In the wake of George Michael’s death, organizations, charities, and witnesses came forward to reveal donations and charity work he did anonymously or where he expressly asked that his identity not be revealed during his lifetime. In Judaism, this is one of the highest forms of charity.
Maimonides, a 12th century Jewish scholar wrote of the concept of a golden ladder of 8 levels of giving tzedakah (charity).
- The highest form of charity is to help someone before they become destitute. This is usually through a loan or monetary gift or helping someone find a job.
- The next is to help someone where neither the donor nor the recipient knows each other.
- One level lower is where the donor knows to whom they’re giving, but the recipient doesn’t know the donor’s identity. Here we see exactly what the papers are reporting about George Michael’s philanthropy.
- A lesser level is the opposite of the last. Here the recipient knows the donor, but the donor does not know to whom their charity is going.
- Giving to the poor directly without being asked is one rung below.
- The sixth rung of Maimonides ladder is giving after being asked.
- One level below is to not give enough, but to do so happily.
- The lowest level of charity is to give grudgingly.
Although he didn’t practice, George Michael was ethnically Jewish. His maternal grandmother was Jewish, but hid that fact during and after World War II to protect her family. There’s no telling if he was exposed to Maimonides’ levels of giving through Jewish teachings, but he certainly lived them.
Media coverage of George Michaels’ arrests was vicious and mocking. He was belittled mercilessly after his arrest for a lewd act in 1998. The headlines were horrible after his arrests for drugs in 2007 and 2008. They declared him a “Crack Addict..” “Dope Me Up Before You Go Go,” said the Daily Star. The Sun proclaimed, “Careless Spliffer: George held for drugs as he slumps at wheel of car. Porn stash sex toys and mask found in the boot.” “Lock Me Up Before You Go Go” the headline at The Sun read after he was sentenced to eight weeks in jail. He was listed at number seven of “Top 20 Most Arrested Celebrities Of All Time.”
Yet all through those instances, he quietly gave time and money to various charities without acknowledgement. In fact, he specifically asked that his involvement not be revealed. He could have used this generosity to help rebuild his image. He could have used the good he was doing to counteract the negativity. He could have tried to turn the tables and highlight the good he was doing in the world in contrast to how he was portrayed. He never did. The extent of his generosity was revealed only after his death and was a shock to everyone.
The recipients of his many acts of tzedakah had no idea that their donor was a famous and often shamed musician. George Michael gave only to help others—not himself. Judaism tells us this is one of the highest forms of charity.
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