My church is emphasizing ‘social justice.’ Is that Biblical?

May 29th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 23 comments

What are your thoughts on the word ‘mishphat’ (social justice)?

My church is currently undergoing a ‘replant’ with a new emphasis on community growth and ‘social justice’. However, Glenn Beck said to be wary when you hear ‘social justice’ in the church.

I know that ‘social justice’ is a term created by the far left in the 1800s(?). However, the term is now found in the Bible and is now considered mainstream and embraced by churches.

In addition, I recently came back from a trip to Israel with an Old Testament scholar. He said the real meaning of ‘mishphat’ is ‘a shared experience’.

Can you clarify?

Judy C.

Dear Judy,

We’d like to let two famous authors start off our answer to your question. In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott said, “I like good strong words that mean something…,” while Roald Dahl said in The BFG, “Don’t gobblefunk around with words.” Our thoughts exactly!

We generally distrust any terms that insert the word social in front. For instance, studies are good, but social studies?  Media we get but social media? Justice is good, but social justice?  What does that even mean?  In general, the word social in front means that the thing is undefined.  One thing is for sure and that is that ‘social justice’ is not the meaning of the Hebrew word mishpat.

Today in England, if you suggest tabling a motion it means bringing it up for discussion or vote. In the United States, those same words mean putting the motion aside and postponing discussion. Words that meant one thing in the 1800s may mean something very different today. Unless you are attending an academic convocation on the evolution of language, it is rather irrelevant what the phrase ‘social justice’ meant in the 18th or 19th century. It is very relevant to ask exactly, in precise and detailed language, it means to the elders of your church.

As Glenn Beck suggests, today it usually means a far-left radical agenda. When you say, “…it is now found in the Bible…” we don’t know what you mean. Our Bible is exactly the same, word for word, as the one given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It is exactly the same one that Joshua and all the kings of Israel kept with them at all times. It is exactly the same one that Jewish communities from Morocco to Poland have used for centuries and still use today. If you are saying that the English translation changes, then we can’t comment on that. The Hebrew is eternal and cannot be ‘adjusted’ to fit current political trends.

The word ‘mishpat’ first appears in Genesis 18:19, when God says that he will tell Abraham about the impending destruction of Sodom because He knows that Abraham will instruct his descendants to do ‘tzedakah and mishpat.’  Those two Hebrew words do not actually translate precisely into any language because they embrace a cultural understanding. Mishpat appears many, many times in Scripture and to get a full understanding one would need to look at each of those instances, along with the accompanying ancient Jewish wisdom. One can’t pick and choose among verses that seem to support one’s views.

We have no idea what your Bible scholar meant by the phrase ‘shared experience.’ However, we would caution you not to allow anyone (even us) to lead you down a path without doing your own hard work of asking whether what you are being told fits your understanding of God’s vision. That vision should mature as you learn more, but no catch-phrase, certainly not one that seems to conveniently fit an agenda that is often anti-Godly, should compel you to behave against your own conscience and understanding.

We aren’t certain what the technical definition of ‘gobblefunk’ is, but just in case it applies in this situation, we suggest asking your church leadership to define clearly what ‘social justice’ means to them.

“Death and life are in the hands of language” (Proverbs 18:21),

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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23 comments

David Altschuler says:

I love you both, but is this any time to “go wobbly”? You were so easy on that “biblical scholar” who said that Mishat means Encounter, which demonstrates what gentle loving souls you are. Since the root of Mishpat is Shofet, which means “Judge” (as you well know) it takes an unusually pretentious ignoramus to confidently translate it as he did even if there might be one instance where one might shove that meaning in somehow.
But OK, we got the gist of your dissatisfaction with this “scholar.”

Susan Lapin says:

You really know how to get to us, David. As we see it, we weren’t wobbly, just understated.

Yael says:

Thank you! Rabbi Lapin.
Thank you Judy for asking.

I have noticed that respectful debate, asking questions, clarification, have all landed me in the PC SJW Prison Of Hateful, Racist, Bigoted, White Privilege.

I left our Synagogue for exactly the SJW Propaganda.
It breaks our Laws, Divides, Breaks our Constitution, on and on.
I believe that PC is now the Golden Calf.
It’s an idol, a Cult Type following, and is very dangerous.
Calling out Mass Murders isn’t Phobic.
It’s intelligent.
But Holding Hands with Hitler is part of the SJW insanity.

PC must be eradicated. Period.
It’s a force for Evil, cloaked in Misnomers and Straight up lies.
Justifying SJW actions with Torah Verses or words. Like “ you were once a stranger in a strange land”
No where does it say break the law, put illegals above Citizens of all Races…

This plague is oozing into everything.
And it will destroy all we hold dear.

L’Shalom
Yael

Susan Lapin says:

Tell us how you really feel, Yael. I hope you have found a more compatible synagogue.

JasB says:

The Quest For Cosmic Justice by Thomas Sowell gives some cogent and concise thoughts on the subject of social justice. I realize there is no Book of Sowell in the Bible but, I often find some enlightenment when others express their views. Like, when RDL explains the Hebrew Bible. I get the impression from those whose opinions I respect that it takes a certain arrogance for one to presume to administer “social justice”.

Susan Lapin says:

Jas, we have learned a tremendous amount from Thomas Sowell’s books and often recommend his writings.

Mary says:

As a former Church of God Pastor for 10 years I would like to give my 2 cents. In Christian scripture (John 12:3-6), Judas the betrayer of Jesus would be a proponent of the modern term Social Justice or a Socialist. When Mary put an expensive ointment on the feet of Jesus, Judas was indignant and said that the ointment could have been sold to feed the poor. This scripture tells us that Judas really did not care for the poor but that he himself was a thief and was also in charge of the group’s money. Obviously he wanted to add this woman’s treasure into the kitty to plunder.

Jesus on the other hand, being a Jew, was following the laws of Moses completely and taught numerous lessons on personal responsibility. He taught the reward for being industrious belonged to the one who earned it and also the slacker earns his reward of destitution. The Apostle Paul said if a man doesn’t work, he shouldn’t eat. (Obviously he is talking about someone who is fully capable of working.)

There definitely sounds like an agenda for teaching this specific terminology. I definitely would ask why they feel the need to use this specific terminology and what does the phrase mean to the leadership and to the direction of the church mission. If they don’t understand your concern, maybe you should do a little research and explain exactly what Social Justice means and is a term used by Leftist Progressives in promoting Marxist ideology.

Last note, the Socialism in the first chapters in the book of Acts failed miserably. First there were factions, then their shared treasure did not survive adversity. The Apostle Paul brought very large offerings to help them twice from the churches in the outer regions. Many people try to use the early chapters of Acts as a good example of Christian sharing/living – obviously they did not read to the end of the book.

Susan Lapin says:

Thank you, Mary, for adding to the discussion. We also know that the ‘social experiment’ of communal property in the Plymouth colony was almost the end of the colony. Only when they reverted to private property did the colony succeed.

Bruce and Sandra Corley says:

Anyone or Anything that either adds to or detracts from Holy Scripture is to be avoided at any cost. Another culprit entering thinking is this ‘collective salvation’. Maybe the SJW’s should get ‘collectively salvated’. Nuff said.

Susan Lapin says:

That sounds like an interesting term, Bruce and/or Sandra. I Haven’t heard it before.

Africa James says:

I really enjoy reading your posts. the term SJ does strike many in a strange way. great advice on doing your own due diligence when it comes to certain matters politically speaking

Susan Lapin says:

Thanks you, Africa. We all need to be on our toes with whatever we hear today.

carl from South Carolina says:

Thank YOU BOTH!
For this and other reasons my wife(a RUSKIE) and I have quit attending any ‘Christan’ church but gather all you say and learn. Have been labeled all those nasty terms and more…..much more to say another time.

Susan Lapin says:

Oh dear, Carl. We hope you find a compatible church.

Neweverymoment, Deb:
Hungarian-born historian Balint Vazsonyi, in his book “America’s 30 Years War: Who Is Winning?” (1998) has an entire chapter on “social justice”. He states, “[T]he Rule of Law and the Search for Social Justice cannot exist side-by-side because social justice requires that those who possess more of anything have it taken away from them. The Rule of Law will not permit that. It exists to guarantee conditions in which more people can have more liberty, more rights, more possessions. Prophets of social justice—communists . . . focus on who should have less. Because they have nothing to give, they can only take away. First, they take away opportunity. Next, they take away possessions. In the end, they have to take away life itself.” (page 59) A glossary definition (page 265) begins, “SOCIAL JUSTICE is the term used to make its proponent appear to be a person who truly cares about the fate of others. . . . Typical is the absence of specific, or even consistent, goals beyond the requirement of making incessant demands in order to justify the confiscation of other people’s property.” With the zeal of a naturalized US citizen, Vazsonyi points us back to the principles set forth by our Founders: rule of law, guarantee of property, individual rights, and common American identity.

Susan Lapin says:

What a fascinating paragraph, Deb. Thank you for sharing it. It is so hard to counter words that sound good with the realism that the consequences of those words will mean suffering.

Mark Z says:

My Rabbi and his beloved other half, Susan.
Your thoughts (although much higher and knowledgeable) are my thoughts. I’ve never, as of yet, had any disagreement with anything either of you have said or written. THANK YOU.

Susan Lapin says:

Well, Mark, that is a high bar to keep measuring up to, but we will try.

Peter B. says:

Hi Susan,

I trust that this post finds both you and Rabbi Lapin are doing very well!

I’m so glad that Judy wrote to you requesting your insight on the term ‘social justice’ as it applies to Holy Scripture. One of my all-time favorite Rabbi Lapin quotes is that “The mortar of materialism demands the exclusion and ultimate elimination of the spiritual.” How are we to develop the ability to discern between light and darkness, between good and evil, between the spiritual and the material if we don’t have a competent guide and teacher? I read your answer to Judy as measured and appropriate.

You may recall me referencing it before, and I must again mention that particularly insightful book titled The Secret Knowledge – On the Dismantling of American Culture by playwright and former man of the Left, the brilliant David Mamet.

Mamet correctly observes that a system of Justice already exists, formulated by Legislature, in supposed expression of the will of the people, and administered by the Judiciary. What then is this amorphous “social justice”? It can only mean as Friedrich Hayek wrote, “State Justice”.

By State Justice, Hayek was not speaking of that as administered by the Judicial System, but rather the State (operating upon what basis it alone knows, and responsible to no law enacted by the people) confiscates wealth accumulated under existing laws, and redistributes it to those it deems worthy.

This is the essence of Marxism: person A [the gov’t] getting person B to do something for person C, i.e. robbing Peter to pay Paul where the government [i.e. the State] is the Robber, Peter is person B, and Paul is person C. Btw, the State knows that it can always count on the support of Paul.

There are numerous problems with this scheme as applies to Holy Scripture, not the least of which is that the Lord has instructed us:

“Thou shalt not steal.” – Exodus 20:15

To the Left it is the State which should distribute place, wealth, and status rather than to allow the random distribution of abilities and ambitions to do so. By these latter means, human beings have been allowed to thrive and communities to grow. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the God-given birthright of all men, and are our Constitutional rights here in America.

Our dear Rabbi Lapin also teaches us that “Politics is nothing less than the practical application of our values system.” Liberalism (i.e. leftist-socialism) being a religion, it comes as no surprise that the Left would interject its values system within houses of worship.

With the continuous saturation-bombing of the world with messages about the supposed ‘unfairness’ of wealth inequality, it’s no wonder that there is such an epidemic of virtue-signaling in today’s society. Supporting the cause of Social Justice therefore becomes the perfect sort of Sunday religion. For purely sentimental reasons, we can bemoan, for example, the plight of Palestinians and leave church feeling a sense of moral superiority (even though we have no intention of wanting to live there, or even go there, and we blink at the knowledge that monies spent in their support may be diverted to the support of terror). But hey, we feel good!

Justice being represented by a blind-folded woman holding a set of scales in perfect balance, putting the word Social in front of the word Justice empties the word Justice of its meaning and creates a new term the definition of which, I would submit, is the exact opposite of Justice.

Susan Lapin says:

Peter, the business about feeling good even if causing harm is such a big part of today’s culture.

mike says:

I do not know for sure en mass but it has been my experience that people who spout social justice are really promoting communism but using a soft sell approach ! I live in bear country and people who scream for the rights of bears are also radically pro abortion ;I cannot see how these two concepts can exist together ! Peta is pushing for no fur coats or anything with fur on it to be sold in N.Y. city and state ! They state that animals are left to die in pain from botched electrocuting of them ; if true it is terrible and we need to correct it ! On the other hand this same city and state condone and even celebrate causing the death of babies born viable after botched abortions ! Thank You for allowing me to express my thoughts !

Susan Lapin says:

Mike, there is a line between inconsistency and hypocrisy that needs to be monitored. You are raising a valid issue that needs to be on people’s radar screens.

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