CASE STUDIES IN BUSINESS ETHICS
Rabbi Jay Kelman CA Tzedakah Allocations
The mitzvah of tzedakah consist of both a private and public component. The public charity obligation is today operational only in the state of Israel (through taxation) and to some extent through the voluntary federation system. Understanding the potential corrupting power of money, Jewish law ruled that only those of impeccable integrity and reputation are to be entrusted with distributing tzedakah funds. Jewish law went so far as to state that monies should not be given if this criterion is not met. Only with such people at the helm can we be reasonably confident that they will implement Judaism' s requirement that public funds be allocated "for the sake of heaven", based on need and not on connections. They must even vote against their own personal interests if by doing so the community as a whole will benefit. Nevertheless Judaism requires that an accounting be given of use of funds which in today's world translates into providing audited financial statements. One must thus do some homework if one is to perform the mitzvah of tzedakah properly.
While the proper allocation of charity funds is no easy task - the demand of the many worthy causes does greatly exceed the supply - certain guidelines do exist within our tradition. Jewish law stipulates that one should allocate 20% of net income for tzedakah purposes. Those who truly can not afford to do i.e. a young married couple supported by their parents would be forbidden to do so. While as a general rule one may not exceed this amount exceptions are made for the wealthy and monies to be distributed from one's estate. As the Bibilcal tithes went to both the levi'im who were the teachers of Torah and the poor many have suggested that one divide their tzedkah equally - 10% in support of Jewish education and 10% in support of the poor. Amongst the poor one's first obligation is relieving hunger - first and foremost amongst relatives. A women's needs are to be given precedence over those of men. One may only support the needy of other cities (excepting Israel ) if the needs of the local community are met. Finally Jewish law states that must also give some support to 'non-Jewish' causes.