By Ariel Scheib
Gemilut Hasadim, literally meaning “the giving of loving-kindness,” is a fundamental social value in the everyday lives of Jews. It is a mitzvah that an individual completes gemilut hasadim without the anticipation of receiving something in return. There is no fixed measure of gemilut hasadim, which is one reason why rabbinic teachers articulate the importance of doing it all the time. Some examples of gemilut hasadim include clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, burying the dead, and visiting the sick.
The Talmud teaches that gemilut hasadim is more important than tzedakah (charity) for three distinct reasons: charity can be provided only to the poor, while gemilut hasadim can be given to the rich and poor; charity can only be given to the living, while gemilut hasadim can be bestowed upon the living or dead (by attending a funeral service); and, charity can only be offered with money, while gemilut hasadim can be given through money or assistance.
The highest level of gemilut hasadim, is to attend a funeral service. This is because the dead have no future opportunity to repay the kindness. It was God who first illustrated the significance of burying the dead; it is written in the Torah that, “[God] buried [Moses] in the valley in the land of Moab” (Deut. 34:6). Ultimately, Jews can show faithfulness in the laws of God by performing acts of gemilut hasadim.
Source: Eisenberg, Ronald L. The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions. PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2004; Wigoder, Geoffrey , Ed. The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia. NY: Facts on File, 1992; Telushkin, Joseph. Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History. NY: William Morrow and Co., 1991.