Biblical Economics (Extract)

Extract from an article in issue 3, May 26, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. The Torah portion Behar, Leviticus 25:1-26:2, is read on May 17 One of the central issues in any sovereign society is the economic welfare of citizens. We tend to think that economics, in that sense, is a modern invention. But, in our Torah reading of Behar, we find a system of laws that addresses this issue. What is different about this "theory of economics" when we compare it to contemporary ones is that it's the individuals, the families that make up the nation, and not its gross national product or its trade deficit that are the central concern. The Torah is concerned first and foremost with how the economy impacts on the welfare of individuals, and not with how individuals impact on the welfare of the economy. The theological reason for this point of view is laid out in the verse: "But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers and residents with Me" (Lev. 25, 23). How can one be both a citizen, a resident, and not a citizen, a stranger, at the same time? It is an expression of the existential condition of every person. Vis-à-vis God we are passersby, visitors, tourists, strangers in the flow of time. For the time we are alive we can be in a direct relationship with God, that is, residents with all the privileges and responsibilities of being "citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven." We are partners in responsibility for we are at one and the same time dependent on God's mercy in keeping us alive, like strangers who rely on others for sustenance, and independent, with the ability to decide on our actions even without taking God into account, like residents who feel free to act as they will. For example, note the command to "redeem" land of a kinsman who is forced to forfeit his rights to the land. Lev. 25, 25: "If your kinsman is in straits and has to sell part of his holding, his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his kinsman has sold." One of the most insightful presentations of these laws comes from a secular layman, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the founder of the Revisionist movement. He writes that the principle of "Shabbat," both the weekly and the 7th year, is the ground from which social legislation springs. Aside from the aspect of rest, there is an aspect of regulating the status of workers. He describes the principle of Shabbat as: "…that it is forbidden for society to leave the worker at the mercy of the one who supplies the work…." Rabbi Michael Graetz is the rabbi emeritus of Magen Avraham congregation in Omer, near Beersheba, and one of the founders of the Masorti Movement in Israel. Extract from an article in issue 3, May 26, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.