This anthology presents twenty articles regarding the ways in which traditional Jewish theology can deepen our understanding of economic reality. Most of the articles were collected between 2007 and 2008 in Israel and translated from the original Hebrew. The focus of the collection is at once ethically universal and specifically relevant to Israeli society. The authors discuss such essential economic concepts as property, efficiency, and everyday commerce. The “normative” context for their discussion responds to a central question: “How are these concepts built out of the relationship between humans and nature, between humans and other humans, and between humans and God?”
The anthology’s well organized structure establishes a clear context for the various subjects explored within. The first and second sections concern the sabbatical year and the “internal structure of society in light of Jewish Mysticism.” The third and final sections present detailed discussions of Halachic approaches to the business world and such topics as interest rates, welfare, charity, and inheritance laws. In their selections for the anthology, the editors have sought to present a spiritually enriched middle ground between two opposing philosophies. On the one hand, they argue, “extreme capitalism” has generated rapid development at the cost of alienation and environmental devastation. But the contrasting system of “socialism-communism” has often been enacted with totalitarian methods resulting in the collapse of entire countries.
An eclectic array of sources and citations animate these essays. Several authors make special mention of such classical secular theorists as Plato and Aristotle along with Locke, Adam Smith, Marx, J. S. Mill, Max Weber, J. M. Keynes, and Milton Friedman. However, their deeper tribute is to the Torah, Mishnah, Talmud, Shulchan Aruch; and to Jewish commentators such as Rashi, Maimonides, R. Nachman of Breslov, Rabbi Kook, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. These formidable Jewish sources inspire the authors’ moral insights and their general view that the “benefit of the community, not just the individual, is highly prioritized by the Halacha.”
The articles often discuss specific practices and situations — such as the issue of foreign workers in Israel — to illustrate their broad spiritual perspectives. At times, however, the authors’ shared goal to “restore the Divine purpose which attaches to all experience” can seem somewhat fanciful. For example, Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, in his essay on the “Dynamic Corporation,” suggests that an exemplary company should aspire “to become a camp of G‑d” and realize “the spark of holiness” animating all proper commercial ventures. Despite their high intentions, the authors thus tend to avoid certain empirical problems and questions. In its swing away from secular communal values, has Israeli society in recent decades exacerbated inequality? Furthermore, what has happened to equitable opportunity and a meaningful social safety net during these many years of conservative-religious coalitions? There is also scant mention in the anthology of the contemporary schisms within Israel. Recent polls show that 86% of Israeli Haredi Jews support a Halachic state while 90% of secular Israelis are firmly opposed. As Ahad Ha-Am (Asher Zvi Ginsberg) commented more than a century ago, Israelis in their own land may well wish to disregard “the altar of meticulous legalism.” In his view, “it is possible to be a Jew in the national sense without accepting many things in which religion requires belief.”