Roads to Hell

July 7, 2015

5 min read

Ira Sharkansky

We know they’re paved with good intentions.

Jews wanting to improve things for themselves and others have been as guilty as anyone.

The latest example is Jews, including some Israelis, who participate in BDS for the sake of humanity as they see it.

We’ve been paving those roads ever since there have been Jews. Consider this passage

אִם-כֶּסֶף תַּלְוֶה אֶת-עַמִּי אֶת-הֶעָנִי עִמָּךְ לֹא-תִהְיֶה לוֹ כְּנֹשֶׁה לֹא-תְשִׂימוּן עָלָיו נֶשֶׁךְ

If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest.  (Exodus 22:25)

Whether this came from the Almighty, as religious Jews believe, or from an early sage, it created one of the greatest mysteries and the greatest dangers to those who came after.

Rabbis explain it as part of the Torah’s concern for the unfortunate. One should not exploit a poor person who needs money by charging interest for a loan of money. One of the Hebrew terms for interest, נשך, is also the word for “bite.”

On the other hand, one is permitted to charge money for the use of one’s property or one’s labor. Why not for the use of one’s money?

Moreover, interest is at the heart of commerce. It’s difficult to imagine going into business, or expanding one’s activities, without borrowing money.

Jews have been in business for as long as we know. They traveled, traded among themselves and with others. They loaned money to Jews and non-Jews, borrowed from Jews and non-Jews and were permitted by the Rabbis to pay and collect interest from non-Jews. The Rabbis who contributed their wisdom to the Talmud read the Torah explicitly. It says, “if you lend money to one of my people . . . ,” i.e., Jews.

From the Torah and Talmud to William Shakespeare, Shylock, and then to the Nazis were short steps. They continue, now expressed by Muslims who view the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as no less reliable than the Koran.

A cynical view of Jewish history is that the early Rabbis recognized that someone had made a mess of things. Three sizable Tractates (volumes) of the Talmud include arguments in which the participants twist and turn around the subject of interest and its implications. Can a loan be repaid along with a gift to the lender without the gift being considered interest? How should you repay a loan of seed, wine, or wool, when the market price of the product changes before similar goods are repaid? Can a Jew use a non-Jew as an intermediary in a deal that will permit interest?

The Talmud considers the explicit payment or receipt of interest among Jews, which is forbidden by the Torah, and the smell or suspicion of interest, which is forbidden by the Rabbis.

No one familiar with Jews or the Talmud should be surprised at the disagreements about these matters, with numerous disputes left hanging without resolution. The Rabbis who produced the Talmud also decided that some matters depended on the informal rules of a local market.

Ultimately the Rabbis arrived at the notion of היתר עסקה a permitted deal. In one example, a lender is not a lender, but assumes the role of investor who accepts risk and expects profit. The banks of Israel have no trouble in collecting and paying interest. Among the nuances is the notion that banks are not God’s people, or Jews; they are institutions. Institutions are not mentioned in the injunctions of the Torah.

Most Jews today may not be aware of the Torah’s rule against interest, and it does not affect their secular lives. It may only be a minority of religious Jews who choose to follow religious law as much as practical, to the extent of adjudicating disputes among themselves by calling on a Rabbis to be a mediator, or bringing their case to a Rabbinical Court.

The damage was already done. The Torah had fueled the hatred of Christian and Muslim anti-Semites with the view that Jews could “bite” the goyim but not other Jews.

There is no clearer indication of current Israeli madness than an op-ed piece in support of BDS.

The item came to me from a blogger who took it from a pro-settler web site, “Arutz Sheva,” which saw it as something to attack in the English language web site of Ha’aretz. It does not appear to have been included in the Hebrew edition of the paper or its web site. Yet it is not distinguishable from what does appear in those sources.

The title is, “Target me with your boycott, please”

The item spends as much time with billiards as with boycotts, but the essence of a convoluted stream is

“Sometimes there’s no choice but a boycott, even if that means collective punishment for all – including the people you’re seeking to help.

After almost 50 years of Israeli defiance and evasion, there is little prospect of diplomatic change. The prime goal of the boycott against Israel, therefore, is to persuade the bulk of Israelis that the occupation is not in their interests. And the way to do that is by focusing their attention sharply on what those interests are and how much they have to lose.

It follows that boycotting only the settlements and their commerce, as many on the Israeli left suggest, makes no sense. They are not ideologically inclined to force the government out of the occupied territories and their numbers are insufficient. It is precisely those of us who have – or perceive ourselves to have – little personal investment in the occupation who should be targeted. For the occupation to end, Israel’s self-indulgent, apathetic and blinkered middle class needs a profound wake-up call – courtesy of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

But before you get all hot and bothered about it, take a moment to think about who else is suffering collective punishment in this fair land of ours. Think about the 1.5 million Gazans barely surviving in the ruins of their open-air prison. Think of the uprooted Bedouin, the West Bank kids woken up by soldiers in the middle of the night, the crowds waiting for no reason at checkpoints, the 300-plus prisoners in administrative detention, the villagers who are evicted from their homes when the army wants to do a little live-fire practice. And I haven’t even mentioned the dead.

The boycott means that we are going to get a dose of our own medicine for a change. Bring it on.”
Are the Jews our own worse enemies? Or can we survive the madness of Jews who ignore the reasons for constraints on Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza and support BDS, as we survived the madness of the Torah’s prohibition against interest on a people immersed in commerce?

History suggests a positive answer. We’ll survive. No one has the will or the power to remove 600,000 of us who are living in what they describe as settlements. Those concerned about justice should realize that the majority of us are in neighborhoods of Jerusalem or large blocs in the West Bank established while the Arabs adhered to no peace, no recognition, and no negotiations.

If the Palestinians are willing to negotiate from where we are, rather than where we were 50 years ago, they should call the Prime Minister’s Office.

Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post

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