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Maimonides’ 8 Levels of Charity

This article was written by in Charity. 19 comments.


In researching historical and religious views on charitable giving, I came across Maimonides’ hierarchy. He believed that there are 8 degrees of charity. These deal primarily with providing for the poor. Here are his 8 levels, from the highest to lowest. Do you agree with this assessment? How high are you on the list?

  1. Investing in a poor person in a manner that they can become self-sufficient.
  2. Giving to the poor without knowledge of the recipient and without allowing the recipient to know your identity.
  3. Giving to the poor with knowledge of the recipient but without allowing the recipient to know your identity (anonymous giving).
  4. Giving to the poor without knowledge of the recipient but allowing the recipient to know your identity.
  5. Giving to the poor without or before being asked.
  6. Giving to the poor after being asked.
  7. Giving to the poor happily but inadequately.
  8. Giving to the poor unwillingly.

What do you think?

Published or updated May 15, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Ryan

These are pretty good. I don’t think that Maimonides anticipated the anonymity of the internet. I would put that revealing yourself to someone in your giving is actually high on the list. A relationship, even a relationship without any other communication except a one-time gift, might be worth something.

In Maim’s time, anonymity might have to be worked at, in our time, anonymity is very cheap.

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avatar fathersez

A sensible and logical list I think. I am not sure if we can measure our position on this list, since most of us must have done a number of the items listed.

BTW, who is this Maim?

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avatar Jonathan

Flexo,

I think a glaring omission in the above list can be summed up in the phrase “widow’s mite”.

Jesus describes a widow, with no wealth or status to speak of, and having barely enough on which to survive. Yet she was convicted to give what she had to charity (the synagogue, in this case), a single penny.

This contribution is more valuable, from a spiritual standpoint, than Warren Buffett’s (albeit generous) giving out of his surplus. Some people are willing to give even *when* it hurts, and this isn’t even alluded to in Maimonide’s list.

Obviously I don’t mean that Buffett gave less, monetarily, than the “widow”; I’m assigning greater value to the widow’s generosity based on what the Bible teaches us about giving.

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avatar Ian

“4. Giving to the poor without knowledge of the recipient but allowing the recipient to know your identity.”

What would it mean for the poor to know your identity in the context of giving, but not know that you gave? Could someone give an example?

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avatar Brian

I like #1 the most, which is why my favorite place for charitable giving is donorschoose.org. I get to help out schools serving low-income students, and beyond that I get to choose the project, I can pick the area, and since it’s not fixed-cost I can donate $34 or whatever I can spare that month. Plus, they have an itemized list of exactly where each penny goes per project, so I know I’m not padding the wallet of some “non-profit director” who pays himself $120k a year. You’d be amazed to see what small of a % of your donation actually goes towards the people in need at a lot of charities.
While the recipients don’t know your name, the charity acts as a forwarder of sorts; a year after my girlfriend and I helped pay for a reading nook at a school with an 85% student poverty rate, we got handwritten thank yous addressed “Dear Donor” from every kid in the class, and pictures of them enjoying the reading area. Definitely unexpected, and definitely made my whole week brighter :).

I consider that as falling under “investing to become self-sufficient” since I believe that strong basic education early on in life increases the chance of a productive, independent future.

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avatar Matty

I need to work on my charity for sure. I feel like I’ve become hardened by living in a big city. Everywhere I turn, someone wants something from me. I end up drowning it out. I think the only way around it is to donate anonymously to an organization that works with the poor and homeless.

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avatar Dean in Des Moines

I think giving to someone without knowing them is opening one’s self to fraud. It defies logic to think that one can know if the person is truly in need without knowing the person.

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avatar Jason Unger
avatar Jim

getting on soapbox…

I can’t agree with Jonathan’s post #3 more. Charity should not be an after thought or a ‘whatever you can spare that month’ mentality. People need to start actually thinking about ‘sacrifice’, about giving until it hurts both in their time and their treasures. In the US, we suffer from a severe case of me-ism where everything is about satisfying our own needs first and maybe someone else’s later.

Not to get too religious, but really what is the driving force of charity if it is not rooted in a belief of some higher being. Of a belief that we are tasked to take care of our fellow brothers and sisters.

Take Mother Teresa as an example. In her order, she forbade her sisters from taking anything to eat or drink when visiting the poor. These are the poorest of the poor. Why the rule? Because even the poorest of the poor, having almost nothing to offer, would still willing offer what little clean water or food they had to their guests. Now that’s sacrifice!

Or for a biblical reference:

“I will not offer to the Lord sacrifices which cost me nothing.”
- 2 Samuel 24:24

If only we could get everyone to think charity first and self second!

…getting off my soap box now.

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avatar nickel

I guess we’re at #2 on the list.

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avatar AJC

Well, I’ll be! I write about my own $7 Million Dollar Journey on my blog, but I have JUST launched a companion blog as a more direct way to ‘give back’ … I think it qualifies as a Maimomedes #1 !!

You see, my new site ( 7m7y.com )aims to ‘give back’ more directly: it will chronicle the journey of my 7 Millionaires … In Training! I am screening for suitably ‘poor’ applicants right now (they just need to have the need and desire to ‘make it’).

Maimomedes was right … something about teaching a person to fish … :) Thanks for the post!

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avatar ChristianPF

Thanks for sharing Flexo – I had never separated the ways to give in my mind like this. I had also thought of anonymous giving as being a little bit better than “known” giving – but had never broken it down to these 8 types. Very interesting…

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avatar Meg

This jumbled list doesn’t make sense. Number one is great – it describes how the poor can utilize the help you give (by using it to become self-sufficient). The rest don’t follow that line of reasoning. Logically, number two would be something like “Giving to a poor person in a manner that meets a basic life need they cannot fulfill otherwise (e.g. food, water, or shelter).” And three would be “Giving to a poor person in a manner that provides an appreciated item or luxury which does not meet basic needs.” And so on.

And I don’t agree with items 2-7 follow anyway. The effect and benefit and of charity rarely depends on the anonymity or identity of the doner, whether the poor ask for assistance, or any of the other items. And the nature and intent of the giver cannot be determined by those items either. All these items matter in certain cases, but certainly this does not constitute a universal hierarchy of giving in my opinion.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,470 (Platinum)

Meg: That’s a good observation. This hierarchy doesn’t deal mainly with the effect of the charity other than self-subsistence in the number one slot, but more of how selfless the deed is. It is a religious list, so the intent is that the higher you are on the list, the better your deed in the eyes of God. Maimonides popularized this list many centuries ago, before “anonymous” giving and massive fund-raising campaigns were commonplace or easy.

I don’t normally write about religion here, but I am fascinated with the historical development of religion in general.

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avatar Meg

Interesting…I can see how in an ancient setting and in a religious context that this hierarchy would have been popularized – and deservedly so.

Giving publicly for the sake of recognition alone must have been very common; many prophets and religious texts (incl Jesus and the Bible) denounce such practices. Also, many Christian and Jewish texts discourage people from praying aloud in a boisterous way (I wish I could remember/quote the text, but I know I’ve read it). I believe religion (i.e salvation) back then relied heavily on good works rather than faith or belief system, as is more concentrated upon in the years after Christ.

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avatar is

meg (# 13) is completely wrong. the list is ordered such that a higher the level of charity indicates the higher level of giving. for example, if one is confronted by a beggar, looks into his eyes, and gives to him only grudgingly and with a scornful disposition, this is better than doing the same without giving money, but leaves the person ashamed and self-loathing. such giving may even discourage the beggar from asking for help in the future. on the other hand, if one smiles and makes polite, cordial conversation, this gives the beggar not just some money for sustenance, but something that will have more far reaching value – dignity. this beggar may see himself as worthy and the world, not as conspiring against his best efforts, but as someplace navigable with some effort.

furthermore, should the giver be unknown to his beneficiary, this allows the beneficiary to conduct relations with this giver and still feel an equal. moreover, the beneficiary will not feel always beholden to the giver. isn’t this what charity is about? the purpose of a charitable gift is not to oblige the person, purchase them, so to speak, make them feel always indebted, and thus rob them of their freedom, is it?

another famous talmudic comment regarding charity that illuminates the point maimonides makes here, is this: “the white of the teeth is better than the white of milk,” i.e. the way you conduct yourself with people and how you make them feel is even more important than whatever material comfort you can provide. sustenance is necessary, but what is it worth without meaningful human contact?

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avatar is

jonathan’s comments (# 3) are also misguided. the 8 levels are arranged in terms of the effect on the recipient, not on the moral worth of the giver. however, a principled giver is focused on the effects of his actions on the recipient, and thus is morally worthy to the extent the recipient benefits.

i also want to comment that while maimonides’s list is based on the effects on the recipient, that the moral worth of the giver is also to an extent based on the amount of sacrifice one bears, as jonathan’s post points out. however, while forgoing some amount of comfort or pleasure for the sake of others or for some greater good is of course highly meritorious, suffering for the sake of others is generally not (though of course exceptions exist). i’ve had a number of experiences, because of the nature of my work, in which a person came to me and asked if they should give all or a large percentage of their meager savings to their church. while giving some, as long as the church uses it to give to the more needy, and not simply to add to its coffers or pay dearly for its administrative costs, is commendable, giving more than you can afford to sustain oneself and one’s family, making oneself vulnerable to calamity is not. it is blameworthy. remember, charity begins at home.

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avatar is

in response to jonathan’s comment (# 3): those who truly need a penny should not give away a penny.

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avatar Leann Sherman

Great piece; thanks. About Maimonides: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maimonides

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