Thursday, February 02, 2017

Another review of Gardner, The Origins of Organized Charity in Rabbinic Judaism

H-JUDAIC: Schwartz on Gardner, 'The Origins of Organized Charity in Rabbinic Judaism'.
Author: Gregg Gardner
Reviewer: Joshua Schwartz

Gregg Gardner. The Origins of Organized Charity in Rabbinic Judaism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. 251 pp. $99.99 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-107-09543-4.

Reviewed by Joshua Schwartz (Bar-Ilan University)
Published on H-Judaic (January, 2017)
Commissioned by Katja Vehlow

Charity with Dignity
Charity is one of the most important concepts in Judaism. The most famous definition of charity in Jewish thought is that of Maimonides, in his "Eight Levels of Giving" ("Laws about Giving to Poor People," Mishneh Torah, 10:7-14). Ironically, the highest level of charity might not even be considered as charity today. Maimonides suggests "charity" options such as giving an indigent an interest-free loan, forming a partnership with him, or finding a job for a poor person so that he or she will be able to support themselves. The lowest level of charity is giving out of pity, most likely to a beggar, a type of giving that has generated opposition in some circles today.[1] Avoiding the pitfalls and problems of giving to beggars, and finding different, viable charity solutions are core issues of Gardner's study.

Gardner enters a field that has not suffered neglect as of late.[2] Is there a need for another book on Jewish charity? The answer to this question is encapsulated in one sentence: "The study of organized charity in Judaism is inextricably intertwined with the study of material culture" (p. 63). Finally! While this truism is self-evident in the academic circles that the author of this review frequents, unfortunately the study of relevant material culture and its meaning is often ignored in the study of ancient Judaism.[3] While Gardner's study, using material culture, makes a significant contribution to the study of charity in rabbinic Judaism, it also serves as a methodological model for future research not only on this topic in particular, but also on the social history of ancient Jewish life.

Past PaleoJudaica posts on the book are collected here.