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Thought for the Day: Why *Is* Money So Important to Jewish Law?

There's an old joke: How do you make copper wire?  Throw a penny between two Jews.  Patently offensive; no question.  What about this one?  Why are there non-Jews?  Someone has to pay retail.  Offensive?  (If so, to whom?)  How about the expression, "to jew him down" (meaning, of course, to get the better end of a monetary deal)?  I once worked with someone who used the expression -- even in front of me -- with the same cavelier/clueless attitude I use the expression "to gyp someone".  Interestingly, Wiktionary labels both are pejorative, but only the former as "offensive" (though they admit that the latter can sometimes be offensive).

All well and good, but at the base of the whole discussion is that Jewish law really is concerned about money.  A lot.  And Jews are concerned about money.  A lot.  (More than other people?  Maybe...)  Even if you want to tell me that Jews become money lenders and businessmen because of two decrees of the oppressive regime that ruled Europe during the Middle Ages.  (What decrees?  One, that Jews were not allowed to own land.  The other, that non-Jews were not allowed to loan money to anyone at interest.  Throw into that mix that Christian Europe and Muslim Northern had a deep, mutual mistrust and therefore Jewish families -- such as Rothschild -- that were spread across the world became the only trusted middlemen...  Well, how good it have turned out any differently?)  Even so, you need to ask: What was behind the Divine Providence that put us in that position?

Yeah; I'm really going to answer all of that in a paragraph or two.  Of course not; even my arrogance knows some bounds.  Nonetheless, we can gain at least a small insight into some dimension of the centrality of money to Jewish law.  Consider the following three cases.

One: Shmendrick -- who has teenage daughters-- wants to build a pool in his backyard.  His neighbor, Shmuli -- who has teenage boys -- does not want his neighbors sunning themselves and frolicking in front of use boys.  Can Shmuli block Shmendrick from disturbing his spiritual environment?

Two: Reuvein is divorcd from Shprintza.  Yehuda, a neighbor of Reuvein, has been rehd to Shprintza as a shidduch, they have met, and decided to marry.  Mazal Tov!  One problem: A divorced man and lady are not permitted to live in the same neighborhood.  (Precise definition of what defines a neighborhood in this context is not important for the discussion.)  Neither want to move.  Now what?

Three Dr. Foureyes operated on Mr. Astigmatism and, unfortunately, blinded one of his eyes.  How does the good doctor recompense the half-sighted patient?

All of these cases are loaded with emotion.  The participants are unlikely to find a friendly compromise.  What does the Torah do?  Makes these all money cases.  Money allows one to put a precise value on wholly imprecise judgments.  The first case comes down to who has to pay for a fence.  The second comes down to how much will it cost to move -- including the costs of relocating a business which are also real and also quantifiable -- and who has to bear which costs.  The third comes down to how much income and value as an employee has Mr. Astigmatism lost in his profession.  All values that can be calculated.  All decisions that can be made objectively.

The Sephorno notes another advantage of money: monetary transactions are reversible.  In the case of a mistake -- either in judgement or because of new/better evidence -- everything can be re-adjusted to maintain fairness and equity.  Objectivity in even the most sensitive of situations and ability to account for human error in the short run and the long run.  What a Divine system.


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