A Jewish Approach to Economic Justice (2)
(לא) עֹ֣שֵֽׁק־דָּ֭ל חֵרֵ֣ף עֹשֵׂ֑הוּ וּ֝מְכַבְּד֗וֹ חֹנֵ֥ן אֶבְיֽוֹן׃

One who oppresses the poor, blasphemes their Maker. One who is gracious to the needy honors God. [JPS translation Edited for gender neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How does oppressing the poor blaspheme God?

2. Why is God honored by those who are gracious to the needy?

3. What is the relationship between our actions and God? Why is it important?

(ה) שָׁאַל הֶעָנִי מִמְּךָ וְאֵין בְּיָדְךָ כְּלוּם לִתֵּן לוֹ פַּיְּסֵהוּ בִּדְבָרִים. וְאָסוּר לִגְעֹר בְּעָנִי אוֹ לְהַגְבִּיהַּ קוֹלוֹ עָלָיו בִּצְעָקָה. מִפְּנֵי שֶׁלִּבּוֹ נִשְׁבָּר וְנִדְכֶּא וַהֲרֵי הוּא אוֹמֵר (תהילים נא יט) "לֵב נִשְׁבָּר וְנִדְכֶּה אֱלֹהִים לֹא תִבְזֶה". וְאוֹמֵר (ישעיה נז טו) "לְהַחֲיוֹת רוּחַ שְׁפָלִים וּלְהַחֲיוֹת לֵב נִדְכָּאִים".

If a poor man requests money from you and you have nothing to give him, speak to him consolingly. It is forbidden to upbraid a poor person or to shout at him because his heart is broken and contrite...for it is written ( in Isaiah 57:15), "To revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite." [translation by AJWS]


1) What does this text teach us about the way we are supposed to treat the poor?

2) What social justice themes emerge from this text?

3) What does one do when they want to be able to provide for those in need but do not have much too give?

רבה בר בר חנן תברו ליה הנהו שקולאי חביתא דחמרא שקל לגלימייהו אתו אמרו לרב אמר ליה הב להו גלימייהו אמר ליה דינא הכי אמר ליה אין (משלי ב, כ) למען תלך בדרך טובים יהיב להו גלימייהו אמרו ליה עניי אנן וטרחינן כולה יומא וכפינן ולית לן מידי אמר ליה זיל הב אגרייהו א"ל דינא הכי אמר ליה אין (משלי ב, כ) וארחות צדיקים תשמור.

Some porters working for Raba bar bar Hanan broke a jug of wine. He seized their clothes. They came before Rav, and Rav said to Raba bar bar Hanan, “Give them their clothing.” Raba bar bar Hanan said to him, “Is this the law?” Rav said, “Yes, because of the principle ‘You should walk in the ways of the good,’ (Proverbs 2:20).” He gave them back their clothes. They said to him, “We are poor, and we troubled ourselves to work all day and we are needy—do we receive nothing?” Immediately Rav said to Raba bar bar Hanan, “Go, give them their wages.” He said to Rav, “Is this the law?” Rav said, “Yes—‘you should keep the ways of the righteous’ (Proverbs 2:20).” [Jill Jacobs translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is Rav's answer to Raba bar bar Hanan's first question of whether he was legally bound to return their clothes? What is his answer to the second question of whether Raba bar bar Hanan was legally bound to pay the workers their wages? How are these two answers different?

2. Why is Raba bar bar Hanan obligated to return the workers' clothes and give them their wages, in spite of the fact that they damaged his property? What does this teach us about how we should relate to poverty? Would Rav have provided the same answer if the workers had not been impoverished?

(יד) לֹא־תַעֲשֹׁ֥ק שָׂכִ֖יר עָנִ֣י וְאֶבְי֑וֹן מֵאַחֶ֕יךָ א֧וֹ מִגֵּרְךָ֛ אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּאַרְצְךָ֖ בִּשְׁעָרֶֽיךָ׃ (טו) בְּיוֹמוֹ֩ תִתֵּ֨ן שְׂכָר֜וֹ וְֽלֹא־תָב֧וֹא עָלָ֣יו הַשֶּׁ֗מֶשׁ כִּ֤י עָנִי֙ ה֔וּא וְאֵלָ֕יו ה֥וּא נֹשֵׂ֖א אֶת־נַפְשׁ֑וֹ וְלֹֽא־יִקְרָ֤א עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ אֶל־יְהוָ֔ה וְהָיָ֥ה בְךָ֖ חֵֽטְא׃ (ס)

You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers, or one of the strangers who are in your land inside your gates; At his day you shall give him his wages, nor shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and his life depends upon it; lest he cry against you to the Lord and it be a sin for you. [translation by Artscroll, adapted]

Discussion Questions

1. To whom do these rules apply?

2. What assumptions are made about the various players in the text? 3. Why is it so crucial that the worker is paid each day?

3. How does the poor person's crying cause a sin upon the employer? If the poor person does not cry out is the employer free of sin?

(י) שָׂנְא֥וּ בַשַּׁ֖עַר מוֹכִ֑יחַ וְדֹבֵ֥ר תָּמִ֖ים יְתָעֵֽבוּ׃ (יא) לָ֠כֵן יַ֣עַן בּוֹשַׁסְכֶ֞ם עַל־דָּ֗ל וּמַשְׂאַת־בַּר֙ תִּקְח֣וּ מִמֶּ֔נּוּ בָּתֵּ֥י גָזִ֛ית בְּנִיתֶ֖ם וְלֹא־תֵ֣שְׁבוּ בָ֑ם כַּרְמֵי־חֶ֣מֶד נְטַעְתֶּ֔ם וְלֹ֥א תִשְׁתּ֖וּ אֶת־יֵינָֽם׃ (יב) כִּ֤י יָדַ֙עְתִּי֙ רַבִּ֣ים פִּשְׁעֵיכֶ֔ם וַעֲצֻמִ֖ים חַטֹּֽאתֵיכֶ֑ם צֹרְרֵ֤י צַדִּיק֙ לֹ֣קְחֵי כֹ֔פֶר וְאֶבְיוֹנִ֖ים בַּשַּׁ֥עַר הִטּֽוּ׃

They hate the arbiter in the gate, and detest him whose plea is just. Assuredly, because you impose a tax on the poor and exact from him a levy of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone but you shall not live in them; you have planted delightful vineyards, but shall not drink their wine. For I have noted how many are your crimes, and how countless your sins -- you enemies of the righteous, you takers of bribes, you who subvert in the gate the cause of the needy! [JPS translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What are the people being accused of in this text? What are the connections between the various accusations?

2. How are the dynamics between rich and poor portrayed here?

3. In what ways do the punishments listed here match the crimes that brought them?

(אמר רבי) אבא אמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש גדול המלוה יותר מן העושה צדקה ומטיל בכיס יותר מכולן.

R. Abba said in the name of R. Simeon ben Lakish: the person who lends money [to a poor person] is greater than the person who gives charity; and the one who throws money into a common purse [to form a partnership with the poor person] is greater than both. [translation by AJWS].

Discussion Questions

1. According to this text, what is the best way to help a poor person? Why might this be the best way to help?

2. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

(ג) לְפִי מַה שֶּׁחָסֵר הֶעָנִי אַתָּה מְצֻוֶּה לִתֵּן לוֹ. אִם אֵין לוֹ כְּסוּת מְכַסִּים אוֹתוֹ. אִם אֵין לוֹ כְּלֵי בַּיִת קוֹנִין לוֹ. אִם אֵין לוֹ אִשָּׁה מַשִּׂיאִין אוֹתוֹ. וְאִם הָיְתָה אִשָּׁה מַשִּׂיאִין אוֹתָהּ לְאִישׁ. אֲפִלּוּ הָיָה דַּרְכּוֹ שֶׁל זֶה הֶעָנִי לִרְכֹּב עַל הַסּוּס וְעֶבֶד רָץ לְפָנָיו וְהֶעֱנִי וְיָרַד מִנְּכָסָיו קוֹנִין לוֹ סוּס לִרְכֹּב עָלָיו וְעֶבֶד לָרוּץ לְפָנָיו שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים טו ח) "דֵּי מַחְסֹרוֹ אֲשֶׁר יֶחְסַר לוֹ". וּמְצֻוֶּה אַתָּה לְהַשְׁלִים חֶסְרוֹנוֹ וְאֵין אַתָּה מְצֻוֶּה לְעַשְּׁרוֹ:

You are commanded to provide the needy with whatever they lack. If they lack clothing, you must clothe them. If they lack household goods, you must provide them...You are commanded to fulfill all of their needs, though not required to make them wealthy. [AJWS translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why is this obligation necessary?

2. How do we determine the limit of "fulfilling all of their needs" without making them wealthy?

(כח) מִקְצֵ֣ה ׀ שָׁלֹ֣שׁ שָׁנִ֗ים תּוֹצִיא֙ אֶת־כָּל־מַעְשַׂר֙ תְּבוּאָ֣תְךָ֔ בַּשָּׁנָ֖ה הַהִ֑וא וְהִנַּחְתָּ֖ בִּשְׁעָרֶֽיךָ׃ (כט) וּבָ֣א הַלֵּוִ֡י כִּ֣י אֵֽין־לוֹ֩ חֵ֨לֶק וְנַחֲלָ֜ה עִמָּ֗ךְ וְ֠הַגֵּר וְהַיָּת֤וֹם וְהָֽאַלְמָנָה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בִּשְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ וְאָכְל֖וּ וְשָׂבֵ֑עוּ לְמַ֤עַן יְבָרֶכְךָ֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ בְּכָל־מַעֲשֵׂ֥ה יָדְךָ֖ אֲשֶׁ֥ר תַּעֲשֶֽׂה׃ (ס)

At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall lay it up inside your gates... and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, who are inside your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do. [Translation by Hillel and Panim]

Discussion Questions

1. Do you think that there is a difference between the mitzvah of leaving the corners of your field unharvested and the mitzvah of not returning to pick up what was left or forgotten? If so, what is the difference?

2. According to these verses, how much of any harvest belongs to the “owner?” Why? What does this tell us about who really “owns” the land? the trees? the labor? the produce?

3. What is the value of having the needy come to harvest their own portion?

4. We do not live in an agricultural society today. Do you think this text has contemporary relevance? How might we apply this sense of mandatory sharing of our earnings to the world we live in?

(ט) וּֽבְקֻצְרְכֶם֙ אֶת־קְצִ֣יר אַרְצְכֶ֔ם לֹ֧א תְכַלֶּ֛ה פְּאַ֥ת שָׂדְךָ֖ לִקְצֹ֑ר וְלֶ֥קֶט קְצִֽירְךָ֖ לֹ֥א תְלַקֵּֽט׃ (י) וְכַרְמְךָ֙ לֹ֣א תְעוֹלֵ֔ל וּפֶ֥רֶט כַּרְמְךָ֖ לֹ֣א תְלַקֵּ֑ט לֶֽעָנִ֤י וְלַגֵּר֙ תַּעֲזֹ֣ב אֹתָ֔ם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the corners of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am Adonai your God. [JPS translation]

Discussion Questions

1. How is the system of leaving the corners and the gleanings and the fallen food for the poor different than donating food?

2. What practices or values from these laws could we integrate into our modern lives and societies?