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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Nov. 19, 2008 / 21 Mar-Cheshvan 5769

Spread the wealth? Jewish tradition and income equality

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: Statistics show a growing gap between incomes of rich and poor. Is this an ethical problem?


A: Economists like to measure economic performance in terms of two variables: efficiency and equity. Efficiency refers to how much wealth the economy produces; equity to how fairly this wealth is distributed. These concerns are in conformity with Jewish tradition. Material well-being is considered a blessing, whether it accrues to the rich or the poor. And fairness in economic life is an overriding concern in the Torah as well as the prophets. Countless commandments of the Torah and exhortations of the prophets teach us to protect the weak, especially the poor, against exploitation and predation by the wealthy and strong. The Psalmist urges: "Judge the poor and the orphan; vindicate the oppressed and deprived. Deliver the poor and the needy; save them from the hand of the wicked" (Psalms 82:3-4).


Economists often measure equity in terms of relative equality, in particularly income equality. One common benchmark is the Gini coefficient which measures how far incomes are from an "ideal" of perfect equality; another is to examine the ratio of the incomes of the richest households (usually the top fifth) to that of the poorest. These statistical measures do indeed show increasing polarization.


Equality is a value in Jewish tradition as well. Many commandments come to create a degree of equality among the different segments of the population. For example, among the Ten Commandments is the requirement to keep the Sabbath: "Don't do any work, you and your son and your daughter and your man-servant and your maid-servant" (Exodus 19:10). All must enjoy equally the rest of the Sabbath day. And in addition to the Sabbath day we have the Sabbatical year: "And the Sabbath of the land shall be food for you: you, and your man-servant, and your maid-servant, and for your hired servant and the sojourner who dwells with you" (Leviticus 25:6). Again, we find that all are ultimately equal in the produce of the land.


Here is another example: The Torah commands us to free indentured servants after six years of service, and then to give him a generous "severance bonus" which will enable him to get a start in supporting himself. However, the Torah also allows a servant to continue on, because "it is good for him by you" (Deuteronomy 15:16). Our Sages inferred that it is the master's responsibility to make sure that conditions are good for the servant, to the extent that his basic living conditions should be identical to those of the master! (1)


And the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, writes that while we are only required to help the poor person according to their accustomed standard, the ideal is to provide for them according to the standard of the giver: "One who wants to attain merit should overcome his accumulative inclination and broaden his hand; and everything done for the sake of heaven should be from the best and most beautiful. . . If he gives the hungry food, he should feed them from the best and sweetest things on his table; if he covers the naked, he should cover them from the best of his clothes." (2)


Even so, equality of income, or even of consumption, is not the central concern in Jewish tradition. Even the examples above show that equality is not an overarching concern. One day in seven, and one year in seven, we make significant gestures of equality; likewise, we make a special effort to create equality in the case of an indentured servant whose subordinate status is so prominent. The citation from the Shulchan Aruch is not a requirement but only an expression of an ideal standard which we may aspire to.


Equity in Judaism is much more connected to the process than to the result. We have pointed out in many previous columns that the foremost consideration is the human element in economic transactions. The central concern is for an equal human relationship between the parties, rather than an equal share of economic wealth.


Equity, or fairness, is an insistent demand in Jewish tradition, and is much more important than wealth per se. But fairness can not be gauged by looking at outcomes alone; it is even more important to consider the actual conduct of economic life.

SOURCES: (1) Maimonides, Avadim 1:9. (2) Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 248:8

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JWR contributor Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, formerly of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, is Research Director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, Jerusalem College of Technology. To comment or pose a question, please click here.

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