By Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay, Director of Alumni and Community Engagement at AVODAH. Rabbi Ruskay shared her experiences and Judaism’s perspective on panhandling for The Jewish Daily Forward.
The subway doors closed and a man inside loudly recounted being mugged and beaten, losing everything and becoming homeless. He needed help. People looked away. One or two rummaged through their bags; others no doubt tried to imagine they were anywhere but there. I’m a daily subway rider and hear stories like this regularly, and I regularly witness people struggling to respond.
While they didn’t ride in subway cars, the rabbis of Jewish tradition also grappled with how to respond to people who ask for money on the street. With limited resources, should we try to change the system or help the poor person right before us? Could we do nothing? The rabbis’ answer is that doing nothing is not an option.