A Jewish Approach to Economic Justice (2)


-------- PROVERBS 14:31 ------------------------------------------------------

עֹשֵׁק דָּל חֵרֵף עֹשֵׂהוּ וּמְכַבְּדוֹ חֹנֵן אֶבְיוֹן:

One who oppresses the poor, blasphemes their Maker. One who is gracious to the needy honors God. [JPS translation Edited for gender neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How does oppressing the poor blaspheme God? 2. Why is God honored by those who are gracious to the needy? 3. What is the relationship between our actions and God? Why is it important?

-------- RAMBAM, MISHNEH TORAH, LAWS OF GIFTS TO THE POOR 10: 5 --------------

 שאל העני ממך ואין בידך כלום ליתן לו פייסהו בדברים, ואסור לגעור בעני או להגביה קולו עליו בצעקה, מפני שלבו נשבר ונדכא והרי הוא אומר לב נשבר ונדכה אלהים לא תבזה, ואומר להחיות רוח שפלים ולהחיות לב נדכאים

If a poor man requests money from you and you have nothing to give him, speak to him consolingly. It is forbidden to upbraid a poor person or to shout at him because his heart is broken and contrite...for it is written ( in Isaiah 57:15), "To revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite." [translation by AJWS], ....

Questions 1) What does this text teach us about the way we are supposed to treat the poor? 2) What social justice themes emerge from this text? 3) What does one do when they want to be able to provide for those in need but do not have much too give?

-------- BABYLONIAN TALMUD, BABA METZIA 83A -----------------------------------

 רבה בר בר חנן תברו ליה הנהו שקולאי חביתא דחמרא. שקל לגלימייהו, אתו אמרו לרב. אמר ליה: הב להו גלימייהו. - אמר ליה: דינא הכי? - אמר ליה: אין, (משלי ב') למען תלך בדרך טובים. יהיב להו גלימייהו. אמרו ליה: עניי אנן, וטרחינן כולה יומא, וכפינן, ולית לן מידי. אמר ליה: זיל הב אגרייהו. - אמר ליה: דינא הכי? - אמר ליה: אין, (משלי ב') וארחות צדיקים תשמר.

Some porters working for Raba bar bar Hanan broke a jug of wine. He seized their clothes. They came before Rav, and Rav said to Raba bar bar Hanan, “Give them their clothing.” Raba bar bar Hanan said to him, “Is this the law?” Rav said, “Yes, because of the principle ‘You should walk in the ways of the good,’ (Proverbs 2:20).” He gave them back their clothes. They said to him, “We are poor, and we troubled ourselves to work all day and we are needy—do we receive nothing?” Immediately Rav said to Raba bar bar Hanan, “Go, give them their wages.” He said to Rav, “Is this the law?” Rav said, “Yes—‘you should keep the ways of the righteous’ (Proverbs 2:20).” [Jill Jacobs translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions 1. What is Rav's answer to Raba bar bar Hanan's first question of whether he was legally bound to return their clothes? What is his answer to the second question of whether Raba bar bar Hanan was legally bound to pay the workers their wages? How are these two answers different? 2. Why is Raba bar bar Hanan obligated to return the workers' clothes and give them their wages, in spite of the fact that they damaged his property? What does this teach us about how we should relate to poverty? Would Rav have provided the same answer if the workers had not been impoverished?

-------- DEUTERONOMY 24:14-15 ------------------------------------------------

לֹא תַעֲשֹׁק שָׂכִיר עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן מֵאַחֶיךָ אוֹ מִגֵּרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּאַרְצְךָ בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ: בְּיוֹמוֹ תִתֵּן שְׂכָרוֹ וְלֹא תָבוֹא עָלָיו הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ כִּי עָנִי הוּא וְאֵלָיו הוּא נֹשֵׂא אֶת נַפְשׁוֹ וְלֹא יִקְרָא עָלֶיךָ אֶל ה' וְהָיָה בְךָ חֵטְא: 

You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers, or one of the strangers who are in your land inside your gates; At his day you shall give him his wages, nor shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and his life depends upon it; lest he cry against you to the Lord and it be a sin for you. [translation by Artscroll, adapted]

Discussion Questions 1. To whom do these rules apply? 2. What assumptions are made about the various players in the text? 3. Why is it so crucial that the worker is paid each day? 3. How does the poor person's crying cause a sin upon the employer? If the poor person does not cry out is the employer free of sin?

-------- AMOS 5:10-12 -------------------------------------------------------- Translation Original They hate the arbiter in the gate, and detest him whose plea is just. Assuredly, because you impose a tax on the poor and exact from him a levy of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone but you shall not live in them; you have planted delightful vineyards, but shall not drink their wine. For I have noted how many are your crimes, and how countless your sins -- you enemies of the righteous, you takers of bribes, you who subvert in the gate the cause of the needy! [JPS translation [1]] שָׂנְאוּ בַשַּׁעַר מוֹכִיחַ וְדֹבֵר תָּמִים יְתָעֵבוּ: לָכֵן יַעַן בּוֹשַׁסְכֶם עַל דָּל וּמַשְׂאַת בַּר תִּקְחוּ מִמֶּנּוּ בָּתֵּי גָזִית בְּנִיתֶם וְלֹא תֵשְׁבוּ בָם כַּרְמֵי חֶמֶד נְטַעְתֶּם וְלֹא תִשְׁתּוּ אֶת יֵינָם: כִּי יָדַעְתִּי רַבִּים פִּשְׁעֵיכֶם וַעֲצֻמִים חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם צֹרְרֵי צַדִּיק לֹקְחֵי כֹפֶר וְאֶבְיוֹנִים בַּשַּׁעַר הִטּוּ: .... Suggested Discussion Questions 1. What are the people being accused of in this text? What are the connections between the various accusations? 2. How are the dynamics between rich and poor portrayed here? 3. In what ways do the punishments listed here match the crimes that brought them? [1] http://www.jewishpub.org/product.php?id=140

-------- BABYLONIAN TALMUD, SHABBAT 63A --------------------------------------

(אמר רבי) אבא אמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש: גדול המלוה יותר מן העושה צדקה, ומטיל בכיס יותר מכולן)

R. Abba said in the name of R. Simeon ben Lakish: the person who lends money [to a poor person] is greater than the person who gives charity; and the one who throws money into a common purse [to form a partnership with the poor person] is greater than both. [translation by AJWS] .

Discussion Questions 1. According to this text, what is the best way to help a poor person? Why might this be the best way to help? 2. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

-------- RAMBAM, MISHNEH TORAH, LAWS OF GIFTS TO THE POOR 7:3 ----------------

 לפי מה שחסר העני אתה מצווה ליתן לו, אם אין לו כסות מכסים אותו, אם אין לו כלי בית קונין לו, אם אין לו אשה משיאין אותו, ואם היתה אשה משיאין אותה לאיש, אפילו היה דרכו של זה העני לרכוב על הסוס ועבד רץ לפניו והעני וירד מנכסיו קונין לו סוס לרכוב עליו ועבד לרוץ לפניו שנאמר די מחסורו אשר יחסר לו, ומצווה אתה להשלים חסרונו ואין אתה מצווה לעשרו. .... 

You are commanded to provide the needy with whatever they lack. If they lack clothing, you must clothe them. If they lack household goods, you must provide them...You are commanded to fulfill all of their needs, though not required to make them wealthy. [AJWS translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions 1. Why is this obligation necessary? 2. How do we determine the limit of "fulfilling all of their needs" without making them wealthy?

-------- DEUTERONOMY 14:28-29 ------------------------------------------------

מִקְצֵה שָׁלֹשׁ שָׁנִים תּוֹצִיא אֶת כָּל מַעְשַׂר תְּבוּאָתְךָ בַּשָּׁנָה הַהִוא וְהִנַּחְתָּ בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ: וּבָא הַלֵּוִי כִּי אֵין לוֹ חֵלֶק וְנַחֲלָה עִמָּךְ וְהַגֵּר וְהַיָּתוֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָה אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ וְאָכְלוּ וְשָׂבֵעוּ לְמַעַן יְבָרֶכְךָ יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדְךָ אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה: .... 

At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall lay it up inside your gates... and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, who are inside your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do. [Translation by Hillel and Panim]

Discussion Questions 1. Do you think that there is a difference between the mitzvah of leaving the corners of your field unharvested and the mitzvah of not returning to pick up what was left or forgotten? If so, what is the difference? 2. According to these verses, how much of any harvest belongs to the “owner?” Why? What does this tell us about who really “owns” the land? the trees? the labor? the produce? 3. What is the value of having the needy come to harvest their own portion? 4. We do not live in an agricultural society today. Do you think this text has contemporary relevance? How might we apply this sense of mandatory sharing of our earnings to the world we live in?

-------- LEVITICUS 19:9-10 ---------------------------------------------------

בְקֻצְרְכֶם אֶת קְצִיר אַרְצְכֶם לֹא תְכַלֶּה פְּאַת שָׂדְךָ לִקְצֹר וְלֶקֶט קְצִירְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט: וְכַרְמְךָ לֹא תְעוֹלֵל וּפֶרֶט כַּרְמְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט לֶעָנִי וְלַגֵּר תַּעֲזֹב אֹתָם אֲנִי ה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם: .... 

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the corners of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am Adonai your God. [JPS translation [1]]

Discussion Questions 1. How is the system of leaving the corners and the gleanings and the fallen food for the poor different than donating food? 2. What practices or values from these laws could we integrate into our modern lives and societies? [1] http://www.jewishpub.org/product.php?id=140