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Subject Guide: Jewish Philanthropy

Archival and library highlights found at the Center relating to both personal and organizational philanthropic activities throughout history.

Cover of "Federation Illustrated," New York City, 1936. RG 117. YIVO

About Jewish Philanthropy

The Hebrew word for charity, zedakah, has its root in the word for justice, evidence that charity was a social as much as a theological value in Jewish life. The history of Jewish charity is, therefore, to be examined not only in Jewish religious thought, but also in daily life, where it has been practiced for thousands of years over most of the globe. The mechanisms for Jewish giving have differed over time and from place to place, though the desire to create a society of greater justice, which expresses the values each generation of Jews has held dear, has been a guiding principle throughout. The roots of zedakah are found in the Bible, for although the term is not explicitly mentioned there, the obligation to care for the poor, needy and disadvantaged is given heavy emphasis. For Jews and others in the ancient world, poor relief was an essential religious obligation, one that allotted merit in heaven to the donor.

An Introduction to Jewish Philanthropy. Purdue U, 17 Dec 2013, Accessed 20 June 2019.   

About this Guide

The importance of highlighting a history of generous philanthropic acts not only celebrates individual achievements in an academic setting, but inspires others to act bravely and think of the greater good. 

The five partner organizations here at the Center for Jewish History hold dozens of collections and hundreds of books highlighting individuals who traveled across continents, survived all odds, and contributed so much to their communities and society at large. We hope by browsing this libguide you learn more about their achievements, our collections, and how to experience these materials for yourself, first-hand. 

Please email if you have any additional questions about the thousands of books, archival collections, and museum objects available to use for research at the Center. 

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