Scribblings in the Margins of the Law

Scribblings in the Margins of the Law December 4, 2017


When the above meme was drawn to my attention, I felt I had to share it. The contrast between biblical laws and the Republican tax bill is even starker than the meme from Facebook God indicates. The Torah in fact imposes taxes and tax-like practices that redistribute wealth to those in need, including returning land to its earlier owner once a generation. We need more memes like the one above, because there are apparently large numbers of people in the United States who pay lip service to the Bible but have no idea what it says.

For more on the relevant laws, see the great Twitter thread from Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg:

But of course, the only way to pull things like what Republicans have with the recent tax bill is precisely to have a voting populace that do not know the details either of the law or of their religious values. And so is it any surprise that the law also takes aim at education, too?

See further Rabbi Ruttenberg’s article from Forward last April. Here is an excerpt:

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 109a) paints Sodom in even starker terms, suggesting that their selfishness and greed caused them to impose something akin to immigration and travel bans. In one place, the Talmud conjectures that the people of Sodom said to themselves, “Why should we suffer wayfarers, who come to us only to deplete our wealth. Come, let us abolish the practice of traveling in our land….” I’m sure they would have built that “big, beautiful wall” if they could have.

On that same folio in Sanhedrin (109b), the Talmud posits that the Sodomites developed an elaborate ruse to exploit the poor under false pretenses. “If a poor man happened to come there,” it reads, “every resident gave him a denar [coin], upon which he wrote his name, but no bread was given [that is, the store owners recognized such coins and refused to accept them]. When he died, each came and took back his [denar].” Hmmm, an elaborate ruse constructed to give people the sense that they’re being cared for, but in the end, reflects a staggering lack of empathy for their health and well-being? A system designed to enable the wealthy to get rich off the suffering and death of the poor? I can only imagine that the Speaker of the Sodomite House would have been impressed with Paul Ryan’s tenacity and determination to pass a Trumpcare bill that is, against all odds, even worse for Americans than its previous iteration.

The situation in our country right now is exceedingly dire. We are in a state of moral emergency, as some of the worst crimes Judaism could imagine are becoming public policy — and becoming normalized. Many people will likely die as a result of the policies of this administration, and many more will be plunged into a deep, irreversible level of poverty. Hungry people will not be fed. The bread of massive corporations will be hoarded, and only the most symbolic of tokens — ultimately useless, ultimately irredeemable — will be offered to those desperate for sustenance and care. It’s bad, and it’s going to get worse as the months go on…

See also my previous posts related to biblical laws and economics, such as:

Dividing Land Like Wealth

The Bible and Economic and Social Justice: Following Ruth into Leviticus

Jubilee Capitalism

The Poor You Will Always Have With You

The Context of the Context of Jesus’ Words

“Jesus Taught Generosity and Charity, Not Government Assistance”

Redistributing Wealth the Biblical Way

A Year of Living Justly

Income Inequality



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  • Gary

    “I’m sure they would have built that “big, beautiful wall” if they could have.”
    There is religion, and there is secular necessity.
    I wonder if the Rabbi is vehemently against the wall built by Israel, separating Israel from Palestinian territory?

    Or moving Israel’s capital to Jerusalem?

    Does he condemn Israel’s majority government as adamantly? Just wondering.

    • Gary

      From the U.S. perspective, it happens when the U.S. Embassy moves to Jerusalem, which might happen anytime.

    • Gary

      My mistake. I just looked at the Rabbi’s reference. Not a guy. So probably not exactly conservative orthodox. So more “Critical Mass” from the Jewish side of it.

  • arcseconds

    Thanks for this. I did peruse the other posts to see the opposing view ‘pushback’ you referred to earlier, but the only such I can find seems to be the usual suspects not getting it. Although it does look like a couple of the posts are suffering from Lost Comment Syndrome.

    With regards to the tax cut bill thing, the ‘good’ news is that it’s deeply unpopular, to the point where even a lot of Republican supporters can’t like it. Hopefully therefore there isn’t widespread support for the notion that it’s somehow biblical…

    The bad news is that it’s going to be there for a few years. Even if the Democrats win both houses in the midterms, Trump will presumably just veto any repeal. How likely are the Democrats going to win a trifecta in 2020? I don’t know I’d put a lot of money on it…

  • John MacDonald

    If the Critical Scholars were writing the sermons, the people would have a much better idea of what the bible teaches. Pastors too often forget/ignore their training and what they learned about what the bible actually says.

  • Neko

    I had read Rabbi Ruttenberg’s comments on my twitter feed and am happy to see them here. Hope she goes viral.

  • Brad Feaker

    Well said sir.