Tzedakah (giving to others) is a given in Judaism. I know Maimonides wrote about a ladder of levels of giving. Did he also address to whom one should give (picking recipients)? How about how to prioritize? Is there a Jewish approach to how to do this?
By asking these questions, it is clear that giving tzedakah is important to you. Yasher Koach for striving to align your priorities with Jewish values!
The 8 rungs of tzedakah listed by Maimonides (a.k.a. Rambam) do not include a prioritization scheme regarding recipients. While Rambam’s rungs do not include a description of the types of recipients in priority order, there is such a prioritization scheme in another section of Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, which is based on an interpretation of Exodus 22:24 in the Babylonian Talmud. According to Rav Huna, one should give tzedakah to Jewish people before giving to non-Jewish people, one should give money topoor people before giving to people who aren’t poor, one should give to your poor relativesbefore giving to the poor people in your town, and one should give to the poor of your own town before giving to the poor of another town. Rav Huna’s teachings indicate that tzedakah should be given in priority order, based on religio-ethnic, familial and geographicalproximity.
The familial proximity aspect of Rav Huna’s prioritization scheme is reflected in the following teaching from Sefer HaChassidim: “A rich man used to donate money to the community’s tzedakah fund and ask the administrator to distribute it the poor. Now, this rich man had an impoverished brother; in fact, all of his relatives were destitute. The rabbi told the rich man, “The money you dole out to the poor through the tzedakah fund is nottzedakah. Rather, it causes screams of distress (tze’akah) to your relatives. It is far better that you give these funds to your needy brother and penniless relatives.” “
Implicit in these teachings is the idea that there are concentric circles of prioritywhen it comes to giving tzedakah. If you consider yourself to be in the center of all of the circles, the recipients who should be given tzedakah first are those who are in the concentric circle closest to the center. As you move further and further away from the center, a lower level of priority should be assigned to each circle of potential tzedakahrecipients.
Based on these Jewish teachings, the following is the list of recipients to whom you should give tzedakah in order of priority from high to low (moving outward from the center of the concentric circles to recipients further away from the center):
1. your poor relatives (familial proximity)
2. poor Jewish people and anti-poverty causes in the Jewish community (religio-ethnic proximity)
(e.g. Jewish Federation, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, NACOEJ: North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry)
3. poor people who live in your ‘local’ town, including Israeli towns
(e.g. your local chapter of the Interfaith Hospitality Network, an organization that provides housing for homeless families)
(e.g. Bayit Ham, an educational program for poor Ethiopian children in Jerusalem, run by Kehillat Moreshet Avraham)
4. poor people who live in another town
(e.g. CROP Walk, ONE Anti-Poverty Campaign)
5. other Jewish causes/organizations that are not anti-poverty causes (religio-ethnic proximity)
(e.g. AIPAC, Camp Ramah, COEJL: Coalition On the Environment and Jewish Life, , Interfaithways, Jewish Federation, Jewish Museum, JNF, JTS, Moving Traditions, Uri L’Tzedek,)
6. other ‘local’ causes/organizations that are not anti-poverty causes,
including Israeli causes/organizations (geographical proximity)
(e.g. your local Jewish Federation, your local library or symphony orchestra)
(e.g. Camp Koby and the Koby Mandell Foundation in Israel, Lifeline for the Old in Jerusalem, Shalva, an association for physically and mentally handicapped children in Israel, Yad VaShem)
7. non-local organizations that are not anti-poverty organizations
(e.g. American Cancer Society, Greenpeace International, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Save Darfur Coaltion, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, World Wildlife Foundation, etc.)
Good luck with your decision-making process as you fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah!
 Literally, the words mean, "May you be assured of strength!" or "May you be 'straightened up' with strength!" As a figure of speech, the expression means, "More power to you!" or "Good job!" This expression is generally used in Ashkenazic synagogues to congratulate someone who has just received an honor on the bimah such as an ark opening or an aliyah to the Torah.
 Maimonides (Rambam), Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Matanot Aniim, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7
 The following is the list of Maimonides’ 8 rungs, in order from lowest (least preferable) to highest (most preferable).
1.giving reluctantly, without being cheerful about it
2.giving cheerfully, but giving a lower amount than one should is able to afford
3.giving, but only when asked by a poor person
4.giving without having to be asked directly to the poor person., with recipient and the giver both knowing each other’s identity
5.giving a donation in such a way that the giver does not the identity of the recipient (however, the recipient does know the identity of the giver)
6.giving a donation in such a way that the recipient doesn’t know the identity of the giver (however, the giver does know the identity of the recipient)
7.giving an anonymous donation to a tzedakah fund, from which money is donated to the poor. (In this scenario, neither the giver nor the recipient know the other’s identity.)
8.giving money that enables a recipient to avoid poverty in the future. (“teaching a person how to fish”= teaching a person a skill or trade, finding him/her a job, or lending him/her money)
Rambam’s list is echoed in the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 249: 6-13
Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Matanot Aniim 7:13: “The poor person who is your relative takes precedence over all others….and…..the poor person of your own town takes precedence over the poor of other towns.”
 “Im kesef talveh et ami, et ha-aniimach…….” “If/when you lend money to My nation, the poor person who is with you, do not behave towards him as a creditor.”(Parashat Mishpatim)
 Rav Huna’s teachings were transmitted by Rav Yosef,
 Some modern sources expand upon Rav Yosef’s teaching by indicating that towns in Israel should be considered to be at the same priority level as “your own town,” with Jerusalem taking precedence over other cities.
 translated by Avraham Finkel, Jason Aronson Inc., 1997, pp. 114-115
Maimonides did speak of a “ladder” of levels of tzedakah (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Matanot Aniyim, chapter 10). He also speaks, in several places, about the sorts of priorities you mention, drawing upon Talmudic tradition. In these rulings, he mentions several different “Jewish approaches” to setting priorities. In Hilkhot Matanot Aniyim 7:13, he follows what we might call a “relationship” scale of priorities: you should give first and foremost to the ones closest to you, in family ties (“the poor person who is your relative takes precedence over all others”) and then in geography (“the poor of your own town take precedence over the poor of other towns”). Meanwhile, in the next chapter of his Code (8:17), he puts forth a “status” scale: if there are many poor people who need our help, we should help them according to their Biblical ritual status (kohen [priest] comes before the Levite, who comes before the yisrael [Jew not stemming from the tribe of Levi], who comes before others in a sliding scale of genealogical blemishes. This, meanwhile, follows upon a rule setting up a “gender-based” scale of priorities (8:15): men take precedence over women on certain tzedakah-related matters while women come first with respect to others.
The traditional Talmudic mindset, upon confronting these differing scales of priorities, might seek to resolve them into one coherent system. It might be better, though, not to try. What Maimonides may be telling us with all these differing approaches is that the Jewish tradition on tzedakah is complex. There are too many deserving people and causes to imagine that we can come up with a one-size-fits-all approach to giving. The world, moreover, has changed. For example, if we take Maimonides literally, we can never give to national or international causes (“the poor of other towns”) before we have taken care of the poor of our own locale. Yet the world today is a much smaller place than it was in ancient and medieval times; our “community” of concern extends far beyond our city limits. To what extent does this “community” include non-specifically-Jewish causes? What Maimonides has to say about that issue is in some ways surprisingly progressive, but it may not be relevant to our social and political situation today. And what do we do about those rules that set gender-based priorities or priorities based in ritual status? Such rules stand in sharp contradiction with the value systems by which most of us, happily, live today.
I’d prefer to leave Maimonides as he is, offering several different and conflicting orders of priorities. This state of contradiction might be confusing, but it helps us keep in mind some basic truths: namely, that Jewish tradition does not always speak with a single voice; that different solutions are advanced at different stages throughout history, each one responding to the perceived needs and values of its time; and that the ultimate decision on the allocation of tzedakah, while it should be guided and influenced by the teachings of our sacred texts, cannot be determined by the texts alone. That decision, rather, must be made by us, working together in community. And we must take responsibility for that decision.
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