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I am invoking here the important question of whether and how to respond to a request for money by a beggar on the street.

I ask this question from the U.S., where, outside of Jewish neighborhoods, it can be reasonably (though not definitively) assumed that those asking for money are not Jewish. Though this situation is my primary focus, I am also interested in answers that may relate to what one does in Israel, or in Jewish communities.

I am not looking for piskei din as to whether "one should" (or, more likely, "one shouldn't") give. Instead, I am looking for answers which raise one or more Torah points that are relevant to the consideration.

A few which I had in mind:

-The prohibition of free gifts to "unfamiliar gentiles," and the exception to this prohibition relating to alms given "for the sake of peace"

-The law that one must give to one who explicitly proclaims he is hungry

-Law of leaving some grapes in one's vineyard and wheat in one's field for the poor "and the stranger"

-Deuteronomy 15:7-8: "For there will never cease to be needy people in your land, which is why I command you; open your hand to the poor and needy." (To me, "in your land" implies an extension to the non-Jewish needy; I am not sure, though.) (Reading this again, I think it must only be referring to the Land of Israel, and to ger toshavs there, i.e., when it is ours. BUT the fact that this verse seems to suggest it is OK to give to non-Jews in Israel may have general implications. [?])

-Ketuvot 68a: "If a person closes his eyes to avoid giving [any] charity, it is as if he committed idolatry."

-Gittin 61a: "We support the non-Jewish poor along with the poor of Israel."

-Considerations of middos, i.e. the question of being a certain type of person through a certain kind of action

-Very broadly speaking, issues of chilul/kiddush Hashem--that Jews should appear to others to be compassionate rather than cold or solipsistic people.

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    Arthur Kurzweil (the Jewish genealogy specialist) wrote a wonderful article on this 20 years ago which stayed with me until now. See it at dannysiegel.com/begging_kurzweil.pdf – mbloch Dec 27 '15 at 4:22
  • @mbloch Wow! This is a fantastic article! The only thing I think it glosses over is the Jewish/non-Jewish question, which may be important halachically. Nonetheless, the article makes a clear conclusion; I hope you will consider posting it as an answer. – SAH Dec 27 '15 at 5:37
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Arthur Kurzweil (the publisher and Jewish genealogy specialist) wrote a wonderful article on this 20 years ago which stayed with me until now. See it fully here.

He brings a number of relevant quotes to your questions re beggars and non-Jews.

1. Do Jews give to beggars?

Our Rabbis taught: If an orphan boy and an orphan girl applied for maintenance, the girl orphan is to be maintained first and the boy orphan afterwards, because it is not unusual for a man to go begging, but it is unusual for a woman to do so -- Ketubot 67a

R. Hiyya advised his wife, "When a poor man come to the door, give him food so that the same may be done to your children." She exclaimed, "You are cursing them (by suggesting that they may become beggars)! But R. Hiyya replied, "There is a wheel which revolves in this world." -- Shabbat 151b

R. Abun said: The poor man stands at your door, and the Holy One, blessed be He, stands at his right hand. If you give unto him, He who stands at his right hand will bless you, but if not, He will exact punishment from you, as it is said, "Because He stands at the right hand of the needy." (Psalm 109:31) -- Midrash Ruth V:9

R. Isaac said, "He who gives a coin to a poor man is rewarded with six blessings. but he who encourages him with friendly words is rewarded with eleven." -- Baba Batra 9a


2. What if beggars are not Jewish?

A Jew should give charity to poor non-Jews. -- Rambam, Mishneh Torah "Gifts to the Poor" 7:7

Poor Gentiles should be supported along with poor Jews; the Gentile sick should be visited along with the Jewish sick; and their dead should be buried along with the Jewish dead, in order to further peaceful relations. -- Gittin 61a


The original article gives many other sources on questions such as

  • What if the beggars are fake or fraud?
  • What if they are nasty or offensive?
  • Shouldn't I just ignore these people?
  • What if I am in a rush?
  • I think it is also important that he demonstrates that the ideal amount to give for each handout is relatively little--accompanied by much kindness (and the required amount of giving to the poor through proper channels). – SAH Dec 27 '15 at 14:03

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