A Jewish Approach to Food Justice

(ז) חַיָּב לְהַקְדִּים לְהַאֲכִיל הָרָעֵב מִלְכַסוֹת הֶעָרֹם.

(ח) אִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה שֶׁבָּאוּ לִשְׁאֹל מָזוֹן, מַקְדִּימִין אִשָּׁה לְאִישׁ. וְכֵן אִם בָּאוּ לִשְׁאֹל כְּסוּת. וְכֵן אִם בָּאוּ יָתוֹם וִיתוֹמָה לִנָּשֵׂא, מַקְדִּימִין לְהַשִּׂיא הַיְתוֹמָה.

If two poor people approach you, and one is hungry for bread and one needs clothing, you first feed the hungry person and then clothe the naked one. If a man and woman both come seeking food, you first feed the woman. If a man and a woman both come seeking clothing, you first clothe the woman because it is more embarrassing for her than for the man. Similarly, if a male and female orphan approach you and both need money to wed, we first pay for the woman to get married even though the man is commanded to reproduce (and not the woman.)

מר סבר בזיוני דאיניש עדיפא ליה טפי מניחא דגופיה

If a man is seeking food and the woman clothing, we first feed the man because physical pain is worse than shame. [Translation by AJWS]

And in my humble opinion, it seems that the man should precede the woman because he is commanded to have children and she is not, and we cannot apply the principle of who we feed first to this situation... [Translation by AJWS]

ונלע"ד דאם אין בכיס על שניהם הוא קודם מפני שהוא מצווה על פו"ר ולא היא ואין לשאול על מ"ש דאשה קודמת לאיש למזון והא בסוף הוריות [י"ג א] תנן האיש קודם לאשה להחיות וכו' ע"ש דלהחיות דשם אין פירושו מזון אלא להצילן ממות כדמוכח שם

Suggested Discussion Questions 1. How does not having food affect someone? How is this different than the effect of lacking clothing? How does the Aruch HaShulchan weigh these needs? 2. Why does the Aruch HaShulchan address priorities of giving when the two parties have different levels of obligations to others or themselves? Should this be a concern? 3. Do we address similar conflicts today? How do we address conflicting needs?

מי שבא ואומר האכילוני אין בודקין אחריו אם הוא רמאי אלא מאכילים אותו מיד היה ערום ובא ואמר כסוני בודקין אחריו אם הוא רמאי.

One who comes and says, "Feed me," we don't investigate to see if they are deceiving, rather we feed them immediately. If they were naked and came and said, "Clothe me," we investigate to see if they are deceiving. [AJWS translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why are requests for clothing different than requests for food?

2. Why do requests for food require investigation?

(א) כַּמָּה נוֹתְנִין לְעָנִי, דֵּי מַחְסוֹרוֹ אֲשֶׁר יֶחְסַר לוֹ. כֵּיצַד, אִם הָיָה רָעֵב, יַאֲכִילוּהוּ. הָיָה צָרִיךְ לִכְסוּת, יְכַסוּהוּ. אֵין לוֹ כְּלֵי בָּיִת, קוֹנֶה לוֹ כְּלֵי בָּיִת. וַאֲפִלּוּ אִם הָיָה דַּרְכּוֹ לִרְכֹּב עַל סוּס, וְעֶבֶד לָרוּץ לְפָנָיו כְּשֶׁהָיָה עָשִׁיר, וְהֶעֱנִי, קוֹנֶה לוֹ סוּס וְעֶבֶד. וְכֵן לְכָל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד. לְפִי מַה שֶּׁצָּרִיךְ.

How much is it appropriate to give to the poor? ‘Sufficient for his needs in that which he lacks.’ If he is hungry, one must feed him. If he needs clothing, one must clothe him. If he lacks housing utensils, one must provide him with housing utensils… To each person according to what he needs. [AJWS translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How do we determine what someone needs?

2. What is the minimum amount we are to give?

3. Looking globally, how are we doing?

רבי שמעון בן אלעזר אומר אף אדם הראשון לא טעם כלום עד שעשה מלאכה שנאמר ויניחהו בגן עדן לעבדה ולשמרה וגו' מכל עץ הגן אכול תאכל (בראשית ב' ט"ו וט"ז

Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar said: “Even Adam did not taste food until he had performed work, as it is said, ‘Adonai God took the human and placed him in the garden of Eden to till it and preserve it’ (Gen. 2:15). Only then do we read, ‘From every tree of the Garden you may eat’ (Gen. 2:16).” [This text was compiled by Rabbis J. Rolando Matalon, Marcelo Bronstein and Felicia Sol of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York, NY, for Rabbi Matalon’s teaching on the American Jewish World Service Rabbinical Student Delegation. Their work was based on and inspired by The Dignity of Difference by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why did Adam have to work before he could eat? How can we put that value into our everyday lives?

2. Does everyone in the world receive food in proportion to the work that they do? What might this text teach us about our responsibility towards those people?

3. What does Adam's command to "preserve it" teach us about our relationship to the earth and the food we eat?