Sunday, November 9, 2008

Corners of the Field

Jewish law states farmers can not harvest their fields all the way to the corners, nor pick up the gleanings or fallen fruit. These are to be left for the poor and strangers to gather. It also states that the poor cannot gather more than their share. It also states that it is better to give a poor person a job or a loan. This way, the poor person can pull himself up. It further states that all must give tzedakah, the poor as well as the rich.

Jewish tzedakah also has a progressive scale of giving. A rich person is encouraged to give more than the required 10% but less than 20%. No one is to give tzedakah to the point where they will become improvised. Tzedakah is more than just giving charity.

"Tzedakah" is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call "charity" in English: giving aid, assistance and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes. However, the nature of tzedakah is very different from the idea of charity. The word "charity" suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy. The word "tzedakah" is derived from the Hebrew root Tzadei-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice or fairness. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due.

Justice and righteousness is the cornerstone of tzedakah. It is not just the giving money to feed the poor and to cloth the naked. It also is burying the dead. It is also teaching someone a skill in order they may support themselves or loaning them money. It also acknowledges that there are those who will abuse the system in order to get more than their share or refuse to work altogether. Should this stop us from helping those who are in need of food, housing, clothing or need education?

Many of our tax dollars in the United States go to programs to help those in need. Grants and loans are available to those who cannot afford college or vocational school costs. Programs such as WIC, food stamps, etc help to feed the poor. Other programs help the working poor with loans to buy affordable housing. Many of those loans go through FHA since many of those type of loans are under $100,000. Some would like to blame the financial crisis we are experiencing on those loans.

One group received loans through an affordable home mortgage program, called the Community Advantage Program (CAP), designed to expand homeownership among lower-income and minority homebuyers. The other group received subprime mortgage loans.

Researchers compared the default rate (90-day delinquency) within two years of origination. Borrowers with comparable characteristics who had subprime loans were three to five times as likely to go into default as those with CAP loans, the study found.

The working poor are not to blame for the financial crisis. Loans for housing helps improve the community. Grants and student loans also help improve the community. It does so by giving the working poor a hand-up. These programs help to actually increase tax revenue.

Obama's tax plan was met with a great deal of criticism. Some felt it was unfair to add an extra 3% tax burden to those making over $250,000 while at the same time, decreasing the tax burden for those that make less. Some were shouting hysterically that this was Socialism, Marxism, and even Communism.

All of this from the simple idea of lessening the tax burden on the working poor and the middle class. Some argue that increasing the tax burden on those make over $250,000 will lead to job losses and the inability to create jobs. We've been hearing this since Reagan and his 'trickle-down' economics. Since then, we've seen more and more of our jobs go overseas. We've seen a decline in the United States leadership in technology.

President Bush promised more funding for technical and vocational programs to help retrain those who lost jobs. Somehow, funding never came available. Hopefully, Obama will have greater success in his endeavors.

The United States has many social programs that can be likened to the idea of leaving the corners of the fields for the poor and strangers. In the news, you hear reports of those dubbed "Welfare Queens". You seldom hear of the millions of others who needed the help and used it to pull themselves up. Those corners help to improve the lives of all.

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