Yom Sheini, 17 AdarI 5781
Monday, 1 March 2021
Introducing Liberal Judaism’s month of giving

23rd September 2014

Rabbi Pete Tobias launches Liberal Judaism’s month of giving, by asking what would Maimonides do…

If Facebook had been around in 12th Century Spain, Jewish philosopher Maimonides would have been appalled at the spate of video clips posted there, depicting individuals being doused by buckets of ice cold water.

These drenched people were responding to challenges made by their ‘friends’ to be soaked, in order to raise awareness of the disease Amotryphic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and subsequently to donate to a charity supporting research into it.

It wouldn’t just be the gratuitous waste of a vital resource that would trouble this Jewish sage. His concern would be that these acts, displayed for the entire world to see, purported to be for a charitable cause.

Chances are that Maimonides wouldn’t know what ALS stood for, though as a physician, he would no doubt have applauded efforts to raise awareness about it and encourage research into it. But as a means of raising charitable funds, the Ice Bucket Challenge would have come fairly low down his list of eight degrees of charity.

That list – which can be read at www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Levels_of_Giving.html - offers different ways of giving charity. These range from the lowest level, where donations are given begrudgingly, via different stages relating to the identity of the donor and recipient, up to the highest level, where one anonymously offers support to a person before they become needy by providing resources to enable them to become self-sufficient.

The lack of anonymity, which could be regarded as self-promotion, would, for Maimonides, have undermined any charitable intent of those accepting the Ice Bucket Challenge. Indeed a significant percentage of those seen dousing themselves on Facebook did not even make a donation to ALS.

However he would have been relieved, and his faith in humanity restored, when he checked his Twitter account, to receive a tweet challenging him to ‘quietly set up a monthly direct debit to a charitable cause’.

Pete Tobias is rabbi at The Liberal Synagogue Elstree