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April 17, 2016 12:26 pm

Bernie Sanders Versus the Tenth Commandment

avatar by Edward Alexander

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Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders "has pounded away for months at the injustice, the wickedness, even the racism of 'income inequality.'” Photo: Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders “has pounded away for months at the injustice, the wickedness, even the racism of ‘income inequality.’” Photo: Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons.

Bernie Sanders, with the regularity of a steam engine, has pounded away for months at the injustice, the wickedness, even the racism of “income inequality.” If ever there was a Johnny one-note on the American political scene, he is it. Yet almost nobody, and least of all his hapless opponent Hillary Clinton, has thought to call into question the ethical validity or inflammatory character of the covetousness this political slogan urges upon the public, with a recklessness that has visited untold calamities upon Europe. (Among politicians, Charlie Rangel of New York did have the temerity to say, “OK, income inequality… But does he [Sanders] have anything else to say?”) Has religious illiteracy now reached the point in America where the Tenth Commandment has been so entirely forgotten that the most blatant repudiations of it go unnoticed? Here it is, for the sake of those who have forgotten (or never knew):

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” — Exodus 20:17.

This last of the ten commandments, as Biblical commentators have often observed, differs from previous “negative” ones in that it prohibits not an action (murder, adultery, theft, false witness) but a state of mind—covetousness—that is at the root of most sins against our neighbors. No doubt John Stuart Mill, a far more literate liberal than Bernie Sanders, had it in mind when he complained that “’thou shalt not’ preponderates unduly over ‘thou shalt’” in Biblical morality.

The ethical wisdom of this commandment has all too often been demonstrated by the way in which covetousness expresses itself in the murderous character of “negative” politics, which directs the wrath of the covetous against a particular group. In Sanders’ typical stump speech, it is usually “Wall Street” or “the one percent.” In the rhetoric of the “Occupy Wall Street” and other “Occupy…” mobs that Sanders admires, it gets a bit more specific about attaching a name to “the one percent.” But most specific of all is Noam Chomsky, whom Sanders has praised as  “a very vocal and important voice [sic] in the wilderness of intellectual life in America…a person who [sic] I think we’re all very proud of.” Chomsky, who has publicly endorsed his friend Sanders for the Democratic nomination, has strong views about just which group of Americans should be named as the chief target of an aggressive campaign of class warfare against “the rich and privileged” whom Sanders is daily berating. “Antisemitism,” Chomsky has declared, “is no longer a problem, fortunately. It’s raised, but it’s raised because privileged people want to make sure they have total control, not just 98% control. That’s why antisemitism is becoming an issue.” To this does covetousness very often lead. Is it even remotely possible that Sanders doesn’t know?

The rapidly accumulating evidence of Sanders’ intense hostility to Israel will, if he should gain the Democratic nomination, require examination of his contempt for what Emil Fackenheim, in a famous essay of 1967, called the 614th Commandment: “From this beginning confrontation [with the Holocaust] there emerges what I will boldly term a 614th commandment: the authentic Jew of today is forbidden to hand Hitler yet another, posthumous victory.” Since Passover is now approaching, perhaps Sanders will put to himself the following, Fifth Question recommended by Ruth Wisse. It too implies a commandment that Sanders might do well to consider:

“History will ask only one question of our generation: did you secure the state of Israel? Woe to a North American Jewry that does not ensure a rousing reply in the affirmative.”

Edward Alexander is the author of Irving Howe: Socialist, Critic, Jew (Indiana University Press, 1998). His most recent book is Jews Against Themselves (Transaction, 2015).

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  • Ignatz

    “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.” – James 1:1-5

    I guess the writer of this article believes that New Testament Book of James violates the tenth commandment.

  • Noah

    I once had the experience of seeing what Noam Chomsky does when he is caught flat-footed lying: he simply made up a source and attributed his lies to it.

    Sanders does something similar, though it is hard to tell whether he is just so out of touch with reality that he wouldn’t recognize it if it slapped him in the face.

    The real issue here is that there are large numbers of Americans who are so ignorant that they support the likes of Sanders, Clinton, Trump, Cruz, etc., and one of them will almost certainly be heir to a president who also has no more than a casual acquaintance with reality.

    Thus do democracies die.

  • Yaakov

    Judaism does not promote income equality, but ancient Jewish communities, as related in the Talmud, conducted themselves in a way that was much closer to socialism than to today’s unbridled capitalism. Jewish communities with their rabbinic authorities always sought to ensure that the rich were not taking advantage of others and that the poor always had the means to provide for themselves. Sanders’s economic philosophy is much, much closer to the Jewish way than that of any of the other candidates. It has nothing to do with covetousness.

  • moishe pupik

    Isn’t Israel’s attack against Yiddish and Djudezmo a 614 commandment reality giving Hitler the final triumph by destroying Jewish culture?

    And yes, I am sorry to say that not everything Israel does is proper or positive and actually I would suggest that the worst dangers to Israel’s survival come from “bibi’s” and his supporters not from those who criticize them.

    Maybe your political bias will not allow for this perspective to be considered,or will it?

    By demonizing all critics of ISrael you are actually helping bring on their own dismissal.

  • Rena

    To simplify: I think we can assume that most people who support Sanders are not saying, “Take from me and give to others.” No, they are saying, or at least thinking, “I want what that rich guy has.”

  • Ronald Padawer

    Why can’t I see the comments on this or other Algemeiner articles? Help please. Do I need to change my settings someway. Have no problem with other online publications.

  • Mickey Oberman

    Sanders is very bad medicine for both Jews and Gentiles. The exception being Islam which probably loves his invectives against Israel and Jews in particular.

    But then he is no better than his perpetually prevaricating and lying opponent, Hillary Clinton.

    Surely, somewhere in America there are decent, honest, ethical replacements for this unholy pair.

  • Wayne J Scott

    President Trump will be Isreals best friend.
    Best wishes to all for a Happy, Healthy and Safe Passover.

    • Ignatz

      “President Trump will be Isreals best friend.”

      If Trump’s becomes President, you will know that you are looking at The Beast.

      He fits Revelation like a glove.

  • Ron Sones

    Why does my neighbor have more than me? He must have stolen or cheated. So there goes “bear false witness”.
    To fix it, take his money with high taxes. Out goes “do not steal.” In communist countries, if he failed to cooperate, he would be charged with “economic crimes”, a capital offense. There goes “do not kill”.
    Then get the kids to inform on their parents. Oops, there goes “honor thy father and mother”. If we destroy the family, we don’t need “no adultery”.
    Finally, the state replaces God, do there goes “no idols”, “take name of God in vain” and “have no other gods”. And, of course, if there is no God, then there is no need for a Sabbath day.

    So yes, socialism is indeed morally problematic!

  • Peter Joffe

    Income equality cannot happen unless we somehow invent ‘production equality”. We have had the wills and the will nots, the productive and the unproductive, the thinkers and producers since the dawn of time and so it will remain until the end of time. You cannot legislate those who have to supply to those who have not without destroying all of humanity. Wake up Sanders and Clinton and stop talking rubbish.

  • Lia

    History will not ask that question of Mr sanders. It will not be necessary.

  • Jeremy miller

    I enjoy reading this a lot. While I am sure our politics diverge this and your comments on Shabbos at the Summit are terrific and engage me. I stumbled on this site when looking for your recent publication. Wishing you a Chag lasher vesameach!

  • Hamanslayer

    Obviously, the 10th Commandment is far from being the only one Bernie and his buddies like Chomsky, and the Joke Street and Jewish Vox for Putzes choose to ignore — mainly because they are all unsuitable to the “liberal” anti-Jewish ultra socialist mentality.

    I am glad writers like Edward Alexander are sufficiently well-read to be able to quote the Putz Chomsky — personally, I would not waste the time to read anything that character writes — not even to quote him in a rebuttal of any sort! The same goes for the Finkelsteins, the Blumenthals (of Hillarious Klingon infamy) and any kosher-looking pig that belongs to Naturei-Karta, sworn friends of Hamas.

  • Sheldon

    Love it! Point well made. Income inequality vs The Tenth Commandments (Thou shall not covet). How do you like them apples liberals? 🙂

    • Ignatz

      The Lord Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. Do you think He was kidding?

      Now,we can argue about exactly what Jesus meant by that, but the very LEAST he could mean is that rich men are usually LESS trustworthy, LESS moral and LESS close to God than others.

      He said you can NOT serve both God and money. It is IMPOSSIBLE. Do you think he was kidding?

      Scripture says that the love of money is the root of ALL EVIL. Says greed is idolatry, which breaks the FIRST Commandment. Do you think it’s kidding?

      The problem with this whole article is that it assumes that one cannot oppose hoarding without being envious.

      But that includes Jesus and almost all of the great Christian saints