Academic journal article
By Goldsmith, Mark
European Judaism , Vol. 40, No. 1
The purpose of this workshop was for the participants to share ideas and source texts around taking our Jewish life beyond our own Jewish communities and into our relationships with work colleagues, shop staff, customers and suppliers, and the wider society around us. We began with Yehuda Leib Gordon, the nineteenth-century Haskalah poet and journalist, who urged his fellow Jews to 'Be a Jew in your home and a regular person on the street'. We discussed whether Progressive Jews continue to feel that their Judaism is an aspect of themselves which is properly reserved for Synagogue and home. In particular we recognised that the multi-cultural and multi-faith nature of many workplaces and social spaces in Europe has enabled people to be more confident about asserting their religious identity in the past two decades. This change has helped Jews to feel that such assertion of their Jewish identity will not prevent them from being accepted by colleagues and customers. The Cohen no longer needs to become a Curwen to succeed in professional life.
Our next source text from bShabbat 33b challenged the increasingly popular notion that effective Judaism should be focused to the greatest extent upon spirituality achieved through worship and contemplation. The text told the story of Rabbi Simeon Bar Yohai and his son who, escaping from the Roman authorities, went and hid in a cave.
A miracle occurred and a carob-tree and a water well were created for them. They would strip their garments and sit up to their necks in sand. The whole day they studied; when it was time for prayers they robed, covered themselves, prayed, and then put off their garments again, so that they should not wear out. Thus they dwelt twelve years in the cave. Then Elijah came and stood at the entrance to the cave and exclaimed, 'Who will inform the son of Yohai that the emperor is dead and his decree annulled?' So they emerged. Seeing a man ploughing and sowing, they exclaimed, 'They forsake life eternal and engage in life temporal!' Whatever they cast their eyes upon was immediately burnt up. Thereupon a Heavenly Echo came forth and cried out, 'Have you emerged to destroy My world: Return to your cave!' So they returned and dwelt there twelve months.
A meaning that we drew from this text in the workshop was that a Judaism which was not soundly based in the world of work and the reality of the wider society would always be incomplete.
We studied a text which helps to set out the standards to which a Jew could live up to in their working relationships: Maimonides' description of the Talmid Chacham in Hilchot Deot 5:13.
All the transactions of the Talmid Chacham must be honest and done with integrity. His no should be no and his yes yes. In financial matters, he must be strict with himself but lenient with others. He pays the purchase money immediately; he does not make himself a surety or responsible for others; nor does he undertake the responsibility of power of attorney. In business he does not enter into such obligations as the Torah has not imposed on him, so that he may abide by his word and not depart from it. If others are legally indebted to him, he grants them an extension to pay, is forgiving, and lends graciously. He does not interfere with the business of his neighbours, and never acts harshly towards anybody. In general, he is rather of the persecuted than of the persecutors; of the offended, not of the offenders.
The text, we felt, was challenging in its applicability to prudent business behaviour but nevertheless records the responsibility of a Jew always to act in good faith. …