Intention and Action: A Text Study on Responding to Global Hunger


The Torah recognizes that sustenance and food security are the necessary foundations of life.

Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, "Torah Concept of Empathic Justice Can Bring Peace," The Jewish Week, (New York, 3 April 1977), P. 19

[Empathic justice] seeks to make people identify themselves with each other – with each other’s needs, with each other’s hopes and aspirations, with each other’s defeats and frustrations. Because Jews have known the distress of slaves and the loneliness of strangers, we are to project ourselves into their souls and make their plight our own * How does this text define empathy? How does this definition compare with your understanding of empathy? * Do you think it is possible to identify with others based on a very ancient history of oppression? Should empathy be based on a different kind of connection? * What role does empathy play in your own acts of tzedek? *Political Scientist Uday Singh Mehta, discussing the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein1* [Wittgenstein refers to the] condition of not "finding your feet" in a strange country or among strange traditions, and he accepts that condition as a bittersweet feature of what it means to be human under conditions of pluralism. In the face of this pluralism [we can articulate] the conditions, really the attitude, for what amounts to a conversation across boundaries of strangeness. I have described this attitude as a posture of imaginative humility, for it accepts that there is no shortcut around the messiness of communication, no immanent truth on which words can fix, no easy glossary of translation; instead, just the richness or paucity of the vocabularies we use to describe ourselves and those we are trying to understand. * What is “imaginative humility”? What is the relationship between “empathic justice” and “imaginative humility”? * What kind of relationship does “imaginative humility” set up between ourselves and strangers? * Can “imaginative humility” provide an alternative framework for tzedek to “empathic justice”? Jewish tradition emphasizes identification with the stranger as the basis for /tzedek/. Many scholars and philosophers have weighed in on the challenge of identifying with strangers. 1. Mehta, Uday Singh. Liberalism and Empire . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999: 216.


Mishna, Pirkei Avot 4:1

Translation Original
Ben Zoma said: Who is he that is wise? He who learns from every man, as it is said: From all have I gained understanding. [AJWS translation]
בן זומא אומר איזהו חכם הלומד מכל אדם שנאמר (תהלים קי"ט) מכל מלמדי השכלתי.

The Rockefeller Foundation set out to transform agricultural production without first developing a relationship with those most intimately connected to agriculture in India—the farmers themselves. The impact of development will be felt most deeply by those at the frontlines, and they stand to lose when development projects don’t respond to their needs. As American Jews, we often do not have the opportunity to visit directly with those facing poverty and hunger in developing countries to build a relationship with them. How can we, as philanthropists and activists, model our own acts of tzedek to best serve their needs?

We can begin by acknowledging that knowing the heart of the stranger is not a given, but requires learning, listening and “imaginative humility.” Most of us do not know what it means to be food insecure and hungry. We certainly cannot know what kinds of solutions will be best for those living in places where we do not live. Yet, across developing
countries, those facing hunger are raising their voices and creating solutions for their communities. We must seek out opportunities to learn about their work and support their efforts.