Principles don’t immediately lead to policy, but they do offer guidelines for crafting positive, healthy, humane policies.
Judaism in all its instantiations is inclined to a strong sense of social justice – a vibrant call to heal the world and ensure human dignity is protected and affirmed.
The prophets – which form a large part of Judaism – are consumed with justice, issues of fairness, the affirmation of human dignity, and the fulfillment of a Divine vision of harmony, peace, and equality.
The Torah offers a vision of social order, peace, and justice. Here are eight principles of social justice from a Jewish perspective.
1) Human beings emerge from nature and reflect the Divine image-impulse – their personhood, their creativity, their capacity for relationship and love, their appreciation of beauty – and so on – reflect their immense, inherent dignity.
2) Human dignity is not earned or granted – it is a natural aspect of all persons, rich or poor, male or female – according to nature and not ability. This dignity and value grounds all human rights and claims, and is the focal point of morality.
3) The world, and all that is in it, is sacred and belongs equally to all – serving a universal destination and the common good. Through work and right effort, humans can claim aspects of nature for themselves as the rightful handiwork of their labor. Private property rights must therefore be balanced with the universal nature and destination of all things.
5) Each of us has a special obligation to the least of us – we are to exercise a preference for the widows, orphans, the poor, and the marginalized – we are to love and welcome the stranger – we are to be most concerned for the poorest, for the weakest, for those without voice, for those excluded, and for those who cannot care for themselves.
6) Freedom is an essential aspect/capacity of human persons and must be respected and maximized – human dignity calls out for respect of all forms of human liberty. Our social justice efforts must always maximize freedom, not limit it.
7) Human beings are interconnected-interdependent – the fate of the powerful and wealthy is entwined with the fate of the lowly and the poor. Individualism is a false option – we live in relation to one another and our well-being depends on how we treat the least among us.
8) There are natural social institutions, functions, and spheres of influence that flow from human nature. Each of these spheres has their own realm of responsibility and service that they must fulfill for the sake of the common good. Undue interference of one sphere by another leads to disharmony and imbalance which in turn leads to social dysfunction.
We need to reflect on the above principles whenever we engage in political, economic, or policy discussions.