When It Comes to the Poor, Jewish Law Aims Not at Equality but at Brotherhood

In his book Justice for the Poor, recently published in Hebrew, Benjamin Porat analyzes and compares the underlying ideas that animate the biblical and talmudic prescriptions for caring for the indigent. He provides a summary of his main points in English:

To a great extent the Bible bequeathed the obligation of poverty relief to the world, as neither ancient Near Eastern cultures nor the early Greco-Roman world recognized the existence of a legal obligation to ensure the welfare of the poor and the needy. Later, in the period of the Mishnah [ca. 200 CE] and subsequently in talmudic times [ca. 200–600 CE], the laws of charity became [a bedrock] legal obligation upon the Jewish community to support the poor who lived in the vicinity. The institution of charity became an identifying mark of Jewish life.

[Despite some salient differences], it should be recalled that there are . . . many similarities between the conception of welfare in the Bible and that which developed in the study houses of the sages. For example, following biblical law, the rabbis advocated the idea that responsibility for the wellbeing of the poor is imposed on property owners as a legal matter and is not dependent on their compassion. According to the rabbis, this legal responsibility is imposed not only on communal institutions, but also as a personal duty of each single individual, similar to the personal duty imposed by the Pentateuch on the landowner toward his needy neighbor.

Moreover, following a philosophical study of both welfare systems—that of biblical law and that of the rabbis—it seems clear that their fundamental concern, their basic value, is not equality but rather brotherhood; their main struggle is not to reduce social inequalities but rather to provide the needy with the necessary means for their wellbeing.

Read more at Ancient Jew Review

More about: Hebrew Bible, Judaism, Poverty, Talmud, 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