Jews, Money & Social Responsibility: Developing a “Torah of Money” for Contemporary Life.

Jews, Money & Social Responsibility: Developing a “Torah of Money” for Contemporary Life.

Lawrence Bush and Jeffrey Dekro. A Guidebook with Supplementary Essays by Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Arthur Waskow. With a forward by Jonathan Schorsch. Published by The Shefa Fund.

Rabbi Abba bar Acha said:
It is impossible to understand the
nature of this people—when they
are asked to contribute to the
Golden Calf, they give,
and when they are asked to contribute
to the building of the
Tabernacle, they give.
                               Shekalilm 1: 1

Pleas against Jews’ materialism and neglect of spiritual values (such as the Talmudic example above) are as old as the Prophets. Jews, Money & Social Responsibility goes beyond those screes to deal forthrightly and helpfully with sensitive issues about Jews and money through fundamental principles of Jewish guidance.

Creatively, Bush and Dekro combine Jewish scholarly sources from diverse interpreters to illustrate that the ’60’s anthem “If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem” is almost as basic to Judaism as the Ten Commandments, “The appeal to Jewish religious and historical values. . . deserves greater emphasis in Jewish fundraising circles, for it’s Jewish values that can give Jewish philanthropy its unique appeal,” they note. The authors use these principles to examine systematically myths and realities about Jews and money that are rarely discussed frankly: financial relations with non-Jews; women’s roles in Jewish fundraising; family foundations’ and Jewish organizations” roles within the Jewish community; and the fallacy of equating communal leadership with large contributions of money. Their new ideal, described in Arthur Waskow’s concluding essay, is the “tzedakah collective,” an association of families and individuals who together determine how much to give and how to distribute their joint philanthropy.

Maimonides’ eight degrees of tzedakah are usually the starting points for treatises on Jewish charity. This informative guidebook instead starts as a thorough compendium of practical perspectives on contemporary progressive charity. It’s chock full of specifics on techniques and organizations involved in all aspects of socially, environmentally and politically responsible philanthropy in the U.S. and Israel, from consumer choices to investments to charitable giving to community development. The graphics and sidenotes can be visually confusing and repetitive, but a complete bibliography and details on source material are included.

Two-thirds through. Bush and Dekro favorably compare the philanthropic alternatives they’ve showcased to Maimonides’ ideal in order to promulgate their thesis of an ethical “torah of money” that emphasizes “reciprocity, accountability, empowerment, and the encouragement of Jewish communal consciousness.”