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September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘him’

Is the Lab-Created Burger Kosher?

Friday, August 9th, 2013

By Yehuda Shurpin

Question:

Scientists have recently demonstrated that they can now take stem cells from a cow and build them into hamburgers that look, feel and (almost) taste like the real thing. What does Jewish law have to say? Is this considered real meat? Is it kosher?

Response:

This is a fascinating question that needs to be studied carefully by expert rabbis when the issue becomes more practical and Petri-dish burgers become an affordable option. But here are some preliminary thoughts on the subject to give you some perspective.

Meat from Heaven

What makes this question so intriguing is that this is an example of how those seemingly fantastic Aggadic tales in the Talmud are nowadays becoming a starting point for new halachik questions.

There is actually a discussion in the Talmud about whether meat that does not come from an animal is considered kosher, although the origin of the meat in this case was even more miraculous:

A story of Rabbi Shimeon ben Chalafta, who was walking on the road, when lions met him and roared at him. Thereupon he quoted from Psalms: “The young lions roar for prey and to beg their food from G‑d,”1 and two lumps of flesh descended [from heaven]. They ate one and left the other. This he brought to the study hall and propounded: Is this fit [for food] or not? The scholar answered: “Nothing unfit descends from heaven.” Rabbi Zera asked Rabbi Abbahu: “What if something in the shape of a donkey were to descend?” He replied: “You ‘howling yorod,2’ did they not answer him that no unfit thing descends from heaven?”3

Miraculous meat appears again in the Talmud, although this time it was man-made:

Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Oshaia would spend every Sabbath eve studying the “Book of Creation”4 by means of which they created a calf and ate it.5

In discussing this story, later commentators debate whether such an animal would require shechitah (kosher slaughter) in order to be eaten.

Rabbi Yeshayah Halevi Horowitz, known as the Shelah, writes that it is not considered a real animal and does not need shechitah.6

Others write that while a technical interpretation of Biblical law may not require such an animal to be slaughtered, the rabbinical prohibition of “marit ayin” (not engaging in acts that look misleadingly similar to forbidden activity) would necessitate slaughter–lest an onlooker think that ordinary meat is being consumed without shechitah.7

Test-Tube Beef

So far we have discussed “miracle meat” that came from heaven or was created by spiritual means. Some commentators defined this meat as miraculous because it did not come from a naturally-born animal. But do we consider any meat that does not come from a naturally-born animal to be “miracle meat”? Or does it need to come through an actual miracle? How about test-tube meat, which does come from actual animal cells? In this case the dictum that “no unfit thing descends from heaven” obviously would not apply. Here are some of the issues that will need to be explored:

The Cells The scientist extracted the cells of a real animal and used them to grow the tissues in a Petri dish. If, and that is not a small if, the mere cells are considered substantial enough to be called meat, this may present a problem. In addition to the prohibition of eating a limb from a living animal,8 there is an additional injunction not to eat any meat that was severed from a live animal.9

This is an issue for non-Jews as well as Jews, since Noahide law dictates that non-Jews may not eat even a minute amount of meat that was separated from a living animal.10

For Jews, if the cells are considered real meat, then presumably they would need to be extracted from a kosher animal that was slaughtered according to Jewish law.

Another consideration is that there is a halachik concept, “the product of non-kosher is itself not kosher, and the product of that which is kosher is itself kosher.”11 While at first glance this would seem to imply that the cells need to come from a kosher source, it is not clear whether the above rule would apply to microscopic cells that were extracted from an animal.

Britain: Muslim Prison Population Up 200%

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Originally published at Gatestone Institute.

The number of Muslim convicts in British prisons has surpassed the 11,000 mark for the first time, according to data included in a new report produced by the British Parliament.

The statistics — from a July 29 House of Commons research report entitled, “Prison Population Statistics” — show that the number of Muslim inmates in England and Wales jumped to 11,248 in 2012, up from 3,681 in 1997. Stated another way, over the past 15 years, the number of Muslims in British prisons has jumped by more than 200%.

The rate of increase of Muslim inmates in British prisons is eight times faster than that of the overall prison population, and the numbers show a clear overrepresentation of Muslim convicts: Muslims, who make up roughly 5% of the British population as a whole, now make up 13% of the British prison population (compared to just 6% in 1997).

The growth in the number of Muslim inmates is fueling fears that British prisons are becoming hotbeds for Islamic radicalization.

Although most of the Muslims in British prisons are immigrants from Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, an increasing number of Muslim inmates are converts to Islam.

According to a research report recently commissioned by the British Ministry of Justice, many non-Muslim inmates in British prisons are being bullied into conversion or are embracing Islam in exchange for promises of protection from physical assault.

The study examines the Islamic “gang culture” inside the Whitemoor Prison in Cambridgeshire, which houses around 500 of the most dangerous prisoners in Britain. Researchers from the Cambridge Institute of Criminology who wrote the report found that more than one third (39%) of the prisoners at Whitemoor are Muslims.

Prisoners told the researchers that they had felt overwhelming pressure to convert. In some instances, they said, Muslim inmates had left Islamic literature in their cells and ordered them to “read this.” In other instances, inmates were promised that if they converted to Islam, they would be safe from physical assault.

The report states that if loners, including sex offenders, converted to Islam, fellow Muslims would defend them; they could thereby gain safety from a large and dominant group. Others used their newly acquired faith as a tool for status in establishing influence.

Non-Muslims and prison officers inside Whitemoor described Islam as an “organized gang” and a “protection racket,” which “glorified terrorist behavior and exploited the fear related to it.”

Prison guards said there were “proper Al-Qaeda” members in the prison who were regarded with “awe” by younger inmates. Some prisoners described Whitemoor as a “recruiting drive for the Taliban” and fertile ground for hatred and a new generation of extremists.

Guards also said they had a policy of “appeasement” towards the powerful and growing Islamic prison population, particularly convicted terrorists who were feared to be recruiting future extremists.

The report states: “The threat of assaults motivated by religious fanaticism or extremist ideology added weight to the atmosphere at Whitemoor,” and continues: “The new population mix, including high numbers of Muslim prisoners, was disrupting established hierarchies in the prison. Social relations among prisoners had become complex and less visible. Too much power flowed among some groups of prisoners, with some real risks of serious violence. There were high levels of fear in the prison. In particular, there were tensions and fears relating to ‘extremism’ and ‘radicalization.’”

The report concludes: “More prominent, in practice, were pressures (and temptations) felt by some prisoners to convert to Islam. Conditions in the prison made participation in Islamic practices the most ‘available’ option for those looking for belonging, meaning, ‘brotherhood,’ trust and friendship.”

Meanwhile, British media recently reported that Dale Cregan, a notorious quadruple murderer who is serving a life sentence at the Manchester Prison, is being targeted by extremist Muslims who want to convert him to Islam.

Cregan, who is of Irish Catholic background, is said to be afraid of rival gang members who have offered a bounty to anyone who attacks him in prison. Muslims have offered to protect Cregan if he converts to Islam. According to prison officials, Cregan is so well known that if he converts to Islam, it would be seen as a way to further increase the influence of Muslim gangs inside the prison.

The Right Moment for Israel’s Danny Danon?

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Originally published at Daniel Pipes.

Lunacy.” That’s how Danny Danon describes Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision to hand over 104 killers to the Palestinian Authority as a “goodwill gesture.”

He’s hardly alone, as many observers (including myself) are outraged by this move. But Danon, 42, has a unique place in this debate because he (1) sits in Israel’s parliament as a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, he (2) is chairman of Likud’s powerful Central Committee, and he (3) serves as Israel’s deputy minister of Defense. In American terms, his criticism resembles Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s 2010 interview mocking Vice President Joe Biden. But McChrystal was gone within days whereas Danon continues to gain influence and stature.

Danon’s ability to denounce his own prime minister’s actions points to his not being a routine politician. Three qualities stand out: a devotion to principle, a mastery of tactics, and the ability to articulate a vision.

Daniel Pipes testifying before the Knesset's Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, chaired by Danny Danon, in March 2012.

Daniel Pipes testifying before the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, chaired by Danny Danon, in March 2012.

Danon has remained true to the core principles of his party and his country. His righteous opposition when his party makes mistakes – such as the 2009 freeze on building residences for Jews on the West Bank or accepting the two-state solution – shows a strength of character. As he points out, “It’s not easy being in a room of thirty people, alone saying no.”

His rise through Israel’s national camp institutions reveals tactical skill: serving as assistant to Uzi Landau, as head of the World Betar Organization, then head of the World Likud Organization, as organizer of street protests and challenger to the prime minister for the party’s leadership. These efforts culminated in his strong showing in his party’s electoral list (coming in No. 5) and the jaw-dropping 85 percent of the vote he won in elections to lead Likud’s Central Committee. With reason, the Forward newspaper calls him “a master of social and conventional media” and the Times of Israel deems him “a major stumbling block toward Palestinian statehood.”

Finally, the vision: Its fullest articulation is found in his 2012 book, Israel: The Will to Prevail (Palgrave), where he sketches an ambitious and contrarian view of his country’s foreign policy. Arguing that “history shows us Israel is often better off when she acts on her own behalf … even if that means contravening the wishes of U.S. administrations,” he concludes that the Jewish state “fares best when she makes decisions based on her own best interests.” Jerusalem, he holds, should pursue its goals “with or without backing from her allies.” This argument, commonplace enough for most states, is audacious in the case of small, beleaguered Israel.

Danon’s moment may have arrived. As Netanyahu appears to be making excessive and immoral concessions to the Palestinian Authority, Danon has emerged as a leading dissident ready to challenge his prime minister (remember “lunacy”). Should Netanyahu feel no longer welcome in his own party and leave it to found a new one (following exactly in Ariel Sharon’s 2005 footsteps), Danon will be a potential candidate to lead Likud and win a subsequent election.

One sign of his rise is the invective used against him. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni coined the term “Danonism” and demanded that Netanyahu reject it. Gideon Levy, an extreme left columnist for Ha’aretz newspaper, disdainfully but fearfully writes that “little Danny Danon will be big, the sugar of the Israeli right. … [he] will go far.”

Looked at in historical perspective, since the taciturn but principled Yitzhak Shamir left the prime ministry in 1992, his six successors variously engaged in political betrayal, ethical corruption, and delusional egotism. Sharon (2001-06) abandoned his electoral mandate to the point that he had to flee his own party, even as his financial shenanigans had him in constant trouble with the law. Ehud Olmert (2006-09) had to resign due to a cloud of corruption charges. Focused on the Iranian threat, Netanyahu did well since 2009 but his recent offer of 104 murderers disturbingly contradicts the electoral platform of a half year ago.

The Holocaust as an Expression of Kindness? Seriously?

Monday, August 5th, 2013

One of the things that never fails to upset me is when people of stature start trying to explain the Holocaust. There are some rabbinic figures who have tried to do so, both past and present. It seems like there is a new addition to those ranks in the person of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, a venerated Rabbinic personality of the 20th century.

I do not say this to disparage him. He is a man who garners tremendous respect from observant Jews from all walks of life. There are people who consider his Hashkafos about Judaism their guide to life. He has a wide following, perhaps greater today posthumously than when he was alive.

My introduction to Rabbi Avigdor Miller was when I read his book, Rejoice O’ Youth which was an unsuccessful attempt to refute the theory of evolution.  For many years that book angered me. But I have mellowed in that regard and now believe that he has every right to his views on that subject and to promote them in a book. Just as others do to refute it.

I recall also being upset at something I once read about him where he strongly disparaged Modern Orthodoxy. I will be Dan L’Kaf Zechus that he was not disparaging observant Jews that are modern but meticulous in their observance and respect the Mesorah. He was probably referring to those I like to call MO-Lites. Jews who are not so meticulous about their religious observances and are more assimilated into the culture than they are into their Judaism. Or those Modern Orthodox Jews that are on the extreme left and try to innovate practices that depart from the Mesorah.  Like Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) and Yeshivat Maharat.

According to an article in Mishpacha Magazine, his son, Rav Shmuel Miller, has published a book posthumously written by his father  that in my view is unconscionable. The thesis of the book is that the Holocaust was actually a Chesed… a kindness from God in the way of a wake-up call! It is called  ‘A Divine Madness’ – Rabbi Avigdor Miller’s Defense of HaShem in the Matter of the Holocaust.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller did not want to publish this work during his lifetime. He felt that so soon after the Holocaust it would upset survivors. His son has decided that enough time has passed and published it. Rabbi Avigdor Miller is certainly entitled to his views. But I am entitled to totally reject them.

He is not the first one to put forward the theory that the Holocaust happened because Jews were abandoning the Torah and observance in droves in the period prior to the Holocaust. But what is so upsetting about this particular thesis is that he considers the Holocaust a kindness. I understand his point. Which he tries to illustrate using an example once cited by the Chofetz Chaim as follows.

If someone is in the coldest region on Earth like the North Pole and falls asleep, he will freeze to death in short order. If someone is there next to him, he will try to wake him up from his slumber. If calling out to him, won’t work, he will shake him. If that doesn’t work he will smack him. If that doesn’t work, he will take a stick and hit him. An onlooker might see this as being cruel and not understand that he is trying to wake him up in order to save his life. In other words what looks like a cruelty to another human being – is actually a kindness meant to save his life.

This is such a bad analogy that it boggles my mind that it was even attempted let alone published in a book.

There are 6 million individual stories of savage slaughter that happened in the Holocaust. And that is just about Jews that were systematically killed. There could be as many as another six million stories about horrors experienced by survivors.

Just to cite 2 personal examples.

My father escaped the Nazi death camps by hiding in 3 different bunkers with other families until his city was liberated by the Russians.

When the first bunker was discovered, the escape route planned in such an eventuality via the town sewer system enabled an escape by my father and my 3 older brothers (who were in their early teens at the time). But my father’s first wife (my brothers’ mother) never made it. She was captured while trying to escape. The next bunker was a makeshift one in the forest. That too was discovered, but my oldest brother got caught while my father and his two younger sons escaped. My father heard his oldest son screaming as he was being carried off by the Gestapo.

My wife’s uncle was an Ish Tam – a Gerrer Chasid; kind and sincere; simple  and pure in his devotion to God. He had not an ounce of evil in his bones. He had a beautiful family – a wife and children – prior to the Holocaust. They were all slaughtered by the Nazis except for him. He was captured by the infamous Josef Menegle for purposes of medical experiments. That left him without family and sterile after the war… never able to rebuild his family. Although he did remarry and made Aliyah.  He was a truly good man who never questioned God.

You can multiply these two stories by the number of victims and survivors. How many stories like this and far worse have we all heard?!

If this is God’s Chesed, I’d like to know what it’s like when He gets angry! How dare anyone say that God decided to torture innocent people in order to wake us up? Rabbi Miller does not make understanding the Holocaust any easier. He makes it even more difficult to understand, in my view.

Many great rabbinic figures were slaughtered by the Nazis. It is said that the great people of any given generation are punished because they did not protest the increasing rejection of Mitzvah observance of their time. Even if that’s true, how can such inhumanity to the average Jew – innocent people who are not Gedolim – be explained?

How can anyone say that being tortured by the likes of Mengele is the same as being hit with a stick at the North Pole?! How can anyone say that forcing Jews to dig mass graves for themselves and then being shot into them is the same as being hit with a stick?! How can anyone one say that the millions of Jews marching into the ‘showers’ at Auschwitz and Buchenwald is the same as being hit with a stick. Such analogies are an insult to not only the six million who died, but to all the survivors and their children, of which I am one!

Wake up call?! How exactly did all the torture endured by survivors wake up all those who lost their faith after the Holocaust?

My negative attitude about the Satmar Rebbe is well known here becauseof his antipathy towards the State of Israel and his disparagement of Rav Kook. But there is one thing I do agree with him about. The Holocaust cannot be explained.  And all victims of the Holocaust including survivors have earned an automatic place in the world to come – even if they did not remain religious.
I therefore object in the strongest possible terms the publication a book which espouses the view that the Holocaust was a ‘wake-up’ call. His right to publish such opinions should not trump the hurt such views have upon survivors and their children.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

My Week in Israel with Dr. Oz

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Everything over the past week was memorable and magical as Dr. Mehmet Oz, America’s foremost daytime TV host and the world’s most famous doctor, toured Israel. From dancing the horah outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, to dancing Friday night at the Western Wall with Israeli soldiers and thousands of worshippers, to meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu for ninety minutes of substantive conversation about Israel, Turkey, and the United States, Dr. Oz and his family showed the Jewish state extravagant love and admiration.

Mehmet is a remarkable man and seeing him up close reinforced the high regard in which I have always held him, ever since we started working together for Oprah at her radio network. First there was his attention to his children, all four of whom accompanied him, along with his son-in-law. Mehmet would go nowhere without them and pulled them in to hear every last explanation about Israel’s ancient and modern history.

Then there is his dedication to his wife Lisa, a remarkable and brilliant woman in her own right, and vastly knowledgeable of the Bible. Lisa was correcting me constantly on Biblical quotations (I purposely got them wrong so she could feel superior). Mehmet is a man who honors his wife at every opportunity.

Of course, there were the legions of fans – Jews and Arabs in every part of Israel – that pleaded for a picture and he turned noone down.

But more than anything else there was his attachment to the Jewish people on display at every moment. Mehmet is a Muslim, perhaps the world’s most famous Muslim who is not a head of state. He is a righteous and proud Ambassador of his faith and feels an innate kinship and brotherhood with the Jewish people.

He praised Israel constantly, from lauding its treatment of its minority citizens at our joint lecture at Rambam hospital in Haifa, to noting Israel’s phenomenal medical breakthroughs at several news conferences, to highlighting his amazement at Israel’s capacity to turn deserts into thriving cities.

In Hebron, at the tomb of the patriarchs, we prayed together publicly for peace and understanding between the children of Abraham. At the tomb of Maimonides we noted the role reversal. Maimonides, a Jew, was the world’s most famous physician, and he served the Muslim ruler Saladin. Now, a Muslim doctor – the world’s most famous – was visiting his Jewish brothers in the Holy land 900 years later.

Joined with Natan Sharasnky at the Jerusalem Press Club for a public discussion, the three of us debated whether there was an obligation to hate evil. Mehmet maintained that hatred harmed he who harbored it, even for the best of reasons. On this Sharasnky and I disagreed. Natan spoke of the evil he encountered in the KGB. I spoke of Hamas’ genocidal covenant and Hezbollah’s commitment to annihilating Israel. Terrorists deserved our contempt. Only by truly hating evil are we prepared to fight it. In the end we compromised in agreeing that hating evil should not be obsessive and internal but rather externally directed at neutralizing those who slaughter God’s innocent children, whoever they may be.

As I walked Dr. Oz and his family through the old city of Jerusalem on Friday night, we passed through Zion gate, still riddled with bullet holes from the heavy fighting of 1967 that liberated the city. At Shabbat dinner at the home of Simon and Chana Falic, my friend Ron Dermer, Israel’s newly appointed Ambassador to the United States, explained to Mehmet that even after Israel conquered the Temple Mount in the Six Day War it left control of Judaism’s holiest site to the Muslim waqf and that such an action had no precedent in all human history. Ron said that there could no greater illustration of Israel’s desire to respect its Muslim citizens and seek peace.

At the Christian holy sites, like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and Muslim Holy Sites like the Dome of the Rock and the vast Muslim crowds that filled mosques for Ramadan, Dr. Oz saw first hand how Israel is a country of thriving religious liberty.

But the highlight of the visit was the conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu where Ambassador Dermer joined Mehmet and me as we heard the Israeli leader deeply engage Mehmet about Israel’s search for peace and the challenges it faces with the destabilization of Syria and Egypt on the one hand, and the changes in its relationship with Turkey, on the other.

Jewish Money Changer Robbed in Uman

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

On Friday, local Ukrainians robbed a Jewish money changer in his apartment in Uman, Ukraine, not for from the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Hakol Hayehudi reported.

The robbers threw a brick at the money changer’s head, injuring him. He was taken to hospital for treatment, his condition is mild to moderate.

How to Give

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Listen to these stories. Behind them lies an extraordinary insight into the nature of Jewish ethics:

Story 1. Rabbi Abba used to bind money in his scarf, sling it on his back, and place it at the disposal of the poor (Ketubot 67b).

Story 2. Mar Ukba had a poor man in his neighborhood into whose door socket he used to throw four coins every day. Once the poor man thought, “I will go and see who does me this kindness.” That day Mar Ukba stayed late at the house of study and his wife was coming home with him. As soon as the poor man saw them moving the door (to leave the coins) he ran out after them, but they fled from him and hid. Why did they do this? Because it was taught: One should throw himself into a fiery furnace rather than publicly put his neighbor to shame (Ketubot 67b).

Story 3. When Rabbi Jonah saw a man of good family who had lost his money and was ashamed to accept charity, he would go and say to him, “I have heard that an inheritance has come your way in a city across the sea. So here is an article of some value. Sell it and use the proceeds. When you are more affluent, you will repay me.” As soon as the man took it, Rabbi Jonah would say, “It’s yours is a gift” (Vayikra Rabbah 34:1).

These stories all have to do with the mitzvah of tzedakah whose source is in this week’s parshah:

“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need…Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10-11).

What we have here is a unique and still remarkable program for the elimination of poverty.

The first extraordinary fact about the laws of tzedakah as articulated in the Oral Tradition is the concept itself. Tzedakah does not mean “charity.” We see this immediately in the form of a law inconceivable in any other moral system: “Someone who does not wish to give tzedakah or to give less than is appropriate may be compelled to do so by a Jewish court of law” (Maimonides, Laws of Gifts to the Poor, 7:10). Charity is always voluntary. Tzedakah is compulsory. Therefore tzedakah does not mean charity. The nearest English equivalent is social justice.

The second is the principle evident in the three stories above. Poverty in Judaism is conceived not merely in material terms: the poor lack the means of sustenance. It is also conceived in psychological terms. Poverty humiliates. It robs people of dignity. It makes them dependent on others – thus depriving them of independence which the Torah sees as essential to self-respect.

This deep psychological insight is eloquently expressed in the third paragraph of the Grace after Meals: “Please, O Lord our God, do not make us dependent on the gifts or loans of other people, but only on Your full, open, holy and generous hand so that we may suffer neither shame nor humiliation for ever and all time.”

As a result, Jewish law focuses not only on how much we must give but also on the manner in which we do so. Ideally the donor should not know to whom he or she is giving (story 1), nor the recipient know from whom he or she is receiving (story 2). The third story exemplifies another principle: “If a poor person does not want to accept tzedakah, we should practice a form of [benign] deception and give it to him under the guise of a loan” (Maimonides, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:9).

Maimonides sums up the general principle thus: “Whoever gives charity to the poor with bad grace and averted eyes has lost all the merit of his action even though he gives him a thousand gold pieces. He should give with good grace and with joy and should sympathize with him in his plight, as it is said, ‘Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor?’ [Job 30:25]” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:4).

This is the logic behind two laws that are otherwise inexplicable. The first is “Even a poor person who is dependent on tzedakah is obliged to give tzedakah” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:5). The law seems absurd. Why should we give money to the poor so that they may give to the poor? It makes sense only on this assumption – that giving is essential to human dignity and tzedakah is the obligation to ensure that everyone has that dignity.

The second is the famous ruling of Maimonides that “the highest degree of charity, exceeded by none, is when a person assists a poor Jew by providing him with a gift or a loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him find employment – in a word, by putting him in a situation where he can dispense with other people’s aid” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7).

Giving someone a job or making him your partner would not normally be considered charity at all. It costs you nothing. But this further serves to show that tzedakah does not mean charity. It means giving people the means to live a dignified life, and any form of employment is more dignified, within the Jewish value system, than dependence.

We have in this ruling of Maimonides in the 12th century the principle that Muhammad Yunus rediscovered in our time, and for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize: the idea of micro-loans enabling poor people to start small businesses. It is a very powerful idea.

In contradistinction to many other religious systems, Judaism refused to romanticize poverty or anaesthetize its pain. Faith is not what Karl Marx called “the opium of the people.” The rabbis refused to see poverty as a blessed state, an affliction to be born with acceptance and grace. Instead, the rabbis called it “a kind of death” and “worse than 50 plagues.” They said, “Nothing is harder to bear than poverty, because he who is crushed by poverty is like one to whom all the troubles of the world cling and upon whom all the curses of Deuteronomy have descended. If all other troubles were placed on one side and poverty on the other, poverty would outweigh them all.”

Maimonides went to the heart of the matter when he said (The Guide for the Perplexed 3:27), “The well-being of the soul can only be obtained after that of the body has been secured.” Poverty is not a noble state. You cannot reach spiritual heights if you have no food to eat or a roof for your head, if you lack access to medical attention or are beset by financial worries.

I know of no saner approach to poverty, welfare, and social justice than that of Judaism. Unsurpassed in its time, it remains the benchmark of a decent society to this day.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/how-to-give/2013/08/01/

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