Philanthropy and social justice
There is a Jewish tradition of giving called tzedakah (Hebrew for “righteousness”), which is based on a religious commandment (mitzvah) enjoining Jews to do right by others and support them when they are in need. It is a form of social justice and a central tenet of Jewish life.
As Jews became increasingly integrated into German society, perhaps motivated by Jewish tradition and the patterns of philanthropy among wealthy Germans, the religious and organizational differences between Jewish and Christian philanthropy became less pronounced. The secular Christian concept of Menschenliebe, which is translated into English as “philanthropy”, came to play an important role in Jewish approaches to giving – even for Orthodox Jews, who were wary of Christian models. In addition, the growth of the urban poor resulted in a system of public welfare, changing who was eligible for resources and how those resources were donated and distributed. Jewish voluntary societies continued to provide material relief for the Jewish poor and sick into the 20th century.
Over time, the wealthy and assimilated Jews continued giving back to society. In addition, the scope of Jewish giving widened to include financial support for artists. In the late 19th century and 20th centuries, successful Jewish businessmen supported artists, intellectuals, and cultural projects, from museum-building to archeological excavations.
Siegbert Feldberg was a prosperous lawyer and clothing manufacturer active in Stettin and Berlin. Over the course of a decade, he built an impressive collection of self-portraits painted by Berlin artists. Feldberg’s collection began in the 1920s with the eccentric idea of supporting struggling artists with clothing. He exchanged coats and suits produced by his family business for self-portraits painted by leading artists of the Weimar period, including Oskar Kokoschka, Käthe Kollwitz, and Erich Heckel. Soon after Hitler came to power, Feldberg and his wife emigrated to India. They returned to Europe in the 1960s. Today, the rare collection is displayed in the Berlinische Galerie.
For more information about Glückel of Hameln see Shared History Project: https://sharedhistoryproject.org/object/hamburg-during-the-life-of-gluckel-of-hameln