Are Jews obligated to give money to panhandlers? (COMMENTARY)

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A homeless person holding a sign.

Photo courtesy of Annette Shaff via Shutterstock

A homeless person holding a sign.

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(RNS) On Purim, one of the religious requirements is to give directly to at least two poor people. The Jewish sage Maimonides instructed us not to be too discerning. “Anyone who puts out his hand to take should be given money.”

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  • Garson Abuita

    Once again, the Indian names sound similar to the Hebrew names — IN ENGLISH. It’s well acknowledged that the Bible borrowed from pagan religions. You’re just finding names that sound similar and making an imagined connection. It doesn’t work that way. In contrast, there is plenty of academic and rabbinic support for the idea that the names Esther and Mordechai come from Babylonian or Persian names.

  • Jack

    Stephen, why not address the article?

  • Jack

    This is not rocket science.

    Direct aid is usually not a good idea. The best way to help is to try to refer the person to a local nonprofit which will provide a “hot,” a “cot,” and deeper help such as detox if the person wants it.

    But if one insists on direct help, the answer is almost never to give money, but to buy the person a sandwich or some other food. Ask them what they like and buy it for them.

    The chances are overwhelming that you are dealing with someone who has a substance abuse problem and you’re just feeding the problem if you give money.

    And people with substance abuse problems rarely eat well.

    The next time you see a panhandler and want to help directly, that’s what you should do.

    Don’t listen to people who say you should give money. Most of the time, that is asinine and counterproductive.

    If you really care about actually doing good, not just feeling good, you’ll take this advice.

  • Jack

    There’s something really wrong with this kind of thinking.

    First, it’s literalistic in a childish way. The exhortation to give directly and unhesitatingly to those who ask does not mean to give zero thought to how best to fulfill that duty. One doesn’t have to give money. One can buy food…..

    And second, it smuggles in the contemporary phobia against being “judgmental.”

    At some point, you have to judge if you want to help. You have to figure out what’s best for the other person, given the likelihood that the person has a substance abuse problem.

    Otherwise, you’re really giving in order to make yourself feel good or to discharge a duty rather than because you really want to help the other person.

    In the end, it’s not about us — it’s about those we’re purporting to help.

  • Garson Abuita

    From the headline, I was hoping for a halachic examination of the topic raised. My understanding of the short answer is: no, you are not obligated to give money to anyone who asks.

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