The Development of Charity: Jurisprudential Lessons from History

42 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2013 Last revised: 26 Jun 2014

See all articles by William Byrnes

William Byrnes

Texas A&M University School of Law

Date Written: August 1, 2013


This article describes the ancient legal practices, codified in Biblical law and later rabbinical commentary, to protect the needy. The ancient Hebrews were the first civilization to establish a charitable framework for the caretaking of the populace. The Hebrews developed a complex and comprehensive system of charity to protect the needy and vulnerable. These anti-poverty measures, including regulation of agriculture, loans, working conditions, and customs for sharing at feasts, were a significant development in the jurisprudence of charity.

The article begins with a brief history of ancient civilizations, providing context for the development of charity by exploring the living conditions of the poor. The second half of the article provides a searching analysis of the rabbinic jurisprudence that established the jurisprudence of charity. This ancient jurisprudence is the root of the American modern philanthropic idea of charitable giving exemplified by modern equivalent provisions in the United States Tax Code.

However, the author normatively concludes that American law has in recent times deviated from these practices to the detriment of modern charitable jurisprudence. A return to the wisdom of ancient jurisprudence will improve the effectiveness of modern charity and philanthropy.

Keywords: charity law, Jewish law, jurisprudence, legal history

JEL Classification: K19, K23

Suggested Citation

Byrnes, IV, William H., The Development of Charity: Jurisprudential Lessons from History (August 1, 2013). Thomas Jefferson School of Law Research Paper No. 2304517, Available at SSRN: or

William H. Byrnes, IV (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX Texas 76102
United States
(817) 212-3969 (Phone)


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