Tzedakah means “money given for charity.” It is a mitzvah, a commandment, to give to reduce the suffering of others.
Some individuals, Ari Fleischer for instance, have come out in the press saying that the changes in the U.S. tax law (that fiscal cliff business) will cause them to reduce their charitable giving. Nonprofits are very worried about exactly this thing. If the tax advantages for giving are reduced, will people give?
Before this change in the rules, some people gave to charity as a “smart” thing to do, taxwise. Give a little money to nonprofits, and while it is still out of your pocket, at least you decide where exactly it went. Certainly that was true, and under a maximum, will still be true.
However, Jews are not commanded to give to the needy because it is “smart.” We are commanded to give to the needy because it is just – hence the name, tzedakah, which comes from tzedek, justice.
There are still hungry people, still homeless people, still people who cannot afford education or healthcare or the other necessities of life. There is still suffering that can be remedied with cash. That does not change.
So how should all of this affect my giving? I can think of two possibile answers:
— Not at all. I am still commanded to give. I personally will still aim for the standard the Rambam suggests, 10%.
— Another possibility: if the need increases because fewer people donate, perhaps I should consider giving more than before. The Rambam is firm that no one should give so much that he endangers his ability to support himself: there IS an upper limit. But perhaps I should keep my mind open about unexpected needs, since the situation may change.
Bottom line: if you gave in the past because it is a mitzvah, then nothing has changed. It’s still a mitzvah, and if predictions come true, there may be greater need than ever.