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What religions say about money
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"The more you give, the more Allah gives you," he says. "He takes the misery in your heart and lets you feel for the poor. You have to give to the poor. If you don't give, it means you have a stone heart."

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How to give -- and how much
Beyond the general encouragement to share your wealth, each religion has plenty of writers who elaborate on how to donate your dollars.

Some of the charitable categories in Jewish law parallel American tax-law deduction categories for education expenses. According to some rabbinical opinions, educating your child counts as tzedakah.


"Maimonides (a 12th century sage) had eight levels of tzedakah," Rabbi Blesofsky explains. "The first is giving a loan, a gift or becoming a business partner. The second is when the donor doesn't know who he's giving to, and the recipient doesn't know who gave it."

Anonymous giving, or "matan b'seter" -- literally, hidden giving -- is considered important in Judaism, Rabbi Blesofsky says.

The other levels from Maimonides involve degrees of anonymity and swift response. The best is giving a person help before he asks for it, followed by giving a person help after he asks for it and giving happily, and finally, in the lowest level, giving reluctantly.

As for how much to give, Rabbi Blesofsky says he thinks the Torah's best idea is to "use what you need for your family -- your mortgage, education and planning for the future -- and the rest should go to charity."

Strictly speaking, Jewish law mandates 10 percent with a maximum of one-fifth, Rabbi Blesofsky explains, though what is considered tzedakah can vary depending on the rabbinical opinion.

Pastor Kummer points out that though the tithe -- 10 percent -- is a guideline, there are theologians who urge more. "There's a book called The Graduated Tithe, which discusses how to move toward 50 percent of your income."

As for exact figures, Christianity doesn't have a chart.

"New Testament Christianity has no specific charity requirement and no ceiling," Pastor Kummer says. "Oftentimes, in the West, people pick up the idea of the tithe. And the idea is that it's the first fruits -- the best you have."

Imam Ali says a wealthy person must keep in mind that "his wealth comes from Allah." There is no maximum giving amount in Islam, he says.

Poverty and wealth
Religion doesn't consider wealth bad. In fact, money is often recognized as a positive thing.

"First of all, it is very clear in the Quran that money is one of the sources of life," Imam Ali says. "Money is very important, and it helps you serve your lord properly."

The prophet Mohammed had a wealthy wife, Imam Ali says. "Khadejah helped him do his work. We find that the rich really helped the prophet Mohammed."

That doesn't mean that to be poor is worse, Imam Ali says. "In Islamic theology, they discuss which is better -- a rich person who gives charity, or a poor person who is patient."

 
 
Next: "A ruler, we're told, is judged on how he treats the poor."
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