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.