In Judaism, tzedakah is encouraged as a moral obligation.
According to Nonprofits Source, religious organizations consistently have been the largest recipient of American philanthropic contributions, with 31% of all donations in 2017 supporting religious causes.
Bill Adolph, director, planned giving Midwest at Jewish National Fund’s Chicago office, and Rabbi Joseph Kirsch, spiritual living associate director and hospice chaplain at Menorah Park in Beachwood, faith can help potential donors find the organization that matches with their morals.
“Philanthropy means the desire to promote the welfare of others,” Kirsch said. “Our beliefs define what we consider is good for other people. Our principles help us distinguish between right and wrong. Donating to the ‘wrong’ place might accomplish the opposite of what we wish to do.”
Kirsch added faith and philanthropy intersect within teachings traceable to religious texts.
“The Torah proclaims ‘love thy neighbor as thyself,’” he recited. “Giving strikes the very heart and soul of every human being. It defines who we are. We emulate G-d and strive to be givers. Likewise, the question of where to give is no less sacred than the question of whether to give. A gift to the wrong place may be an act of taking, not giving, or an act of destroying our world, rather than repairing it.”
Adolph said many people feel informed by the generations that came before them and can use those teachings to inspire their gifts.
“If your faith or family has believed that you go to church or synagogue and your values there, that is where (faith and philanthropy) are going to intersect,” he explained. “That is where you will decide where your philanthropic dollars go.”
Adolph explained philanthropic individuals can find ideals that resonate with them in other religions. For example, he described a Christian man that has been supporting the Jewish National Fund for 15 years. The man resonated with the idea that Saturday, the Sabbath, is a day of rest.
“When his church wasn’t abiding by what he was raised in and believed in, he turned to JNF and gives to use instead because we uphold what he believes in” Adolph stated. “You do what you believe in and what you were taught. That is what he was taught.”
Kirsch noted giving back is an integral part of Judaism.
“The Torah, as well as Jewish history, overflows with stories and parables about the greatness of philanthropy,” he indicated. “We are always taught to perform chesed or kindness. The menorah was formed of one solid piece of gold. The lower base of the menorah and the upper lights were not separate. This teaches us that those who support sanctity share with those who spread it.”
At Menorah Park, Kirsch said the organization, and what it supports, was built on a commitment to the Jewish people.
“Its very essence speaks to the heart and soul of what Judaism is,” he said. “Caring, giving and repairing the world, right here in our very own backyard.”
For JNF, the mission is even simpler and can apply to all religions.
“At the end of the day, it’s Israel,” Adolph said. “It doesn’t matter what faith or what religion you believe in, everyone in one way or another has a connection back to Israel. It’s across the board.”
Especially in today’s world, Kirsch said it’s important not to lose sight of one’s morals when giving.
“In today’s digital world, it is all too easy to get swept off one’s feelings and drawn to a cause,” he noted. “Media and marketing can sensationalize things and obscure our vision. Self-reflection connects us with our soul and frees us to contribute to the things that we truly feel are important.”
But, Adolph said people should never feel forced to give. Going back to the Christian man who supports JNF, he said it has to do with one’s personal beliefs and how they want that communicated.
“He needed to find a way to piece those two parts of his life together, what he believed in and the church he was raised in,” Adolph said. “That is where you can find something that fits within your philanthropic plan.”