Tzedakah: public or private?

Dear Rabbi Fried, 

Your organization DATA recently ran an online fundraising campaign which listed publicly all the names of the donors to the campaign, (unless the donor wrote anonymous). I was wondering why you would run a campaign in a way that the donors are recognized publicly. I have always heard that the best way to give tzedakah is anonymously, unless I have gotten it wrong all these years? Please explain.

Thank you,  Roger W. 

Dear Roger,

You haven’t gotten it wrong all these years! 

Maimonides, in his laws of tzedakah, enumerates eight levels of giving. The highest level of giving, besides setting up the person in business, is to give him what he needs in a way that the giver doesn’t know who it’s going to, and the receiver doesn’t know who gave it. We can classify that as “double blind” giving. (Rambam, Hilchos Matnos Aniyim Ch. 10 par. 7-13) 

When the giver or receiver know, that giving is demoted to a lower level, especially if they both know. 

Part of the reason for this is that there’s potentially a certain amount of embarrassment or shame on the part of the receiver from the giver. There could also be a feeling of entitlement or control over the receiver by the giver. All this takes away from the purity and quality of the mitzvah, thereby putting that mitzvah lower on the totem pole that one with is pure or “lishma,” for the sake of HaShem, as Maimonides says. 

All that applies to an individual giving to another needy individual. 

With regards to giving to an organization, however, it may be different. Empirically, whenever one performs any mitzvah in a hidden way, with no honor or glory, purely for the sake of G-d, there’s a unique quality to that mitzvah and its reward is completely in the eternal world. When there’s accorded, a degree of reward has already been received in this world, potentially detracting from the eternal benefit. 

If, however, one allows their name to be publicized in order to inspire others to follow in their footsteps and become givers themselves, then the reward of inspiring others to perform a mitzvah is inestimable and would certainly outweigh any loss incurred over that publicity. 

This is assuming, of course, that the giver doesn’t misuse his or her gift to be controlling over the receiving organization because of the gift, and certainly not to shame anyone in the organization through that attempted control!

I have heard from leading sages that in our generation, in which mitzvah observance is so diminished compared to previous generations, today is the time of “gavah libo b’avodas Hashem,” the more publicly one can perform their mitzvahs and be an example to others, the better!

With an online campaign like we, and many other organizations run, every person who gives inspires others to give as well and certainly fits into that category.

I hope this clarifies the issue for you.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is the dean of Dallas Area Torah Association.

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