Regarding the Aug. 31 letter “Welfare recipients denied work ‘blessing,’” K.A. Straughn must not be familiar with the Jewish concept of Tzedakah, which translates to “justice,” not “charity,” as it is often mistranslated. Tzedakah is a biblical and rabbinic concept that obligates Jews to pursue social and economic justice for everyone, not just through private acts, but through the actions of the community as a whole. A popular rabbinic teaching states that when one meets a beggar, they should know that God is standing by the beggar’s side. The idea is that our time on earth is but a loan from the deity, and we owe it to ourselves — and each other — to spread our good fortune to everyone.
This is not to say that Straughn’s arguments are utterly without merit: Obviously, it’s better to work if you are able, and nobody that I have ever known was eager to go on public assistance. But things happen to even the best of us. People lose their jobs, get behind on their mortgages, lose their livelihoods and can’t find work, and when that happens, I prefer the teachings of Hillel and Akiba to those of John Calvin.
Neither is this an idea limited to Judaism. Mahatma Gandhi once said that poverty is the worst form of violence. Now there’s a question for our time: How do we, a supposedly civilized nation, tolerate the continuation of institutionalized violence that we call “poverty” upon the minds, bodies and hearts of the so-called “least” among us? If we can afford to spend billions of dollars of our tax monies to maintain costly and brutal wars overseas in order to maintain our own hegemony in the world, why can we not give a little of those monies over to seeing that people don’t starve to death in the streets? If thinking like this makes me unchristian to some, so be it.