Born to a distinguished Jewish family in Córdoba, Moses Maimonides fled from the city’s ruling Islamic sect, called the Almohads, to Morocco and then Palestine to avoid persecution in 1159. He eventually settled in Egypt, where he became the court physician to Sultan Saladin and worked on his theological and philosophical masterwork, Guide for the Perplexed.
There are eight degrees of charity. The highest degree, exceeded by none, is that of the person who assists a poor Jew by providing him with a gift or a loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him find employment—in a word, by putting him where he can dispense with other people’s aid.
A step below this stands the one who gives alms to the needy in such manner that the giver knows not to whom he gives and the recipient knows not from whom it is that he takes. Such exemplifies performing the meritorious act for its own sake. An illustration would be the Hall of Secrecy in the ancient sanctuary where the righteous would place their gift clandestinely and where poor people of high lineage would come and secretly help themselves to succor.
One step lower is that in which the giver knows to whom he gives but the poor person knows not from whom he receives. Examples of this were the great sages who would go forth and throw coins covertly into poor people’s doorways. This method becomes fitting and exalted, should it happen that those in charge of the charity fund do not conduct its affairs properly.
A step lower is that in which the poor person knows from whom he is taking but the giver knows not to whom he is giving. Examples of this were the great sages who would tie their coins in their scarves which they would fling over their shoulders so that the poor might help themselves without suffering shame.
The next degree lower is that of him who, with his own hand, bestows a gift before the poor person asks.
The next degree lower is that of him who gives only after the poor person asks.
The next degree lower is that of him who gives less than is fitting but gives with a gracious mien.
The next degree lower is that of him who gives morosely.