Star-Bulletin Features

Community service is
central to Jewish beliefs

By Mary Adamski

There is a passage in the Hebrew daily prayer book that lists certain acts that are beyond measuring. They include "honoring parents, deeds of lovingkindness, providing hospitality, visiting the sick, helping the needy bride, making peace between one person and another.

"This is central to Jewish thought and practice," said Rabbi Morris Goldfarb, scholar in residence at Temple Emanu-El, the state's largest Jewish congregation.

In the Torah, the five books of Moses, which outline God's law, is the root of modern social service agencies such as Jewish Community Services in Hawaii, he said. Those books contain what is well known beyond the Jewish religion as the Ten Commandments, and a code of laws that are the basis of Jewish religious practice.

"It goes back to the covenant made at Sinai, which included the responsibility of God and the responsibility on the part of the human beings," Goldfarb said. "There is a long list based on that central theme ... laying out the style and manner in which we ought to live our lives. It was codified into a system that teaches people how to live their lives.

"We use the term "tzedakah," a Hebrew word which is translated as charity. The word charity is based on the (Latin) word "caritas" -- I'm doing it out of the goodness of my heart.

"But tzedakah is based on a root that means to do justice, to do the just, right thing. Tzedakah means I am doing the right thing. You don't wait until you feel good about it, you are commanded to observe this regularly," said Goldfarb. Retired as Jewish chaplain at Cornell University, he teaches a weekly study group on the ethics of Judaism.

"It's fine to do things and feel good about it, but sometimes people don't feel good. For instance, a mother doesn't feel like taking care of her child -- 'I'm not in the mood for it' -- but there is a commandment or a responsibility that the mother has.

"There is a rule in the Pentateuch (the Torah) that you should give. You do not cut the grain in a corner of your field, you leave it for the poor and the indigent.

"The measure that has come down is (to give) at least 10 percent of your income. It comes to more than 10 percent ... for charitable causes, for social services."

Goldfarb said, "It is most important to observe the commandments, as they are interpreted through the ages in rabbinical literature."

In the prayer book's list of deeds expected of people, "Study of the Torah is most basic of them all because it leads you to study all of the others," said the scholar.

The Torah commands that men "shall not curse the deaf and put a stumbling block before the blind," an example of biblical simplicity which has led to a huge body of writing by rabbinical scholars about its application in life, interpretations and refinements about the requirement for charity and care of the less fortunate.

"When I was at Cornell, I would tell students that it is against the Torah to leave their wallet on the dresser in their dorm." By leaving the temptation for a thief, "you are putting a stumbling block before the morally blind."

Goldfarb said that in his childhood in New York, there was a Free Loan Society, which provided no-interest loans for Jewish immigrants. "It is still in business."

"I remember (Jewish Community Services' former Director) Howard Tocman would use the Jewish prayer for after meals. We pray, 'God, do not let me be dependent on other people.' That's not always how it turns out.

"The Jewish Community Services is a wonderful group of people who volunteer to help individuals who find themselves in need."

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