Does the Torah Legislate Affirmative Action for Orphans?

The Torah repeatedly mandates care for orphans (along with widows and the poor), most notably by creating a special tithe to be given them and by commanding “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan” (Exodus 22:22). The Talmud understands the latter injunction as endowing orphans with special legal privileges. But do these apply to anyone whose parents have died, or only to children? What about orphaned children with inherited wealth, or indigent adult orphans? Searching rabbinic literature, Gil Student concludes that only those under the age of twenty, who are not yet able to fend for themselves, qualify—and there are, he writes, important lessons here:

Life is full of challenges. If we offer preferential treatment to everyone who has suffered setbacks or encountered difficult or even traumatic circumstances, then the preference would be nullified by abundance. . . . A child separated from his parent or whose parent is unable to raise or assist him is not an orphan but still must overcome difficult challenges. Why doesn’t he receive preferential treatment? The Torah reserves this treatment for the unique, tragic case of an orphan. Everyone else [ought to receive] sympathy and encouragement, as well as our charity and support, but not preferential treatment.

Additionally, and perhaps important for contemporary discussion of affirmative action, adults must take responsibility for their situations. The disadvantages and setbacks of our upbringing do not entitle us to perpetual special treatment. Even those who seem to come from charmed backgrounds carry emotional baggage. Children need guidance and support, and therefore orphan children receive preferential treatment. Adults, though, need to take control of their lives. While we must deal with every individual sensitively, we have no Torah-based affirmative action for adults.

Read more at Torah Musings

More about: Affirmative action, Halakhah, Maimonides, Religion & Holidays, Torah, Tzedakah

Planning for the Day after the War in the Gaza Strip

At the center of much political debate in Israel during the past week, as well as, reportedly, of disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington, is the problem of how Gaza should be governed if not by Hamas. Thus far, the IDF has only held on to small parts of the Strip from which it has cleared out the terrorists. Michael Oren lays out the parameters of this debate over what he has previous called Israel’s unsolvable problem, and sets forth ten principles that any plan should adhere to. Herewith, the first five:

  1. Israel retains total security control in Gaza, including control of all borders and crossings, until Hamas is demonstrably defeated. Operations continue in Rafah and elsewhere following effective civilian evacuations. Military and diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release continue unabated.
  2. Civil affairs, including health services and aid distribution, are administered by Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas. The model will be Area B of Judea and Samaria, where Israel is in charge of security and Palestinians are responsible for the civil administration.
  3. The civil administration is supervised by the Palestinian Authority once it is “revitalized.” The PA first meets benchmarks for ending corruption and establishing transparent institutions. The designation and fulfillment of the benchmarks is carried out in coordination with Israel.
  4. The United States sends a greatly expanded and improved version of the Dayton Mission that trained PA police forces in Gaza after Israel’s disengagement.
  5. Abraham Accords countries launch a major inter-Arab initiative to rebuild and modernize Gaza.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security, U.S.-Israel relationship