Is It a Sin to Elicit Donations Through Social Coercion?

The Torah readings of both last week (Leviticus 6-8) and this (Leviticus 9-11) describe in detail the eight-day inauguration ceremony for the Tabernacle, performed by Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai. Among the special sacrifices brought during this ceremony is a “sin offering.” Puzzled as to what sin it could atone for, Sifra—a rabbinic commentary on Leviticus probably produced around the 4th century CE—suggests that it is the sin of taking money during the massive fund-raising drive for the Tabernacle that yielded gifts given in response to social coercion rather than voluntarily. Shlomo Zuckier comments:

Sifra assumes that a donation made under pressure may be regarded as ill-gotten gains requiring atonement. [Thus] Sifra argues that, when people act to avoid censure, rather out of an understanding of the value of their actions, something is fundamentally amiss. . . . Coercion, of the softer or harder varieties, is sometimes necessary. But it always has a cost, and there is a point at which forcing someone else to fulfill the commandments becomes an act of theft.

That Sifra offers this teaching specifically regarding the Tabernacle [is] crucial to appreciating its message. . . . People often assume that, the more important the cause, the less important the means; arriving at the proper outcome is paramount, and the process must take a backseat. Sifra argues precisely the opposite. . . . Extracting charitable donations through social pressure might not be ideal, but no sin-offering is required to atone for doing so. The Tabernacle has loftier standards.

Read more at Modern Tora Leadership

More about: Charity, Jewish ethics, Leviticus, Midrash, Religion & Holidays, Tabernacle

An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy