The Ice Bucket challenge is sweeping the internet, but how would it be viewed during the times of Rambam, who outlined eight levels of charity?
According to Maimonides [Rambam] certain kinds of charity are more meritorious than others.
All charity is good, but as outlined in The Talmud, but there is a sequential level of giving. Maimonides lists his Eight Levels of Giving [Hilkhot matanot aniyim (“Laws about Giving to Poor People”)].
These levels begin with helping someone back onto their feet and being self reliant, and ends with the lowest form of charity, giving in sadness /out of pity/unwillingly. It is designed to gear charity towards selflessness and helping those in need for the sake of helping them.
However, the Ice Bucket challenge is a cynics dream.
It involves pouring a bucket of water on your head, videoing it, and parading yourself on the internet to show everyone in order to raise awareness. In the process, you essentially bathe yourself in glory about how much you are helping, and then you nominate someone else to pressure them into doing so to.
Everyone knows who you are, who you are helping, and even who you will nominate to do the same.
If Rambam argued that charity should be done for charities sake, then surely there is a conflict with doing this? It is dependent upon exposure and attention, not selflessness.
Regardless, it is helping.
Causes such as Moto neurone disease, ALS [ disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis], and Macmillan Cancer benefit massively.
According to Macmillan, when completed, you can send a donation of £3 by texting. You can also sign up for a donation here.
ALS have a donation portal here, which can be done with a minimum of £5, and does not need to be done with cold water being poured over one’s head.
You can also donate by sending any one of these codes and the amount you wish to donate to 70070.
There is no inherent good in the act of pouring water over one’s head.
But, ALS have raised $79.7 million in donations compared to $2.5 million during the same time period last year.
In other words, however cynical you may about these fads plastered all over your newsfeed, it is helping by raising awareness and donations.
Some may argue it is merely concentrating donations into one charity, and they should be more evenly spread. That is certainly a legitimate criticism, and there will need to be an investigation into whether this has actually increased charitable donations, or merely moved them into one particular stream for a cause.
As Rambam was not aware of social media orientated charitable crazes, this will attempt to do his work for him.
Starting from the top
level 8 – Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant
Because the Ice Bucket Challenge has a direct and an indirect recipient, this would have to be looked at in two ways.
By doing the challenge and donating money to the charity, it is unlikely that my funds would allow that charity to become self reliant.
It is also unlikely that a small donation that I would be able to give would help the beneficiaries of that charity to become self reliant, as there are many of them, and one of me.
In order for a charity funding research into diseases to become self reliant, they would need to concretely identify exactly how much they need to find the respective cures. Clearly that is near impossible, and in this sense, giving is not in order to allow the charity to become self reliant, but the beneficiaries of that charity.
The reason that Rambam argued this is that if one enables a recipient to become self reliant, they no longer need charity. A donation to a charity trying to solve a disease may be successful in curing someone, and thus ultimately allow them to become self reliant.
Needless to say, if someone is doing a video and doesn’t donate, they are not assisting in becoming physically self reliant.
level 7, 6 and 5
Level 7 Giving when neither party knows the other’s identity.
Level 6 – Giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity.
level 5 – Giving when you don’t know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity
This deals with intentions for giving. Level seven promotes charity in secret, and giving for the sake of giving, not for the sake of satisfaction. It would be impossible to do an Ice Bucket Challenge, and maintain secrecy of your identity or the charity in theory. The challenge is a public stunt to allow exposure of a cause, and thus is to an extent actually dependent upon this rule being broken.
Ultimately, the donator will know the charity, and if they donate the charity will know who donated [unless it is explicitly anonymous]. But, in an indirect way, the donator does not know where that donation will be allocated too, or who it will help. In that fashion, neither party knows the other’s identity.
The level that most most will fall into is level six, as the donator knows the identity of the charity, and in most cases the charity cannot trace the donator if you ask for anonymity.
Again however, if it is a charity that distributes those funds, then the eventual beneficiaries will have no idea it was you, nor indeed will you know how your money is spend.
It is highly likely that if you are making a video to promote charitable giving, you are going to post up which charity you are giving too, and thus level five is very difficult to fulfil.
level 4 – Giving before being asked
If you have donated due to seeing these videos, whether you have taken part in the challenge or not, you fall into this category.
As with all these challenges, it has to start somewhere though, and has to be initiated by someone. If you are one of those that makes one of these challenges without having been nominated, then you are getting the ball rolling.
Although, by posting it all over the internet and nominating people, you may be doing the act because it is fun, rather than because it is right. If you give money, it’s still a Mitzvah, but it is not as good as giving according to the previous levels.
This will also mean that if you are donating to charity without having been prompted, you are potentially saving that charity the effort of asking, and you are saving the recipients of that money the potential humiliation of having to ask to give.
Level 3 – Giving after being asked
If you are doing the challenge due to being nominated, and you donate as a result, you fall into this category. Well done, as you were prompted to give to charity.
It would be better according to Rambam if you are giving off your own convictions and because you want too, for the sake of giving. But, the most important thing is that you give.
level 2 – Giving less than you should, but giving it cheerfully.
According to Rambam, people should try to tithe 10% of their income to tzedakah, and give for the sake of giving, not for the feeling of satisfaction or for looking charitable and noble.
It would be highly unlikely that the ice bucket challenge would include 10% of anyone’s income though, especially if they give other kinds of charity. This would thus call into question how much someone ‘should‘ give in a donation.
There have been different views as to how much should be donated, and by whom. Initially, it was $10 for participants, and $100 if you refuse to do the challenge. If that was the case, it would be impossible to give anonymously, because everyone would know you have refused or accepted.
Under £3 can be considered as reasonable as a bare minimum. Anything below that may be considered as inadequate, unless someone is exceptionally poor.
Level 1 – Giving begrudgingly
If you have been nominated by someone, and then had to be nagged and nagged into doing a video, you may fall into this category.
A good example is Jeremy Clarkeson, who was not going to do it, but was then woken up by his children pouring water on him.
He did so unwillingly, but hopefully this will offer exposure, and ultimately more people to give to charity.