Philanthropy Trends

Philanthropy is an age-old activity. It has much evolved over the centuries and today too it takes many forms depending on cultures and religions. In the past few years, the media and the universities have been the scene of a major debate on the philanthropic calling and on the various philanthropic trends. There are more and more chairs of Philanthropy, which is becoming the subject of an increasing number of studies and publications. With all that, as always, philanthropy is still driven by friendship between human beings and by their wish to relieve and encourage each other.
This blog is a forum about philanthropy. It welcomes the contributions of intellectuals, of researchers, of religious personalities, and of donors alike. It also aims at expressing the spirit that drives the founders and leaders of the Matanel Foundation.

Blog archive


Noga Brenner Samia


Adin Steinsaltz


Melissa A. Berman, President & CEO, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
Ami Bouganim


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
Ami Bouganim

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz is a teacher, philosopher, social critic and prolific author .

Tzedakah (roughly translated as "charity") has, by definition, two sides: that of the giver and that of the receiver. For the receiver, tzedakah is a simple matter: an individual, an institution or a community needs certain things which they cannot afford, and tzedakah is the answer to that problem; it provides a solution in the form of a grant from the outside which is neither a loan nor a form of subjucation, but a free gift. As for the givers, there is a number of reasons why people give charity: some people do so because they are kind-hearted and wish to assist others in distress; others give charity because thus they will get esteem and respect from society; some donate for religious reasons – namely, so as to enjoy the rewards, be it in this world or in the next. But charity has an additional aspect. In some languages the term for charity is "merit," which means that the very act of giving charity is a merit to the giver. Only few outstanding individuals are capable of creating or changing reality, while ordinary people, even if affluent, go through life without having any impact whatsoever. A modest gift to the poor may be a life-save; charity to creative individuals or to constructive institutions may change the course of events; and people who can establish a school, or create an industry that provides people with sustenance, make the world a somewhat better place. In places where there are no needy people who should be given charity (if such places exist at all), people have no way of transcending the limitations of their own personality, and those who rely on the government or the establishment to take care of the needy lose the ability to become more whole. Therefore, whenever the opportunity arises to give charity, it is a merit: the merit to become partners (sometimes significant ones) in things that are bigger than oneself. This is why tzedaka is considered one of the foundations of Jewish existence throughout history. Maimonides (in the Laws of the Gifts of the Poor, 9:3) says that there has never been a Jewish community without a tzedaka box. Surely, in all generations there was a need to assist certain people, and often there were situations of genuine want; but beyond that, the very act of giving is an advantage and a gain to the giver. Indeed, Jewish law establishes (Ibid., 7:5) that every person, even the very poor, is obligated to give a certain amount of charity. Thus, each and every individual can become one of those who have been granted this merit, the merit to

Granted to give

Ami Bouganim est écrivain et philosophe bilingue. Il est l'auteur d'une trentaine de recueils de nouvelles, de romans et d'essais. Parmi ses derniers ouvrages parus en français, figurent Tel-Aviv sans répit (Autrement, 2009), Le Rire de Dieu (Le Seuil, 2010) et Asher le Devin (Albin Michel, 2010).

Philanthropy is first a gift motivated by friendship for our fellow human beings and by our concern for the destitute, whether they need food, clothes, education, culture, …or meaning. Through philanthropy, we give unselfishly, without considering profit or high-minded theories that would deprive philanthropy of its soul. Philanthropy is a moral geste in an economy that imposes its rules on the world and disrupts the workings of social regulations and protections. Thanks to philanthropy, we devote our life to a lofty cause and gain something like an added meaning, which may well be this enhanced soul that, alone, bears the seeds of the world to come, better than this one. Thanks to philanthropy, we expect wealth to be redistributed.

Philanthropy becomes a moral act when the giver feels that his deed is a commandment and when the receiver perceives the gift as an encouragement. Philanthropy is the only nook that still protects human beings from becoming mere tools and safeguards their humanity from corruption or destruction. With Levinas’ words in mind, we would say that it is not man who gives to men, but God. A gift by a man to his fellow is a gift from God – matan el, in Hebrew. Seeing God as the Universal Donor would be our simplest offering to Him. The idea might seem pretentious but it is nonetheless necessary, for it may prevent philanthropy from becoming patronizing and from delivering useless do-good sermons, and it may forestall the major foundations’ humanitarian neo-colonialism. Matanel gives without expecting anything in return, out of a duty of “charity and justice,” as Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz says. Rabbi Steinsaltz prepares the ground for this, together with Joelle Aflalo, Gad Boukobza, Willy Van Rickeghem, and many other advisors who find at the Matanel Foundation a place where helping hands come with encouraging words. Matanel calls for a spiritual philanthropy that serves not only people’s physical needs but also their search for a meaning – be it religious or philosophical – in their life. Giving is at the core of the foundation’s code of ethics.

The Matanel Foundation is not the only one that acts in this spirit and practices a disinterested philanthropy. Giving through activists who fight distress and through messengers who pass on meaning is an age-old practice. The Matanel Foundation aims at communicating its spirit and ideals to its partners who become philanthropic actors as well and to its beneficiaries who become potential donors when their situation hopefully changes for the better, allowing them – if they can and if they will – to perpetuate this chain of giving in which Matanel is only a link.