Today is Christmas, perhaps the ultimate holiday for giving, and I am reflecting on the act, ritualization, and commercialization of "giving."
In the past few weeks the media has been abuzz with commentary on the virtue or the silliness of Giving Tuesday. Social media and a consortium of charities pumped up the idea of naming the Tuesday after Black Friday and Cyber Monday “Giving Tuesday,” declaring it the beginning of “The Giving Season.”
Anyone who restricts giving to a short season is not Jewish: the Jewish giving season has no real beginning, because it never ends.
We remember our dead by giving charity in their memory. We celebrate new life the same way. We celebrate holidays by—you guessed it—giving charity. The Hebrew word for sharing one’s assets is tzedakah, which means justice, not charity. Our tradition encourages us to pursue it every day, or “Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof.”
“There are no official holidays for giving,” says Rabbi Ari Cartun, the leader of Congregation Etz Chayim in Palo Alto, California. “You are supposed to share what you have every day, particularly before festivals and holidays.”
Rosh Hashanah is when our tradition states that God writes down everyone’s fate for the coming year. Writes, but does not seal. Tradition says that during the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we can improve our “inscriptions” for the coming year by giving tzedakah.
We have special names for the tzedakah that we give during Pesach and Purim. Pesach charity is called Ma’ot Chittim, or “wheat money.” Purim Charity is called Matanot L’Evyonim, or “presents to the poor,” to commemorate the gifts Esther gave during the time she was fasting and preparing to ask King Ahasuerus to spare the Jews of Persia from slaughter.
This year was the first official “#givingtuesday,” and there was an upsurge of giving on that day. But no matter what the name of the day is, giving is not a choice. As Jews we need no buzzwords or ways of “packaging” our giving, because, as my mother used to say, “What you give away is yours forever.”
There is one thing about Tuesdays, though. Tuesday, or Yom Shlishi, the Third Day, is the day of Creation when, according to the bible, God said the words “and it was good” twice. It is considered lucky.
So maybe THAT is why the people behind “Giving Tuesday” chose Tuesday.
What do you think?
- Why does tzedakah play such an important part in Jewish tradition?
- Is it important to give spontaneously throughout the year?
- Why do we tie giving to justice?
How to cite this page
Tramiel, Preeva. "Holiday Giving." 25 December 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 27, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/holiday-giving>.
While the bumper sticker declaring that we should "practice random acts of kindness" has always charmed me, it has felt fundamentally unJewish. Jews are expected to practice acts of kindness and justice in a disciplined and consistent way, not as acts of whimsy.
In reply to <p>While the bumper sticker by ellen bob
Very true. The discipline of sharing what you have is mentioned many times in the Torah and other places.
My father took it upon himself to take money earmarked for a color TV, and buy Israel bonds every day of the 6-day war. So we watched in black and white till the 80s.
We grew up with our parents modeling how important it was to give not only financially but with your time. My grandmother kept the JNF box on her kitchen counter and we all knew the coins made a difference. Thank you for bringing back these memories.
I love to give spontaneously, but I also keep a spreadsheet to track my donations. Sometimes I have to say no.