PAGING DR. SHYLOCK!: Jewish Hospitals and the Prudent Re-Investment of Jewish Philanthropy
RELIGIOUS GIVING: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, David Smith, ed., Indiana University Press, 2010
25 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2008 Last revised: 14 Feb 2012
This paper explores the history of Jewish hospitals in the United States as a case study in how Jewish philanthropy (defined as charitable giving from a Jewish perspective) reflects both Judaic concepts such as tzedakah (righteousness, imperfectly translated as charity) and the experience of Jews as a discrete and insular minority living in a determinedly hostile environment. For most of American history, Jews used philanthropy - and above all Jewish hospitals - to take care of fellow Jews, improve relations with non-Jews, counteract anti-Jewish stereotypes and prejudice, and provide enclaves from anti-Jewish discrimination.
The decline of anti-Semitism in the U.S. since World War II obviated most of the problems that Jewish hospitals were founded to address. Jewish philanthropy would be more robust today if more Jewish hospitals had sold their institutions and became grantmakers. Most Jewish communities can find more innovative and urgent ways to perform tzedakah and engage in tikkun olam (world repair) than by operating nonprofit hospitals. Additionally, the future of American Jewry would be more secure if foundations financed by hospital sales would devote more resources to Jewish education, religion, culture, and communal life. This grantmaking agenda advances what I see as the fondest and most fundamental hope of many founders of Jewish hospitals: to help American Jewry survive and thrive as a distinct community.
The denouement of Jewish hospitals and its opportunities for fresh and dynamic Jewish philanthropy - some pursued, a few squandered - offer lessons for other communities of faith and fate. When designing philanthropic enterprises to help ensure their collective survival, they should consider how, should an enterprise's value to that future fall, its resources might be recouped and re-invested in ways they deem more conducive to that end.
Keywords: charity, charitable, philanthropy, philanthropic, nonprofit, hospitals, Jewish, Jews, Judaism, anti-Semitism, cy pres, religion, religious, ethnoreligious
JEL Classification: D64, I11, J15, J71, K32, L30, L31, L39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation