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August 31, 2016 / 27 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Man’

Café el-Fishawy, Cairo

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Some 240 years ago, a man named al-Fishawy began serving coffee to his friends in an alley of Cairo’s Khan al-Khalili district each evening after prayers. The al-Fishawy’s gatherings grew larger and stretched longer, and the rest is history.

Qahwat al-Fishawi (Fishawy’s Café) is the most renowned café in the Arab world and a monument to the traditional Egyptian way of relaxing with friends—and the occasional stranger— over coffee, tea and tobacco.

We pray for the residents of Cairo to be able to emerge from their current strife and to return to their sweet and harmless (except for the tobacco thing) way.


Yori Yanover

Tribalism, Post-Tribalism and Counter-Tribalism

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

Man begins with the tribe. The tribe is his earliest civilization. It is enduring because it is based on blood. The ties of blood may hinder its growth, the accretion of tradition holds it to past wisdom while barring the way to learning new things, but it provides its culture with a physical culture.

The modern world embraced post-tribalism, the transcendence of tribe, to produce more complicated, but also more fragile cultures. And then eventually post-tribalism became counter-tribalism.

Our America is tribal, post-tribal and counter-tribal. It is a strange and unstable mix of all these things.

The post-tribal could be summed up by the melting pot, a modernist idea of a cultural empire, the E pluribus unum of a society in which culture could be entirely detached from tribe, manufactured, replicated and imposed in mechanical fashion. The counter-tribal and the tribal however are best summed up by multiculturalism which combines both selectively.

Modernism was post-tribal. It believed that advancement lay with abandoning the tribe. Post-modernism however is counter-tribal. It doesn’t just seek to leave the tribe behind, but to destroy the very notion of one’s own tribe as the source of evil, while welcoming the tribalism of the oppressed.

The post-tribal and counter-tribals both felt that the rejection of one’s own tribe was a cultural victory. But where the modernists thought that tribe itself was the evil, the post-modernists think that it is only their tribe that is the evil. The modernists had no more use for the tribalism of any culture than that of their own. The post-modernists however believe that the tribalism of oppressor cultures is evil, but that of oppressed cultures is good. And so they replace their own tribalism and post-tribalism with a manufactured tribalism of the oppressed consisting of fake African proverbs and “Other” mentors.

Counter-tribalism is obsessed with the “Other”. It regards the interaction with the “Other” as the most socially and spiritually significant activity of a society. Counter-tribalists instinctively understand diversity as a higher good in a way that they cannot express to outsiders. They may cloak it in post-tribal rhetoric, but the emotion underneath is the counter-tribal rejection of one’s own identity in search of a deeper authenticity, of the noble savage within.

For the modernists, tribalism was savage and that was a bad thing. For the post-modernists, the savage was a good thing. The savage was natural and real. He was a part of the world of tribe and blood. A world that they believed that we had lost touch with. It was the civilized man and his modernism that was evil. It was the tribalism of wealth and technology that they fought against.

The modernists believed that culture was mechanical, that it could be taken apart and put back together, that fantastic new things could be added, the boundaries pushed into infinity in the exploration of the human spirit. The post-modernists knew better. Culture was human noise. Boundaries defined culture. When they were broken, there was only the fascinating explosion of anarchy and private language. Communications broke down and elites took over. They stepped outside those boundaries and lost the ability to create culture, instead they went seeking for the roots of human culture, for the tribal and the primitive, hoping to become ignorant savages again.

The modern left has become a curious amalgam of the modern, the post-modern and the savage. There you have a Richard Dawkins knocking Muslims for their lack of Nobel prizes and then side by side is the post-modern sneering at the idea that being celebrated by the Eurocentric culture and its fetishization of technology matters compared to the rich cultural heritage of Islam and the savage on Twitter demanding Dawkins’ head.

The same scenes play out on daily commutes in modern cities, where Bloombergian post-tribal social planners exist side by side with Occupier counter-tribals and violent tribal gangs acting as flash mobs in the interplay of liberalism, the left and the failed societies left behind by the systems of the left.

Muslim immigration is a distinctly counter-tribal project. The European tensions over it among its elites, as opposed to the street protesters who make up groups such as the EDL, is a conflict between the post-tribals who envisioned the European Union and the counter-tribals who view it as a refugee camp that will melt down the last of Europe’s cultures and traditions.

Daniel Greenfield

Message from a Man in Black…to a Man of Hate

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

I love this video – posted to YouTube around 5 months ago… it’s a message from one Hassidic Jew (representing so many others) to a man of hate (and to so many like him). It was posted before the Jewish holiday of Purim…

Purim is the story of a Persian king, his right hand man who wanted to kill the Jews, a Jewish man and his niece, who becomes the queen. An evil plot… unraveled at the last moment, twisted around to destroy the one who created the plot. It is about justice in the end, but more, it is about the Jewish people and where we put our faith. It is why we defeated Haman, that ancient Persian… and why we will defeat his ancestors – the followers of Ahmadinejad… and today’s “moderate” Iranian president who joined his outgoing colleague just days ago in wishing Israel off the face of this world.

Ari Lesser – you’re great! I hope this video reaches around the world…



Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

Paula Stern

Infidel

Monday, August 5th, 2013

I’ve written about Ayaan Hirsi Ali a few times, having heard her speak two years running now at the President’s Conference in Jerusalem. Each time, in her elegant and dignified way, she put the other speakers to shame. There were quiet and short remarks – there is great beauty is simplicity.

Last year, as several American Jews, diplomats and scholars, debated the need for Israel to surrender more, Hirsi Ali was handed the microphone and now, more than 16 months later, her words remain imprinted on my brain, “Even if you give them Jerusalem…EVEN if you give them Jerusalem, there will be no peace.”

Many clapped for this statement and the first thing I did after blogging about her was to promise myself I would learn more. With a great many excuses, a full year past and I was back again this past June at the President’s Conference, thrilled to have another opportunity to hear her speak. The room was packed – not a vacant seat (I grabbed the last three seats and called Chaim telling him he had to come hear this session). After hearing her speak again, I fulfilled that promise by ordering two of her books – “Infidel” and “Nomad.” These contain the story of her life – up to this point, whatever she wants to tell us – but certainly in much more detail than she could provide during her short presentations.

I learned so much about Islam – about that world on the other side of my borders. To be honest, I knew a lot of it, or suspected it – but she gave depth to my knowledge and then took me way beyond. She gave reasons, deeply rooted in Islam and in the Koran. I knew the results; she taught me the cause.

So here, I have a confession – I am a mother, a wife, even a grandmother, if you can believe that…and though I have joined others in condemning it, I only realized in reading her story what female genital mutilation was. I had no idea…and a part of me wishes I still didn’t know. How these men could do this to their daughters; how they could want this in their wives – I honestly and truly don’t understand.

That is, perhaps, the curse of Western civilization – we cannot comprehend the barbarity and because we are so naive, because we cannot understand, we tend to excuse, minimize the acts. We conveniently use the words and condemn the action…but to read pages that describe the act, the pain and suffering of these young girls – then and for years after was a startling revelation, a glimpse into a world that I had never imagined.

Can a mother want to do this to her daughter, as Ayaan’s mother chose to do to hers? How? In God’s name, how? I have never knowingly caused my daughter’s pain. And when they have been in pain, I have felt that pain throughout my body.

As to Ayaan, her story is amazing…what she survived…what she made of herself is a lesson to all of us – even those of us who, by comparison, have been blessed to live with relatively few hardships. I have never known hunger; I have never been beaten. Medical care has always been available, education, food, and love.

There were several things that got to me in her story (I’ve only read Infidel so far; I’m starting Nomad tonight) on so many levels – as a woman, as a Jew, as an Israeli, as a mother.

One of the first things that struck me, even as I found myself deeply involved with her personal story, were the few references to Jews. Until she was well into her 20s, I don’t think Ayaan ever met a Jew. I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry when I read, “In Saudi Arabia, everything bad was the fault of the Jews. When the air conditioner broke or suddenly the tap sopped running,t he Saudi women next door used to say the Jews did it…I had never med a Jew. (Neither had these Saudis.)” What I got from this was something I had already known – they really really hate us. They don’t even know us, but they hate us…go figure.

Another thing that bothered me, though I understood her reasoning, was her journey away from Islam. She describes a religion that demands absolute obedience; a religion that has no mechanism for change over time; and a religion that focuses on punishment and the Hereafter – all you do in this life is preparation for the Hereafter and there are seemingly thousands or more things for which you are regularly threatened to be condemned to hell. It seems almost as if it is impossible to get to this heaven, given the number of restrictions – in action and in thought – that are applied to Muslims.

Ayaan’s brilliant reasoning takes all of this into consideration and reaches a conclusion – there is no hell; there is no hereafter. The Koran was written by man, not be God…and from there – she decides there is no God. I’m simplifying it. For her, it was a journey of thousands of miles and many years. She embraced Islam, searching and searching to justify her beliefs. She found contradictions and still pushed on.

It is written in the Koran that you may beat your wife…and Ayaan properly asks, what kind of God would allow that? It is written that you can cheat and lie to an infidel…and what kind of God would allow that?

And while I agree with her, it is also the point where I lose my way in following her. I won’t argue whether Allah is God and God is Allah, but I will say that the God she describes is not my God. I do believe in God – but not this Allah that she describes. My God has told us to choose life, not death. My God does not allow a man to beat his wife and the value of a life – Jew or not, is important. You cannot cheat or beat a slave and even slaves have an “out” clause to their slavery such that they must be set free after a certain number of years. These are the laws given to my people, by our God, a God we refer to as merciful and just.

A man can sell himself into slavery to pay off a debt, knowing that when the debt is paid, he will be freed. I don’t want to get into a legal comparison of Jewish law versus Islamic law – I am an expert of neither.

But I do believe in the hereafter – only different from what Ayaan was taught. We are taught that God waits to the last minute of your life to forgive any transgressions; the Islam she learned involved having two “angels” over her shoulders, each writing down the good and bad you do – and the list of bad could be as simple as being alone with a man, seeing a movie, etc. If you wear pants, if you show any skin except for your face and hands, certainly not your neck, you are sinful and evil.

I don’t blame Ayaan for walking away from a culture in which a man can take several wives and beat them as he wishes; a culture in which a man can marry off his daughter to a someone she has never met; a culture in which a woman cannot move freely unless she is escorted by a man. I can only hope that had God put me in the same culture, I would have found the courage, as she did, to escape. And she didn’t just escape, she took with her a responsibility to try to help others.

I think it took tremendous courage to walk away, to flee and save herself and thousands of other Muslim women by the work she did in Holland and now does in the United States.

I just wish somehow that along her journey, she could have found a way to keep God. It seems to me that Ayaan’s logical conclusion should have been that if Islam is as flawed as she believes it to be…she should understand that their version and vision of God is flawed too. I do not believe in the God she worshiped as a child and a young woman. Flawed, vindictive, vengeful, and promoting inequality – no, these are not traits of the God that I have known.

This Allah she was raised to worship demanded absolute obedience – compare that to the story of Abraham arguing with God to save the few righteous of Sodom. We have been in a dialog with God for thousands of years – and He listens to us. It is a relationship of love, of gratitude.

In Israel, we have seen too many miracles to do anything but believe in God. Every time a missile hits…it is a miracle because moments before a car passed by, a person left the room, a class was in the library. We have seen it all and we recognize the source. I’m sure we have atheists in Israel, but even among secular Jews here, God is pretty much accepted.

The radio broadcaster will bless the memory of someone who has died; will say, “thank God,” when no one is hurt. God escorts us through our lives here and encourages us to be better, kinder, and more charitable. We are not measured by how many infidels we kill, how many women we force into modesty. This concept of honor killing finds no home in our religion or with our God.

We have seen the horrors of what man can do to man (and to woman) but to blame God for the actions of man seems unfair. There is evil in this world – we all know that. We are given the choice – to choose good and God or to choose evil and work against God.

I can’t explain why bad things happen, but I do believe even the horrible serves a purpose. What was done to Ayaan, and so many others, were terrible, almost unimaginable and yet, didn’t these actions form her into the person she is? Overall, as I read her book, I was left with the impression that she was happy with who she is and what she has done. God, yes, I believe God, gave her a task in this life – one that she accomplishes each time she spreads the knowledge of the culture in which she was raised, each time she forces us to open our eyes and see.

Would she have accomplished what she has, without the challenges along the way? I think the answer is obvious.

What I can say is that there is tremendous comfort in believing that there is a God looking out for you, guiding you, protecting you. And I wish Ayaan could have this comfort. God has a plan – perhaps the greatest evil comes when man attempts to control or redirect that plan; when man attempts to become master of that plan.

Perhaps the irony is that the religion of Islam’s greatest flaw is not that it targets infidels, but that it fails to understand what an infidel is. I would say an infidel is a man who beats his wife, mutilates his daughter, encourages his sons to commit suicide. An infidel is one who is so busy defining God for others, he forgets to understand it is not for us to define God at all.

In carefully defining every aspect of how you live, Islam has succeeded in defining nothing. What the Muslim man fails to realize is that when he blows up a building, murders and terrorizes – and it is he who will go to hell, not the poor woman who was seen talking to a man, not the family sitting in the pizza store in Jerusalem. There are infidels in the world – but these are the people who forsake the love of God, for a culture of death and misery.

(It’s still an incredible book and I highly recommend it…I just wish I could tell Ayaan Hirsi Ali that she is where she is in life…by her own intelligence, her own strength, and by the grace of God…if not Allah.)

Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

Paula Stern

El-Sisi Slams US for Abandoning the Egyptian People

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Egypt’s armed forces chief General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi lashed out at the U.S., urging the Administration to pressure the Muslim Brothers to end their resistance to the new rule.

In an interview with the Washington Post, El Sisi—who led the military coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi on july 3—is warning of police action that would put an end to the protests.

Despite the $1.3 billion in military aid the U.S. gives Egypt every year, El-Sisi accused President Barack Obama of abandoning Egypt.

“You left the Egyptians, you turned your back on the Egyptians and they won’t forget that. Now you want to continue turning your backs on Egyptians?” El-Sisi asked.

“The U.S. administration has a lot (of) leverage and influence with the Muslim Brotherhood and I’d really like the US administration to use this leverage with them to resolve the conflict,” he said, echoing accessions from the right in America, that Obama is still committed to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, despite their loss of popularity.

According to El-Sisi, the task of “removing” the Brotherhood protesters would not be assigned to the army.

“Whoever will clean these squares or resolve these sit-ins will not be the military,” he said, alluding to recorded massacres of unarmed Muslim Brothers by military units shooting into civilian crowds. “There is a civil police and they are assigned to these duties,” he clarified, shutting the doors a tad after the horses have all left the barn.

“On the 26th of [July], more than 30 million people went out onto the streets to give me support. These people are waiting for me to do something.”

According to Al Ahram, more than 250 Egyptian civilians have been killed since Morsi’s overthrow.

When asked whether he would seek the presidency, El-Sisi was vague:

“I want to say that the most important achievement in my life is to overcome this circumstance, [to ensure] that we live peacefully, to go on with our road map and to be able to conduct the coming elections without shedding one drop of Egyptian blood,” he said.

When he was pressed on his presidential ambitions, he responded that he is not the type who “aspire for authority.”

If ever there was a man with self-awareness issues… How does someone without aspirations for authority depose a legally elected president and impose a military junta in his place? Somebody hand that man a mirror…

In response to the obvious authority aspirations thing, El-Sisi defended his decision to overthrow Morsi, saying: “I expected if we didn’t intervene, it would have turned into a civil war. Four months before he left, I told Morsi the same thing.”

Except that now he has a real civil war on his hands – and it’s all the fault of the Muslim Brothers-loving Obama Administration.

“What I want you to know and I want the American reader also to know is that this is a free people who rebelled against an unjust political rule, and this free people needs your support,” urged the junta leader who shuns authority.

If you have access to Woody Allen’s last truly funny movie, “Bananas,” now would be a good time to watch it again…

Yori Yanover

Whose Values Do They Represent?

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

I don’t see how anyone can claim that they are extremists who are an exception to the rule – amounting to only a small handful of Haredim. I am talking about people who are constantly degrading the values of those they disagree with by acting in truly disgusting ways.

It has happened again. From Israel Hayom:

Shear Yashuv residents inflamed to find haredi tourists bathing in a memorial fountain near the town, which was dedicated to 73 IDF soldiers who lost their lives in a terrible 1997 helicopter accident • Haredi tourists: “Memorials constitute idolatry.”

This kind of thing happens so frequently and in so many different places, it cannot possibly be attributed to a bunch of extremists that are not representative of Haredi values. And yet every time something like this gets reported in the media, there is always a Haredi apologist out there somewhere telling us we shouldn’t judge all Haredim by the actions of a few.

I of course agree with that in principle. And as I have said many times, most Haredim don’t do these kinds of things. Certainly not moderate Haredim but even right wing Haredim. They realize it is a Chilul HaShem. However – as I’ve said many times – the behavior though not approved of actually occurs precisely because of the Haredi values exemplified by the above response of those Chareid tourists.

Is there anyone who thinks that the sentiment expressed by them isn’t believed by them? It expresses a value of the majority of Haredi community.

I don’t know that the majority of the Haredi world actually considers such memorials to be idolatry. But I think it’s safe to say that they do completely characterize such memorials at the very least as un-Jewish. And something we ought not recognize in any way. The only difference between those Haredi bathers and the media apologists is that the apologists realize that disrespecting the memorial will be seen by the entire rest of the world as disrespecting the dead being memorialized.

So Rebbeim in Yeshivos advise their students never do anything that will be seen to dishonor lost loved ones in public. That would be considered a Chilul HaShem.

But those tourists probably think it is a Chilul HaShem – NOT to stand up for the truth. They therefore acted the way they did  with pride – having no problem desecrating that memorial by bathing in it.

The idea of showing one face to the public and another one internally was illustrated recently when a  Rosh Yeshiva or Rebbe described what he tells his students about how to act when sirens sound on Yom HaZikaron. He said when the sirens sound while they are in the confines of the Yeshiva, they are to be ignored. When they are out in public, they should stand silently along with the rest of the country. Why? Because it is not a Jewish way to memorialize the dead. Doing so in private therefore has no meaning to them. In public, however, they are to ‘play along’.

One may ask, what’s so terrible about that? What’s wrong with teaching students about the proper Jewish way to mourn the dead? There is of course nothing wrong and everything right about that.

What is wrong here is that it is more than about teaching proper Jewish thought.They aren’t just teaching their students how to properly mourn the dead. They are teaching them that Israel is run by a bunch of Apikurism (heretics) who ‘ape the Goyim’. Students are taught to disrespect everything about the government of Israel and Israeli society. Israel is constantly being vilified to Haredi students by their Haredi teachers.

The smarter ones also realize that there should be no public displays of disrespect to the Israeli populace. For example in how they mourn their dead. That would be a Chilul HaShem. Nonetheless the lesson constantly taught and heard over and over again by students is that Israel is evil and if not for the Chilul HaShem it is indeed correct to dishonor the ‘Goyishe way’ in which Israel does everything. Including the way in which the dead are memorialized.

There are of course some Mechanchim who do not make those caveats to their students. Especially in places like Meah Shearim. Is it any wonder then that there are Haredim who feel free to desecrate a memorial in the way these Haredim did? They are merely expressing their true Hashkafos – oblivious to the Chilul HaShem – thinking that it is a Kiddush HaShem!

That is why when these bathing tourists were asked about it, they responded the way they did. It is the same kind of thinking had by Haredim who held a barbecue in a public park this past Yom HaZikaron while the rest of Israel was somberly mourning soldiers killed in action. ‘It’s not the Jewish way to mourn this way – and by golly we’re going to teach these ‘evil’- or at best ignorant Jews by example what we really think of it!’

It’s the same kind of thinking that goes on when a woman get’s spat upon because the spitter does not approve of the way she dresses. This too happened recently in the city of Ashdod recently. From Ynet:

A, a 15-year-old girl and her mother complained that a haredi man asked the girl not to walk by a yeshiva located in the city center, and even spat on her because of the way she was dressed.

The girl was walking along the street Monday, as she does everyday, to pick up her 6-year-old little sister from kindergarten. At a distance of a kilometer and a half away from her home, the girl – who wore a tank top and a skirt – was approached by a haredi man who yelled at her: “Walk behind the parking lot’s wall”

At first, A., did not understand what he was talking about, and asked the man “Why?” to which he replied “Because you’re immodest, there are people studying Torah here.”

A., who did not want to confront the man picked up her pace and defiantly told him “I’m not going to,” to which he answered “Why are you so stubborn?” and then spat on her.

This is becoming so common it almost as though it were the norm in Haredi circles. I can understand why a Haredi man concerned with the Kedusha of his Yeshiva would be upset at a woman wearing a tank top passing by. And even though I would disagree with him doing it since she has the right to dress as any she chooses in public – I would understand if he politely asked if she would in the future dress more modestly around the Yeshiva.

But when he demands it and then spits on her when she doesn’t comply, that is a Chilul HaShem even though in his own mind he thinks it is a Kiddush HaShem . As would all the spitters, screamers, and haters all over the world who would act the same way under similar circumstances.

As if that weren’t enough let us not forget about the bus ‘bombers’. No… not the Islamist  suicide bombers. The Haredi ones in Bet Shemesh who yesterday smashed the windsheild of a bus and broke other windows with a hammer after after a woman refused to sit apart from men. They later attacked two other buses by ‘bombing’ them with stones and breaking their windows.

So the next time you hear a Haredi spokesman say that these people do not represent them, I would take that with a huge grain of salt.

Update
The woman who was asked to move to the back of the bus was interviewed by a religious radio station in Israel. She described the situation as follows. As a new immigrant unfamiliar with sex segregated buses in her new community she sat down at the front of the bus with her young children and all the packages she was carrying.

She was then immediately but politely asked to move to the back by one of the Haredi women who came up to her. At first she refused because of all the packages and her children. She was offered help with all that and she then agreed to move. The bus driver became irate when he saw this and decided to call the police. That is apparently when all hell broke loose.

In my view, this changes little except the precipitating event caused by the bus driver. The bus driver may have been foolish and impetuous in making that call when the situations seemed to be taking care of itself.

But the rioting Haredim that responded by damaging that bus and other buses nearby is what ought to be focused on here. This is not a civilized response to a grievance against what a bus driver did. And although the bus driver should have perhaps not exacerbated the situation, clearly he too acted out of his indignation at what he thought was wrong.

If one will say that I too am being apologetic, I would only ask that you compare how the bus driver reacted to what he saw as an injustice – to how these Haredim reacted to what they saw as an injustice. Had those Haredim reacted in a similarly civilized manner, there would be no story. And no Chilul HaShem.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

Harry Maryles

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.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

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

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