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Earlier this week I was contacted by a journalist from the ABC asking for a Jewish perspective on Religion and Money, stemming from a podcast in which other religious perspectives including the Christian and Muslim were presented. If you’re interested in it, I include the link below:

The journalist’s questions and my responses follow:

1. In Judaism, can you tell us what the rulings are for wealth, and the concept of money?

In Christianity and Islam there are aspects of charity that are within the faith, is it the same in Judaism? If so, can you explain further how it works?In Judaism morality matters more than money. We are encouraged to spend more time thinking about what am I going to live for rather than what am I going to live from? If you are fortunate enough to have wealth, you are obligated by Jewish law to share it with those who are in need. The minimal offering of a tithe of one’s salary for charity is mandated and giving more than this is meritorious. Jewish communities set up charitable funds wherever they are – and while charity begins at home, it certainly doesn’t end there! Spread your wealth as far as it can go…

2. In Christianity and Islam there are aspects of charity that are within the faith, is it the same in Judaism? If so, can you explain further how it works?

The Hebrew word for charity is tzedakah and is an axiomatic for the Jewish faith, and I would suggest is the basis for the commitment to charity by the other monotheistic religions that followed it. There are many references to the imperative to give charity in the Pentateuch, or first 5  Books of the Bible, including “You shall surely open your hands to the poor”. The so-called Laws of Charity are an integral part of the Talmud and Codes of Jewish Law. The word tzedaka means ‘just generosity’- sharing your wealth is an act of justice, a way of improving the world; not just an act prompted by a generous heart. It is, however, optimal to give, not just because God expects you to, but to give with joy and love; give what you’re expected to give and do it with love!

3. We’re ultimately trying to answer the question: Can you be wealthy and religious at the same time? What are your thoughts on this question, based on your beliefs?

Being religious and wealthy are not contradictory. Religion is about doing what is right in the eyes of God and people. Money in itself is neutral – it’s how you use it that makes it moral, amoral or immoral. If God has given you the destiny or opportunity to be wealthy, you are indeed fortunate since you can use it to  alleviate suffering, to heal a broken world, to create a better planet. A religious person is expected to understand that wealth is a gift they are given to share with others.

4. There are common stereotypes out there about Jewish people and money. Some may make assumptions based on very little facts that Jewish people like to accumulate wealth or have a lot of money. Can you help squash some of these stereotypes and talk about what scriptures say in terms of wealth and money.

Seeing Jews as obsessed by money and excessive greed is a cruel stereotype as old as Judaism itself. It gained a lot of traction in medieval times when Jews were barred from most professions, but allowed to be money lenders (think Shylock) and then they were damned for being successful at it. Jews were forced to look after themselves, to create charity funds for all in need in their community, as they were treated as pariahs by others and persecuted and hated for who they were. They had a passion for education and survival which helped them become successful – they were very often more literate and learned than many, if not most, of their non-Jewish neighbours. In most societies Jews have lived, they have become prosperous; and this in turn has attracted jealousy and rivalry. It is simply untrue that all Jews are rich – I , for example, work for Jewish Care Victoria which supports hundreds of economically struggling Jewish families, Jews living in poverty, or those in need in Victoria alone. We, the Jewish community, do happen to be represented on the Rich List of Australia, but we are also represented in so many philanthropic endeavours across Australia. Rich Jews share their wealth, not only with other Jews, but with all Australians from hospitals to the Arts, from First Peoples to refugees.

5. I’m also speaking about the prosperity church, and how wealth can be encouraged in certain circles. The idea is to accumulate wealth and God will give you a kingdom in heaven. What are your thoughts on that? I know in Judaism the concept of the afterlife isn’t the same as Christianity, so therefore if one was to live a life of wealth, what would happen after they die according to Jewish faith?

It should be obvious that wealth is not your ticket to heaven. Good actions count more than good money. You are entitled to live a comfortable life, but not at the cost of others. You can rejoice in your wealth as long as you remember to share it, and always know a happy person is one who is happy with what they have. You will be judged in heaven by your honesty and integrity with the  wealth you earned and gained, or were given.

6. Anything else about money and wealth from the religion you’d like to add?

In Judaism poverty and dependence are no blessing; being reliant on charity is not ennobling and we are called on to try and be self-sufficient and not reliant on the gifts of others. However, it is also not humiliating to receive charity and support from others if you fall on bad times beyond your control. In fact, if you refuse help when you need it, that’s simply short-sighted and a form of self-harm. The giver of charity is also reminded that when they help someone in need they need to treat them with dignity and respect. Having wealth is a gift but also an awesome responsibility – always see the human being you are responding to and remember they have the same spark of God as you do…

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Ralph

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