Poor, Provision for the

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The Bible makes frequent references to the obligation to help the poor, to render them material assistance, and to give them gifts. This obligation is mentioned in the Prophets (Isa. 58:7, 10; Ezek. 18:7, 16) and especially in the Wisdom Literature (Prov. 31:20; Job 22:5–9; 29:12–13; 31:16–20; cf. Ps. 112:9). The Wisdom Literature also urges consideration of the destitute, i.e., by making loans to them (Prov. 14:21, 31; 19:17; 28:8; cf. Ps. 37:21, 26; 112:5). Concern for the poor and hungry is one of the qualities of God Himself (Ps. 132:15; 146:7, etc.); Deuteronomy says that "He loves the sojourner, in giving him food and raiment" (10:18 – sojourners (Heb. gerim) were among the poor).

In post-Exilic times it was customary to give gifts to the poor on holidays (Esth. 9:22; Neh. 8:10). This obligation gained in importance in post-biblical times, and in the language of the rabbis, ẓedakah (originally "righteousness") came to mean giving to the poor. This meaning of ẓedakah appears already in Ben Sira (3:30; 7:10; 29:12; Tob. 4:7–11; 12:8–9), as well as in Syriac, ẓedketa, and in Arabic, ṣadaqa. In biblical usage, however, this meaning is not yet attached to ẓedakah.

Several gifts are mentioned in the Pentateuchal laws; some are to be given to the poor along with other people, while others are intended solely for the poor. Exodus 23:11 says of the produce of the seventh year: "… let the needy among your people eat of it, and what they leave let the wild beasts eat." According to Leviticus 25:6, these crops are eaten by masters and their slaves, and also by hired servants, sojourners, and strangers, i.e., the poor of the people. In Deuteronomy, the seventh year is a year for the release of debts (Deut. 15:1–2); a warning is given against withholding loans from the poor because of the proximity of the year of release (15:7–11; see *Sabbatical and Jubilee Year). Deuteronomy also commands that the poor be included in the celebration of the pilgrimage feasts (16:11, 14), which means that they must be allowed to partake of the eating of the sacrifices. Similarly, the poor are the recipients of the tithe of the third year, which, according to Deuteronomy, is not brought to the chosen city but is eaten in the local settlements hence the name of the year "the year of the tithe" (14:28–29; 26:12–15) and the rabbinic name of the *tithe "the tithe of the poor." The gifts which are specifically intended for the poor are mentioned in Leviticus (19:9–10; again briefly, 23:22 in conjunction with Shavuot, the festival of wheat harvesting) and in the laws of Deuteronomy (24:19–22). The rabbis derived from these passages four gifts from the vineyard – pereṭ ("individual grapes [fallen off during cutting]"), shikhḥah ("what is forgotten"), peʾah ("[unharvested] edge"), and ʿolelot ("small single bunch [of grapes]"); three gifts from grain fields – leqet ("gleanings [of what is dropped by harvesters]"), shikhḥah, and peʾah; and two from orchards – shikhḥah, and peʾah (Tosef., Peʾah 2:13).

According to the plain sense, Leviticus 19:9–10 designated two types of gift, both given from field and vineyard. The first gift consists of part of the produce which is to be left for the poor. The farmer is enjoined not to reap his entire crop, but to leave part of it unharvested for the poor: "And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field"; and the owner of a vineyard is commanded: "you shall not strip your vineyard bare" (Lev. 19:9–10). The peʾah which is left in the field parallels the ʿolelot of the vineyard. The second gift consists of what falls to the ground during the harvesting: it is to be left there for the poor, as is written: "neither shall you gather the gleanings [leqet] of your harvest … neither shall you gather the fallen grapes [pereṭ] of your vineyard" (pereṭ in the vineyard is the same as leqet of the harvest, as the rabbis have explained).

Deuteronomy 24:19–22 refers to the second type of gift, exemplified, in the rhetorical manner peculiar to Deuteronomy, by produce of the field, olive grove, and vineyard. The prohibition against returning to gather the sheaf forgotten in the field is another version of the prohibition of total harvest in Leviticus. Similarly, the prohibition of beating the boughs of olive trees again and picking the vineyard again is the equivalent of Leviticus' ban on gathering up grapes fallen during the harvest.

Ruth's gleaning the leqet after the harvesters (Ruth 2), and the common reference to gleanings after the grape harvest (Judg. 8:2; Isa. 24:13; Micah 7:1, etc.) indicate that these laws were grounded in current practices. Various customs of other peoples have been compared: leaving the last sheaf in the field after the harvest in the superstitious fear that it contained the grain-demon and should therefore be left for strangers; or burial of a "corn baby," shaped out of a sheaf, in the field in order to assure the renewal of the crop the next year. Such conceptions, however, are alien to the Bible; its injunctions on behalf of the poor are given explicitly moral grounds. Permitting the widow to glean unhindered and giving gifts of oil to the poor are commended in Egyptian wisdom literature as approved by the gods ("The Instruction of Amen-em-opet," 28; in Pritchard, Texts, 424).


W. Nowack, Die sozialen Probleme in Israel (1896), 12–16; F. Buhl, Die sozialen Verhaeltnisse der Israeliten (1899), 102–5; D. Hoffmann, Das Buch Leviticus, 2 (1906), 36–38, 240–1 (= Sefer va-Yikra, 2 (1954), 31–32, 168); P.J. Baldensperger, in: pefqs (1907), 19; G. Beer, in: zaw, 31 (1911), 152; J.G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, 2 (1911, 1932), 171ff., 232ff.; G.A. Smith, Deuteronomy (1918, 1950), 284; I. Schur, in: zaw, 32 (1921), 154; M. Lurje, in: bzaw, 45 (1927), 61–62; P. Joueon, in: Biblica, 15 (1934), 406–10; N. Peters, Die soziale Fuersorge im Alten Testament (1936), 66–72; J. Hempel, in: bzaw, 67 (1938), index, s.v.Armer; H. Bolkestein, Wohltaetigkeit und Armenpflege im vorchristlichen Altertum (1936), 38–40, 53–54, 56ff.; C. van Leeuwen, Le développement du sens social en Israel avant l'éra chrétienne (1955), 173ff.; E. Kutsch, in: rgg, 1 (19573), 617–8.

[Menahem Haran]