Reprinted in full text with permission of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. The RAC pursues social justice and religious liberty by mobilizing the American Jewish Community and serving as its advocate in the nation's capitol.
Hebrew scripture details for us one of the world's earliest social welfare system. We are taught to leave the corners of our fields and the gleanings of our harvest to the poor (based on Leviticus 19:9), and to open our hands and lend to people whatever it is they need (based on Deuteronomy 7-11).
We learn that helping fellow human beings in need, tzedakah, is not simply a matter of charity, but of responsibility, righteousness, and justice. The Bible does not merely tell us to give to the poor, but to advocate on their behalf. We are told in Proverbs 31:9, to "speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy."
Jewish history also provides us with an example for helping the needy. During Talmudic times, much of tzedakah was done though tax-financed, community-run programs that provided for the poor, the hungry, the ill, and the children, a close parallel to the entitlement security we fought, and continue to fight, to persevere in our society today.