Reflections from the Jewish Tradition


Reflections from the Jewish Tradition

GNRC Fourth Forum Report
Third Plenary: Reflections From Different Religious Traditions on How Poverty Affects Children
Ms. Evi Guggenheim Shbeta, GNRC Coordinator for Israel

Judaism is the oldest of the three Monotheistic Religions it is the cradle of Christianity and Islam.

Judaism is based on the Torah, the Old Testament, the core of it being the Ten Commandments.

Jewish Religion has one first important aim: To worship the One Almighty as mentioned in the first commandment:

I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other God before me

And a second aim: To live in mutual respect among human beings who are created out of the goodness of his Almighty and therefore have to be loved and respected.

The nine remaining commandments are about mutual behavior between human beings.

Derived from these are hundreds of dos and don’ts, obligations, responsibilities and inhibitions developed by interpretation by the sages of the Old Testament, the written Torah and the oral Torah.

Hillel, one of the sages, was asked by his pupils: If you had to say the whole Torah standing on one leg, what would you say?

Without any hesitation Hillel said: (in Hebrew) “Veahavta lereecha kamocha” Thou shall love thy neighbor like thyself.

The Jewish Sages of Old viewed poverty as a great affliction and said: He who is crushed by poverty is as if he were subject to all afflictions of the world. (Exodus,31:2; Midrash Rabbah)

Therefore poverty is also a challenge and a responsibility both for the poor but above all for those with the means to assist the needy.

The Bible gives a precise precept of how to deal with poverty (I have taken an extract):

If there is a needy person among you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand. Give to him readily and have no regrets when you do so The Lord will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings. For there will never cease to be needy people in your land, which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsmen in your land. Deuteronomy (15:7-11)

The Hebrew word for charity is Tsedakah which actually means righteousness. Caring for and giving to the poor is a righteous obligation, responsibility and duty. A Jew has the obligation to give 10 % of his income to the needy.

But giving according to Judaism is not enough. We are obliged to work for the eradication of Poverty.

Giving has to be done while preserving the dignity of the needy and with the aim of becoming self-sufficient.

The Talmud designates eight levels of giving, one higher than the other. The lowest kind of giving is by giving grudgingly, reluctantly or with regret while the highest kind of giving is by assisting the needy in making them i.e. business partners, best by not being identified as the donor and staying anonymous.

As the saying goes: Giving bread provides meals; teaching how to harvest provides livelihood.

It is through providing people with the means to maintain themselves with dignity that we fulfil the highest goal of Tsedaka righteousness charity and it is through righteousness, teaches the Bible and the Jewish Tradition, that we bring redemption for humankind.

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