Tzedakah: Where and How do I give?

איכא דמתני לה להא דרב הונא אהא דתני רב יוסף (שמות כב, כד) אם כסף תלוה את עמי את העני עמך עמי ונכרי עמי קודם עני ועשיר עני קודם ענייך ועניי עירך ענייך קודמין עניי עירך ועניי עיר אחרת עניי עירך קודמין

There are those who teach that which Rav Huna said in connection with that which Rav Yosef taught: The verse states: “If you lend money to any of My people, even to the poor person who is with you” (Exodus 22:24). The term “My people” teaches that if one of My people, i.e., a Jew, and a gentile both come to borrow money from you, My people take precedence. The term “the poor person” teaches that if a poor person and a rich person come to borrow money, the poor person takes precedence. And from the term: “Who is with you,” it is derived: If your poor person, meaning one of your relatives, and one of the poor of your city come to borrow money, your poor person takes precedence. If it is between one of the poor of your city and one of the poor of another city, the one of the poor of your city takes precedence.

As you read this, you may be stunned at the seeming antagonism towards non-Jews in the Talmud, so here's a note on its historical context:

The Talmud was written during the Babylonian exile (modern-day Iraq), between the 3rd and 6th centuries CE. This was a time where Jewish texts and liturgy were censored, and persecution for our faith was common. Unfortunately, it was not particularly common to have the strong neighborly relationships that we have with non-Jews. In many places, marriage to Jews was banned by Christianity.

For more on the History of the Talmud:

Take that into consideration as you answer these questions. Our relationships with our neighbors look very different in 2020 than they did in 500 CE. How might that change our calculations?

Questions for Consideration

  • What is my first priority in giving Tzedakah?
  • To whom am I obligated?
  • How do I determine this?
  • What is the formula?


  • You have $1,000 to give to Charity - what is your formula for determining priority, based on the above text? How are you dividing it, where are you giving it, and why? Defend it with the text.

(א) כָּל עִיר שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהּ יִשְׂרָאֵל חַיָּבִין לְהַעֲמִיד מֵהֶם גַּבָּאֵי צְדָקָה אֲנָשִׁים יְדוּעִים וְנֶאֱמָנִים שֶׁיִּהְיוּ מַחְזִירִין עַל הָעָם מֵעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת לְעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת וְלוֹקְחִין מִכָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד מַה שֶּׁהוּא רָאוּי לִתֵּן וְדָבָר הַקָּצוּב עָלָיו. וְהֵן מְחַלְּקִין הַמָּעוֹת מֵעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת לְעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת וְנוֹתְנִין לְכָל עָנִי וְעָנִי מְזוֹנוֹת הַמַּסְפִּיקִין לְשִׁבְעָה יָמִים. וְזוֹ הִיא הַנִּקְרֵאת קֻפָּה:

(1) Any city in which there is a Jewish community is obligated to raise up collectors of tzedakah, people who are well-known and trustworthy, to go door-to-door among the people from Sabbath eve to Sabbath eve and to take from each and every one what is appropriate for them to give. [The amount] should be a set and clear matter for each person. They also distribute the money from Sabbath eve to Sabbath eve and give to each and every poor person enough food to last them for seven days. This method is called the kupah [the "coffer" for the charity fund].163For laws 1-12, see Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 8a-11b in addition to the citations listed below.

בְּתַעֲנִיּוֹת מְחַלְּקִים מְזוֹנוֹת לָעֲנִיִּים. וְכָל תַּעֲנִית שֶׁאָכְלוּ הָעָם וְלָנוּ וְלֹא חִלְּקוּ צְדָקָה לָעֲנִיִּים הֲרֵי אֵלּוּ כְּשׁוֹפְכֵי דָּמִים וַעֲלֵיהֶם נֶאֱמַר בַּקַּבָּלָה (ישעיה א כא) "צֶדֶק יָלִין בָּהּ וְעַתָּה מְרַצְּחִים". בַּמֶּה דְּבָרִים אֲמוּרִים בְּשֶׁלֹּא נָתְנוּ לָהֶן הַפַּת וְהַפֵּרוֹת שֶׁאוֹכְלִים בָּהֶם הַפַּת כְּגוֹן תְּמָרִים וַעֲנָבִים. אֲבָל אִם אֵחֲרוּ הַמָּעוֹת אוֹ הַחִטִּים אֵינָן כְּשׁוֹפְכֵי דָּמִים:
On fast days, they must still distribute food for the poor. Any fast where the community eats [at the end after sundown], goes to sleep, and did not distribute tzedakah to the poor is like [a community] that sheds blood. About them it is written in the prophetic books, (Isaiah 1:21) Where righteousness [tzedek] dwelt, but now murderers. To what does this refer? When they have not given them a main dish and fruit with which to eat it, such as dates or grapes. But if the money or the wheat was delayed [and they did not give them food because of a mitigating circumstance], then they are not like murderers.165See Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 35a.
מִי שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ מְזוֹן שְׁתֵּי סְעֻדּוֹת אָסוּר לוֹ לִטּל מִן הַתַּמְחוּי. הָיוּ לוֹ מְזוֹן אַרְבַּע עֶשְׂרֵה סְעֻדּוֹת לֹא יִטּל מִן הַקֻּפָּה. הָיוּ לוֹ מָאתַיִם זוּז אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֵינוֹ נוֹשֵׂא וְנוֹתֵן בָּהֶם [אוֹ שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ חֲמִשִּׁים זוּז וְנוֹשֵׂא וְנוֹתֵן בָּהֶם] הֲרֵי זֶה לֹא יִטּל לֶקֶט שִׁכְחָה וּפֵאָה וּמַעֲשֵׂר עָנִי. הָיוּ לוֹ מָאתַיִם חָסֵר דִּינָר אֲפִלּוּ אֶלֶף נוֹתְנִין לוֹ כְּאֶחָד הֲרֵי זֶה מֻתָּר לִקַּח. הָיוּ בְּיָדוֹ מָעוֹת וַהֲרֵי הֵן עָלָיו חוֹב אוֹ שֶׁהָיוּ מְמֻשְׁכָּנִים לִכְתֻבַּת אִשְׁתּוֹ הֲרֵי זֶה מֻתָּר לִקַּח:
One who has enough food for two meals is forbidden to take from the tamchui. If one has food for fourteen meals, he may not take from the kupah.167See Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 118a. If he had 200 zuz and does not engage in business with them, or if he had fifty zuz and does engage in business with them, then he may not take leket, shikhecha, péah, and ma'esar ani. If he had 199 dinar, even if a thousand people gave him at once, he is permitted to take [everything]. If he had money in his possession but he has a debt or this is collateral for the prenuptial agreement [ketubah] for his wife, then he is permitted to take [tzedakah].168See Mishnah Péah 8:7.