From Laws Concerning Gifts to the Poor


Maimonides, Moses




Moses Maimonides was a Jewish rabbi, physician, and philosopher born in 1135 in Muslim-ruled Cordoba during the golden age of Jewish culture in Spain. Among his most famous works are the Guide for the Perplexed and the Mishneh Torah, a code of Jewish law from which this selection is taken. In this excerpt, Maimonides gives a concise account of eight different kinds of giving, compelling us to consider what is given, how it is given, when it is given, to whom it is given, and why it is given. His ranking of levels of giving also invites us to think about our own experiences, motivations and criteria for giving. 

Full Text*

*CCR cannot guarantee the accuracy or continued availability of this online text. Please notify us if you encounter any problems.


The Civically Engaged Reader, eds. Davis & Lynn, (Great Books Foundation, 2006).




Faith and BeliefGiving and ReceivingMoney and WealthMotives and Values

Big Questions

What makes a good gift?What do those with more owe to those with less?Where do our values come from? Why do we care about what we care about?


Civically Engaged Reader

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Describe the kind of giving first described by Maimonides in your own words. What makes it superior to the other seven?
  2. Why does Maimonides think that it is a higher level of giving when both the giver and receiver are unknown to each other than when just one or the other is unknown?
  3. Why does Maimonides call these “degrees” of giving rather than stages or steps, as we often hear them described?
  4. What reasons does Maimonides give for the order of the degrees? Do you think they are in the proper order? Would you switch any of them around?
  5. What do you make of the level that Maimonides describes as “he who gives the poor man less than what is proper but with a friendly countenance?” Does this image resonate with you?
  6. Is it wrong, or just a lesser good, to give “with a frowning countenance”?
  7. Is it fair to compare different levels of giving? Do you buy that some kinds of giving are better than others?
  8. Which of these degrees of charity best describes your giving practices?
Back to Resources