Which political party mirrors your understanding of the priorities of Jewish values when it comes to responding to the needs of the poor?
At the outset let me make this perfectly clear I do not vote party; I vote for the individual. So it matters not which party reflects my values only the candidates. I recognize that the candidate running under his or her political party’s banner will most likely hoist and support the party line. But that is not always the case. There are exceptions when there are exceptional people whether they are running for national, state, county, or city office, all the way down to your local committeeman.
Getting back to the question, “How do we as Jews address the needs of poor Jewish families?” There are probably as many answers to that question as there are people reading this article. Searching through the Jewish responsa, which contain the wisdom of our great teachers, reveals that Maimonides says that lifting the burden off the shoulders of the poor is best done through job training. Other sages say it is by providing food and shelter.
For me the answer is obvious. I subscribe to the answer Maimonides gave because he addresses the immediate and most pressing of needs, namely providing food and shelter. Although he does not explicitly express that remedy, I think the reason is because it is so painfully obvious that it does not need to be spelled out. Can you imagine Maimonides suggesting that a job training program be implemented for people with no food on the table or roof overhead — well neither can I.
A physician, philosopher and rabbi, Maimonides, whose works are considered the cornerstone of Jewish scholarship, certainly knew that you can’t train people on an empty stomach. But he does not limit his remedy only to the obvious: the immediate relief from hunger and exposure. He also sought ways to prevent the re-occurrence of the pangs of poverty. As a visionary his approach provides for future needs of the poor through job-training or helping the individual to become independent in the future.
Mistakenly we are often told that Maimonides taught that giving Tzedaka anonymously to an unknown recipient is the highest of the eight levels of charity. However, upon closer examination of his lessons about Tzedaka we learn it is actually the second highest level of charity. The highest form of charity is to provide the poor person with the tools necessary to become self-sufficient, through such things as loans, grants, partnerships, education, and jobs all of which hopefully result in becoming independent.
Immediately the question of exceptions comes to mind. What of the people who do not have the capacity necessary to become independent or who are unable to acquire the life skills necessary to provide for themselves and their families. I believe that his answer would be at least as compassionate as yours, if not more so, namely to care for those who cannot fend for themselves by feeding them, clothing them, and sheltering them all the while showering them with compassion and love.
As in any question involving moral or ethical behavior there are different opinions even among people who share the same goal, as to how best reach that goal. For example, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews believe in the sanctity of life. But they differ in varying degrees on issues relating to abortion. Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews believe in the fair treatment of people but there too there are differences of opinion regarding Gay marriage. Judaism, unlike some other religions, has no central authority. Judaism is not monolithic in thought or deed. There are differing Jewish values grounded in different religious beliefs, traditions, and customs.
As it is with religious beliefs and values, so it is with political views. Within each political party there are leaders and their constituents who are people of faith and people for whom religion plays no part in their lives. However, they are well meaning individuals, each with their own vision and opinion as to how best make our country a better place to live for all its citizens. Their ideas as to how best achieve that admirable goal may differ but that is the result of political differences but not necessarily those which are moral or values based. Political parties have no values, they have agendas. Political parties have no morals, they have constituents. Political parties have no beliefs, people do. Political parties do not lead, leaders do. And a leader acts in the interest of the entire group and not solely in the interest of his or her political party. To act otherwise disqualifies one as a leader and marks one as an opportunist and ideologue.
The one thing I think that we can all agree on is that when the election is over, the results have been tabulated, a president has been elected and all the chads have been swept from the floor, there will still remain differences of opinion as to which political party best mirrors the priorities of Jewish values as to how best respond to the needs of the poor.