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A Culture of Dependency

A Culture of Dependency

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On the face of it, those advocating transforming our capitalistic culture into a welfare state should be commended for their generosity and concern for their less fortunate fellow citizens. After all, what could be nobler than to demand that society’s wealth be redistributed fairly, guaranteeing equality of opportunity and freedom from hunger to all?

In practice, providing money and welfare to individuals and communities without demanding a reciprocal commitment from the recipient has only ever proved a recipe for disaster and continued dependency. In the Talmud, beneficiaries of charity are described as "eating the bread of shame," which is why Maimonides recommends providing a poor person with a job, or other method of self sufficiency, rather than a no-strings-attached provision of welfare. In advertising speak: a hand up, not a handout.

The fact that entire communities, from Aboriginal tribes in Australia to the migrant population of Europe and the so-called Palestinian refugees of Gaza, have been allowed to spiral into a culture of entitlement and despair brings discredit to the community in general and to the aid officials in particular who allowed once proud people to become sullied by the expectation that others are responsible to provide the solution to their own issues.

Maimonides recommends providing a poor person with a job, rather than no-strings-attached welfareEven people who have spent decades happily self-sufficient can be similarly morally destroyed upon retirement. Their "freedom from work" too often degenerates into a pale and lonely existence. Take away from otherwise healthy senior citizens any real reason to get up and get dressed in the morning, and those who don’t quickly find replacement creative outlets will quickly wither away into irrelevancy.

Had G‑d so desired, He could have created a universe where all man’s needs, physical and spiritual, are fully supplied up front. To do so, however, would be to create a race of moral degenerates with no purpose other than self-indulgence. With nothing to reach for, nothing to achieve, we’d be left wallowing in our own individual pools of sluggish turpitude.

This would help explain the Torah’s prohibition against lending money on interest. Contrary to the anti-Semitic perception of the Jews as a race of usurers and moneylenders, we have been specifically enjoined against the practice. Shakespeare’s Shylock speaks the truth when he declares that it was the Gentiles of those times who drove us reluctantly into money lending as a profession by excluding Jews from the guilds and forbidding us from owning land.

Lending money to those in need is generosity of the highest order, and free-loan funds, known as gemachs, have always flourished in Jewish societies. In Melbourne alone dozens of such foundations have been established to supply short-term loans of cash or other goods.

However, lending money on interest to another Jew is strictly forbidden. Aside from the reality that borrowers are often forced ever further into debt and many find it almost impossible to escape from the interest-trap, usury has a deleterious effect even on the lender. To earn money from one’s ingenuity, skill or effort is healthy; to receive a kickback for nothing is inherently destructive.

The money one earns from interest is almost dishonest, equivalent to eating the bread of shame. You’re not working for your sling-back, not producing or contributing to the development of the world. The other guy is doing all the work, and you are just piggy-backing on his efforts.

G‑d created us with an inbuilt need to succeed, to conquer our personal demons and to write our own success stories. To allow oneself to slumber away in a cocoon of indolence and dependency, relying on others to provide, with no sense of personal obligation, is to turn our back on reality and it demonstrates a total lack of faith and responsibility.

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum is spiritual leader of Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation and co-director of L’Chaim Chabad in Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia.
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Chaver March 10, 2016

Why humanity exists Elisha, achi, you are wrong. You are looking at the system the US has in place, with laws that create welfare programs that give people the means to build a better life and get out of depenency, but which are shot down and revised and edited by the Senate until it looks nothing like the way it was designed and all it does is cause dependency. The "New Deal" of the 30s helped people on their feet and created a self-sufficient society. I dare you to trace the ideology you just perpetuated back to its source and see how the originators are the same Senators mentioned above who preach this for self gain and for the gain of the companies who finance ther campaigns. Achi, the truth is this is our mission on this earth, to bring heaven down to earth. To say that trying to create a society that helps people on their feet is turning on reality goes against everything Chazal teaches. We have life so we can create this reality which G-d willing will be fulfilled through mashiach. Reply

Claudia August 16, 2014

A conductor draws upon all instruments as a whole ....to work a movement under a skilled direction to assemble with one another. Sometimes some musicians might think their instrument is the better choice. The percussion may also believe that w/o their momentum all would be lost to one side, moreover the wind instruments may even whisper that without their graceful notes how then would music soar to the Heavens? In the very same manner The Torah guides the steady baseline from which to stand, walk and move forward. The understanding is that each plays a very important part upon one another’s precision. The voice of gifted orators’ instrument the necessary changes to spark many to enliven their talents to press for improvements to search for what’s needed. Shepherds count their sheep to see if any are missing. If commitment doesn't reflect steadily increasing worship: something vain or someone is attempting to steal glories which belong to G-d alone. Originally we were created to be dependent entirely upon Hashem. Reply

WIll July 6, 2008

Interesting Points Love the points you bring up, work brings satisfaction. The laws and suggestions in G*d's word are given to help us. Teaching people to be self-sufficient is good for not only us and society but also for the people themselves. Reply

Anonymous san diego, ca May 10, 2007

loaning money Why wouldn't it have the same "bread of shame" effect to take interest on a loan from a non Jew? Wouldn't that be comparable to a desecration versus a kiddush Hashem? Reply

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