The Challenge of Wealth
By Dr. Meir Tamari
The centerpiece of this parsha is undoubtedly the Ten Commandments, later
repeated with slight changes in parshat Vaetchanan (Deut 5: 6-18).). At one
time, they were recited by the Levites together with the 15 Songs of
Degrees (Ps 120-134), as part of the daily Temple service. After the
destruction of the 2nd Temple, these Commandments were part of the public
organized mandatory prayer service in the synagogues. Only when apostates
maintained that this was all that was necessary, was this custom stopped.
Instead, individuals were still expected to continue to recite them
privately. Yet there are today, siddurim in which they no longer appear.
There are synagogues, where despite centuries old custom, they no longer
appear as part of the Aron HaKodesh.. Even though, rote learning of texts
is common in many schools, I have great difficulty in finding either boys
or girls who can recite these Ten Commandments. It may well be that herein
lies part of the reason for the separation of ethics in all spheres, but
predominantly in the area of money, business and the market place, from
daily religious life today. Perhaps, our lives are ethically and morally
poorer even while Jewish identification and learning grows, because of the
neglect and irrelevance in our educational system, both of young people and
adults alike, of this covenant between G-d and Israel.
Our sages spoke of the 5 commandments that are between Mankind and G-d and
the later 5 that are between people. However, their purpose was in no way
to separate religion from morality. On the contrary, their separation makes
the social crimes two fold, once between people and secondly at the same
time acts against the G-d who commanded all of them. Thereby, social,
sexual and economic immorality, all become religious sins. Idolatry
[Deut.12: 31], sexual immorality [Lev. 18: 26-27) and theft [Deut.25:16]
are all considered abominations in the Torah. "The beginning of Your word
is truth and Your just commandments are forever " (Ps.119). Rava explained
that from the conclusions of the Ten Commandments- mitzvoth bein adam le
chavero- we learnt the truth of the first ones between adam la makom.
Rashi, quoting the midrash, tells us that the nations of the world were
offered the Torah first. They complained that the Lord was no different
from other gods or kings and gave commandments solely for His own
aggrandizement and glory. Later, when they heard the social 5 commandments,
they confessed that the beginning ones were perfect truth.( Talmud,
White-collar crimes are performed in secrecy; often it is only the fear of
being discovered that keeps us moral. When the All Seeing, All Knowing and
unbribable G-d forbids them, then there can be no secrets. " You shall do
no unrighteousness in judgment, in measures, in weights and in liquid
measures. Just weights and measures you shall have. I am the Lord your G-d,
that brought you out of the land of Egypt " (Levit., 19:35). This linkage
between the Exodus and these laws flows from the fact that the G-d who
distinguished between the seed of a first born and others, the most private
and secret knowledge imaginable, will surely know when we soak our measures
or falsify our weights in secret in order to defraud, and punish
us"(Talmud, Bava Metzia 61b).
It is tempting to see the social laws, mishpatim, as being self- evident..
Indeed, Maimionides, the Sefer HaChinukhc and others maintained that we
could have arrived at them even if the Torah had not mandated them.
However, this makes them simply the creation of human intelligence, no
different from any other codex. The majority view has been that the
components of Torah, Chukim, Eiduyot and Mishpatim, are all the results of
Divine wisdom, beyond anything that could be arrived at by mere human
intelligence. Abarbanel sees this as evident in two areas. Firstly, the
Divine wisdom extends the concepts at play beyond the human mind.
Furthermore, the Torah's insistence on Divine reward and punishment ensures
that people know there is no escape from the results of their actions in
white- collar crime, exploitation and injustice.
Based on the Seventh Commandment, all the codes rule that it is forbidden
by the Torah, to steal anything, even the smallest item or one of no value.
This applies to the wealth of a Jew and a Non-Jew, to the property of a
adult or of a minor and pertains both to men and to women.( Mishneh Torah,
Hikhot Geneivah ,chapter 1,halkhot1-2; Tur /Shulchan Arukh, Choshen
Mishpat, subsection 1). It is true that there are other authorities who
claim that theft from an idolater is only of rabbinic origin . However,
this does not mean that such theft is permitted; after all much of our
observance of Shabbat, Kashrut or prayer is mandated by rabbinic decree and
yet this does not free us from their observance. In a similar manner, the
Talmudic observation that the words in the Ten Commandments refer to buying
slaves, does not mean that the injunction not to steal was not issued at
Sinai. The basis for this rabbinic observation lies in the fact that both
murder and sexual immorality that are mentioned here together with theft
carry a death penalty; the only form of theft that carries such a penalty,
is the theft of humans for sale.
This same source in the Codes provides an educational framework that
prohibits theft beyond the damage done to the owner, thereby emphasizing
the moral and spiritual damage suffered by the thief. So one may not steal
in jest, nor simply to anger the owner, nor with the intention to return
the goods, nor even to be able to pay the fines laid done in the Torah. A
minor who steals is liable to corporal punishment, even though not legally
liable. This in contrast to the lack of punishment for their transgressing
laws of kashrut etc.
Although we have brought the Codes dealing with theft, they include
robbery, fraud and oppression in the commandment "Thou shall not steal".
Together, they prevent false weights and measures, mandate the returning of
lost articles [this includes sharing information to prevent economic loss],
forbid the use of force to obtain somebody else's wealth [retaining wages,
using trust fund for ones own benefit, forcing another to sell something
that they do not really want to sell, even at market prices, perhaps would
apply to hostile takeovers and aggressive salesmanship]. The Ramban
includes all the laws of damages, bailees and buying and selling. They
forbid any way that takes somebody else's wealth away from them against
their will or without their knowledge.
Furthermore, both Maimonides and the Ramban make them part of the Noachide
laws that apply to non-Jews also. The Rambam places some of them under the
injunction to establish a just legal system, while the Ramban, deduces all
of them from " Thou shall not steal"
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Project Genesis, Inc.
Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.