A lot has been written and debated about Rolling Jubilee, but one perspective I haven’t seen is a specifically Jewish one. Jewish tradition and thought is rich and dense with ideas about tzedakah, a word that literally means “righteousness” or “justice” but is usually used to mean charity, especially through giving.  Tzedakah is a high mitzvah (a mandatory good deed), and Jewish thought leaders throughout the ages have given lots of thought to how much, to whom, and in what manner to give.

Among the greatest Jewish thinkers on the subject (among many others) was Moses Maimonides; his eight ascending levels of tzedakah are well known to most alumnae of Jewish education (they were posted on the walls of classrooms at my Hebrew school).  Rambam said the very highest level was a gift, loan, or partnership that allowed a needy person to start a business. But the second-highest level was this:

one in which the benefactor has no knowledge of the recipient and the latter has no knowledge of the individual source of charity—matan b’seter [“giving in secret”]. This is practicing the mitzvah of charity for the sake of the mitzvah [since the benefactor has no benefit, social or egoistical]. Such charity is like the courtyard in the [ancient] Temple where the righteous used to place their donations secretly and the poor would benefit from them in secret. Similar to this secret courtyard is the act of one who puts his money into the charity box [or funds].

I think this should ring a few bells to those familiar with Rolling Jubilee. By definition, when you contribute to their fund, you have no idea whom will benefit, and for the most part neither do they. And in fact you aren’t really assessing anyone’s worthiness of receiving the gift. I wonder, though, what Maimonides would have made of the fact that many of the beneficiaries of Rolling Jubilee may not even know they have benefitted at all.

Now there are plenty of  quite legitimate issues you can raise with this program. But I think it has a lot of underlying merit.

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