Wednesday, October 10, 2007


An interlocutor wrote me in response to my contention that to take part in banking, such as it exists today, is to partake in a Avayra (a transgression of Torah):


I agree that the Israeli bank system is more than corrupt, and the choice of an American banker to be at top of it did not help at all...

But I have to inform you that our sages already 2000 years ago were aware that without interest no economy works and installed the Heter Iska (a Rabbinical injunction that purports to allow a transaction that the Torah forbids), which circumvents the biblical law.

So if you believe an alternative form of a bank may be of help - I don't
argue about that.

But saying making an Aveyrah?

That's as selling the Chametz (leaven) on Pessach (Passover) or the agricultural produce in a Shmitta year (years when the fields must be left fallow), problem solved since long, reverting to the biblical written
word reinterpreted by Chazal (the Sages), that - yes - that is an Aveyrah!"

I responded:

The very phrase "circumvents the biblical law" rankles.

I have been thinking about what is written here and have seen that it should be considered carefully, because what is written has profound implications for a banking system we Jews can call our own.

"There are four character types among men: He who says: "What is mine is yours and what is yours is mine", is an ignoramus; [he who says] "What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours" – this is the median characteristic; and some say that this is the characteristic of the people of Sodom; [he who says] "What is mine is yours and what is yours is yours" is a pious and benevolent person; [he who says] "What is yours is mine and what is mine is mine" is a wicked person." - TRACTATE AVOT (PIRKEI AVOT) Chapter V, Mishna 10

Let's consider two points in the above paragraph. First, is it true that one who says" "What is mine is yours and what is yours is mine" is an ignoramus? Usually when one fluffs someone off as an "ignoramus", one knows that the person who holds the position has something important to say and doesn't want you to hear it. We may always suspect the motives of someone who calls another and "ignoramus" and presents another's position in their stead.

Second, let's consider how the Mishna defines a pious and benevolent person. He is someone who says "what is mine is yours and what is yours is yours". If the process of give and take stops with one person, then the possibility of private property might continue to exist.

However, if the pious and benevolent person gives to someone who is likewise pious and benevolent, that person will say: "No! What is mine is yours and what is yours is yours!" In such a situation BOTH (or in the case of more than two people) have negated the concept of private property entirely. They both (or all) abnegate the rights to their property mutually.

The laws of commercial interaction called for in Judaism then, if we wish to be what our ideals hope for, leave us no recourse but the abolition of private property.

Upon consideration we see that the only way in which to carry out the mitzvoth of Pesach without worry of huge amounts of food and value of food be lost and of the laws of Yovel (Jubilee) is not by heter mekhirim (Rabbinical injunctions "allowing" sales that the Torah forbids) and not by prozbul (Laws that circumvented the Torah in regard to the Jubilee), which are nothing but heroic intellectual exercises on the part of the Rabbis to protect their wealthy who were often their patrons, but by *the abolition of private property*.

Anarcho-Communism, then, is the logical conclusion of Jewish Law.

I am NOT speaking of Marxist Communism, which is nothing other than State-owned property.

I am speaking, rather, in terms of Kropotkinian Anarcho-Communism – the utter abolition of property and currency. This is the only system of Anarchism that will allow for us to keep the Laws of Torah as they are written and as they are intended.

The forms of Anarchy generally known as collectivism and mutualism will not fulfill the needs of the Jewish people, for they still retain either some degree private ownership of property or collective ownership of capital.

During Pesach when we are not allowed to own chametz it will not help us if the chametz is collectively owned. We would still be faced with the problem of what to do with it during Pesach.

Only when the grains in our silos belong to no one – when everyone takes what she or he needs and everyone gives what she or he can we fulfill Jewish Law.

The problems of the Yovel are solved entirely if there is no money lending, slavery or land ownership to begin with.

If we have harvested commonly the year before the shmitta, the land belonging to no one, we need not be concerned with problems of shmitta. We will have all that we need and no problems of ownership.

Our particularly Jewish system of banking, then, must be one of the mere distribution of commodities and services to all who need.

Our work itself will produce increasing wealth. There is no need for interest whatsoever.

This too can be readily understood by a general audience. I've translated the terms that are transliterated and added a bit of information in parentheses.

I'm posting it here to give an idea of how religion should be redeemed, not rejected.

Another interlocutor wrote:

"Actually, Doreen, (the Sage) Hillel (the Elder, 1st C. BCE to 1st C. CE) set up corporations because people stopped lending money to each other.

Hillel wanted to make sure the rich would lend (INTEREST FREE, as you know) to the poor. And Hillel, a Babylonian immigrant to Eretz Ysrael (the Land of Israel), was so POOR that when he couldn't PAY the ENTRY fee (later cancelled by R. El'azar B. 'Azariyah) for entering the yeshiva/beith midhrash (house of study), he climbed up onto the roof & listened through the skylight & nearly FROZE from the snow.

I know not a few amount of people who give 20% of the
profits to tzedaqa (charity) because of the RABBIS & that money fills a LOT of cracks for weak people. PLEASE, if you are going to say something negative, better not to, but if you are going to do it anyway, make sure you cap it off w/something nice. It's so easy to destroy, but it's so much better to build."

I responded:

Read what you wrote and see the implications of it.

Hillel had the power to create a precedent that would institute a millennia-long "circumvention" of Torah.

Yet, he did not use that same power to compel the rich to continue lending to the poor.

Hillel had the power to take the Jewish people off course and go against the Word of God for over two thousand years. Yet you would have us believe that he could not have compelled the rich, who have always been a small minority, to continue to lend?

If we are to create a more just economic system, a more Jewish economic system, a more Torah-true economic system, and of course that will include an entirely new banking system; we must be entirely honest with ourselves and that will involve divesting ourselves of our mythology about the Rabbinical establishment, from its inception.

We will not throw out the proverbial baby with the cliche bathwater. Where they were right, they were right and what fits our reality, we must retain. But that which does not stand the test of time and the possibility we now face of eradicating poverty, we must dispose of.

There are all kinds of ways of giving. Tzeddakah (charity coming from the radical tzeddek -righteousness), as I have written, need not be monetary, and should not be. Tzeddakah can be educational, it can be emotional, it can be social. When we teach someone something s/he did not know, we have performed an act of Tzeddakah. When we give succor to someone in emotional straits, we give Tzeddakah. When we tell our wife who is pregnant with our third child that she is beautiful, we give Tzeddakah. When we tell our unemployed husband that we love, honor and admire him, we give Tzeddakah. There will always be ways of giving Tzeddakah. It need not involve the humiliation of the poor eating out of the hand of the rich.

While giving 20% of one's income if one can if honorable by today's standards, we can build a world in which we are all so whole as to be able to give much closer to 100% of ourselves.

There is no reason to "circumvent" Torah. It is not an obstacle. There is, however, a need to see it with new eyes.

Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan, Tzfat, Israel

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