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xvi + 311 pp.

£37.50 / $65 / €45
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£75 / $130 / €90
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Poverty, Charity and the Image of the Poor in Rabbinic Texts from the Land of Israel
Yael Wilfand

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.

Yael Wilfand is a post-doctoral fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Series: The Social World of Biblical Antiquity, Second Series, 9
978-1-909697-00-3 hardback
Publication February 2014

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
         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
         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

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
         Charity Collection and Distribution

This is an excellent book. First, and this matter should not be taken lightly, the volume is especially user-friendly. It is clear and well-organized, and while a book built around the presentation of texts can at times become tedious, that is not the case here …
     Wilfand’s conclusions are also of interest and importance. In the Palestinian texts, poverty was never considered an ideal but rather an unfortunate reality. No one was immune, neither actions nor piety can prevent it … The poor are never considered outsiders. Donating to the poor was a means of honoring God, who is the patron of the poor and who then responds (either in this life or in the world to come) by rewarding those who give and punishing those who do not. The honesty of the poor is to be trusted without too much scrutiny of their personal finances. …
     Yael Wilfand has made an important contribution not only to the study of poverty and charity in the rabbinic literature of Palestine but also to the study of Palestine in the Mishnah and Talmud periods.
Joshua Schwartz, Review of Biblical Literature.