An Introduction to Social Action and Jewish Responsibility
Deuteronomy 4:9
1 א
רַק הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ וּשְׁמֹר נַפְשְׁךָ מְאֹד פֶּן תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר רָאוּ עֵינֶיךָ וּפֶן יָסוּרוּ מִלְּבָבְךָ כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ וְהוֹדַעְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְלִבְנֵי בָנֶיךָ:
But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live. And make them known to your children and to your children's children. [JPS translation]
2 ב
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What power dynamics are at play?
3. What social justice themes emerge from this text?

Deuteronomy 10:18-19
3 ג

עֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפַּט יָתוֹם וְאַלְמָנָה וְאֹהֵב גֵּר לָתֶת לוֹ לֶחֶם וְשִׂמְלָה: וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:

[God] upholds the cause of the orphan and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him/her with food and clothing. -- You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. [JPS translation edited for gender-neutrality]
4 ד
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. In what ways does this text suggest that we mimic G-d?
2. What is G-d's responsibility to us and what is our responsibility to others? What are the different sources of these responsibilities?
3. This text reminds the reader of Israelite slavery. In what ways is a history of slavery connected to doing justice and loving the stranger?

Exodus 23:5
5 ה
כִּי תִרְאֶה חֲמוֹר שֹׂנַאֲךָ רֹבֵץ תַּחַת מַשָּׂאוֹ וְחָדַלְתָּ מֵעֲזֹב לוֹ עָזֹב תַּעֲזֹב עִמּוֹ:
When you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him. [JPS translation]
6 ו
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What power dynamics are at play?
3. In what ways is this applicable to contemporary global issues of war and conflict?

Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 17b
7 ז
ותניא: כל עיר שאין בה עשרה דברים הללו אין תלמיד חכם רשאי לדור בתוכה: בית דין מכין ועונשין, וקופה של צדקה נגבית בשנים ומתחלקת בשלשה, ובית הכנסת, ובית המרחץ, ובית הכסא, רופא, ואומן, ולבלר, (וטבח), ומלמד תינוקות.
It was taught: A scholar should not reside in a city where the following ten things are not found: A court of justice that imposes flagellation and decrees penalties; a charity fund collected by two and distributed by three [to ensure honesty in collection and distribution]; a Synagogue; public baths; toilet facilities; a circumciser; a surgeon, a notary; a slaughterer and a school-master. [Soncino translation]
8 ח
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the significance of each item on this list?
2. If a scholar found that these things did not exist, what should s/he do?
3. What social justice themes emerge from this text?

Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 40b
9 ט
וכבר היה רבי טרפון וזקנים מסובין בעלית בית נתזה בלוד, נשאלה שאילה זו בפניהם: תלמוד גדול או מעשה גדול? נענה רבי טרפון ואמר: מעשה גדול, נענה ר"ע ואמר: תלמוד גדול, נענו כולם ואמרו: תלמוד גדול, שהתלמוד מביא לידי מעשה.
Rabbi Tarfon and some elders were reclining in an upper chamber in the house of Nitza in Lod when this question came up: Which is greater, study or action? Rabbi Tarfon spoke up and said: Action is greater. Rabbi Akiva spoke up and said: Study is greater. The others then spoke up and said: Study is greater because it leads to action. [Soncino translation]
10 י
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What "action" is being discussed here?
3. How does this text relate to Jewish social justice?
4. How does this text relate to education and sustainable livelihood?

Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zara 17b
11 יא
דאמר רב הונא: כל העוסק בתורה בלבד - דומה כמי שאין לו אלוה, שנאמר (דברי הימים ב' טו) וימים רבים לישראל ללא אלהי אמת וגו' , מאי ללא אלהי אמת? שכל העוסק בתורה בלבד - דומה כמי שאין לו אלוה.
Rav Huna said: He who occupies himself only with studying Torah acts as if he has no God, as it says, "Israel has gone many days without a true God, etc." What is meant by "without a true God"?! That one who occupies himself only with Torah is like a person who is Godless. [Soncino translation]
12 יב
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What should one do in addition to study?
3. What social justice themes emerge from this text?

Genesis Rabbah 11:6
13 יג
כל מה שנברא בששת ימי בראשית צריכין עשייה, כגון החרדל צריך למתוק, התורמוסים צריך למתוק, החיטין צריכין להטחן, אפילו אדם צריך תיקון.
All that was created during the six days of creation requires improvement. For example, the mustard seed needs to be sweetened and the lupine need to be sweetened, the wheat needs to be ground, and even a person needs improvement. [AJWS translation]
14 יד
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What power dynamics are at play?
3. What social justice themes emerge from this text?