Torah Study Notes 9-3-16

September 3, 2016
Page 1269
Deuteronomy 15:1 Rabbi Berkowitz – These passages are slightly internally contradictory but in an interesting way. Why do we help the poor? AF: To help the economics of the community at large. SF we are doing god’s work. They have less than they need and we have more than we need. Altruism sometimes seems to be based on self-seeking. LL: There seems to be a hive mentality here. Seeking a benefit – even to the community – is not true altruism. RB: In ancient times there was a cyclical nature to prosperity depending on the season and harvest. Charity is a form of justice but there is a distinction. Tzedakah is justice – correcting imbalances so that everyone has a fair shot.
15:1 Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts… You cannot charge your kinsman interest only the foreigners. See Brotherhood or Otherhood by Nelson: https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/the-idea-of-usury-from-tribal-brotherhood-to-universal-otherhood-by-benjamin-n-nelson/ re the economics of giving. In this context a loan is a philanthropic act. There is a slight possibility of being paid back and no interest. This had a ritual rather than a commercial premise. If you take care to head this instruction… all these promises are contingent. Obviously, they were eventually dominated by other nations and there was poverty, ergo they did not obey the instructions. Or more properly these statements are aspirational – what could be.
15:7 If there is a needy person among you…RB: The suggestion here is that it is more empowering to lend money than to give it. As we move further to the right in the Jewish community there is less of a tendency to be charitable. Maimonides said that the highest level of giving is a loan. It is the “teach a man to fish” argument. LL: What about the Chasidic Rabbi who recently donated his kidney to a stranger? He who saves a life saves the world is his Talmudic reference. A rabbinic loophole was the creation of document that said the loan would not be remitted after seven years. See footnote on page 1270. “Give readily and have no regrets.” The rabbis have extensive discussion about what is “sufficient” for ones needs. Does it mean restoring you to the life style to which you have become accustomed? HF: There was a Hebrew Free Loan Society.
15:12 If a fellow Hebrew man is sold to you… kin gets freed after six years but the foreigner can be held in perpetuity. There are three phrases of note here: There shall be no needy, a goal, we shall give loans to the needy and you shall meet the need of the needy, There is a contradiction here with the injunction to free slaves on the Jubilee Year – tradition interprets “in perpetuity” as “until the Jubilee.”
See Essay Deuteronomy and Ancient Near Eastern Literature by Hallo on page 1148. See also the reference to the tithe to the poor on page 1280.

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