Section: Opinion

Religious tradition extols nameless giving

There is a debate on campus over the anonymity of the recent donation to Kenyon, but the debate over the best ways to give charity has been ongoing for many centuries.

I believe that the donor was right to preserve their anonymity. There is a centuries-old tradition that demonstrates the merits of anonymous donations. We cannot let this tradition go unnoticed.   

In the Judaic tradition, significance is placed on doing acts of charity or loving kindness anonymously. Maimonides, a 12th-century rabbi who is still considered a preeminent scholar on Jewish thought and practice, wrote that one of the best ways to give charity was to do so anonymously to an unknown organization or person by way of a trusted in-between. If that’s not possible, another exemplary way to give charity is to give anonymously to a known recipient.

It’s not just Judaism that places an emphasis on anonymity in charity. Both Christianity and Islam (and many more faiths, though I will only discuss these two) largely agree with Maimonides. Of course, I can hardly speak to the many sects and denominations in all three of these religions. Generally, though, I feel confident saying these three religions share an appreciation for anonymity.

In the Quran, for instance, there is a clear recommendation for remaining anonymous when giving charity. Surah 2:271 reads, “If you disclose your charitable expenditures, they are good; but if you conceal them and give them to the poor, it is better for you” (translation according to Surah International). While Kenyon is by no means a “poor” school, the point still stands that charity is best done anonymously.

The Prophet Muhammad also emphasized this point according to a hadith found in a Sunni collection. The Prophet Muhammad talked about the Day of Judgment and those that will be protected in Allah’s shadow. One of those protected in Allah’s shadow is the one who gives charity but does not call attention to their act.

In Christianity, we also see an emphasis placed on anonymity in charity. Matthew 6:3-4 says, “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (translation according to the New International Version of the Bible).  Again, we see that giving charity is best done anonymously and not for showing off to others. 

By remaining anonymous, Kenyon’s donor does not make their unprecedented gift about themselves. They do not make a show of how selfless they are, which is a decision that Maimonides and other religious scholars would most likely support.

Finally, I would like to address the best way to give charity according to Maimonides. He says that one should give charity “by endowing … with a gift or loan … in order to strengthen … [the recipient’s] hand until he need no longer be dependent on others.”

I believe this should impact how we view the donor’s gift. This 75 million dollars is going to construction, freeing up money that would have been earlier earmarked for a new library or renovations to Ascension Hall for financial aid and other important projects.

I am not privy to the inner workings of the Board of Trustees and other bodies, but I hope they will follow through with these goals. If my hopes are realized, then Kenyon’s hand really will be strengthened.

By relying less on our modest endowment and other gifts, we will hopefully continue on the path to becoming a school of diverse thought and background.

Nate Rosenberg ’18 is a religious studies major from Lancaster, Pa. You can contact him at rosenbergn@kenyon.edu.

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