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Spending Your Tzedakah Dollars

Spending Your Tzedakah Dollars

The Jewish Week introduces a feature during the current economic crisis that will advise readers about saving money and spending it wisely. The paper welcomes suggestions: contact Steve Lipman at (212) 921-7822, ext. 236;

The biblical obligation to give to charity does not decrease during a recession, but one’s ability to give certainly may. Tithing, donating ten percent of your income, may not be possible if you have lost your job or retirement savings.

If you are giving tzedakah now, how do you do it? What are your top priorities?
Even Jewish law is not clear on this, offering several types of individuals or causes as most worthy, says Danny Siegel, founder of the Ziv Tzedakah Fund that raised more than $13.5 million dollars for charities in the U.S. and Israel and other countries from 1981 to 2008. He is a leading authority on collecting and distributing charity money.

When funds are tight, the priority is clear, Siegel ( says. First, Jewish causes – they draw on a smaller donor base than other causes.

“Within Jewish, Israel” – many non-Jews don’t give to Israeli recipients, Siegel says.
Then, non-Jewish causes.
How do you handle charity requests received in the mail?
“You have no obligation to give. None,” Siegel says.
What about phone solicitations?
Ask the caller about the charity’s overhead percentage. Ask the caller to send background about the charity, and a financial statement. Don’t make pledges over the phone; especially don’t give your credit card number.

Face-to-face requests for a contribution?
Ask about the cause or recipient. If possible, request some information in writing. “Check it out,” Siegel says. If the need is obviously “immediate, immediate, immediate,” if someone needs money for a medical transplant, then give.
Siegels’ main advice. Look for “Mitzvah Heroes,” people whose tzedakah work makes a unique contribution.

“Any money you give should make a difference,” he says. If a matching funds program will multiply your donation, “that bumps way up your priority list.”

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