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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
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. 12, 2007 / 2 Kislev 5768

Judaism and the national deficit

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir


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Deficit Finance


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: Our country seems to be running a very large and imprudent deficit. Does Judaism have anything to say about this policy?


A: While it would be impossible to provide a definitive Jewish answer to such a controversial contemporary policy question, I believe there are a number of prominent Jewish sources which can give us a valuable perspective on this question.


The most important point to make is that Jewish tradition does not have a negative view of borrowing in general. Often a traditional or religious viewpoint is identified with one that affirms the importance of thrift and self-sufficiency, but we find that in the Torah borrowing is viewed as a natural and even desirable aspect of the economy.


The Torah emphasizes that lending to the poor is a very important mitzvah, one which G-d particularly oversees: "When there will be a needy person from one of your brethren in one of your gates in your land which the Lord your G-d gave you, don't harden your heart and don't tighten your hand from your needy brother. Surely open your hand to him, and lend him enough for his needs, which he is lacking. . . . Surely give him, and let not your heart grieve when you give him, for because of this thing the Lord your G-d will bless in all of your deeds and all of your endeavors." (Deuteronomy 15:7-10.) Earlier on the Torah commands, "When you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, don't be like a creditor to him; don't extract interest". (Exodus 22:24.) It is taken for granted that lending to the poor should be a routine part of Jewish life for a person of means.


Since it is a special mitzvah to lend to the poor person, it is evident that the poor person who borrows is not himself doing anything improper or discouraged. In fact, poor individuals are explicitly encouraged to borrow money for important commandments such as paying for children's education or minimal Sabbath expenses. The Talmud tells us that G-d assures the needy, "Borrow against Me, and I will repay." (1)


Not only the individual but also the community is encouraged to borrow money for essential expenses, even for current outlays (that is, not only for capital outlays which are a kind of investment). The Shulchan Aruch (authoritative Code of Jewish law) writes: "When there is a shortage in the charity fund, the treasurer should borrow, and when there is a surplus later on he can repay the loans from it without getting permission from the donors." (2)


In my opinion, the basis for these rulings is Judaism's basically hopeful and optimistic view of life. In the Jewish perspective the world is improving, not deteriorating, and each person should be hopeful that if things are a little tight right now, soon they are likely to improve.


Of course there are also limits to prudent borrowing, for the individual and the community alike. Hope is one thing, delusion something quite different, and the rabbis warn us not to borrow beyond what we have a reasonable expectation of being able to repay. The Bible tells us, "A wicked person borrows and does not repay" (Psalms 37:21), and the Shulchan Aruch rules that a person who uses a loan irresponsibly falls into this category. (3) The eminent authority Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaCohen cites one authority who rules that "a person should not borrow unless he reckons that he will be able to repay." (4)


I think we can also learn that deficits that are meant to pass the burden on to the next generation are inappropriate. Of course every deficit will to some extent impose current costs on future generations, but there is a question of degree and intent. Intergenerational transfers are a two-way street, and current adults also make significant investments in coming generations (example: tuition!) There is no reason all deficit spending should be considered unethical because some costs are borne by the unborn.


But this is different than having an entire older generation expect its pensions to be paid by the young, which seems to be the case for countries whose social security and pension systems are virtually completely unfunded. Judaism recognizes the obligation of children to support their aged parents, and even considers this the highest priority of charity giving, as the Scriptures teach us, "Don't hide from your own flesh". (Isaiah 58:7.) But ultimately this is still considered a form of charity (5), and our tradition urges us to strive assiduously to avoid dependence on charity and public support. (6)


To sum up: Jewish tradition does not attach any particular stigma to prudent borrowing, whether by the individual or the community. We are an optimistic and hopeful people, and a considered decision that things are likely to get better and that a loan may be a sensible way to get out of tight spot is considered natural and desirable. So deficit finance would certainly be justified under some circumstances.


However, imprudent borrowing is considered a vice, and so is thoughtlessly imposing one's needs on others, including future generations. Deficit finance should be limited to those needs which the current generation can reasonable expect to pay from their own future earnings.

SOURCES: (1) Babylonian Talmud, Beitza 15b-16a (2) Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 257:5 (3) Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 97:4 (4) Mishna Berura 242, Shaar HaTziun 12, citing Ateres Zekenim. (5)Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 32a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 251:3. (6) Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 255

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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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