Occupy Wall Street and the Perversion of Jewish Values

October 12, 2011 11:26 am 5 comments

Occupy Wall Street. Photo: Ruvi Leider.

While there has been some confusion as to what exactly they stand for, paraphernalia handed out by ‘Occupy Wall Street’ activists at Zuccotti Park sums it up in a piece entitled ‘Declaration of the Occupation.’ In one line, they feel “wronged by the corporate forces of the world,” and the piece goes on to list a litany of accusations.

I do sympathize with a few of the sentiments expressed by the participants. I think it is a bad idea to bail out failed companies and is sometimes a good idea for the government to provide a ‘leg up’ to those that are willing to work hard and contribute their fair share to society.

My understanding is that the implied solution that many are calling for is higher corporate taxation (and higher taxation for the wealthy, while we’re at it.) “Common wealth for all levels of culture,” is the way one protestor expressed it in an interview with the New York Observer. Of course this is a basic position that has been held by many on the Left since Karl Marx; I guess someone has just discovered a more exciting form of expression.

Counterbalancing the greedy Jewish banker anti-Semitic stereotype, it is commendable that many Jews have made the effort to weigh in on the conversation from a ‘Jewish values’ perspective and to provide participants with access to Jewish services especially over the festival of Yom Kippur.

What I must object to however, is the efforts of some Jewish participants to hijack Jewish teachings as a means to further their political goals. Writer Jeanette Friedman who was involved in organizing Yom Kippur services at the camp wrote on the Forward’s Sisterhood blog: “On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Isaiah speaks for God, who essentially says, ‘Who needs you to fast and say all these prayers of repentance and offer me all of these sacrifices if you don’t take care of your widows, your poor and your orphans?’”

It is true that Judaism encourages giving and care for the needy and holds charitable practices in the highest esteem, but primarily as it remains a social responsibility in the hands of the individual, as opposed to the government. As Britain’s Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes in his book The Dignity of Difference, “King David proposed redistribution. His sages told him that the cake wasn’t big enough however it was sliced. Economic growth is more powerful than simple redistribution.” He continues, “No religion can propose precise policies for the alleviation of hunger and disease. What it can do, is inspire us collectively with a vision of human solidarity.” As majority leader Eric Cantor told a Jewish audience recently at an Upper West Side Synagogue, “a bureaucrat in Washington can’t make as effective a decision about charity, as you can.”

In truth, the implication that the government can or should impose any policies as a result of religious dictum, Jewish or otherwise, toys dangerously with first amendment promises and the separation of church and state that are the basis for the freedoms of our American society as we know them today.

The most productive, Jewish and impactful path that authentic activists with charitable concerns can take, is in the private sector. Perhaps all this energy and exertion should be directed towards the establishment for example, of a grassroots support organization that grants financial aid to struggling artists or writers like Jeanette Friedman, or partners corporate giving programs within large pharmaceutical companies with those that are in the greatest need of medical aid. Additionally, initiatives of this innovative nature are effective, pro-active and cut out the waste and red tape associated with the federal charity of Washington that is being called for.

The Jewish solution is certainly not government imposed. It calls for activists to encourage “genuine willingness on the part of those who gain to ensure that the losers also benefit,” and to appeal to and inspire the spirit of charity as a personal obligation through effective and creative private sector programs.

The Author is the director of the Algemeiner Journal and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at defune@gjcf.com.

5 Comments

  • To attack an individual personally, as you have done, is reprehensible. I happen to vehemently disagree with what you say, but believe in your right to say it. This is not your bully pulpit. To use your column to try to stop anyone from doing or saying what you disagree with is vile. That is not journalism nor is it civilized discourse. Since you seem to consider yourself such an ehrliche yid, why don’t you review your list of Al Chaits. Better yet, take some time and study the Tanach.

  • Bloggers are acceding to the dangerous weapons employed by socialist, radical communists that under the rubric of “fundamental transformation”, incitement crisis, taking money from the rich (the producer economic engines that create the wealth that defines America as the nation immigrants come to from the nearest and farthest corners of the world to live), transfer of wealth from the rich to the deserving – have entrenched on our soil war!

    Falling for their narratives repleat with vocabulary reflecting Communist ideology as brainwashing tools is dangerous – and more so for Jews have have suffered under ideological driven manifestos as its first victims.

    How can Jews who hold ourselves to be so smart, so wise, so caring not only place ourselves in the mouth of those who seek our annihilation but become its cheerleaders?

  • Arieh Lebowitz

    Dovid: Federal, state or municipal governments should not and Constitutionally cannot impose any policies as a result of religious dictum, Jewish or otherwise.

    But religious individuals, including politicians in office, may personally be either influenced by or guided by their religious traditions and practices. And clearly, Jewish religious traditions, texts and practices have things to say about the issues raised by the Occupy wall Street phenomenon.

    There are diverse productive, “Jewish” and impactful paths that “authentic activists” can take. I would not for a moment rule out working for changes within governmental policies, by the way, including for instance better oversight of financial institutions, changes in the tax codes so that the more well off pay at least their proportional fair share {a’la Warren Buffet}, more meaningful penalties for financial defrauding of investors, etc.

    As to what individuals with “charitable concerns” can take, I’m all for private sector initiatives, but clearly there is a role for both the private sector AND the public sector. And your suggestion re the establishment of a grassroots support organization that grants financial aid to struggling artists or writers is a good one. I am certain that The Algemeiner Journal could play a useful role in establishing just such an institution.
    As for a project to partner corporate giving programs within large pharmaceutical companies with those that are in the greatest need of medical aid, great.
    But the largest institution available to enact needed changes is the government, and it is not at all necessary to discount the good that could come from meaningful changes in this sector.

    There is no one “Jewish solution.” And the Jewishly involved activists who have been holding Kol Nidre services at diverse protest sites, and are organizing Sukkot events as well, are helping the larger group of folks demonstrating that they want a change in the rules of the game in American economic and social life think through the diverse options before us.

    I say to them, and to you, Yashe Koyakh for focusing attention on this growing movement for a better society, and better communities, across the U.S.A.

  • Truly, many governmental policies are influenced by our ethical values. Our ethical values are influenced by our religion. While it is true that the Constitutional separation of church and state is highly important to maintain, it is not correct to infer that therefore all social charity should be private. The United States has often passed legislation that can be said to have religious roots, such as food stamps and medicare benefits. Would you get rid of the social safety nets because you believe any legislation that may have a religious/compassionate basis should not exist? Your argument is shallow from a cultural and political/historical perspective.

  • listening to the audio book of The Google Story i was given insight into the greed and corruption that Wall Street insiders probably do not even recognize as greed and corruption. that goes for government as well – but in government you can add stupidity and irresponsibility. i would like to see a capitalist society with more charitable aspects and with less greed and corruption.

    i see higher education as a scam. it is filled with excess elements that jack up the price. the result is high student loans and graduates carrying the loans who cannot find jobs. preparation to enter the work force should be streamlined to prepare students for real jobs. and employers should hire according to their needs – and drop the college education pre-requisite when it is not required for the tasks of the job.

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