Aniye Ircha Kodmim

Should the Jewish people and Israel actively care and become urgently involved with issues of extreme poverty in the developing world?

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.

Burundi village

Judaism and The Crisis of the Rural Village in the Global South

For many of us nourished and inspired by the integrity and spiritual depth of the Orthodox tradition at its best, how to apply Torah to meta-issues which are not in an obvious way legislated by Halacha and codified in the Shulchan Aruch is a burning, urgent question.

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?