Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Transgenerational Punishment

Deuteronomy 24:16
It says clearly that the parents are not to be put to death for the crimes of the children. (and visa versa)

This law is one of those that may be a response to the code of Hammurabi, sixth king of the Amorite Dynasty of Old Babylon (see blog entry for 9/11/05 ) and other similar practices. In ancient cultures children were like and extension of the parent, more like property.

Deuteronomy is like a reform of those earlier practices. There are other references to this: Ezekiel 18 "parents eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (turns them dark). (google that one and you get a lot of good stuff) 'The wicked son pays for his own sins' is repeated as Ezekiel stressed personal responsibility.

Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th century Germany) stressed the incentives to do right and the impact that sinful behavior has on children.

Rashi adds that this is the basis for the practice that children cannot testify against parents. This is part of Jewish legal procedure to protect the integrity of a family, which has priority.

But there is a conflict in Exodus 34:7 where God implies punishment to the 3rd & 4th generation. This is explained that God can inflict multigenerational punishment, but man cannot.

Then there is the natural process whereby children WILL suffer by the actions of their parents. We can inherit the feelings of past generations. This applies to both positive and negative influences.

The discussion turned positive at this point: R. Marder quoted from Jonathan Haidt's book Happiness Hypothesis (this is Sterling's cousin) where they found that happiness variations is genetic. Link to book webpage This is very interesting and I hope that many people have this 'happiness gene'.

However, it makes me wonder if there are genetic explainations for unhappiness and meanness or evil. And that maybe brings us back to "Amalek" as the source of evil? Was it genetic? And therefore would the parents be responsible for the actions of the children afterall?

Sam also mentioned a book: Sneaking Up On Happiness - but I can't find the reference (if we find it I will add it here.)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Are we tested by life's circumstances?

Good question among many that were brought up in this week's Torah Study.

A few interesting comments worthy of documentation.

We are born with opposing drives... We need Torah to clarify and direct us toward what is right.

Goal of Torah: "to make one's will God's will" (or maybe it is the reverse of that?)

Self-interest drives us.
Torah guides our interest toward feeling pleasure in giving and doing good deeds.

Torah creates a workable social system.

The goal is self-sufficiency.

Cofetz Chayim quote: 'a poor man stands at the door and God stands on his right side' - from the book, "Let Us Learn the Lesson: The Chofetz Chayim on Devarim."

Yiddish Phrase - "Gelt iz keilech" meaning "money is round" (it rolls from
person to person).

(this week notes were more 'bits' of good things to think about on topic.)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Dealing with Poverty

Deuteronomy 24:10-15
About loan repayment: creditors and debtors and the ability to repay loans is a complex subject. The objective is to be able to help those in need and yet to maintain their dignity. The Torah sets limits on what can be taken in settlement for a loan and how it can be taken.

In Deuteronomy 15 it said that "there should be no needy among you" and then just a few chapters later there are these detailed rules about how to handle financial assistance. The overall topic of how to deal with the poor and poverty is central to this part of the book.

The situation of the poor:
1. Unable to pay debts.
2. Unable to get a loan.
3. In permanent servitude.

Solutions presented in Torah:
1. Periodic return to the equilibrium with the 7-year sabbatical rules.
2. Those able to loan should offer a loan even to those who cannot repay and they will be blessed.
3. Every 7 years those who are in servitude are released and given a new start.

It is an overall program for how to deal with poverty. However, later as the economic world became more complex the interpretations needed to be updated and this system didn't completely work as intended.

Nevertheless, Torah does prescribe a system for creditors and debtors that works to maintain the dignity and privacy of the poor by setting specific rules. The intention of this is to focus on helping those in need and working toward that goal of "no needy among us."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

We MUST Redeem the Captive

Deuteronomy 24:7 Dont kidnap a fellow Israelite... and Exodus 21:16 He who kidnaps a man... shall be put to death.

Particularly appropriate to study this at the time when there are soldiers who have been taken hostage by Hezbollah and the topic of prisoner exchange is considered.

The law of redeeming the captive takes precedent over feeding the hungry (Talmud 8B)

Captives are often mistreated and therefore they must be a higher priority.

Rambam says there is imperative in Torah for this: Don’t harden your heart. Don’t stand by the blood of your neighbor.

Mishna – Don’t ransom a captive for more than his value for the good of the world. And then the Gemara explores what “value” is in this case.

There are different opinions on what our heritage says about prisoner exchange. (of course) R. Shalom Gordon – is against inflated prisoner exchange because it will encourage more kidnapping. And, in fact, this is true.

Paying ransom can be a burden to a community as well, so it is a “depends” situation.

R. David Halevi had a different view in 1985 – He point out that in the middle ages kidnapping was done for financial reasons, but today it is for political reasons and therefore it is not wrong to have a prisoner exchange. This is a way that the Government encourages soldiers to know their value.

It is still a very complex situation and we must always look at all vantages to consider action or our opinions on this subject.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Take Care of Those in Need

Deuteronomy 24:6 says that the millstone cannot be taken for pawn.

This verse leads to a discussion of not taking a person's means to make a living or to eat as collateral for a loan.

Then there is the other side of the story where it says that there will be 'no needy' if we follow God's word.

Since we don't always follow God's word then we need to have rules and guidelines for how to take care of those in need.

So this is a good guideline to follow but can be very complex to bring it to modern day terms.

There is also the correlation between what is to be given as tsedakkah and what is to be loaned.