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October 7, 2015 | 24th Tishrei 5776

Jewish Texts on Poverty for Reflection & Action

Jewish Texts on Poverty
for Reflection & Action

Below you will find Jewish texts dealing with poverty. Following these texts you will find discussion questions to help create stimulating discussions and debates in the classroom and on the pulpit.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  You shall not pick your vineyard bare or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger; I am Adonai your God.
Leviticus 19:9-10

But do not neglect the Levite in your community, for he has no hereditary portion as you have.  Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of that year, but leave it within your settlements.  Then the Levite, who has no hereditary portion as you have, and the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow in your settlements shall come and eat their fill, so that the Eternal your God may bless you in all the enterprises you undertake.
Deuteronomy 14:27-29

When you have set aside in full the tenth of your yield – in the third year, the year of the tithe – and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat their fill in your settlements, you shall declare before the Eternal your God: “I have cleared out the consecrated portion from the house; and I have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, just as You commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor neglected any of Your commandements.”
Deuteronomy 26:12-13

Share your bread with the hungry, and take the wretched poor into your home.  When you see the naked, clothe him, and do not ignore your own kin. 
Isaiah 58:7

There shall be no needy among you—for the Eternal will surely bless you in the land that the Eternal your God is giving you as an inheritance.
For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land; therefore I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kin in your land.
Deuteronomy 15: 4, 11

If there is among you a poor person, one of your kin, in any of your towns within your land which God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against them, but you shall open your hand to them, and lend them sufficient for their needs, whatever they may be.
Deuteronomy 15: 7-8

Give to the needy readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return the Eternal your God will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings.
Deuteronomy 15:10

Anyone who withholds what is due to the poor blasphemes against the Maker of all, but one who is gracious unto the needy honors God. 
Proverbs 14:31

One who mocks the poor blasphemes one’s Maker.
Proverbs 17:5

And if your neighbor becomes poor and his means fail him with you, then you shall strengthen him, be he a stranger or a settler, he shall live with you.
Leviticus 25:35

Do not allow him to decline [socially and financially] and fall [altogether so that] it will be difficult to restore him [to his original position], but strengthen him from the time of his weakness.  To what may this be compared?  To a burden on a donkey: While it is still on the donkey, one [person] may grab hold of it and hold up [the load, but if the donkey] falls to the ground, five cannot raise it [the load] up. 
Rashi on Leviticus 25:35

Judge the wretched and the orphan; vindicate the lowly and the poor; rescue the wretched and the needy; save them from the hand of the wicked. 
Psalms 82:3-4

Discussion Questions:

  1. When discussing issues of hunger, we often use these biblical sources to site our tradition’s concern for fighting hunger.  However, we no longer live in an agricultural society, and the laws of reaping and tithing no longer apply.  How do we make these texts relevant today?  What can we do in our modern lives to realize the principles that underlie these laws?
  2. The Torah recognizes certain categories of people: the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, the widow, etc. who are particularly vulnerable.  What categories of people today require special assistance and our focused attention?
  3. Explain the tension between Deuteronomy chapter 15 verses 4 and 11, found in the same chapter in Deuteronomy.
  4. If we accept an obligation to care for the needy in our society, does that mean that we have to do it without regret for our own financial loss?  Do you personally feel that you are able to give without regret or reticence?
  5. Again we see that our relationship with God parallels our relationship with the vulnerable members of society.  Why are these two related?
  6. How can safety net programs (welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, etc.) fulfill Rashi’s directive that we must catch people before they fall too far?
  7. When you work to assist the poor and vulnerable members of your community, do you have a sense of the biblical imperative for your work?  Why or why not?

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