Live from the Lilith Blog

July 31, 2007 by

Divestment as Tzedaka

The Torah mandates that every Jew give a portion of her harvest to the poor as a form of tzedaka (Leviticus 19:9-10). Whereas our ancestors reaped their annual harvest, many people today reap the dividends from their annual investments. If the Torah were written in 2007, I would imagine that there might be whole chapters devoted to how to invest ethically in the stock market instead of chapters dedicated to how to leave the grapes on the ground for your hungry neighbors to gather.

Many people think of tzedaka as a positive act of giving money to an organization or a person in need. However, the word Tzedeka comes from the word tzedek, meaning justice. Therefore, the act of withdrawing your money from offending companies is certainly an act of tzedaka.

Although there are no specific commandments in the Torah decreeing, “thou shalt only invest in companies that have no ties to genocide,” many people have decided to divest from companies that are funding the genocide in Darfur through supporting the Government of Sudan. Genocide is an expensive venture and the Government of Sudan depends on foreign investments to carryout its heinous crimes. Foreign direct investment helps fuel Sudan’s oil industry and a shocking 70% of the oil revenues fund Sudanese military expenditures, including the genocide in Darfur. By removing funds from companies in Sudan, you are pinching the Government of Sudan’s purse and preventing them from carrying out their atrocities. This approach is promising because the Government of Sudan has historically been more responsive to economic pressure than it has been to political pressure.

But which companies should states, cities and individuals divest from? The Sudan Divestment has identified companies that meet the negative criteria of (a) having a business relationship with the Government of Sudan (b) not significantly benefiting underprivileged Sudanese people and (c) not establishing a corporate governance policy regarding the genocide in Darfur. By identifying companies on the basis of these three criteria, the Sudan Divestment Task Force hopes to avoid the unintended consequences of divestment, including unemployment for the innocent civilian population.

Divestment as a form of tzedeka has found many supporters. For example, 20 states, 9 cities, 54 universities, and countless individuals have divested from companies that are indirectly supporting genocide.

If you want to get involved with this powerful movement, you can join your state and city’s divestment campaigns (or thank your Governor for divesting if he or she already has). If you are a student, you can join or start your school’s divestment campaign. If you are an investor, you can make your own investments free from the offending companies of the Task Force’s targeted list by screening your investment portfolio.

The 21st century has complexities that the Torah could not have anticipated. However, the underlying teaching of the Torah is “justice, justice, justice shall you pursue.” Divesting from offending companies in Sudan is one way you can pursue justice by helping to end this atrocious genocide.

–Sophie Glass

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  • http://kvetcher.jewschool.com DK

    Divestment is being used against another nation, this one close to home. And Sudan is supported by many nations much more than U.S. businesses, such as China. Israel is much more reliant on the U.S. than Sudan economically. We will gain very little by leading a divestment approach, and we risk a lot by teaching and promoting it to others.

  • http://www.myspace.com/steftechintello Stefanie Hayes

    Sophie,
    It’s Stefanie in Orlando.. from the Library. I hope you remember me…
    I hope all is well with you, you have been on my mind a lot lately. I have been trying to get a hold of you since you moved to Denver. The letter i had sent you when you first moved out there came back to me, and I guess you changed your number… anyway… please as soon as you can give me a call or an email (407-721-7345) I’ve really missed you, and I am moving to Ireland in a few weeks and need to get you as a concrete pen pal before I go.

    please, Please, PLEASE call or write to me!!!

    -Stef
    (p.s. Tom has been frantically writing postcards and wants to know how you are! and Bonnie misses you too… oh and Sam says hi).

  • laurie rose jones

    I am an orphan child of an orphan child. Could you please tell me more of tzedeke? I believe it is a primary moving force in my life and would like a better understanding of it. I liken it to how I carry my reverence of having been given the gift of raising my children unfettered, and my humble acknowledgement of this great blessing is to treat every child I meet as I would pray that my child would be received, were I unable to be there for them. I believe kavanah is another term I am moved to explore.
    Thank you! Blessings.