Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review August 12, 2003 / 14 Menachem-Av, 5763


Forcing child to be charitable; misplaced compassion?


By Wendy Belzberg


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Q: My 10 year-old son has saved up over $200 from his allowance, the tooth fairy, chores around the house and birthday gifts. My husband feels that we should teach him early in life the importance of being charitable and wants to make him give 10% to charity. I disagree.

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A: Your 10-year old's money is his to do with as he chooses. Forcing him to give his money to charity will only result in his resenting the concept. Giving him the incentive to do so — say, by raising his allowance if he dedicates a certain amount to charity — would be a much better plan. Help your son to find a cause that makes sense to him, especially one where his hard-earned pennies translate into real results. Giving is as much about goals and intentions — if not more so — than dollars and cents.

It is impossible to force a grown-up to be charitable against his or her will. The importance of instilling in children early on the instinct for being charitable is immeasurable. In our home we have a tzedakah box and a weekly ritual in which every family member makes a contribution. Lead by example and, if that doesn't work, spend time talking about the topic. If your son is like ours, the threat of another lengthy discussion should be enough to do the trick.

Q: We are a small Jewish community with limited means to help our neediest members. Among our beneficiaries is a divorced woman with 2 children whom we have been subsidizing for 2 years. I believe that is plenty of time for this woman to have reestablished herself and got back up on her feet. Yet she is still unemployed and relies on our charity for her food and rent. There is a split among committee members about what to do: Continue to help her out or tell her that it is time for us to support others in the community.

A: I don't know the magnitude of your community's resources or how many needy people are in line for your charity. What I do know is that you may be righteous, but you are not G-d. It is not for you to judge when someone should get back up on her feet. I could quote Pirkei Avos about teaching someone to fish, or say something pithy about pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps. But all of the wisdom in the world is only as appropriate — and applicable — as an individual's ability to act on it.

The woman you describe relies on you for her rent and for food for her children. Without embarrassing this woman, it may indeed be appropriate to discuss what steps she is taking in the direction of self-sufficiency, and it may be both appropriate and expedient to help her to take these steps. But to cut her off because you — or anyone on the committee — deem her either lazy or unworthy is MOST blatantly uncharitable.


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© 2002, Wendy Belzberg