November’s object focuses on one of the many tzedakah, or charity, boxes in our collection. Tzedakah comes from the Hebrew word tzedek, which means justice. The giving of tzedakah is one of the most important laws in Judaism, and the Talmud teaches: "Tzedakah is equal to all the other commandments combined". The Torah requires Jews to give 10 percent of their earnings to the poor every third year, and an additional percentage of their income annually. Hundreds of years later, after the Temple was destroyed, the Talmud ordered that Jews were to give at least 10 percent of their annual net earnings to tzedakah.
There are eight levels of giving tzedakah in Judaism. The levels begin with level 8, the lowest form of giving tzedakah, to the first level, being the most righteous. On an ascending level, they are as follows:
8. When donations are given grudgingly.
7. When one gives less than he should, but does so cheerfully.
6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked.
5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked.
4. Donations when the recipient is aware of the donor's identity, but the donor still doesn't know the specific identity of the recipient.
3. Donations when the donor is aware to whom the charity is being given, but the recipient is unaware of the source.
2. Giving assistance in such a way that the giver and recipient are unknown to each other.
1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.
This particular tzedakah box was made for the Skirball Museum by Israeli artist Yaakov Greenvurcel. Born in Poland, Greenvurcel came to Israel with his family in 1957. He graduated with honors from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in 1980. Since that time he has been designing contemporary Jewish ceremonial art in his studio in Jerusalem. This tzedakah box, with its sleek and elegant profile, is representative of Greenvurcel’s ability to breathe new life into ancient forms.