One of my oldest Jewish memories is of the tzedakah box at Sunday school, a blue box with illustrated images of the old city of Jerusalem. I remember the conversations about where we would give and voting on how to distribute what we raised. I also remember the notion, even more broadly than tzedakah, that giving back to others was a foundational aspect of being part of a Jewish community.
When I began my fundraising career and started working with donors who were participating in this essential tradition in an even larger way, I thought about others before me who did this work. And before them. And before them?
With so many years of Jewish history, I wanted to know – what does Jewish text have to say about fundraisers? Not just about giving, but about those of us who help steward and solicit the givers?
Turns out, quite a lot. Here’s a sampling:
First, between 1170 and 1180 CE, Maimonides wrote the following in his code of Rabbinic Jewish Law, the Mishneh Torah:
Any city in which there is a Jewish community is obligated to raise up collectors of tzedakah, people who are well-known and trustworthy, to go door-to-door among the people. (Mishneh Torah, Gifts to the Poor 9:1)
What does this mean? The role of fundraising was already a communal obligation nearly 1,000 years ago in Maimonides’s time and beyond. Jewish communal work and “trustworthy collectors of tzedakah” in particular have been critical components of a strong Jewish community for generations. What’s more, there was even a proscribed way in Halacha (Jewish law) as to how to fundraise.
While we might have swapped door knocking out in favor of coffee meetings, myself and my colleagues in DLead are part of an age-old tradition. DLead has connected us to each other in new ways, too, allowing us to learn and grow from one another. In my experience, fundraisers across communal organizations often don’t work closely with each other, and one thing we’ve learned by our involvement in DLead so far is there’s significant value in fundraisers working together.
The Babylonian Talmud (3rd Century AD) suggests it’s a good idea to stick together, too:
Charity collectors may not separate from each other, each one collecting in a different place; but in a place where the two can see each other, one collector may separate from the other. (Bava Batra 8b:16-17)
I love the visual of this: two Jewish communal fundraisers walking through an open market or busy street talking to their donors and beneficiaries so many years ago. Collaborating on Zoom is a little different, but just as it was in the 3rd Century, when fundraisers help each other and learn from each other, it benefits the global Jewish world.