Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…