MAY 1996 EDITION
BUSINESS ETHICS OF
WEALTH AND PROPERTY
by Meir Tamari
Reprinted with permission from
In The Marketplace: Jewish Business Ethics,
Targum/Feldheim Publishers, l991
IN THE MARKETPLACE
It is impossible to talk about business ethics or business
behavior unless the purpose and role of property and
wealth are first made clear. A society where property is
unimportant, or is considered something evil, will have
no problem with business ethics at all. At the other
extreme, a society where people believe that wealth is
the sole purpose of human existence will find it almost
impossible to maintain any form of economic morality;
their obsession with wealth is so great that it will ride
roughshod over any ethical system. The primary question,
therefore, is, "What is the Jewish attitude toward
wealth. Is wealth intrinsically evil? Is wealth something
that is permitted? Is wealth something that is the be-all
and end-all of men?"
In one of his anti-Semitic writings, Karl Marx depicted
the Jew as a creature whose sole interest in life is the
acquisition of wealth. This canard has been repeated by many
anti-Semites, and sometimes, self-deprecatorily, by Jews as
well. Intellectually, the main reason for this has been the
ignoring, by Jewish and non-Jewish scholars, of
authoritative Jewish sources, or even more prevalent, the misreading
of these sources. All too often, the researchers' own biases--
pro-socialist, secular, nationalist, l9th-century liberalist--
have led, willfully or innocently, to squeezing a Torah system
into the straight-jacket of one of these social philosophies.(l)
Today, a similar attempt is being made to equate Torah with
the unlimited free market. The only way to define a truly
Jewish attitude to wealth is to study Jewish sources in the
light of Jewish law and the written works of the Torah scholars.
The following mishnah or talmudic teaching from Ethics of Our Fathers
serves as a basis for this study.
MINE AND YOURS
"There are four characteristics among people: One who
says, "Mine is mine and yours is yours," that is the mark
of the average person; some say that is the mark [of the
people] of Sodom. [One who says,] "Mine is yours and
yours is mine," [that is the mark of] an ignorant person.
[He who says,] "Mine is yours and yours is yours," [that is
the mark of] a godly [person]. [One who says,] "Yours is
mine and mine is mine," [that is the mark of] an evil
- Talmud, Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 5, Mishnah 10
OUR MISHNAH talks about the characteristics of different
types of people with regard to wealth. There is no mention
of a system based on poverty, nor is there in Judaism any-
thing particularly spiritual about being poor. This in itself is
an admission that there is nothing wrong per se with
earning, having, or keeping economic goods or financial assets.
Unlike the founders of other religions, the Forefathers were not
poor people. The sections of the Torah dealing with Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob, show that they were extremely wealthy
men, with flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. So too, the
Land of Israel, part of the bargain in the Abrahamic covenant
made at the very inception of our People, is not a desert but
a fertile place. The blessings showered upon the Jewish
Nation for keeping God's laws are all material ones, as
are the punishments for violating them.(1) In their Promised
Land, the Jews were not to earn their living by miraculous
means, but in normal, prosaic ways. The manna stopped
when they crossed the Jordan; they did not drink any more
from the miraculous Well of Miriam, nor could they rely on
the Divine Clouds of Glory to protect them any longer. In
that Land, they had to build houses and dig wells, to plow,
to sow and to reap.
Similarly, when the High Priest emerged from innermost
chamber in the Temple in Jerusalem
on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, after
obtaining salvation for the Jews and forgiveness of their
sins, he recited a prayer which forms part of our present
prayer service on that day. One would expect this prayer to
be pure spirituality: thanks to God, thanks to the people for
doing penance, and so on. Yet all the High Priest asked for
was that God give the Jews a decent livelihood, which they
would be able to earn honestly, and that they should not be
dependent on other people for charity.
Actually, the possession of wealth presents a greater
spiritual challenge than does poverty. Throughout Jewish
history, from the earliest beginnings in Egypt up until the
present day, one may perceive a cycle of events which clearly
demonstrates this. The Jewish nation becomes prosperous,
neglects its religious obligations, assimilates, and finally becomes
subject to punishment and exile. In exile, it then suffers
abject poverty and disgrace, slowly regains economic strength
until it reaches prosperity, and the cycle recommences. In
his farewell address to the People of Israel, Moses says, "But
Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked..." (2) --sad but prophetic words.
Recognition of the spiritual issues flowing from the
possession of wealth, even though economic activity is
legitimate, is shown by the large number of Jewish laws associated
with having, earning or spending money. Just as with man's
needs for food, sex, and clothing, so too, in regard to his
material possessions, the Torah provides parameters within
which economic needs may be satisfied and elevated. There
is no Jewish textbook on how to make money, but there is a
comprehensive framework for sanctifying the drive for wealth
so as to make it holy. This framework encompasses the
commentaries on the Torah, classical works on Jewish law, and
the philosophical literature. No less important are the life
stories of the sages and the rabbinic leaders of each generation,
which in effect represent role models for the Jewish attitude
towards economic life.
The Jewish legal treatment of wealth has created a Jewish
economic person whose business affairs, despite the myths
perpetuated by detractors and enemies, have been
conducted according to the highest demands of morality and
ethics. During the three days of darkness in Egypt, when all
the wealth of Egypt lay unprotected before them, our ancestors
did not succumb to the temptation to steal, and for this they
were rewarded by the Egyptians when they left. (3) In the days
of Mordechai and Esther in Persia, Jewish self-defense was
untainted by looting. Throughout the Middle Ages, in both
the Christian and Moslem worlds, the Jew served as banker
and financier, a tradition continued into l9th-century Western
Europe and even in our own day. Of course, one of the prime
requisites of banking is the integrity and honesty of the banker--
further evidence of the high moral regard accorded the Jew.
Our excerpt from Ethics of Our Fathers and the ensuing discussion
are part, therefore, of a fabric which has clothed Jewish life and thought
ever since the days of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
" 'MINE IS MINE AND YOURS IS YOURS,' THAT IS
THE MARK OF THE AVERAGE PERSON."
Actually, there seems to be nothing negative about this
statement. All that this man is saying is that he respects his
property, does not use it to injure others, and will not steal
other people's possessions. He undertakes to look after his
property and expects others to look after theirs. Viewed in
terms of present-day economic behavior, one would expect
the rabbis to say, "That's a very good person." Yet all they
could credit him with is "the mark of an average man"--not
criminal, but not very exciting spiritually.
Even though the Torah has laws protecting property
from theft and damage, Judaism never accepts the concept
that there is unlimited private property. A person's property is
his, but not merely his. It is meant to provide for one's needs
and those of one's family, but it is also meant to be used to
assist others. This Jewish obligation to help others is not left
up to the free will of the individual; it is not a question to be
solved solely on the basis of compassion, mercy, or personal
feelings. Just as prayer or sexual morality is not left to the
judgment of the individual, to be observed whenever or if
ever the spirit moves one, but is translated into permitted
and forbidden actions, so too, assistance to the weak, the
poor and the inefficient cannot be relegated to the sphere of
The community has the right to tax
the individual for that purpose and to introduce legislation
that forces him to part with some of his private wealth. The
moral basis for taxation for this purpose lies in the belief
that this is one of the reasons why God gives men wealth. The
German Jewish 19th century scholar, Samson Raphael Hirsch, comments
that the reason we are not allowed to take interest on money
which we lend to other Jews is that God gave us such money
so we should be able to help others. In a way, our money is
not only ours, even if only morally, and for this reason, we
are not allowed to charge interest for something we were given,
inter alia, to give to others. (4)
Legal action alone, however, cannot create a moral and
ethical society. It requires an educational basis and a
commonly accepted value structure to be efficient and effective.
One example, which demonstrates the spiritual purpose
of Jewish laws concerning assistance to others, may be found in
the talmudic order of Pe'ah, dealing with agricultural laws.
Here, the Jewish farmer is obligated to leave part of his field unreaped for the
benefit of the poor and the stranger. This positive injunction is repeated
and expressed in the Torah in a negative form: "You shall not
reap to the last edge of your field." All recognize that the field
is undoubtedly the farmer's, yet the poor are given the legal right
to harvest a corner of the field after he has finished harvesting the rest. The
simple reason is to provide the poor with something to eat. That is
obvious, yet the Sefer Hachinuch (written in 13th-century
Barcelona, Spain), which provides ethical, spiritual, and
ideological reasons behind all the mitzvot that God gave us,
points out that there is more to it:
"God wanted the Jews to develop merits of mercy, that
they should become accustomed to helping others, to develop an
instinct to give away something which actually belongs to them.
[This has to be done by continually teaching the practice of
mercy. At the same time, the educational process alone is
not enough to guarantee assistance to the poor. Education
may simply create good but unfulfilled intentions.] Therefore, we
are obligated to perform actions which will train us until
these merits become second nature. A person who actually
leaves the corner of his field for the poor acquires a generous soul;
through this mitzvah he learns to be generous to people." (5)
In Leviticus, the list of the festivals beginning with Passover
and Shavuot is interrupted with the mitzvah of Pe'ah
(leaving the corner of the field for the poor), even
though there is no festival related to it, then continues with the
festivals of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. The discussion
of Pe'ah occurs between the festival of Shavuot, the festival of the ripening of
the first fruits, and Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment. There is an
important lesson concerning the Torah's attitude to
property to be learned from this intrusion of Pe'ah into the list of
On Shavuot, the festival of first fruits, one tends to be proud of seeing one's
economic success demonstrated by the first fruits of the
year's labor; one is very conscious of his ability to make
money and confident in the use of his property. Yet these
first fruits had to be brought to the Temple, and "viduy"
(confession), in which the Divine origin of wealth is
acknowledged, was recited. The next festival in the calendar is Rosh
Hashanah, the day when God sits in judgement of the world.
In between those two festivals, one emphasizing thanks for
prosperity, the other an awe of judgment, another idea had
to be introduced: the mitzvah of Pe'ah.
The Pe'ah is not the property of the owner of the field; he cannot harvest it and
give it to somebody of his choice, as he can do with other
forms of charity. The corner has to be left ownerless so that
anybody can come and harvest it. In effect, Pe'ah is a rejection
of the farmer's private property rights. If the Torah did
not teach that there was a certain necessity to waive his
property rights, it could not bring the individual from the
self-satisfaction of Shavuot, with its first fruits, to the humility
of the Day of Judgment. (6)
" 'MINE IS MINE AND YOURS IS YOURS' ... SOME
SAY THAT THIS IS THE MARK [OF THE PEOPLE] OF SODOM."
The Torah relates that the people of Sodom "were
evil unto the Lord, exceedingly," (7) yet we are not told what
they actually did. The Midrashim tell of their refusal to
welcome guests and the punishments meted
out in Sodom by the community to those, who in fact,
were hospitable. "Yours is yours and mine is mine" is saying
that in Sodom the people refused to acknowledge that they had an obligation to
help others. In Sodom they said, "I do not care what happens to you,
whether you are poor, or you are old or weak. While I will
not steal from you, neither will I help you."
There's a Chassidic story about a man who was very
pious and charitable and became wealthy. Gradually his
charitable actions grew fewer, his contributions smaller. One
day, during the festivals, he visited his Rebbe. The Rebbe
took him to a window and asked, "What do you see?"
"I see people in the streets, men and women, young and
The Rebbe then gave him a mirror and said, "Now tell
me what you see."
"What do you mean? I see myself."
The Rebbe said, "Both the mirror and the window are
made of glass. The only difference between them is that the
window is clear and the mirror is backed by silver. Before
you had silver, you were able to see other people's needs
and other's problems. Since the glass became coated, you
are only able to see yourself. That's the mark of the people
When an individual says, "What's mine is mine and
what's yours is yours; I have no financial obligation to you,"
society can exist. But when everybody says, "What's
mine is mine and what's yours is yours," that society has
accepted a concept of absolute private property. In Sodom,
economic evil went far beyond the selfishness or crimes of
marginal individuals--the whole society became corrupt and
had to be destroyed. It was not the individual act of
inhospitality which characterized Sodom, but the collective refusal
to utilize wealth to alleviate suffering. They refused entry to
poor immigrants, but welcomed Lot, who was a wealthy
man. This is a parallel to wealthy countries today, which
have free immigration for "capitalist" immigrants, but turn
away poor people seeking to better themselves, maintaining
rigid immigration laws to prevent their entry. So the whole
society of Sodom abandoned the concern for the unfortunate,
and the inefficient. In the Jewish view, such a selfish society is doomed.
The effect of "what's mine is mine," however, goes beyond
mere selfishness, individual and communal. When a
society maintains absolute private property, it rejects the
Divine source of its wealth and frees itself for widespread
economic immorality since man sees himself as the sole
owner of his property, until in fact the two become integrated.
Then the acquisition of wealth by any means, moral or
immoral, becomes a major purpose of his life, a lust to be
satisfied at all costs. "What's mine is mine" is the ideological
preparation for a society in which institutionalized theft and
legalized inhumanity flourish.
In the Book of Amos, the prophet talks about those who
sell the poor for a pair of shoes.(8) Some commentators
explain this to mean that they sell everything the poor have,
even their shoes, or that they sell the poor themselves, even
for something as cheap as a pair of shoes. The eleventh century Sage
Rashi, however, understands the Hebrew word "naal," shoe, to connote "to lock"
"or to close" something, as distinct from "sandal," which is open.
He comments that the rich men did not steal the poor
people's fields; instead, they bought up the fields around
them, then forced them to sell. So, too, in Sodom. The
Medrash informs us that the people of Sodom were careful not
to steal anything which was a "sheveh prutah"--the minimum
value for legal action. Instead, each man, woman, and child
took only one item from a field, until the farmer lost his
whole crop. Perfectly legal perhaps, but immoral.
" 'MINE IS YOURS AND YOURS IS MINE,' [THAT IS
THE MARK OF] AN IGNORANT MAN."
This attitude sounds basically like a very moral one, and
indeed it has been the basis of many utopian seeking societies,
including the Israeli kibbutz movement and European
communist economies. While the sages did not see it as wrong,
they maintained in the mishnah that it is not characteristic
of the ideal Jewish economic society. They viewed it, in-
stead, as the mark of an ignorant man, not evil or wrong
Proposing a society which rejects the concept of private
property goes against human nature. Rather than attempting
to destroy man's selfish tendencies, Judaism has always aimed at
educating and sanctifying man's nature. Philosophically,
attempting to destroy a selfish trait, rather than shaping it to
operate in a spiritually elevated framework, calls into
question God's creation of these tendencies, as well as the Torah He
gave to educate it. Practically, such attempts have shown
themselves to be failures, usually creating new abuses to
replace those they came to correct. The experience of the
last fifty years has shown that changes in the economic
system brought by socialism and communism in various
countries do not eliminate moral problems. These changes
have admittedly solved some social problems, but they have
also given rise to other, no less serious moral issues.
Private property rights not only make for economic
efficiency, as evidenced by the performance of free market
economies relative to socialist ones, but also have been shown
to be necessary for a viable economic morality. Morality
presupposes rights and obligations. So private property rights
mean that the individual is responsible not only for earning
his wealth, but also for preventing it from damaging others,
and for the way he spends it. In this way, the owner cannot
escape responsibility for the social and communal effects of
wealth, nor can he transfer this responsibility to some
amorphous, group possession.
For example, the modern corporation represents a form
of economic organization in which there is a separation of
identity between the shareholders and the corporation, thus
permitting such a transfer of moral responsibility. The
result has been that shareholders feel they have no role in
supervising illegal or immoral acts of the directors. So, too,
in the commune, the average member, being in practice a
non-owner, frees himself from bearing responsibility for the
acts of the commune. Experience has shown, for example,
that children in the kibbutz have no concept of personal
charity since this need is cared for, like everything else,
through the communal purse.
Private property also creates a direct link between earning
and spending, the lack of which has been shown to
create serious moral problems. The lack of such a link leads
people to demand a standard of living which has no relationship
to what they create. It makes the satisfaction of
their wants a function of the acts of others rather than their
own. Sometimes this may be the result of factors such as the
pleasure of a government official or the decision of one's
peers. Such factors may often lead to injustice or, what is
worse, the necessity of bribing the decision-making officials.
Similarly, although unemployment may be immoral, it has
been found that removing this link through full-employment
policies, which in effect disguise the unemployment, leads to
people not working. People thus receive wages for a
job they have not done, which is also immoral.
Before people can give charity to others or help others
with their wealth, they have to own property so that what
they are giving away is something of their own. The
individual's parting with wealth as a result of his own active
decision means that he is consciously giving up that which is
actually, legally and morally, his own. This means that he is
able to overcome the human tendency of selfishness, of greed, of
ignoring the needs of others. The overcoming or spiritual
education of these negative traits is the basis of economic morality.
" 'MINE IS YOURS AND YOURS IS YOURS,' [THAT
IS THE MARK OF] A GODLY [MAN]."
The voluntary renunciation of private property, lacking
in the ignorant man, characterizes the godly personality
while his ability to say, "Enough," distinguishes him from
the evil person. His saying, "Mine is yours," separates him
from the people of Sodom and places him higher than the
mediocre. He does not abandon his property, but is willing
to place it at the disposal of others. There is no idealization
of poverty here, no otherworldly philosophy, but rather, a
correct use of wealth.
The godly person's statement is an imitation of God.
God created the world, it belongs to Him, yet, in His kindness,
He provides for the needs of all creatures. The talmudic
Rabbi Simlai taught that the Torah begins with an act of kindness
and ends with an act of kindness. It is written, "And the Lord God
made garments of skin for Adam and Eve and clothed them"
[Genesis 3:21], and at the conclusion of the Torah, "He
[God] buried him [Moses] in the valley in the land of Moab"
[Deuteronomy 34:6]. (9)
Yet there is more in the mishnah's statement than mere
acts of kindness and righteousness. He is prepared to give
up claims against others, despite the fact that he is not
legally obligated to do so. His business actions are "lifnim
meshurat hadin"--beyond the demands of the law. Our Sages
said that one of the reasons for the destruction of the Second
Temple in 70 CE was that the people of that generation insisted
on exerting the full measure of their legal rights. (10)
The most significant Jewish legal expression of this moral
stance is the dictum ze nehene ve ze lo chaser--one has a
benefit and the other does not lose [by a transaction]. (11) This
dictum permits one to benefit from another's property provided
that the owner does not suffer a loss thereby. When
Joshua crossed the Jordan River, the Tribes of Israel agreed to ten
decrees. One of them was that a person could not be prevented
from picking weeds (herbs) from another's field; the
one benefits from picking herbs for his own use, while the
other suffers no loss, since they are worthless. If, however,
the crop is meant for animal consumption, in which case
weeds and herbs are used as cattle fodder, one is not
permitted to gather them, since the owner suffers a financial
The law of bar metzrah, whereby owners of adjacent
property have the right of first option to buy when a neighbor intends
selling his field, is another application of ze nehene. The neighbor
has a benefit, since this gives him a larger unified tract of
land with all the consequent efficiencies, while the owner
suffers no loss, since he receives the market price for his
In all these cases, one person is doing another person a
favor with his property. The people of Sodom, the rabbis
taught, refused to do each other favors with their money,
and whoever acts like them causes us to doubt their descent
What a contrast between this Jewish attitude and the
property rights prevalent in our society, where laws of trespass
forbid people to use our property, even when we suffer
no loss from their use.
Modern examples of this dog-in-the-manger attitude are
manifold. A few should suffice to show how being selfish,
even when it does not cost anything, is very prevalent. In
family-owned corporations, where various proportions of
the share capital are held by the members of the family, it is
often difficult for one member to buy shares from the others,
even at their market price. Usually, the purchase of these
shares would give him greater control, a benefit which the
other members of the family are unwilling to grant him.
The common solution is to go public, that is, selling the
stock to anybody else but the family member. Similarly,
owners of real estate find it emotionally difficult to offer
their property to their neighbors because of the additional
benefit the latter will enjoy, even though the sale is at market
price. One of the reasons for registering corporations in the
Caribbean Islands, Luxembourg, or the Channel Islands is to
hide the true identity of the owners. Over and above the
consideration of income tax benefits, there is the suspicion
that were this to be common knowledge, it would hinder the
activities of the owners. In many cases people would refuse
to sell them real estate or stock in other companies, owing to
the benefits that would accrue to them from the increased
By his declaration, the godly person is demonstrating
that the real source of wealth is God, who gives this wealth
to mankind under certain conditions and for certain purposes.
This idea that one's property does not primarily flow
from one's own cleverness, luck, or diligence, but is granted
by the mercy of the Creator, appears in many of the mitzvot.
One example should suffice here. Fruit of new trees are called
orlah--"uncircumcised" fruit--until the fourth year. Just as
a newborn boy must be marked with the covenant of Abraham
by the removal of the foreskin, so too, the fruit of new trees, the
addition to our economic wealth, have to be sanctified before
they can be enjoyed. By waiting the required period which,
so to speak, removes the orlah, we demonstrate that wealth
flows from God.
Similarly, every seventh year--shmitah--the
Jewish farmer is told to let his land lie fallow and to declare
it ownerless, so that the animals, the poor, and whoever
wishes to do so may eat of its fruit. Then in the yovel--the
50th Jubilee year--the land reverts to its original owner,
once again demonstrating the Divine ownership.(13)
The rabbis said that one may not eat or have benefit
from anything in this world without first making a blessing,
thanking the real Source for it. (14)
Self-made men cannot really be pious since they ascribe
all their success to their own greatness. Perhaps this is why
the commandment of honoring one's father and mother, an
act between man and man, is placed in the Ten Commandments
alongside those acts between man and God. It has
been argued that honoring one's parents expresses
gratitude for one's birth and for their contribution to our lives.
This, in turn, is a prerequisite for being able to admit that
there is a God and that everything, including our wealth,
flows from Him. This is the mark of the pious and the godly.
" 'YOURS IS MINE AND MINE IS MINE,' [THAT IS
THE MARK OF] AN EVIL MAN."
Here, the thought process behind robbery and exploitation is presented.
It is important to note that in describing the evil man, the mishnah
tells us not of one who takes other people's property,
but only of one who considers other people's property his
own. This is paralleled by an injunction in the Ten
Commandments, "You shall not covet," which is also an injunction
against a thought process.
Usually, the Torah is primarily concerned with actions,
not thoughts. For instance, one has to give charity, not merely
think that it is a good thing to do.
Intentions not followed by actions are something society
cannot control, nor are they easily detected by outside
factors; it seems strange, therefore, that coveting, a frame of
mind rather than an action, should be proscribed as a
negative precept. In this case, however, the coveting of
another's property is actually the real beginning of immoral
economic acts, since it is that need, that lust, that jealousy
that leads one to steal or injure another's wealth.
This may be illustrated from the story of the vineyard of Navot. (15)
King Achav wanted to buy this vineyard and when Navot
refused to sell it, he sulked, refusing to eat or drink, thus
expressing his powerful lust for the property. To satisfy this
lust, Navot was falsely accused and put to death, with his
property reverting to the king. Coveting led to murder, and
murder preceded theft. The thief's punishment is, therefore,
always twofold, once for coveting and once for theft,
both realized when the thought is translated into action.
This is an expression of the conviction that unless we have a
moral attitude towards our neighbor's property, we cannot
have moral actions or a moral society.
There is a story in the Medrash that when Alexander the
Great came to a certain foreign country, the people there
asked him to listen to the following court case:
A man bought a field from another man and found a
treasure in it. He argued that the treasure belonged to the
seller since he had only bought a field, not a treasure. On
the other hand, the seller maintained that the treasure belonged
to the person who bought it, since he had sold him the field
and everything in it.
The case was decided in a very Jewish way. The judge
ruled: "The seller has a daughter and the buyer has a son,
so let them marry and the treasure will become the dowry."
Alexander was so surprised at the judge's decision that
his hosts asked him, "What do you think of our justice?"
"In my country a case like this would probably never
even come to court, because the buyer would make sure
that nobody heard that he had found a treasure. If, however,
it did come to court, the roles would be reversed. The
seller would argue, 'I sold a field, I did not sell a treasure,
and therefore the treasure belongs to me.' The buyer would
argue, 'I bought a field and everything in it, and therefore
the treasure belongs to me.'"
In reply to the question of how he would rule if he were
the judge, Alexander replied, "The king would kill both of
them and take the treasure for himself."
The hosts were puzzled. "Your country sounds strange.
In your country does it rain? In your country does the grass
grow? Are there animals?"
Hearing that this was so, they
told him, "The only reason it rains, and the grass grows, is
for the animals, because the people in your country don't
deserve rain or grass." (16)
Basically, theft, robbery, and exploitation flow from coveting
the wealth of our neighbors, rather than from actual abject
poverty. The need to keep up with the neighbors is often the
primary factor in determining the individual's pattern of
consumption, and, therefore, that which sets the pace and
morality of the economic activity which comes to pay for that
consumption. This, together with the status, power, and
satisfaction which come from having and earning more than
others, can prevent people from distinguishing between
what is moral and immoral, permitted or forbidden.
Even a casual glance at our surroundings will show
that, irrespective of their wealth, people suffer from an
inability to know when they have enough. People do not
decide to defraud, embezzle, or exploit others on the spur
of the moment. These actions are essentially the result of
social pressures, accepted norms of behavior, and the need
to always have more of "mine." It is only by educating
people to restrain material appetites, by voluntarily limiting
the standards of living, and by teaching the difference
between real needs and imaginary wants, that it is possible
to achieve a moral economic society.
1. Vayikra 26:3-26; Devarim 28:3-14.
2. Devarim 32:15.
3. S. R. Hirsch, Shemot 11:2-3.
4. Shemot 22:24.
5. SeferHachinuch, mitzvot 216, 217.
6. Vayikra 23:22-23 and S. R. Hirsch ad loc.
7. Genesis 13:3.
8. Amos 2:6.
9. Talmud Bavli, Sotah 14a.
10. Talmud Bavli, Baba Metzia 30b.
11. Talmud Bavli, Baba Kama 20a.
12. Ibid., 80b-81a.
13. SeferHachinuch, mitzvah 330.
14. Talmud Bavli, Berakhot 35b.
15. I Kings 21:1-16.
16. Vayikra Rabbah, K'doshim.
17. Takkanot of the Rhine Communities, enactment 17; Synod of
Castillian Jews, enactment 11. L. Finkelstein, Jewish Self-Government
in the Middle Ages (New York: Feldheim, 1964). Also see
Pinkas Va'ad Arba Aratzot, ed. Israel Halperin (Jerusalem: Mossad
Bialik, 1954), enactment 90.
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