We often encounter people who argue that we should not. “The poor of your own city take precedence,” they say, quoting a Talmudic dictum, usually with some degree of indignation. The use of this quotation would be problematic even if our reality were the same as in the days of the Talmudic sages.
The subject of this essay—developing a Jewish ethical stance towards poor farmers in the Global South—evokes this question in two ways. First of all, can specific legislation from the Torah, directed as it was to an agrarian society in a remote historical era, help us think through contemporary issues of poverty and the environment? And secondly, can mitzvot which were, at their origin, meant only for Israelite society guide us in the global and universal human arena?