Applying Jewish Wisdom to Philanthropy: The Case of Aggripas and the Sages


Source: Journal of Jewish Education, 85:4, 349-361


This article attempts to test the hypothesis that Jewish wisdom can impact the real-life work challenges of non-profit/philanthropy power dynamics. By examining the narratives of King Aggripas and the sages, I explore an analogue to these power dynamics in rabbinic literature.

In M. Sotah 7:8, the rabbis flatter Aggripas by calling him their brother, even though he is not. The later rabbinic examinations of this interaction offer multiple ways of understanding this encounter, all relevant to modern-day applications. In addition, other stories of Aggripas reported in rabbinic literature further nuance this exploration.

One might imagine a number of practical applications of the texts above in a variety of educational settings. First, because these texts provide a nuanced approach to the question of flattery and power, they may allow those involved in an analogous situation to bring greater nuance to their deliberations. Second, the anonymized quality of this exploration allows for a “depersonalization” of the situation in a way that may allow actors in analogous contexts to engage more deeply and with less risk of defensiveness. Finally, seeing oneself as part of a rich historical tradition that takes these questions seriously offers context that is often missing in the heat of the moment.

The value of applied Jewish wisdom to the current work force is still to be debated. However, in the story of Aggripas and the sages, we have an opportunity to explore a nuanced precedent in which the current day dynamics are analyzed through the texts of our tradition. This analysis could serve as a model to deepen the connection and analysis of many real-life issues in the field of philanthropy with the deep wisdom of the Jewish tradition.

Updated: Jan. 05, 2020