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.

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


For the Time Being, Palestinians Are Best Off under “Occupation”

Nov. 18 2019

Many who profess concern for the Palestinians agree that Israel ought to abandon its presence in the West Bank—which remains controlled by Jerusalem, even as most of its Arab residents live under the governance of the Palestinian Authority (PA). But, writes Evelyn Gordon, the Gaza Strip, from which Israel withdrew completely, provides a clear demonstration why West Bank Palestinians are beneficiaries of the status quo:

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More about: Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian economy, West Bank