Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Educating Thieves

We participated last night in a study group that looks at social issues in Jewish sources. Yesterday's question was what the Jewish way of charity (tsedaka) is; after almost two hours of looking at various texts, talmudic, biblical, and medieval, I can't say we'd answered the question, not at all. Maybe in a couple of months.

We were joined by a Haredi friend. Not marginally Haredi: very Haredi. From the center of the Haredi world. After the session I briefly chatted with her about the methodology, rather than the content. "You people study Torah very very differently than we do. It's fascinating, but I'm going to have to get used to it, if I can. We're very careful about what we say and attribute to the sources; you seem willing to entertain all sorts of ideas about what's perhaps going on in the discussions and interactions between the scholars".

Which means, even once you've got a firm grasp on how to understand the sources - no small feat, which most contemporary Jews can't do - and even if you've accumulated quite a bit of the content, there are entire schools of learning that do it differently, and in many cases probably understand the sources differently.

So, back to my introductory snapshots.

The Gemara is discussing permissible and prohibited commercial behaviors: how to weigh and measure produce. At one point Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai muses that the discussion itself is problematic. On the one hand, detailing the tricks may give thieves new ideas. On the other hand, not talking about it may give them the feeling the rabbis (who are also the magistrates) aren't street-wise, and they'll be encouraged to cheat.

So what did he decide, asks the Gemara? (Which is an interesting question, since we've already been told the answer). Rav Shmuel ben Itzchak explains that Yochanan ben Zakai chose to detail the specifics because of verse 9 in Hosea 14: The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them. The Torah tells what is right, even if some people will stumble.

Bava Batra 89b.


Elder of Ziyon said...

Are you saying that your very Haredi friend at your Daf Yomi group is a woman?

Yaacov said...

She's a woman, yes, but it's not the Daf Yomi group. This group meets one evening each week and deals with a subject, not one particular source.

I'd really love to have her husband join, but I don't expect him to. Haredi women often travel farther outside than the men.

Michael W. said...

I remember that in highschool (Jewish highschool), when ever we went over a passage in Tanakh, the teacher would always say that we could spend a month on this (plus the relevant Talmud) but we only have till the end of class. Most American secular students don't get the Jewish education that impresses upon them the deep analysis possible from our ancient texts.

arnie draiman said...

great! and try not to translate 'tzedakah' as charity....it is not! if you would like, i would be happy to lead a discussion, teach and provide source about anything and everything tzedakah. (that is what i do!).

tzedakah is giving, but it is not charity.

keep up the good work.

arnie draiman

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.