Peter Robinson, host of the Hoover Institution’s Uncommon Knowledge program, interviews playwright David Mamet about his book The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture and his conversion to conservatism. The blurb on the video notes that, “Mamet explains how, by studying Jewish and Christian texts such as the Talmud and the Bible, he came to approach arguments from a new perspective that aligned itself with conservative politics.” Throughout the interview, which runs about 35 minutes, “Mamet discusses his newly found conservative position on several issues, including social justice and civil rights, the decline of the family and the sexual revolution, affirmative action and race, and domestic politics and foreign policy.”
Everyone knows the story about Jesus entering the Temple in Jerusalem and overturning the tables of the moneychangers. But what most people forget is that he also overturned the “benches of those selling doves.”
While there was likely a lucrative business in changing foreign currency into Hebrew money (the only form of acceptable payment for the Temple tax), the selling of animals for sacrifice was probably the true Big Business in the city. A study published in the September issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science confirms visions of the temple depicted in historical Jewish texts and suggests the economic heart of the city was its slaughtering operation:
For a limited time, the Acton Book Shop is offering a book by rabbinical scholar Dr. Joseph Isaac Lifshitz for free: Judaism, Law & The Free Market: An Analysis. Acton released this title at an academic conference late last year, and in it, Lifshitz examines the Jewish treatment of themes such as property rights, social welfare, charity, generosity, competition, and concepts of order.
There are three ways to download this title.
Again, this is a limited time offer.
Beginning today, the conference “Religion and Liberty — A Match Made in Heaven?” gets underway in Jerusalem. Sponsored by the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies (JIMS), the Acton Institute and others, the event asks questions such as, “Is capitalism not only efficient but also moral?” In conjunction with this May 20-24 conference, Acton is offering its two Jewish monographs through Amazon Kindle at no charge.
The two titles:
- Judaism, Law & The Free Market: An Analysis by Joseph Lifshitz. [Kindle link]
- Judaism, Markets, and Capitalism: Separating Myth from Reality by Corinne Sauer and Robert M. Sauer [Kindle link]
Also see the Sauers’ 2007 Acton commentary, “Jewish Theology and Economic Theory.”
In the conference description, JIMS notes that “several speakers will discuss why Israel — in fact no country — should grant special privileges to religious institutions, nor subsidize religious activities. While few would advocate this approach for our Jewish state, there will be compelling arguments made about why religious communities in Israel would flourish with less government support. On Tuesday we will discuss how free markets enable religious communities to conveniently observe their traditions. There also will several panels which will provide the philosophical foundation for freer markets in Israel. More importantly our speakers will explain why free market policies will break down Israel’s oligarchical institutions that impose high product prices on Israelis and limit economic opportunity.”
Acton now has a dozen or so eBook offerings on social thought understood through a religious lens. For a listing of titles, please visit this page.
Ericson says that Havel offers a particularly penetrating analysis of our times based on the understanding that, in Havel’s words, “we are going through a great departure from God which has no parallel in history.” It is no coincidence that, Havel adds, that “the first atheistic civilization” has produced the bloodiest century in history.
In 1998, Ericson wrote that Havel could not be described as a believer but admitted to “an affinity for Christian sentiment” and that he tries “to live in the spirit of Christian morality.” Yet Havel’s understanding of Christianity’s formative work in building what is today Europe was deep. He praised the “blending of classical, Christian, and Jewish elements” that has created “the most dynamic civilization of the last millennium.” The news report linked above said that Havel spent his last moments in the company of his wife, Dagmar Havlova, and a Catholic nun.
According to Havel, ordinary people everywhere can live in the truth only by embracing the “notion of human responsibility.” Responsibility is “that fundamental point from which all identity grows and by which it stands or falls; it is the foundation, the root, the center of gravity, the constructional principle or axis of identity.” Thus, Havel declares, “I am responsible for the state of the world,” and he means a “responsibility not only to the world but also ‘for the world,’ as though I myself were to be judged for how the world turns out.” Citing Dostoevsky’s spiritual dictum that all are responsible for all, he points to that “‘higher’ responsibility, which grows out of a conscious or subconscious certainty that our death ends nothing, because everything is forever being recorded and evaluated somewhere else, somewhere ‘above us,’ in … an integral aspect of the secret order of the cosmos, of nature, and of life, which believers call God and to whose judgment everything is liable.”
Read “Living Responsibly: Václav Havel’s View” by Edward E. Ericson.
Attend Acton University 2012 where Ericson will lecture on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
A couple weeks ago I engaged CPJ senior fellow Gideon Strauss in a debate at the Christian Legal Society, “Justice, Poverty, Politics & the State: Is There a Christian Perspective?”
One of the questioners afterward proposed that the large scale of the poverty problem required an institution equally as large, i.e. the government. There are lots of problems with that kind of analysis, not least of which is that the “poor” are not some homogeneous blob of humanity, but individual persons created in the image of God facing unique situations with their own unique gifts and talents. So the scale of the problem, perhaps counter-intuitively, calls not for some behemoth- or leviathan-size institution, but a variety of smaller individuals and institutions that can work with people individually and in communal settings. Think here of a variation on Burke’s concept of “little platoons” in the war on poverty.
Because of the nature of big society/government solutions, what we often end up with, unfortunately, when we seek a large institutional answer to the problem of poverty are safety nets that function not so much as trampolines as foam pits.
Perhaps not so funny when you think about it.
In “Betrayed by Madoff, Yeshiva U. Adds a Lesson,” the New York Times interviews students and teachers at the New York University which was closely linked to Bernard Madoff, the financier who has been charged by federal prosecutors with orchestrating a $50 billion Ponzi scheme fraud.
In Intermediate Accounting I, undergraduates analyzed how he seemingly tap-danced around the Securities and Exchange Commission. In Rabbi Benjamin Blech’s philosophy of Jewish law course, students pondered whether Jewish values had been distorted to reward material success.
“This overrides everything else,” said Rabbi Blech, who has taught at Yeshiva for 42 years. “It is an opportunity to convey to students that ritual alone is not the sole determinant of our Judaism, that it must be combined with humanity, with ethical behavior, with proper values, and most important of all, with regard to our relationship with other human beings.”
The rabbi and some students are also torn by “pressures to achieve material success as well as religious devotion” at a school that combines secular and Jewish studies.
Rabbi Blech, who teaches the philosophy of law course, said he, too, worried that community expectations had steered students away from public-service professions like teaching and toward more lucrative jobs.
“In elevating to a level of demiworship people with big bucks, we have been destroying the values of our future generation,” he said. “We need a total rethinking of who the heroes are, who the role models are, who we should be honoring.”
In the inaugural lecture of the Center for the Study of Judaism and Economics at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies, Nobel Laureate economist Professor Robert (Yisrael) Aumann talked about the link between economics, Judaism and the current economic downturn. Aumann argues that Judaism subscribes to a market philosophy and contains a blueprint for solving today’s economic woes.
The JIMS has the lecture archived on its YouTube page in three parts here.
In an article written for Israeli magazine Global Business, Corinne Sauer of the Jerusalem Institute said Aumann’s lecture showed how the Torah and the Talmud acknowledge the importance of economic incentives within a competitive market economy.
As one example of fundamental market-oriented principles inherent in Judaism, Professor Aumman cited the support in the Talmud for unfettered price competition, adding that the Talmud preceded Adam Smith’s groundbreaking ideas on price competition by hundreds of years. In the Talmud, there is absolutely no room for price fixing; only support for ensuring the use of honest weights and measures. In a competitive market economy, the firm selling at the highest price will either go out of business or be forced to decrease its price in order to survive.
The second in Acton Media’s series of shorts accompanying its latest documentary The Birth of Freedom, this new video asks the question, “How has Judaism contributed to human rights?” In the video, John Witte Jr. demonstrates how the teachings of Judaism significantly impacted the western understanding of human rights, contributing the foundations for concepts such as human dignity, due process, and covenantal agreements.
Acton Media’s video shorts from The Birth of Freedom are designed to provide additional insight into key issues and ideas in the film. A new short is released each Monday. Check out the rest of the series, learn about premieres in your area, and discover more background information at www.thebirthoffreedom.com.
How does one account for the widespread distaste among Jews for a free market political agenda? Why is it that Jews, who earn per capita almost twice as much as non-Jews in America, “fervently support relatively collectivist social policies”? Corinne and Robert Sauer, co-founders of the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies, contend that “it is not at all true that Judaism is a set of principles that endorses income redistribution and other progressive social programs.” Instead, they say, Judaism is a system of thought that more naturally aligns itself with the basic principles of economic liberalism.
Read the commentary here. This article was adapted from Corinne Sauer and Robert M. Sauer’s Judaism, Markets and Capitalism, a new monograph available from the Acton Institute.