Is It a Sin to Elicit Donations Through Social Coercion?

March 26 2019

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.

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

At the UN, Nikki Haley Told the Truth about Israel—and the World Didn’t Burn Down

April 22 2019

Although Nikki Haley had never been to Israel when she took the position of American ambassador to the UN, and had no prior foreign-policy experience, she distinguished herself as one of the most capable and vigorous defenders of the Jewish state ever to hold the position. Jon Lerner, who served as Haley’s deputy during her ambassadorship, sees the key to her success—regarding both Israel and many other matters—in her refusal to abide by the polite fictions that the institution holds sacred:

Myths are sometimes assets in international relations. The fiction that Taiwan is not an independent country, for example, allows [the U.S.] to sustain [its] relationship with China. In other cases, however, myths can create serious problems. On Israel–Palestinian issues, the Trump administration was determined to test some mythical propositions that many had come to take for granted, and, in some cases, to refute them. Haley’s prominence at the UN arose in large part from a conscious choice to reject myths that had pervaded diplomacy on Israel–Palestinian issues for decades. . . .

[For instance], U.S. presidents were intimidated by the argument that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would trigger violent explosions throughout the Muslim world. President Trump and key colleagues doubted this, and they turned out to be right. Violent reaction in the Palestinian territories was limited, and there was virtually none elsewhere in Arab and Islamic countries. . . .

It turns out that the United States can support Israel strongly and still work closely with Arab states to promote common interests like opposing Iranian threats. The Arab street is not narrowly Israel-minded and is not as volatile as long believed. The sky won’t fall if the U.S. stops funding UN sacred cows like the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Even if future U.S. administrations revert to the policies of the past, these old assumptions will remain disproved. That is a valuable accomplishment that will last long after Nikki Haley’s UN tenure.

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More about: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, United Nations, US-Israel relations