עיר שאין בה עשרה דברים הללו אין תלמיד חכם רשאי לדור בתוכה: בית דין מכין ועונשין, וקופה של צדקה נגבית בשנים ומתחלקת בשלשה, ובית הכנסת, ובית המרחץ, ובית הכסא, רופא, ואומן, ולבלר, (וטבח), ומלמד תינוקות.
It was taught: A scholar should not reside in a city where the following ten things are not found: A court of justice that imposes flagellation and decrees penalties; a charity fund collected by two and distributed by three [to ensure honesty in collection and distribution]; a Synagogue; public baths; toilet facilities; a circumciser; a surgeon, a notary; a slaughterer and a school-master. [Soncino translation]
6 ו
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the significance of each item on this list?
2. If a scholar found that these things did not exist, what should s/he do?
3. What social justice themes emerge from this text?

Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 61a
7 ז
ת"ר: מפרנסים עניי נכרים עם עניי ישראל, ומבקרין חולי נכרים עם חולי ישראל, וקוברין מתי נכרים עם מתי ישראל, מפני דרכי שלום.
Our Rabbis taught: We sustain the non-Jewish poor with the Jewish poor, visit the non-Jewish sick with the Jewish sick, and bury the non-Jewish dead with the Jewish dead, for the sake of peace. [AJWS translation]
8 ח
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What does the "for the sake of peace" mean?
3. How do we reconcile this text with the common tenancy to care for our own first?

9 ט
Midrash Tanhuma, Mishpatim 2
Translation Original
If a person of learning participates in public affairs and serves as judge or arbiter, he gives stability to the land... But if he sits in his home and says to himself, “What have the affairs of society to do with me?... Why should I trouble myself with the people’s voices of protest? Let my soul dwell in peace!”—if he does this, he overthrows the world. [translation by Hazon]
מַלְכָּהּ שֶׁל תּוֹרָה, בְּמִשְׁפָּט שֶׁהוּא עוֹשֵׂה, מַעֲמִיד אֶת הָאָרֶץ... אִם מֵשִׂים אָדָם עַצְמוֹ כִּתְרוּמָה הַזּוּ שְׁמוּשְׁלֶכֵת בְּזָוִיוֹת הַבָּיִת וְאוֹמֵר: מָה לִי בְּטוֹרַח הַצִּבּוּר ?מָה לִי בְּדִינֵיהֶם? מָה לִי לִשְׁמוֹעַ קוֹלָם? שָׁלוֹם עָלֶיךָ נַפְשִׁי! הֲרֵי זֶה מַחֲרִיב אֶת הָעוֹלָם.
Suggested Discussion Questions

When do you sit at home when you might stand up and make a difference?
What does this text say about the relationship between power and responsibility?

Exodus Rabbah 31:12
10 י
אין בעולם קשה מן העניות שהוא קשה מכל יסורין שבעולם. אמרו רבותינו כל היסורין לצד אחד והעניות לצד אחד .מי שהוא עשיר ויש לו קרוב עני אינו מודה בו, רואה קרובו נטמן מפניו שהוא מתבייש להשיח עמו לפי שהוא עני.
There is nothing in the world more grievous than poverty; it is the most terrible of all sufferings. Our sages have said: If all troubles were assembled on one side and poverty on the other, [poverty would outweigh them all]. When a man is rich and has a poor relative, he does not acknowledge him; for when he sees his poor relation, he hides himself from him, being ashamed to speak to him, because he is poor. [AJWS translation]
11 יא
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. Where does the rich man's shame come from? How can his shame be expunged in order that he might help his relative?
3. Have you ever experienced this kind of shame - either as one who was in need of help or as one who could offer help? What would have made the experience easier?

Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 19b
12 יב
תא שמע: גדול כבוד הבריות שדוחה [את] לא תעשה שבתורה.
Come and learn: Human dignity is so important that it supersedes even a biblical prohibition. [Soncino translation]
13 יג
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What happens when human dignity is not a priority, such that this text makes it the most important thing?