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Religious Studies

Judaism: poverty and wealth

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Jewish teaching

The tenth commandment makes it clear that people should be content with what they have:

You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

Exodus 20:17

Judaism also does not approve of materialism:

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.

Ecclesiastes 5:10

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.

Proverbs 23:4

Love of money could mean that people forget about God:

Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Deuteronomy 8:11-14

Work is an essential part of Jewish life and everyone is expected to work:

By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.

Genesis 3:19

Great is work. God’s presence only rested upon the Jewish people when they began occupying themselves with useful work.

Maimonides

All business must be honest.

Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah [19.7 litres] and an honest hin [3.7 litres].

Leviticus 19:35

Jews may not work on the Sabbath:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-10

This rule can be broken in the case of pikuakh nefesh – in order to save life.

Whoever destroys a single life is considered as if he had destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life as if he had saved the whole world.

Mishnah

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