by Yossi Wolfson
Watching the enthusiastic response to Donald Trump’s talk at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference this past March, one might not believe that Judaism is a radical religion. After all, this was a man who had previously insulted Mexicans, Muslims, women, media members, and even Jews. But Judaism has a long tradition of protesting against greed, injustice, and the misuse of power. From the prophets of Jerusalem in the First Temple era to East End sweatshop strikers, Jews have stood up for social justice.
In his updated, revised, and expanded second edition of Who Stole My Religion? Richard H. Schwartz reminds us of these values–so inherent to Jewish writings and history, and so absent from large parts of American and Israeli Jewish politics today. This absence is especially marked in Orthodox communities in which Schwartz, as an orthodox Jew, focuses. [Full disclosure: I have worked with Schwartz on vegetarian, animal rights, and related issues. He often speaks at the Jerusalem-based Israeli Jewish Vegetarian Society center, where I am a coordinator.]
Schwartz reminds us of the Torah laws that limit accumulation of wealth and redistribute it equitably. These include the ban on taking interest on loans, the cancellation of financial debts on the Sabbatical year, and the Jubilee law. Land was originally divided among the people of Israel based on the size of the tribe. To avoid distortion of this just allocation, a complete redistribution of land was to be done every 50 years, when all land would be returned to its original holders. Impractical as these laws may be today, the principles underlying them can still guide us. We are all acquainted with the statistics according to which the top 1% possesses more wealth than the poorest 90%. This, Schwartz reminds us, is not just outrageous; it is in contradiction with core Jewish values.