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Jewish Economic Morality

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The Divine origin of wealth is the central principle of Jewish economic philosophy. All wealth belongs to God, who has given it temporary to man, on a basis of stewardship- for his physical well-being. This means that because all wealth has a Divine source- all form of theft and dishonesty are religious crimes- above and beyond being crimes against society.

A basic concept to the economic philosophy of Judaism is that part of the wealth of individuals is given to them by the Deity, to provide for the needs of less successful members of society. This is done by making sure that the weaker members of society are also cared for- by the wealthier members of society.

Unlike some other religions, Judaism doesn’t view poverty as a virtue. Wealth, on the other hand, was always seen as a challenge. Judaism places many social and charitable responsibilities on the financially stronger elements within society and emphasizes the need to prevent exploitation of the weak.

As Judaism saw man's material welfare as a reward from Heaven, a gift of the Deity, material wealth couldn't be viewed as something intrinsically bad, but rather to be valued and respected. Nowhere in Jewish religious texts or commentary do we read that "riches are not good to have" or that "prosperity is a reflection of the exploitation of others."

From a philosophical perspective, Judaism views the drive to succeed and to prosper is legitimate- but within limitations. Judaism does recognize that mankind has two essential drives- a selfish one and a selfless one. In the Talmud (Berexxxx Rabbah 9:7) it states that: “But for the evil desire, no man would build a house, or take a wife or have children or buy and sell in business.”

Thus Judaism acknowledges the need for individual ambition in society and recognizes that man has a need to produce and to be successful in all endeavors of life. Judaism recognizes this but sees man’s role of moderating and controlling the selfish drive as one of the greatest moral challenges. .

Judaism recognizes the negative aspect of the human being's "desire to attain riches" and instead of denying it- limits it and places restrictions on this aspect of human inclination. Despite the legitimacy of economic activity and of man's enjoyment of material goods, Judaism does not allow unlimited accumulation of such goods or unlimited use of them.

All of man's actions, including those involved in the accumulation of material goods, are to be subjected to the ethical, moral and religious demands of the Torah, so that the individual and society can attain a state of sanctity even while carrying out the most mundane acts. Gathering wealth is acceptable as long as the person follows the moral and ethical path towards helping the less fortunate members of society.

This is how Judaism builds barriers and limits into the question of man's quest for riches. It is the "checks and balances" which keeps everything in perspective so that a man's life isn't spent merely striving to gain more material possessions and wealth- solely for that purpose and that purpose alone. Efficiency in wealth creation is never allowed to become the sole aim of human existence.

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