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Ways of Giving - Lesson Plan for Family or Congregational Education

This lesson plan is part of a larger Go & Learn guide entitled “Benevolent Societies and Tzedakah.”

Tzedakah and Gemilut Chesed

Introduce the concepts of tzedakah and gemilut chesed. Explain that tzedakah, is often translated into English as “charity.” However, “charity,” comes comes from the Latin word caritas, meaning love, whereas tzedakah comes from the Hebrew word tzedek which means “just,” “right,” or “righteous.” And unlike charity, which is voluntarily given, in Judaism, giving tzedakah is a commandment. Gemilut chesed, acts of lovingkindness, is distinct from tzedakah; while not commanded, Gemilut chesed is clearly encouraged by our tradition.

Read or describe the background essay on Jewish women’s benevolent societies. Then, discuss:

  • Why were these charitable and philanthropic organizations the first ventures of Jewish women out of the sphere of home and family?

An Historical Perspective on Justice

Choose three participants to perform the texts (listed above in the “Featured Documents” section) by Rebecca Gratz, Hannah Greenebaum Solomon, and a Representative of Chicago’s South Side Ladies’ Sewing Society. This can be done simply by “introducing” the three women and having each of them read their paragraph, or you could make it more elaborate (requiring more preparation) by having the participants read the women’s biographies (available in JWA's Women of Valor exhibit) beforehand and introduce themselves, wearing costumes, etc.

Divide participants into small groups. Give each group the texts of the women’s speeches and the traditional Jewish texts found below. Ask groups to discuss:

  • What do our traditional texts teach us about engaging in tzedakah and gemilut chesed?
  • If tzedakah is commanded, why do you think the rabbis said that gemilut chesed is “greater”?
  • Why do the rabbis say that tzedakahcollectors are like “the stars forever and ever”?
  • In what ways do each of the three women we heard from today, and the organizations they work with, enact tzedakahand gemilut chesed?
  • What are your favorite contemporary tzedakah organizations, and why?

Traditional Jewish Texts

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Ways of Giving - Lesson Plan for Family or Congregational Education." (Viewed on August 23, 2014) <http://jwa.org/teach/golearn/oct05/family>.

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