By the Middle Ages, community responsibility encompassed every aspect of life. The Jewish community regulated market prices so that the poor could purchase food and other basic commodities at cost. Wayfarers were issued tickets, good for meals and lodging at homes of members of the community, who took turns in offering hospitality. Both these practices anticipated "meal tickets" and modern food stamp plans. Some Jewish communities even established "rent control," directing that the poor be given housing at rates they could afford. In Lithuania, local trade barriers were relaxed for poor refugees. When poor young immigrants came from other places, the community would support them until they completed their education or learned a trade. The organization of charity became so specialized that numerous societies were established to keep pace with all the needs. Each of the following functions was assumed by a different society on behalf of the community at large: visiting the sick, burying the dead, furnishing dowries for poor girls, providing clothing, ransoming captives, supplying maternity needs, and providing necessities for observing holidays. In addition there were public inns for travelers, homes for the aged, orphanages, and free medical care. As early as the eleventh century, a hekdesh ("hospital") was established by the Jewish community of Cologne, primarily for poor and sick travelers. Many later medieval Jewish communities in Poland and Germany adopted this pattern. Spanish Jewish communities hired doctors to serve the entire community to ensure that health care was available to all.
Suggested Discussion Questions:
1. How can we use the systems described here as a model for our own activism?
2. What is missing from this list?
3. In what ways has the Jewish community lapsed in its care for those in need?
Time Period: Contemporary (The Yom Kippur War until the present-day)