Posts tagged " charity "

Loans with no payback? The Shemitah Year

July 26th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 12 comments

I’ve read a lot of your books, yet didn’t see you ever speak about this particular thing: 

Reading the Books of Law, I see quite a few mentions about helping out the poor. Not by giveaways, but by lending them what they need (Deut. 15:7-8). It would seem to be logical to give away, But Scripture says, “Lend,” and then, every seventh year you should forgive the debt if that is not paid. 

My questions is: I’d never think that the Bible would endorse free-rides or parasitism, but I can’t find the Bible speaking harshly to the borrower. It is quite demanding—you must give, if they don’t pay—you must forgive. Seems like license for a free-ride. I borrow, do not pay, they must forgive, and then, when I come to borrow again, they must give again… Can’t believe it to be what the Bible means to say. Could you, please share more light on that? Thank you.

Victor

 

Dear Victor,

How should a society deal with money? After thousands of years of human history, we are still trying to figure this out. Should it be, “From each according to his ability to each according to his need,” as Karl Marx wrote? Should we follow Ayn Rand’s vision where only those who produce survive and charity is a vulgar concept?

In our opinion, the closer countries get to the Biblical vision, which neither of the above mentioned authors did, the stronger the society will be. Yet, the Biblical vision is complex, and while it includes the verses you quote, that is not by any means the entire story.

The Shmitah year that takes place every seventh year in the land of Israel which you reference, functions above natural law and was intended to apply only in the Holy Land under Biblically-loyal administration.  There are several categories of people in need and they all receive different treatment, according to circumstance.

For instance, the Hebrew used for a person in financial need in those verses, an “evyon,” is one category. Throughout Scripture there are other Hebrew words such as “ani,” and “dal,” that all get translated in English as poor, ignoring the important legal distinctions and nuances.

The Biblical system deals with the reality that there are those who are needy because of their own choices or lack of work ethic, those who are battered by unfortunate circumstances out of their control, widows, orphans and ill people, etc. It has many pieces and variations including those that come into play at different times and places. These include both giving to the poor and lending.

You will remember from the book of Ruth that one element has the poor person gleaning from the leftovers in a field. If all one had to do was ask for a loan and then not repay it, why would anyone do that humbling and difficult work? There is a concept that gets poorly translated as slavery but whereby one indentures oneself or one’s children for up to six years labor, or is ordered to do so by the court. That is another idea that wouldn’t exist if all we legislated only by the verses you quote.

The system we follow to the best of our ability, is based on ancient Jewish wisdom, a combination of the written and oral transmission given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The oral transmission deals with exactly the type of question you ask—how do we implement and correctly understand verses that only tell part of a story, verses that contradict each other and verses that, if blindly followed, would have us sometimes doing precisely the wrong things.

To conclude, the Shmitah year with its forgiveness of some types of debts is one part of a grand and complex picture. Societies that simply encourage lack of responsibility and free-loading will not survive.

May your work prosper,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

*  *  *

The blessing after a meal includes a request to not make us dependent
on gifts from people. We don’t ask God to drop money from the sky,
but for us to see results from our work and be able to
support ourselves without charity or personal loans.
If that blessing resonates with you,
make sure that you are doing everything that you can to earn more.
This includes rejecting anti-Biblical ideas about money and replacing them with correct ones.

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How should I deal with panhandlers?

October 6th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 18 comments

Question:

What is your philosophy on panhandlers and what would you recommend one do when the city you’re in encourages people to put their money in change machines (they look like parking meters) supposedly for the purpose of helping the poor instead of giving to panhandlers directly?

John

Answer:

Dear John,

May we answer the second part of your question first? Personally, we think that governments are ill-equipped to disperse charity. We would much rather research and choose charities, preferably religious ones, knowing exactly what the philosophy of the charity is, exactly how funds are dispersed, and what percentage of donated money actually goes to the needy. So, we would pass by change machines set up by the city.

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I Give Charity but See No Blessing

September 8th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 17 comments

Question:

I give tzedaka (charity) every month yet there is no blessing. Why?

Asher

Answer:

Dear Asher,

All of us sometimes focus on our personal situations and end up missing the bigger picture. We’re sure you know that the blessings that come from being charitable are not in the form of a ‘pay for play’ scheme. It is not like inserting money in a vending machine and (unless the machine is broken) being guaranteed that the specific purchase you requested gets delivered promptly.

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Am I wrong to accept gov’t. assistance?

July 22nd, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

I have an ailment affecting daily tasks. My decline causes need for care. The system for this is through Federal assistance, etc. Were I better, I’d never ‘go on the dole’. Yet I am viewed as a taker. 

Yet, did not my folk put forth that which was placed into the chest so to speak, for such events as mine? I paid it too. Now it is my turn. Do I give it up or accept thankfully what I have?

∼ Al H.

Answer:

Dear Al,

We are very glad that you wrote us because this is one of those questions that doesn’t lend itself to thirty-second statements. For this reason, exaggerated, misquoted and misleading statements get made and repeated.

Many people are rightly concerned that the percentage of Americans who are dependent upon government is becoming larger than the percentage who are supporting themselves. This is a valid concern, however we must recognize that there is a huge difference between someone whose lifestyle choices lead them to irresponsibly take advantage of their fellow citizens and those who, for example, are members of the military getting paid by the government.

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Good Christians: Bad Christians – Originally published on Aug. 26, 2009

January 2nd, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 1 comment

Sunday’s paper had a complimentary article about Richard Stearns, head of the Christian World Vision organization, known for tackling issues of worldwide poverty. It described Mr. Stearns’ transformation as a young man from agnosticism to committed Christianity and how his religious principles spurred him to leave a successful corporate position and use his skills for non-profit charity work.

Why then did I feel insulted after reading this article? Quite frankly, I felt that my Christian friends, quite a few of whom work for and support World Vision, were being given a back-handed compliment.

In the months following 9/11, the New York Times ran obituaries for every victim of the World Trade Center destruction. In the usual style of obituaries, they accentuated how loved the person was and in what ways he or she contributed to the world.

One of those obituaries was so bigoted and foolish that I read it a few times to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding. Unfortunately I didn’t cut it out so I can’t quote it exactly, but the insulting message that was conveyed was that John Doe was a charitable, generous man despite the fact that he was an active Republican.

Perhaps if I hadn’t seen that obituary or a continual stream over the years of subtler but incredibly smug assertions that conservative Christian or Republican equals mean-spirited, I wouldn’t have had any reaction other than finding this Sunday’s article interesting. But experience has left me with sensitized antennae.

So, it was disturbing to me that after paraphrasing Mr. Stearns’ book as saying that Christians have focused overly much on personal salvation and judging others rather than caring for the poor (and his book certainly might say this – though I do wonder if the emphasis is that of the article’s author rather than the book’s – I would have given more credence to a direct quote) the author of the Sunday piece quotes “the Rev. Jim Wallis, a liberal evangelical leader” as saying for years that a change like that was coming. A quote later in the article from James Wellman, associate professor of American religion at the University of Washington says “younger evangelicals, in particular, are more internationally savvy and less addicted to the culture wars of previous generations.”

The message I heard? There are those “good Christians” who give charity and fight world hunger and then there are those “bad Christians” who are sticklers for theology and have a pesky habit of refusing to adjust their values to the latest liberal moral agenda. Richard Stearns is one of the “good Christians” though to be fair, the article does mention that World Vision employees (perhaps, the reader might be led to ask by the tone of the article, over Mr. Stearns’ objections?) sign an article of faith that includes a code of conduct that disallows both adulterous and homosexual behavior.

I don’t know Mr. Stearns nor have I read his book. But, as I said, I know many of his employees. They are charitable, humanitarian people. Their charitable spirit and adamantly conservative social views stem from one and the same place – their belief in God and His Bible. I know that they would not rank Rev. Wallis as a pastor they are comfortable having speak for them.

I have the unusual experience for an observant Jew of having spent time with men like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson as well as thousands of less well known Christians. It may not fit into the prejudiced stereotypes of liberal America, but these people give their money, time and effort helping human beings of all colors and nationalities around the world. They also attend pro-life rallies and vote their values. They spend their vacations going on missions providing dental and medical care or sweat equity building homes in South America and Asia. They also oppose homosexual marriage. This is not an either/or situation. My guess is that many, and perhaps overwhelming numbers, of the kindhearted and generous folk who cause organizations like World Vision to flourish are those whom a biased media frequently denigrates without ever bothering to actually get to know them. That “bad Christian” group might possibly even include Mr. Stearns himself.

With Charity for All? Not Exactly

July 13th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings 6 comments

 

Economists and politicians can debate whether extending unemployment benefits is a needed crutch in hard times or whether doing so discourages too many people from searching wholeheartedly for work. Society, though, might gain from a different approach.

It is an approach that I believe the author of the words, “with malice toward none; with charity for all,” might have appreciated.   In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln hopes that the nation will care for the widows and orphans of those men who died in battle. But in other writings he emphasizes that charity (which in itself is quite a different word than today’s usage of entitlement or benefits) is not an automatic good.

In December, 1848, Lincoln wrote his father a letter saying that he was “cheerfully” sending him a requested $20. But there was another letter written to his stepbrother on exactly the same sheet of paper!  In that one, he refused his stepbrother’s application for money, suggesting that a “defect in (his stepbrother’s) conduct” would make the loan a waste of money.   

By necessity, government makes broad-spectrum decisions. It divides people into categories and then makes rules affecting large numbers.  It can only look at bodies, not at souls. Government can never know that two people will react differently to exactly the same stimulus.

Leaving aside those who deliberately abuse the system and even those who take taxpayer money without any compunction or regret, each person who is out of work or who has fallen on hard times is a complex individual. The great flaw in the government forcing one citizen to transfer money to another is that the coerced action negates the humanity of both.

By inserting itself into human interactions, the government removes the potential of charity, which is an action that is unique to humans, not to institutions. It takes away the possibility that Abraham Lincoln had, of ending his letters to both his father and stepbrother with the word ‘affectionately,’ opting to do what he felt would bring greatest benefit to both men. Perhaps most harmfully, by inserting itself as the primary resource, government shatters relationships and human interactions, impoverishing us all.

 

 

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