Occupy Wall Street and the Perversion of Jewish Values
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.