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Topic: Gemilut Chassadim and Tzedakah, Definition

Bob Glina from Birmingham, Alabama wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Define and differentiate between tzedakah and gemilut chassadim.


Dear Bob Glina,

Gemilut Chassadim means bestowing kindness. Tzedakah means charity, referring to giving money or resources.

There are many types of Gemilut Chassadim. Tzedakah is one subcategory of Gemilut Chassadim. Lending money or items is an example of Gemilut Chassadim that is not Tzedakah.

The Sages say that Gemilut Chassadim is greater than Tzedaka because:

  • Tzedaka is only performed with money, whereas Gemilut Chassadim can be performed either with money or with one's body.
  • Tzedaka only helps poor people, whereas Gemilut Chassadim helps both rich and poor. Example: Even a wealthy bride and groom need friends to participate in their wedding (it's just not the same to hire a bunch of people to do it).
  • Tzedaka is given only to the living, whereas Gemilut Chassadim is for both the living and the dead. For example: Burying the dead is an act of Gemilut Chassadim to the departed.

Sources:

  • Tractate Sukka 49b
  • Talmud Yerushalmi, Peah 1

 
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