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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3


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GENESIS — 1:27 image

According to Jewish tradition, the dignity of all human beings – that which raises us above the status of other animals – derives from the fact that we are created in G-d’s own image [this verse]. The primary way in which humanity is like G-d is in our abilities to understand and follow an argument for justice, to know right from wrong, and to choose the right.  To do these things is both the privilege and the responsibility of being created in G-d’s image. As Jews, G-d has given us the Torah to help us make the right decisions, and hence study of the tradition is an aid to good practice. B. Shabbat 127a Even without a thorough Jewish education, though, we may not hide from the implications of being created in the divine image.  M. Avot 3:18  Thus a variety of biblical and rabbinic sources demand that we preserve not only the lives of the poor but their dignity as well.  Deuteronomy 24:10-11, M. Ketubbot 13:3, S.A. Yoreh De’ah 251:8, Even Ha-Ezer 112:11, B. Ketubbot 43a and S.A. Even Ha-ezer 112:16, 93:4. So, for example, if someone injures another person. The attacker must compensate the victim for the injury itself (lost capital value), the pain involved, the medical expenses, the time lost from work, and degradation. M. Bava Kamma 8:1 When discussing payment for degradation, the Talmud’s basis for comparison is the embarrassment involved in poverty. That is, the clear case of degradation, to which other cases can be instructively compared, is the embarrassment involved in being in need. B. Bava Kamma 86a Since poverty is an affront to the dignity inherent in us as creatures of G-d, all those who can are obliged to help. By the same token, the poor themselves must take care to protect their own dignity. One way of doing this is to give charity—no matter what one’s economic state. “Even a poor person who lives entirely on charity must also give charity to another poor person.” B. Bava Kamma 119a, B. Gittin 7b, M.T. Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:5, and S.A. Yoreh De’ah 248:1, 251:12. Also, the poor who need aid are encouraged to apply to the community fund and are discouraged from door-to door-begging, because it diminishes their own dignity. B. Bava Batra 9a and S.A. Yoreh De’ah 250:3-4 DORFFDRAG 136-7

GENESIS — 1:27 image 

Jewish tradition places strong emphasis on the worth of the individual.  Human worth derives first from being created in G-d’s image, a concept that the Torah repeats three times in the opening chapters of Genesis to ensure that we take note of it [this verse, Genesis 5:1-2, Genesis 9:6]. As this [third] indicates, the divine image in each of us is not only a philosophical conception but also justifies and explains specific laws. The most obvious, the one in Genesis 9, is that murder is to be banned because human beings have divine worth. Even murderers, though, are created in the divine image, as are others guilty of a capital offense. The Torah, therefore, prescribes that after we execute such people for their crimes, we must honor the divinity of their bodies (and the holiness of the Land of Israel) by burying them quickly Deuteronomy 21:22-23.  The Rabbis [of the Mishnah, Talmud, and Midrash] took this further. That we were created in G-d’s image is a manifestation of G-d’s love for us; our awareness of the divine image within us as mark of yet more divine love Genesis 9:6. DORFFDRAG 5-6

GENESIS — 2:15 tend

… values and ideas are at the heart of what it means to be a person and a Jew, and yet we live in a world of objects and forces. Thoughts and values can become part of our lives only if they are somehow translated into a world of concrete objects.  Law does that.  It coordinates ideas and values with specific patterns of action that express them.  In so doing, law enables us to make them an active part of our lives. So, for example, providing for the poor, as demanded and delineated in Jewish law, is no longer exclusively a matter of emotion or a pious but ephemeral idea; it is instead the value that requires us to provide food, shelter, and clothing for others as we teach them how to support themselves. Obeying this command can be a reminder of our obligations to G-d and of the ways in which the Jewish tradition pushes us toward its ideals. Ritual laws function in the same way. So, for example, G-d’s creation of the world is not restricted to the world of metaphysical principles when the Sabbath laws transform that tenet into a special day to experience its import in what we say and do. The laws requiring Jews to perform specific acts on the Sabbath and refrain from others make up the principal part of our consciousness and behavior. We not only think about G-d’s continuing ownership of everything and everyone but experienced the ramifications of it. With that principle embedded in our minds throughout the week, we are less likely to take the world for granted and more likely “to use it and safeguard it” [this verse].  DORFFDRAG 274

GENESIS — 4:9 keeper

The Jewish tradition cannot accurately be used to support any particular ideological stance—conservative, moderate, liberal, or anything else—in responding to the problem of poverty. Nevertheless, some guidelines clearly emerge from Jewish concepts and law. In light of G-d’s image embedded in each of us, we must determine the recipients of aid, the donors, the methods of collection and distribution, the programs of prevention, and all other related factors in this area by asking: What is the most practical and efficient way of caring for the poor while preserving the dignity and economic viability of all concerned? G-d responds to Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” with the resounding “What have you done? Hark, your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!” [this verse].  In responding to what is often life-threatening poverty, we must fulfill our G-d-given responsibility for each other by effectively and honorably providing for the immediate needs of the poor while simultaneously helping them support themselves—all in a context of respect and dignity. Because the best type of aid by far is prevention of poverty in the first place, the clear mandate of the Jewish tradition is to support governmental and private programs of education in general and job training in particular. These programs pay multiple dividends, keeping whole groups of the population from a life of unemployment, degradation, and often crime and enabling them to become productive and dignified members of society. This priority begins first with the biblical responsibility of Jewish parents and, by extension, the community to teach children a form of gainful employment, and puts into practice the top rung of Maimonides’ hierarchy of charity. If assistance is necessary, for both practical and moral reasons it is better to proffer employment, a loan, or investment capital to poor people than to give money as a dole. A loan or investment has the potential for making the poor person self-supporting, thus eliminating the drain on the community’s resources. It also preserves the dignity of the poor person now and, if the venture succeeds, for the long-term. Even so, a poor person seeking aid from an individual cannot be denied enough for immediate sustenance. However we may react to being confronted by street figures, Jewish law requires that we give something to those who ask, or if we cannot, that we at least treat them kindly.  B. Bava Batra 9b and M.T. Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:5. Jewish law intends, though, that we provide food, clothing, and shelter for the hungry; we need not give beggars money when we have good evidence that it will not be used for that purpose. Most commonly, this occurs when the people asking are clearly inebriated or under the influence of drugs and when the money would in all likelihood be used to feed their habit. Indeed, to give them money under those circumstances would be “placing a stumbling block before the blind,” a violation of Leviticus 19:14 as the Rabbis interpreted it.  To avoid this problem, some people keep on their person a ready supply of food coupons redeemable at restaurants or supermarkets so that they can be sure that their contribution to a beggar will indeed be used for legitimate purpose. Others maintain that giving people even such a specified voucher encourages them to continue on the dole and that the morally responsible thing to do is to direct them (or help them get to) a communally run program that will provide for their basic needs while simultaneously taking steps to help them become self-supporting. In the end, confronting beggars is emotionally very difficult, no matter what you do. Even if you think that you should not give them anything for one or another of the reasons mentioned in this chapter, you clearly may not just pass by but must rather notice these people in recognition of their basic humanity. If you have neither the time nor the information to help beggars reach a responsible agency, it is probably best to give them something. Even though such people may be deceiving you and even though you may even be contributing to a bad habit of panhandling, it is better to take those risks then to pass by someone who is truly in need. On the other hand, nobody is obliged by Jewish law to supply people who asked for help with large sums of money; a small donation is all that is called for. Anything more than that undermines our concern to dissuade people from begging on the streets; we want them instead to get help from the public and private agencies created to supply assistance with continuity and with the professional expertise to assess and respond to people’s actual needs. Similarly, on a communal level, immediate sustenance should be available for a truly destitute with few, if any, questions asked ...  DORFFDRAG 155-7

GENESIS — 15:16 iniquity

The other peoples of the world, whom the biblical authors in the Talmudic rabbis knew, were, by and large, not monotheists, but idolaters, whether Canaanite, Greek, or Roman. The Hebrew Bible is relentlessly opposed to idolatry, prominently in shining the prohibition against it in the Decalogue Exodus 20:3 – 6 and Deuteronomy 5:7 – 10 announced on Mount Sinai and repeating it as well and many other places in the Bible. Moreover, according to the Torah, the reason G-d wants the Israelites to occupy the Land of Israel and displace the seven nations already there is precisely because of the natives’ idolatry and the immorality to which it led them [this verse]. The Bible speaks, for example, of the sacrifice of children to Molech and of sanctified acts of adultery and incest within the Canaanite cult.  DORFFDRAG 66

GENESIS — 18:25 just

In Western legal systems, justice is an instrumental good, a commodity important for social peace and welfare. That motivation to achieve justice appears in Jewish texts as well, but Jewish sources add another important motive. G-d demands justice and makes the existence of the world depend on it because G-d Himself is just. In fact, He is the ultimate judge who “shows no favor and takes no bride, but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing.” Deuteronomy 10:17-18 … It is precisely because G-d is just that Abraham can call Him to account for His plan to destroy Sodom, regardless of the innocent people in it, with words that ring through the ages: [this verse]. DORFFDRAG 122

GENESIS — 20:17 prayed

Our tradition … knows quite well that sometimes human beings wrong others, and it goes to great lengths to specify what justice demands in such circumstances. But it also prescribes that we not only accept evidence of remorse in other individuals and groups but actively seek to achieve a world of peace.   “If a person has been injured, then even if the wrongdoer has not asked his forgiveness, the injured part must nevertheless ask G-d to show the wrongdoer compassion, even as Abraham prayed to G-d for Avimelech [this verse] and Job prayed for his friends. Rabban Gamliel said: Let this be a sign to you that whenever you are compassionate, the Compassionate One will have compassion upon you.”   T. Bava Kamma 9:29-30  DORFFDRAG 211

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