A neighbor is going through a really hard time after both members of the couple lost their jobs last year. What is a community’s responsibility towards its own members? Does this trump other, broader giving (like to umbrella organizations) when triage must be done? Does it change your answer if I tell you that this neighbor is not Jewish?
This is a very sensitive question because I can imagine that the neighbors would appreciate assistance but would be sensitive to how it was given.
Let me being with your first question, what is the community’s responsibility towards its members? We read in Deuteronomy 15:8 “If there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he is lacking.” There are a variety of ways of giving, and Maimonides spells out 8 levels in the mishneh torah Mishneh Torah, Gifts to the Poor, 10:7-14. The levels decrease with 8 being the “worst” way to give and level one, being the greatest. He writes, Level One: The greatest level, above which there is no other, is to strengthen the name of another Jew by giving him a present or loan, or making a partnership with him, or finding him a job in order to strengthen his hand until he needs no longer [beg from] people. For it is said, "You shall strengthen the stranger and the dweller in your midst and live with him," (Leviticus 25:35) that is to say, strengthen him until he needs no longer fall [upon the mercy of the community] or be in need.
Your second question is with regard to the hierarchy of how to decide where to give, when there are limited resources. Rabbi Moshe Isserles in the his Code of Jewish Law, the Shulhan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 251:3, writes, “A person’s own livelihood comes before anyone else and he has no duty to give (charity) until he has his own income. Next come his parents if they are poor, next his grown children, next his siblings, and next his extended family, next his neighbors, next the people of his town, and next the people of other towns. As well, the true residents of the town are the “poor of the city” and they precede those poor who come to the city from another place.” You can see here that there is nothing wrong with putting your neighbor’s needs before other needs. That being said, if it is possible to both assist them and help with the “communal kuppah”-for example an annual campaign through your local Federation, that would be great.
Finally, it is certainly appropriate to use the above principals regardless of the religious faith of your neighbors. Maimonides writes in the Mishneh Torah, Gifts to the Poor, 7:7 that “We support the poor of the gentiles along with the poor of Israel for the sake of “the ways of peace.”
As you approach this answer, you should feel confident that it is appropriate to help them and I imagine, by your question, that you will do it with the sensitivity required. Good luck.
The question is somewhat unclear. You speak about a neighbor (singular) and then speak about both members of the couple (plural). Then you speak about community's responsibility. Then you speak about trumping.
I assume that the neighbor is one of the couple.
We do not really have a definitive community on whose shoulders would rest the charity responsibility. It is essentially individuals, and they have the right to choose which charities they embrace, even in the face of priorities. The priorities do not preclude individual choice which goes contrary to the priorities. There is no trumping issue, as the choice is yours.
And yes, you can choose to give to non-Jews. Or, more importantly, finding them both a job would probably be most helpful, for their dignity and long range welfare.
I agree with Rabbi Bulka that the question is unclear. I wonder whether you are asking about a synagogue community’s responsibility to a non-Jewish friend or neighbor to that synagogue community? Lacking an accurate sense of the situation you describe, I will cast my answer more broadly:
Jewish law teaches us that priorities in giving begin with providing basic needs for ourselves and our immediate family, continue with our close relatives (parents, grown children, siblings, etc.), extend next to our neighbors, then to the poor of our city, and finally to the poor of another city. At the same time, since it would be easy to exhaust our tzedakah on local needs (which are manifestly a higher priority), we are required to reserve at least some portion of our funds for worthy causes and needy individuals outside of our community, both in the Diaspora and in Israel. Furthermore, while we have a special obligation to give to Jewish causes (“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”), we are also obligated by ancient rabbinic rulings as well as contemporary ethics and circumstances, to support non-Jews in need, and worthy non-Jewish or secular causes (“If I am only for myself, what am I?”).
In other words, Jewish tradition, recognizing that the world’s needs will very often outstrip our capacity to give, asks us to weigh competing priorities, and ultimately leaves the details of tzedakah allocation up to each one of us. Judaism rarely tells us that one cause “trumps” another, and especially in the case you describe, if the neighbor in question might benefit from services provided via “umbrella organizations” such as Mazon, Jewish Federations (which often funds agencies that help Jews and non-Jews alike), or United Way, then the calculus becomes even more complex.
Ultimately, it is up to each individual and each community to make allocations according to our best judgment. Of course, we are also free to encourage one another to ever-greater heights of generosity and compassion.
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