The Attitude to Poverty and the Poor in Early Rabbinic Sources (70-250 ce)

In: Journal for the Study of Judaism
B. Z. Rosenfeld Bar Ilan University Department of Jewish History

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H. Perlmutter Ashkelon Academic College Department of Jewish Studies

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This research examines the attitude of rabbinic literature to poverty and the poor after the destruction of the Second Temple. In the Hebrew Bible there are instructions to care for the poor and to be compassionate toward them. However, in Wisdom literature there is also criticism of the poor depicting them as lazy. The Torah obligates the individual Jew to support the poor though tithes from the produce of the fields, giving charity and free loans, but does not advocate establishing public funds for the relief of the poor. Rabbinic literature from after the destruction of the temple shows that the rabbis advocated community responsibility for helping the poor. It shows compassion toward the poor and encourages the Jews to support them through charity. They amended religious laws in order to enable the poor to have more to consume. This seems to be a change from the way the rabbis related to the poor prior to the destruction as is depicted by the New Testament. Examination of actions attributed to sages from before the destruction shows that the rabbis related positively primarily toward poor who were “sons of good” citizens. The other poor were “others” and were left to charity and tithes. After the destruction all poor are “ours,” sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

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