A Comparative Study of The Work of Charity in Christianity and Judaism

Journal of Religious Ethics 10 (1):144 - 169 (1982)
Abstract
This paper analyzes and compares the charity ethics of Judaism and Christianity during three formative historical periods: in ancient Israel, early rabbinic Judaism, and primitive Christianity. Both religious traditions have encouraged a variety of charity practices including hospitality to strangers and generous private assistance to the needy. In both traditions religious officials have at times been primary beneficiaries of charitable assistance. However, charity in each tradition has had somewhat different emphases and meanings. The charity ethic of the Tannaiam was integrated with a wide range of quite specific communal rituals and codes, which were viewed both as minimal obligations of justice and signs of personal righteousness. In primitive Christianity charity ethics were assimilated to two major principles: one called for an ethic of mutual assistance among communal members and the other called for an heroic ethic of self-sacrificing devotion. The paper notes briefly subsequent developments of the charity ethic of these religions during late antiquity and the Middle Ages. During these times the Christian standards of charity expanded to include ascetic as well as philanthropic practices. The paper concludes with some comments about social functions of charity and the unique characteristics of the charity ethic of each tradition.
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