22 and some thoughts on tz’dakah

Today is the 22nd consecutive that I’ve managed to write something intelligible here, which I think is pretty remarkable when you consider my propensity for giving up on new habits–and my habit of sticking to old ones.

I saw a video yesterday that got me thinking about tz’dakah, a topic near and dear to me. It ocurred to me that I have never written about tz’dakah here. So I will. Here goes.

In the early days of the Reform movement, our Reform forebears relabelled the mitzvot bein adam l’chaveiro (commandments between and man and his fellow) and the mitzvot bein adam l’Makom (commandments between a man and God) as the ethical commandments and the ritual commandments, respectively. One train of Reform thought at one time was that we would surely abandon the meaningless ritual commandments, insofar as they are “hard to do–whine, whine, etc.” and henceforth only feel bound by the ethical commandments.

As I’ve written before, I think this whole construct is shifty. One man’s ritual pratice is another’s ethical practice and vice verse. I, for one, don’t wear tzitzit for God, but for the people around me that the fringes remind me to be less of an ass toward. But, that is really all a tangent.

The commandment to give tz’dakah does not quite inhabit a nebulous region under this dichotomy. Clearly, giving tz’dakah is between a person and another person, and clearly it is an ethical thing to do–no ritual can be construed as being involved. And yet, it takes an Orthodox Rabbi like Dovid Bendory to come up with the maaser guide and the maaser calculator. Things like this should be our Reform bread and butter! We should be obsessed with this stuff! “Ten percent” should be our motto, for God’s sake!

Anyway, far be it from me to tell you what to do, you autonomous, choice-making Reformers. The video referred to is a recent clip from 60 Minutes about the monthly destination of my ten percent, Partners in Health. The video is here. I think that the clip, though 60 Minutes hams it up quite a bit for us, tells you all you need to know about PIH. But, if you want to know more, you can check out this excellent book, Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder about PIH and its founder, Doctor Paul Farmer: