Cover image for Rambam's ladder : a meditation on generosity and why it is necessary to give
Rambam's ladder : a meditation on generosity and why it is necessary to give
Salamon, Julie.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Workman Pub., 2003.
Physical Description:
183 pages ; 20 cm
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BJ1533.G4 S25 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The Eight Steps of Giving

Nearly a thousand years ago the great philosopher and physician Maimonides, known to Hebrew scholars as Rambam, pondered the question of righteousness Out of it came the Ladder of Charity.

Rambam's Ladder, written by Julie Salamon, the bestselling author and New York Times culture writer, is a book that will inspire every reader to get a toehold on the ladder and start climbing. In eight chapters, one for each rung, the book helps us navigate the world of giving. How much to give? How do we know if our gifts are being used wisely? Is it bettter to give anonymously? Along the way, Rambam's Ladder will help all of us make our lives, and the lives of those around us, better.

Author Notes

Julie Salamon lives in New York City with her husband and their two children.

Julie Salamon was born on July 10, 1953 in Cincinnati Ohio. She was raised in Seaman, a rural village located in Adams County, Ohio. After graduating from Tufts University, she moved to New York City, where she received her law degree from New York University. While in law school, she was a summer intern at the Pittsburgh Press and then the Wall Street Journal, where she was hired as a reporter in the New York bureau (covering commodities and then banking) upon graduation from NYU. Salamon became the Journal's film critic in 1983, a job she held for 11 years. In 2000, she became the television critic for the New York Times, and then a writer in the arts section until 2005. Salamon has written a series of award-winning books, including Facing the Wind (2001), The Net of Dreams (1996), and Rambam¿s Ladder (2003). The Devil¿s Candy (1991) is considered a Hollywood classic about filmmaking gone awry, and her novella, The Christmas Tree, (1996) was a New York Times best-seller and has been translated into eight languages. Her new book, "Wendy and the Lost Boys," a biography of Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein, will be published by The Penguin Press on August 22, 2011. Salamon was a reporter and the film critic for The Wall Street Journal for many years, and then a culture writer on the staff of The New York Times. Her journalism has appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Bazaar, and The New Republic. She has been an adjunct professor at NYU¿s Tisch School of the Arts. For her 2008 work Hospital she was chosen to be a Kaiser Media Fellow for 2006-2007. She was inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame in September 2008. In the summer of 2010, she was a writing fellow at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where she completed her 2011 biography of Wendy Wasserstein, "Wendy and the Lost Boys."

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Rambam (also known as Maimonides) was a 12th-century Jewish scholar and physician to the Egyptian sultan. Among his influential writings on Jewish law is an eight-step program on giving to the poor. Salamon (Facing the Wind) provides a thoughtful exploration of each one of Rambam's steps, from the lowest kind of charity-giving begrudgingly-to the highest form-the gift of self-reliance, so that the recipient, through a loan or a job, will not have to beg again. Salamon grounds her philosophical musings with concrete descriptions of how charity is practiced and regarded in contemporary life. For example, the second part of step four-handing money to the poor before being asked, perhaps shaming the recipient-is embraced by conservatives like Gertrude Himmelfarb, who believes that those who receive handouts should feel ashamed. Running through Salamon's well-crafted and nuanced prose is a personal anecdote about David, a homeless man who approached her on the street. At first, she would only refer him to the agency where she volunteered (the Bowery Residents Committee) or give him money reluctantly (step one). As she came to understand his story, Salamon began to hand David money without being asked (step three). On September 11, 2001, Bowery Residents clients, usually on the receiving end of charity, offered water, chairs and other assistance to people fleeing the World Trade Center disaster. Drawing a humanistic and inspirational message from Rambam's ladder, Salamon is convinced that, in the end, we are measured not by what we have, but by what we give to one another. 20-city author tour. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



SPECIAL BONUS: Questions and Answers with the Julie Salamon Why the title Rambam's Ladder? I wanted to pay homage to this great teacher. But I also like the visual image of a ladder when I think about giving. I've always liked to climb, with the perhaps wistful hope that when I reach the top I'll be able to see everything. Usually, though, the most interesting things happen on the journey, and that's exactly what happened as I negotiated Rambam's Ladder.How did you come to choose Maimonides, a medieval philosopher, to be your guide to how we give today? The idea came to me not long after September 11. Like many people, the tragedy forced me to look closely at my values. Why do I believe in the things I do? How do I teach my children to be good in the face of evil? A friend suggested I read Maimonides, who was also known as Rambam. I was astounded to find how relevant his "Ladder of Charity" remains. The urge to do good feels like a life raft in the river of human troubles that flows from then to now. And the subtitle? I understand the meditation of generosity, but why is it "necessary to give?" While doing research for the book, I talked to all kinds of people--including the powerful (chairmen of large corporations) and the powerless (the homeless). They had one thing in common: all of them felt an urge to give. For all of them, in very different ways, giving gave them a connection to other people that couldn't be made in any other way. The lowest level on the Ladder belongs to the reluctant giver. The highest to the person who gives someone a loan. Where do you stand? Everyone asks me that. What I've discovered is the ladder goes up and down. Some days I feel as though I've had a glimpse of that big vista from the top; other days, I'm grumpy and can't even get a toehold on the Ladder. The book deals frankly with the frustrations of giving as well as the gratification, because the relationship between giver and recipient is a complicated one. This seems very personal--how did finishing the book make you do anything differently? One thing is certain: the more I've learned about the complexities of giving, the more meaningful the experience has been for me. I've been volunteering at one thing or another all my life but never considered why. What do you hope people take away from the book? I hope they learn something about what motivates people to connect with their fellow humans. I would like the book to be a catalyst for discussion on how we allocate our resources--as individuals and as governments. I hope it becomes a useful springboard for discussion between teachers and students, parents and children--not to tell them what to do, but rather to help them explore the wisdom and experience of people who have gotten satisfaction out of giving.Speaking of students and families, what about giving as part of a group? How can a family, an office, or a class work together to lift their individual parts onto and up the ladder? At my son's school, not long after September 11, the teachers and students organized a dance-a-thon to raise money to send to a school in Afghanistan. A board member at the Bowery Residents Committee where I volunteer organized the office to collect clothes to send to homeless people who had come to the drop-in center. In both these cases, the charitable giving served other purposes: It helped the children learn about another country and helped the office workers connect in a more personal way. Similarly, giving can become a family project, as simple as taking unused toys and clothes to a children's hospital or a shelter.Is it better to give to one charity or to several? If I want to give a small amount to several different charities is that any better than giving a larger amount to one charity and feel (and see) the results more clearly? It depends on what is more meaningful to you. In the book, you learn how different people in different walks of life have answered this question: Sometimes people find it particularly important to devote their giving to one main charity. They can focus their resources--financial and otherwise--on a charity that has particular meaning to them. This can be rewarding because it is satisfying to see results. I have one friend who raises money for a children's home in central America. She devotes her time to collecting money, then buys toys and books for the children and takes them to the orphanage several times a year. It is very meaningful for her to see how much this effort brightens the lives of the children who live there. But spreading donations to several different charities because there are so many choices and the need is so great is no less meaningful to some people--or to Rambam's Ladder. But regardless Rambam feels it is better to give anonymously? Maimonides placed anonymity on the second highest rung. The reasons? To prevent the receiver from feeling shame and to keep the giver from feeling superior. But that does not mean that sometimes it may be better to know. You could argue that knowing someone you respect is giving to something may encourage you to give. And what if someone chooses to give through volunteering? Sometimes that personal connection is the best gift of all. Excerpted from Rambam's Ladder: A Meditation on Generosity and Why It Is Necessary to Give by Julie Salamon All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.