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As a Homeless Man Sleeps in Jerusalem

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Wandering through the streets of Jerusalem on a summer afternoon one can’t help but feel a deep sense of pride in the Jewish people. Somehow, after thousands of years of exile, we have returned to our homeland and ushered in an era of Jewish self-determination.
 
But this current stage in Jewish history is not without its own new and unique struggles and challenges. 
 
How do Jews go from 2000 years of being a scared, insecure, and often threatened political minority to finally having political power over other minority groups?
 
How do we maintain both a democratic and Jewish state when, in some cases, these terms seem to contradict one another?
 
And finally, what does it even mean to be a Jewish state?
 
Now these are all fundenetmal questions that the Jewish people have been wrestling with since the inception of modern Zionism well over 100 years ago. Unsurprisingly, there is no consensus within the Jewish community on these deeply contentious issues and no perfect solutions are forecasted for the near future.
 
However as I walked down the rocky streets of Israel this past month, in my first visit to the country in over four years, I had noticed something for the first time.
 
There are homeless people, sleeping on the streets of Jerusalem.
 
Now it is important to understand that when I say that I noticed this for the first time I do not mean that I simply observed the phenomenon. Anyone who has spent an afternoon in downtown Jerusalem can attest to the fact that there is a population, albeit a small one, of homeless people throughout the city. What I mean is that I truly took note and internalized the fact that there are homeless people in Jerusalem.
 
Homeless people sleeping on the streets of Jerusalem.
 
In antiquity Judaism’s inception and arguably its earliest self-definition was a break off from the mainstream Canaanite society. They, the Canaanites, worshiped multiple gods, we worshiped one. They sacrificed humans to the gods, we abhorred such suggestions. They had a caste system with some humans deified and others objectified, we understood the unique and intrinsic value of every single person, bar none.
 
And these were not just some elusive ideas discussed in the ivory tower of ancient Israel. Rather, the entire economy and lifestyle of ancient Jews pivoted around these focal points.
 
Thus the corners of one’s field were left unharvested for the poor of the town. Ditto with anything that a farmer dropped or forgot in his field. Every seven years fields were left untouched and all were free to come and eat. While an additional tax on produce was taken and given to the Levites, who according to the Bible, were given no land and therefore homeless. Even King David was a supposed descendant of a union between a farmer named Boaz who took in a homeless girl he met while fulfilling these laws.
 
All of this taking place in a purely agrarian society where droughts, plagues, and enemy attacks were all too common.
 
There are Jews who argue that the highest form of Judaism is rooted in strict Halachic practice. Well, helping those who are less fortunate is definitely included and underscored within the scope of Jewish law. There are Jews who want to throw out Halacha and argue that Judaism is about the ideas and values it teaches. Well, helping those who are less fortunate is atop of that list.
 
Yes there are some serious debates and discussions that need to be had within the Jewish community about a variety of issues, but taking care of the poor and homeless is not only a halachic or Jewish value, but rather it is one of the focal points from which Judaism arose.
 
A homeless man sleeping on the streets of Jerusalem. That is the real threat to the Jewish nature of the state of Israel, not the fact that non-Orthodox Jews wish to perform weddings or a group of women wish to pray at the Western Wall in a way that reflects their progressive values.
 
Maybe in this case I actually agree with much of the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel. Israel is truly threatened with losing its Jewish essence and identity. For there is currently a homeless man who just fell asleep on the exposed streets of Jerusalem.
 
. Moshe Daniel Levine regularly writes blog postings for Jewish Values Online.
 
Please note: All opinions expressed in Blog Postings and comments on the Jewish Values Online site and through Jewish Values Online are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, beliefs, or position of Jewish Values Online, or those associated with it.
 
I pass a homeless man every morning on my way to work. How obligated am I as a Jew to give him money? Friends have said that it is better to give to agencies and charities that help the homeless, but I always feel horrible when I pass him.
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