Sunday, March 02, 2014

Book Review: Judaism, Law & The Free Market by Rabbi Joseph Isaac Lifshitz

I picked a Kindle version of this book up for free at some point from the Acton Institute. I finally got around to reading it.

As a Christian, I often enjoy reading books by rabbis. I'm convinced where the church often goes wrong is in being ignorant of the Jewish roots of Christianity. I've heard way too many sermons attempting to exposit the teachings of Christ in the context of 21st century American Evangelical Churchianity. I attempt to not make the same mistakes on those rare occasions when I get to teach.

This book is primarily focused on economics, specifically what can be learned from the rabbis and sages over the years. The author quotes extensively from Jewish documentation from just about all periods of history. In some cases, he may quote a little too much. Each chapter has copious notes for further explanation.

This book contains 6 chapters:
1) Introduction
2) Property Rights and the Image of God
3) Social Welfare in Talmudic Law
4) Generosity
5) Competition
6) Spontaneous Order

The most valuable insights I got from reading this book are from my highlights:

  • " is considered an act of kindness rather than an act of justice."
  • " does not redefine property rights. The rich man does not owe the needy, and the charity he gives is not a redistribution of his wealth according to justice."
  • "Economic success is considered a worthy aim, so long as one achieves it through honest means."
  • "...Rabbi Akiva taught his son: 'It is better to profane your Sabbath than to become dependent on others.'"
  • "When choosing between your own poor and the poor of the city, your own poor come first."
  • "The commandment to give charity was not intended to appease the poor person but to raise him out of his misery."
  • "There is another important difference between charity and generosity (investment- my addition). When performing charity, the focus is on the giver. In generosity, the focus is on the needy. I am thinking of the common practice whereby an older, well-to-do businessman helps a younger businessman by giving him leads or even capital. This sort of generosity is not identical with charity. It bears more similarity to a father helping his son."
  • "A community of generosity is also prosperous. Many times the young man who was helped climbs up the ladder of success, and ends up later helping the person who helped him. Thus, when an older person helps a young man, his act is similar to planting a tree insofar as even if the old man himself does not benefit, his children will."
This was an interesting book. 

I personally believe charity should be local, and this book validates that. Keeping it local provides accountability and reduces waste. It prevents politicians and crusaders from dipping their hands in the pot and diverting funds to other causes or to their own pockets.

When the author speaks of generosity, he means investment. It is better to invest in the poor and needy to lift them out of their misery than to just throw a little money at them and let them remain in that state.

If you're interested in what thousands of years of rabbis and sages have to say about the free market, you can get the book from my Amazon affiliation:

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