Poverty, Charity and the Image of the Poor in Rabbinic Texts from the Land of Israel
In this monograph, Yael Wilfand offers a comprehensive and contextual analysis of major rabbinic texts on poverty and charity composed during the first five centuries of the Common Era in the land of Israel, principally the Mishnah, the Tosefta, the Palestinian Talmud and midrashim.
In the rabbinic literature from the land of Israel the poor are depicted not as passive recipients of gifts and support, but as independent agents who are responsible for their own behaviour. Communal care for the needy was expected to go beyond their basic needs for food, clothing and shelter; the physical safety of the poor and the value of their time as well as their dignity and self-worth were also included in the scope of charity.
In this monograph, Yael Wilfand offers a comprehensive and contextual analysis of major rabbinic texts on poverty and charity composed during the first five centuries of the Common Era in the land of Israel, principally the Mishnah, the Tosefta, the Palestinian Talmud and midrashim. She shows that, for the rabbis, the poor were not necessarily considered outsiders; indeed, some students and rabbis in Palestine may have personally experienced poverty. Wilfand claims that such socio-economic diversity contributed to the thinking of these rabbis, who rarely saw poverty as a result of transgression (in contrast to the Babylonian Talmud).
This book presents a number of contrasting viewpoints held by Palestinian rabbis over such questions as: Must communal administrators ensure applicants’ eligibility for alms? Should the newly indigent from wealthy families receive exceptional levels of support? Might neighboring gentiles qualify for economic assistance from Jewish communal sources? By examining Palestinian rabbinic sources within the contexts both of the hegemonic Greco-Roman milieu (later, Christian) and of the biblical heritage this volume offers an absorbing account of some ancient approaches to timeless social challenges.
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1. The Vocabulary of Poverty and Charity 2. Understanding and Explaining Poverty: Comparing Babylonia and the Land of Israel Reasons for Poverty among Individuals Conceptualizing Poverty: Comparing the Two Centers Sources of Difference 3. Poverty in the Rabbinic Community of the Land of Israel Tannaim Rabbis and Manual Work Perspectives on the Poor in Rabbinic Legal Discourse 4. Absolute and Relative Poverty in Rabbinic Discourse on Almsgiving, Dignity and Shame The Absolute Poor and the Relative Poor in Rabbinic Discourse on Almsgiving The Ordinary Poor and the Relative Poor in Rabbinic Discourse on Dignity and Shame 5. Rabbinic Almsgiving: Extending and Elaborating on the Biblical Instruction to Support the Poor Produce Gifts (Gifts for the Poor and the Poor Man’s Tithe) Communal Institutions for Supporting the Poor Private Charity Giving to Beggars 6. Rabbinic Approaches to Examining the Eligibility of Applicants for Alms The First Approach: The Giver Should Not Examine the Beneficiary A Second Approach: The One who Gives Should Be Familiar with the Beneficiary 7. Gentiles as Beneficiaries and Providers of Charity The Eligibility of Poor Gentiles for Jewish Support ‘Almsgiving Exalts a People’: Gentiles Who Give Alms 8. The Role of Rabbis in Communal Support for the Poor in the Land of Israel The Bishops and the Poor Rabbinic Involvement in Charity in Babylonia Palestinian Rabbis as Charity Officials Patrons of the Poor? 9. Rabbinic Charity in Light of Greco-Roman Euergetism, Patronage and Food Distribution The Beneficiaries The Donors Expectations from Beneficiaries: The Role of Gratitude Honoring Benefactors The Pesiqah Collection Rabbinic Criticism toward Rabbis who Donated Edifices following Roman Euergetistic Patterns 10. Conclusion Thinking about Poverty Supporting the Poor: Rabbinic Charity The Poor Are Not Outsiders The Image of the Poor Texts and Reality Appendix: Almsgiving and the Synagogue: Rabbinic Evidence from the Land of Israel Lodging for Poor Travelers The Communal Soup Kitchen and the Synagogue
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