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A Jewish Economic and Social Policy

Israel has been experiencing a summer of protests focused around numerous economic and social issues. On Saturday night an estimated 150,000 people demonstrated around the country calling for a change in government economic policy. Although I may have missed them, I have yet to read or hear any voices addressing these issues from the standpoint of Jewish sources.

This post brings the following sources from the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah that address some of these issues. The translation is from here.

משנה תורה הלכות מכירה יד:א
כבר ביארנו שהנושא ונותן באמונה ואמר כך וכך אני משתכר אין לו הונייה, ואפילו אמר זה לקחתי בסלע ובעשר אני מוכר מותר, אבל בית דין חייבין לפסוק השערים ולהעמיד שוטרין לכך, ולא יהיה כל אחד ואחד משתכר כל מה שירצה אלא שתות בלבד יפסקו להם בשכרם, ולא ישתכר המוכר יתר על שתות.

Mishneh Torah, Laws of Sale 14:1
We have already explained that if a person buys and sells in a faithful manner, saying “This is the extent of profit that I am making,” the laws of ona’ah do not apply. Even if he says: “I purchased the article for a sela, and I am selling it for ten,” this is permitted.
Nevertheless, the court is obligated to regulate prices and appoint officers of the law, so that people at large will not be able to reap whatever profit they desire. Instead, the court should regulate that a person should earn only a profit of a sixth. A seller should not profit more than a sixth of his investment.

משנה תורה הלכות מכירה יד:ב

במה דברים אמורים בדברים שיש בהם חיי נפש כגון יינות שמנים וסלתות, אבל העיקרין כגון הקושט והלבונה וכיוצא בהן אין פוסקין להם שער אלא ישתכר כל מה שירצה.

Mishneh Torah, Laws of Sale 14:2
When does the above apply? With regard to articles on which our lives depend – e.g., wine, oil and fine flour. With regard to herbs – e.g., costus, frankincense, and the like – by contrast, a set limit is not established by the court. The seller may take any measure of profit he desires.

משנה תורה הלכות מכירה יד:ד

אסור לעשות סחורה בארץ ישראל בדברים שיש בהן חיי נפש, אלא זה מביא מגרנו ומוכר וזה מביא מגרנו ומוכר כדי שימכרנו בזול, ובמקום שהשמן מרובה מותר להשתכר בשמן.

Mishneh Torah, Laws of Sale 14:4
It is forbidden to do business in Eretz Yisrael with articles on which our lives depend. Instead, one person should bring from his produce heap, and another person should bring from his produce heap, so that they sell cheaply. In places where oil is abundant, it is permitted to do business with oil.

משנה תורה הלכות מכירה יד:ה

אין אוצרין פירות שיש בהן חיי נפש בארץ ישראל וכן בכל מקום שרובו ישראל שהרי מגיע מדבר זה צער לישראל, במה דברים אמורים בלוקח מן השוק אבל המכניס משלו מותר לעשות לו קבו אוצר.

Mishneh Torah, Laws of Sale 14:5
Produce on which our lives depend should not be stored for the future in Eretz Yisrael or in any place that is predominantly inhabited by Jews, for this causes anxiety for the Jewish people.
When does the above apply? When a person purchases such produce in the market place. When a person stores his own produce, he may store the kav that he possesses.

The economics aren’t as simple as some of the demonstrators seem to think. Having the government just spend more money isn’t always the answer. See this article for a different perspective on what changes need to happen. (hat tip)

For more discussion of some of the issues from the standpoint of Jewish law and sources, which also aren’t always so clear cut, see here, here, and these series of talks by Rabbi Josh Yuter.

Update: See these comments (Hebrew) by Tomer Persico about the absence of religious leaders participating in the current demonstrations. Also see here for a video about a Kabbalat Shabbat service, kiddush, and ha-motzi at the main tent protest site in Tel Aviv.

Update: Einat Barziley calls (Hebrew) for the National-Religious community to become involved with the protests.

אל תטעו. המחאה הזו אינה חילונית או שמאלנית. כל מה שהיא יוצאת למענו יונק משורש היהדות – “לקט, פאה ושכחה”; “וחי אחיך עימך”; “כי תראה את שור שכנך נופל בשדה, לא תתעלם”. המאבק ששוטף את הרחובות עכשיו הוא המאבק על פניה של החברה הישראלית. שלא יקרה מצב שנביט לאחור ונגיד שבשעתה הגדולה של המלחמה האזרחית – לא היינו שם לתת כתף.

Don’t be mistaken. This protest is not secular or left-wing. Everything that it is fighting for come from Jewish sources-”leket, peah, and shechiḥah” (see here); “so that your brother shall live with you” (Lev. 25:36); “You shall not see your neighbor’s donkey or ox fallen on the road and ignore it; you shall help to lift it up.” (Deut. 22:4 [The Hebrew original has an incorrect quotation.] The struggle that is now sweeping the streets is a struggle for the face of Israeli society. There shouldn’t be a situation when we look back on it and say that in the big hour of the civil war, we didn’t support them.

Here post also describes the involvement of Be-Ma’agalei Tzedek in the Jerusalem protest. See here (Hebrew) for a different take on the protests.

2 Responses to “A Jewish Economic and Social Policy”

  1. 1
    Mordechai Y. Scher:

    Back in the 40s, I think, Bachad (Brit Chalutzim Datiim) published a pamphlet on Torah and Social/Economic policy. Any chance you have a copy to post for us?

  2. 2
    Harry Perkal:

    Yes Nehemia Shtrasler article in Harretz makes some good points- especially reforming the Israel Lands Administration- but he misses the larger problem- which is that Israeli society and especially the economy, is controlled by a small elite. See the following article, also in Harretz:
    “Israelis demand dignity
    The protest of the middle class, no longer willing to be milked and abused, may be a first step to cleaning up the mess of Israeli politics.”
    By Carlo Strenger

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