Everybody has an opinion on how the country’s economy should improve, just ask
Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, whose committee is busy hearing testimonies and
suggestions from the public and experts, as well as reading over a thousand
One such document received by his team on Thursday
represents not just the small group of experts who wrote it, but attempts to
provide the economists – commissioned by the prime minister to find measures to
make life in Israel easier – with the stance of Jewish law and thought to the
recent social awakening here.
According to the Keter Institute for
Economy According to Torah, “economically speaking, Judaism is closer to
capitalism than socialism, in that it doesn’t tend to get involved in the free
market, while socially, the Torah is closer to socialism, in emphasizing the
responsibility for society’s weaker members,” the document states in its
It then lays out a number of principles, including the the
government’s role in housing and education, increasing the supply of apartments
by selling land to contractors who commit to building the most living units on
it, and not taking taxes from minimum income families.
All of this is
based on sources such as the Talmud, Maimonides and the Shulhan Aruch, which are
referred to in the footnotes of the document.
But can one really
encompass the wealth and variety of Jewish sources and thought from the
different eras and traditions into one finite statement? To a great degree, yes,
says Rabbi Shlomo Ishon, who heads Keter alongside Rabbi Yitzhak
To say that this is the Torah’s sole opinion on the topic would be
pretentious, he explained.
“But Halacha certainly contains clear stances
on these issues, besides the general saying that Jewish law is in favor of
social justice. There are higher resolution arguments here, such as the fact
that Halacha is in favor of a free market.
“You can find different
approaches and arguments,” Ishon noted, “but as a point of view – I think this
is clearly the Halacha’s.”
Ishon also pointed to the fact that issues
addressed in the letter, such as supervision over staple products, and limiting
the state’s gains from selling lands, are taken from undisputed sources such as
Maimonides and the Shulhan Aruch.
The Keter Institute has been conducting
research on Torah and economics for 17 years, on issues such as conducting
contracts according to Jewish law, fraud, interest, and keeping Shabbat in a
The institute – which includes rabbis, academics and
businessmen who meet on a regular basis – also publishes books on such topics,
and the eighth title – about to come out – deals with insurance in the light of
Ishon said that Trajtenberg’s committee confirmed receiving the
letter, and said they would publish it.
While the Torah has a say on this
topic, as on others, the letter is not an attempt to have the Torah replace
economy and its experts, said Ishon.
“Halacha is not seeking to come in
the place of economists, but rather show the economy a direction,” he said,
analogizing from the field of medicine.
“Halacha can, and should,
determine the limits of life-endangering situations, prioritizing medical
treatment and so forth. But the actual medical treatment will be applied by
“Here too, whether the market should be a free one, whether
capitalism or socialism should be preferred, whether the market should be open
to supervision – Halacha has what to say on all of these questions.
example, we write in the document that the state should ensure minimal
existence. But the exact definitions of what minimal existence constitutes will
be determined by economists,” said Ishon.