“I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Behold, the tears of the oppressed, they had no one to comfort them! On the side of the oppressors there was power.” Ecclesiastes 4:1
To survey conditions for most of the world’s people today is to see the extent to which Jewish teachings about justice, compassion and sharing have been neglected. The tremendous injustice and inequality that prevail in the world today are well described by Lester Brown, former Director of the WorldWatch Institute:
“In effect, our world today is in reality two worlds, one rich, one poor; one literate, one largely illiterate; one industrial and urban, and one agrarian and rural, one overfed and overweight, one hungry and malnourished; one affluent and consumption-oriented, one poverty stricken and survival-oriented. North of this line [separating the wealthy from the poor], life expectancy closely approaches the Biblical ‘threescore and ten;’ south of it, many do not survive infancy. In the North, economic opportunities are plentiful and social mobility is high. In the South, economic opportunities are scarce and societies are rigidly stratified”.[i]
The vast social and economic gaps between countries can be demonstrated through many significant statistics comparing the developed countries (U.S., Canada, Japan, England, France, etc.) and the “developing” countries (Nigeria, India, Bangladesh, Nicaragua, Pakistan, etc.). The per capita GNP of the United States is over 70 times that of Sierra Leone, even with an adjustment for “purchasing power parity.”[ii] A child born in Sweden can expect to live an average of forty-three years longer than a child born in Zambia.[iii] Almost 20 percent of the babies born in Angola don’t live until their first birthday, compared to less than one percent for France, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark and many other European countries.[iv] Only three percent of the population in all sixteen countries of Western Africa can expect to live to 65, compared to eighteen percent of the population in Italy.[v] A person’s place of birth certainly makes a difference!
It is difficult for people in wealthy countries to realize the extent of the abject, chronic poverty experienced by so many of our brothers and sisters in the world.
* Poverty means malnutrition. A third to a half of the world’s people are undernourished (not enough calories) or malnourished (not enough of certain nutrients). Over 450 million people are severely and chronically malnourished.[vi]
* Poverty means illiteracy and lack of proper education. Over 46 percent of women in Africa were literate in 1995.[vii] In the less developed countries, only about half the children of secondary school age are in secondary schools, compared to almost 100 percent enrollment in such schools in the more developed countries.[viii]
* Poverty means sickness and inadequate health care. One-third to one-half of the world’s people have no access to health care.[ix] Few people infected with AIDS in poorer countries can afford the life-extending drugs used in wealthier countries.
* Poverty means high infant and child mortality. Almost nine percent of the children born in Africa in 2000 died before their first birthday.[x] Hunger and related preventable diseases kill about 34,000 children under the age of five daily — over 12 million per year.[xi]
* Poverty means doing without basic necessities. Economist Robert Heilbroner has outlined what the life-style of a typical family living in an underdeveloped country is like: a minimum of furniture, a minimum of clothes, very crowded conditions, a paucity of food, no running water, no electricity, no newspapers, magazines, or books, perhaps a radio, very few government services, no postal service or firefighters, perhaps a school three miles away consisting of two classrooms, perhaps a clinic ten miles away, tended by a midwife, and barely any money.[xii]
* Poverty means stunted brain development in children. Because of hunger and malnutrition, infant in developing countries will never be able to properly concentrate, learn, or achieve the intellectual levels of which they are inherently capable. Thus the legacy of impoverishment and unemployment continues through the generations.
* Poverty means the anguish of impossible choices, the grief of watching the people you love die, the humiliation of not being able to provide for your family, the painful challenge of surviving day by day, and the powerlessness to change one’s fortunes.[xiii]
Poverty and other global issues cannot be fully discussed without considering economic globalization, a process that is causing a fundamental redesign of the planet’s economic, social, and political systems. It is producing a gigantic power shift, moving real economic and political power away from local, state, and national, governments and communities toward global banks, corporations, and the global bureaucracies these have created.
Some of the aspects of globalization are:
* The expansion of trade with much easier movement of goods and services across the world; between 1950 and 1998, export of goods between countries surged seventeen-fold – from $311 billion to $5.4 trillion – while the world economy only expanded six-fold.[xv]
* the opening up of capital markets, which increases the movement of money across the world; capital flows to developing countries soared from $21 billion in 1970 to $227 billion in 1998, an eleven-fold increase.[xvi]
* increased foreign investment, with companies investing more overseas by building plants, buying stock in foreign countries, and contracting subsidiaries; global foreign direct investment increased from $44 billion to $644 billion from 1970 to 1998.[xvii]
* improved access to communication, including the development of new technology like the Internet and greater availability of wireless and other telephones; the internet grew by about fifty percent per year from 1995 to 1998, after more than doubling in size annually, on average, during the previous fifteen years ;[xviii] the number of lines linking non-cellular phones to the global network jumped eight-fold between 1960 and 1998, from 89 million to 839 million.[xix]
* a very rapid growth in transnational corporations; The number of TNCs worldwide soared from 7,000 in 1970 to 53,600 in 1998.[xx]
To achieve such rapid growth, globalization requires unrestricted free trade, privatization of enterprise, and deregulation of corporate activity, which together remove the impediments that might stand in the way of expanded corporate activity. These impediments include environmental, public health, and food safety laws, laws that guarantee workers’ rights and opportunities, laws that permit nations to control investment in their countries, and laws that seek to retain national controls over local culture. These laws are viewed as obstacles to corporate free trade and are quickly being eliminated or scaled back by major new trade agreements. And while corporations are being deregulated and freed from constraints, nation-states and states and local governments are being harshly regulated and constrained, thus making it increasingly difficult to protect local tradition, identity, and jobs, as well as the environment and national sovereignty.
Economic globalization could be providing many more benefits than have so far been shown. However, it has resulted in many negative effects because of its values and objectives. These include:
* giving primacy to economic—primarily corporate—values above all others. Through such institutions as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA), and the World Trade Organization (WTO), and treaties such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), corporations have gained extraordinary new powers. Corporate interests and profits are furthered by these unaccountable, undemocratic global bureaucracies, often at the expense of human needs and the web of life on earth. They are the true governing bodies in the global economy, usurping the powers that nations formerly had.
* unifying and integrating all economic activity within a centralized “supersystem.” Countries with very different cultures and economic traditions must all merge their economic activities within a single conceptual framework. The net result is what some economists call “global monoculture” — the global homogenization of culture, lifestyle, economic practice, and ideology with the corresponding sacrifice of local traditions, arts, values, and traditional small-scale economic practices. The result is that every place is starting to look very much like every other place, with the same malls and superstores, restaurant franchises, and chain hotels, the same clothes, the same cars, the same high-rise buildings, and increasingly the same music, art, and television programs.
* undermining all considerations except economic ones. Economic globalization glorifies the free market and its principle actors — global corporations — as the engines and benefactors of the process. It places supreme importance on achieving increasingly rapid economic growth and thus constantly seeks new markets, new resources, and new and cheaper labor sources.
The power of the largest corporations and of the wealthiest people is increasing. The collective worth of the world’s 475 billionaires equals the combined incomes of the bottom fifty percent of humanity.[xxi] Fifty of the largest one hundred economies in the world are corporations. Mitsubishi is the twenty-second largest economy in the world, General Motors the twenty-sixth, and Ford the thirty-first. Each is larger than those of many countries, including Norway, Chile, Turkey, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and New Zealand.[xxii]
It is questionable whether globalization can work even on its own terms. Can the limits of a finite planet be ignored? Are there sufficient resources — water, minerals, wood, fuel — to continue the desired rapid economic growth? Where will the effluents from this ambitious undertaking—the solids, the toxic wastes—be dumped? Can the ever-increasing consumption of commodities be ecologically sustained?
There is certainly great potential value to a closer, better-connected world. Today we can know much more quickly and fully about problems in every part of the globe, and therefore potentially respond faster and more effectively. Trade and communication can bring information and jobs to previously isolated groups of poor people. Activists and movements across the earth can more easily connect and work together. Oppressive governments and terrorist organizations can be more closely scrutinized and exposed. Universal values such as human rights, the equality of women, vigilant protection of the environment; freedom of speech and religion, the rights of children, fighting disease and hunger, reducing or eliminating land mines, nuclear missiles, and chemical and biological weapons, and stopping torture and oppression can be widely advocated, publicized, and organized around. Everyone gains the opportunity to learn about, and can come to appreciate, cultures and sites and natural phenomena which are worlds away. When limited by stringent guarantees of fair conditions, hours, and compensation for workers and care for ecosystems, international trade can reach and empower impoverished and suppressed individuals and groups.
But many negative effects of globalization are already apparent:
* Working people in developed countries are losing jobs to corporate flight and to high-tech machines and have been placed in a downward wage competition with workers in poorer countries. Many people believe that big employ more of the world’s labor force than do smaller businesses. However, according to the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, while the two hundred largest corporations in the world account for approximately thirty per cent of global economic activity, they employ less than 1/2 of one per cent of the global work force.[xxiii] The reason is economies of scale: as companies get larger, it becomes more efficient for them to replace thousands of workers with robots and other machines. And as large companies begin to dominate their industries, they drive out smaller competitors and reduce the workforce. Such economies of scale are intrinsic to globalization. Hence, consolidations and mergers result in fewer jobs, not more in developed countries.
* In spite of the tremendous growth and spread of technology, with increasing numbers of people using computers, cellular phones, and other instruments of modern technology, poverty is still very widespread and is growing. In 2000, 1.3 billion of the world’s six billion people lived on less than one dollar per day, and three billion people lived on less than two dollars a day.[xxiv] From 1960 to 2000, the world’s richest twenty percent increased their fraction of the world’s wealth from seventy percent to 86 percent, while the poorest twenty percent of the world’s population experienced a decrease from 2.3 percent to about one percent.[xxv] While some corporate profits were at record levels, with many top executives’ annual salaries in the millions of dollars, the real wages of most ordinary workers in developed countries were decreasing in real terms and good jobs were being replaced by temporary or part-time jobs.
* Diverse local farm production and local trades in poorer nations that encourage self-reliance are being replaced by huge corporate farms – monocultures — that no longer grow food for local people, but instead grow flowers, beef, or coffee for export to the global economy. The result of this process is that millions of the world’s formerly self-sufficient small farmers are becoming homeless, landless refugees.
* In India, Africa, and Latin America, millions of indigenous people and small farmers are displaced to make way for gigantic dams and other development projects. The result is that more people join the landless, jobless urban masses. Cities are now attempting to absorb millions of the newly landless refugees roaming the globe searching for a home and the rare, poorly paid job.
* The gap between the wealthy and the poor within countries and among countries is rapidly increasing, and globalization accelerates the problem by separating people from their traditional livelihoods and by creating a terrible downward pressure on wages everywhere—including Third World countries, where low wages represemt the only so-called comparative advantage, meaning that if wages are not kept down, there might be no jobs at all.
A report from the Institute for Policy Studies in 1999 showed that American CEOs were paid, on average, 419 times more than assembly-line workers, the highest ratio in the world.[xxvi] The report showed worker’s median hourly wages (adjusted for inflation) down by 10 per cent in the past twenty-five years.[xxvii] The U.S. Federal Reserve reports that the top 20 per cent of the U.S. population owns 84.6 per cent of the country’s wealth.[xxviii] That makes local self-reliance very difficult to achieve.
* For most Third World countries, free trade has had negative effects. For example, in 1986, Haiti grew most of its rice, the main staple food of the country, and imported only 7,000 tons of rice. In the late 1980s, as Haiti lifted tariffs on rice imports in compliance with free trade policies insisted upon by international lending agencies, cheaper rice flowed in from the U.S., where the rice industry receives government subsidies. Haiti’s peasant farmers could not compete, By 1996 Haiti’s rice production became negligible and the country was importing 196,000 tons of foreign rice at a cost of $100 million per year.[xxix] After the dependence on foreign rice was complete, and the Haitian people were dependent on grain imports, prices increased substantially, and a hungry nation became even hungrier.[xxx]
Because of such conditions, poor countries are on a treadmill and have to work harder and harder just to maintain their (inadequate) standard of living. These unfavorable trade relations produce what is known as the “spiral of debt.” It happens because the developing countries are locked in by the economic, political, and military power of wealthy countries. They must export cheap items and import more expensive ones.
* The imperatives of global economic expansion, accelerated by free trade, the overuse of resources, and the consumer lifestyle being promoted worldwide by advertising, are a major factor behind environmental problems such as global climate change, habitat destruction, ozone depletion, ocean pollution, and shortages of water and other resources. As environmental leader Paul Hawken said:
“Given current corporate practices, not one wildlife reserve, wilderness, or indigenous culture will survive the global economy. We know that every natural system on the planet is disintegrating. The land, water, air, and sea have been functionally transformed from life-supporting systems into repositories for waste. There is no polite way to say that business is destroying the world.”[xxxi]
* Using the technologies of global computer networks, currency speculators can move vast amounts of money, invisibly and instantaneously, from one part of the world to another, destabilizing currencies and countries, and forcing nations to seek the harsh solutions of an International Monetary Fund bailout. This has already destabilized many countries’ economies and was a significant factor in the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.
* The central control of much of the world food supply and seed supply by giant corporations which effectively determine where food will be grown, by whom, and what price consumers will ultimately pay, contributes to widespread hunger. Food formerly eaten by the people who grew it is now exported—transported thousands of miles at major environmental cost—to be eaten by affluent people who are already well-fed, or fed in large amounts to farmed animals who are destined for slaughter. As indicated in Chapter six, global agribusiness and international monetary organizations are trying to double the number of farmed animals by 2020, through encouraging the consumption of animal products in developing countries, despite the many negative effects of animal-based diets and agriculture.
* There have been recent outbreaks of deadly new diseases such as Ebola, mad cow disease, e-coli, and the West Nile virus. While generally not reported in the press, there is a connection between those outbreaks and the new mobility provided to disease vectors global transport. Microbes and species that were once contained within geographic boundaries are now let loose by travel and trade. The industrialization of agriculture for mass export production to serve global economies plays a role in the outbreaks of e-coli, mad cow, and foot and mouth diseases.
* There have been assaults on the last indigenous tribes in the Amazon, Borneo, and the Philippines because of the need of the globalization process for more water, forests, or genetic resources in areas where the Indians have lived for millennia, and because of the desire to convert self-sufficient people into consumers. This is rapidly leading to the monoculturalization of peoples and lands, and the homogenization of cultural frameworks.
* The growing emphasis on export and import as part of the new global system requires vast new road-building and road-widening schemes and an expanded transport infrastructure with more high-speed traffic. As a result, the quality of rural life is rapidly worsening.
* Ed Ayres, editor of WorldWatch, summarizes the effects of globalization on local communities “where growing numbers of people find their sense of security being eroded by a phalanx of larger forces”:
There is the “Wal-Mart” phenomenon, for example, in which a large chain store uses its marketing muscle to drive local stores out of business, while taking what used to be the local owners’ revenues and sending them off to distant corporate coffers. There is the related “empty storefront” phenomenon, in which the increasing concentration of an industry into larger, more “efficient” outlets means fewer outlets remain in small communities (the numbers of independent car dealers, food stores. drug stores, book stores, and farms in the wealthy countries have all declined sharply in the past several decades). In the developing countries, there is the “structural adjustment” phenomenon, wherein international lending agencies have pushed governments to adopt policies favoring production for export at the expense of local self-sufficiency. And wherever urban areas are expanding around the world, whether into exploding suburbs or imploding shantytowns, there is the “don’t know my neighbors” problem. Even as we humans become more numerous, we become more socially isolated and uneasy.[xxxii]
In summary, many problems — overcrowded cities, unusual new weather patterns, the growth of global poverty, the spread of new diseases, the lowering of wages, the elimination of social services, the reduction of national soverignty and local democracy, the destruction of the environment, decaying communities, and the loss of indigenous culture — are all strongly linked to the same global processes. They are tied to the world’s new economic arrangement, in the cause of an economic ideology that cannot serve social or ecological sustainability.
In the end it comes down to this: Who should make the rules we live by? Should it be democratic governments, influenced by local communities concerned about what is good for people and the environment? Or should it be the global community of transnational bankers, corporations, and speculators? The new rules of globalization are actively undermining people’s ability to control their own fate.
Because of the many negative effects of economic globalization, there have been many recent protests against it. In November, 1999, tens of thousands of people from all over the world took to the streets of Seattle in a massive protest against the policies of the WTO. The angry protesters comprised a very varied group, including farmers, immigration-rights activists, labor unions, environmentalists, small-business people, animal rights activists, religious practitioners, and even some conservatives.
The “battle of Seattle” marked a critical turning point. While only six or seven years ago the term “globalization” was virtually unknown, there is suddenly an outburst of pain and anger against many aspects of it. Since Seattle, there have been major protests at meetings of international trade and monetary groups in Washington, D.C, in April 2000, in Chiang Mai, Thailand in May 2000, in Melbourne, Australia in early September 2000 , in Prague in late September 2000 and in Genoa, Italy in July, 2001. Resistance is growing, and the media are beginning to pay attention.
Many of these demonstrations have been marred by senseless violence, much of it initiated by relatively small groups of nihilistic conflict-seekers and faux ‘anarchists’. The vast majority of protesters have been sincere and peaceful, and in fact the movement critical of the way globalization has developed in actual practice has created closeness and communication between such diverse groups as ecological campaigners, sweatshop opponents, trade unionists, advocates for the Third World, and critics of the bioengineering of foods.
A striking governmental confirmation of the extremely harmful impacts of international monetary organizations came from a 1998 report of the International Financial Institution Advisory Committee. This committee was created by the U.S. Congress and its report is commonly known as the Meltzer Report, after its chairman Alan Meltzer, a conservative academic. Among its devastating conclusions are:[xxxiii]
· rather than promoting economic growth, the IMF institutionalizes economic stagnation.
· The World Bank is irrelevant, not central, to the goal of eliminating global poverty.
· Both the World Bank and the IMF are driven primarily by the political and economic interests of the wealthy nations, rather than the needs of the poor.
· The IMF’s mandate of ensuring a stable global financial order was often undermined by its encouragement of irresponsible investments, and by its prescribing of tight fiscal policies that worsened the situation rather than improving it in countries facing crises.
In September 2001, about 300 religious leaders signed a Statement & Call, “Global Arrogance or Planetary Community? — A Call to Communities of Faith” that was developed and distributed by the Shalom Center and several other organizations involved with global issues, including the Religious Working Group on the World Bank and IMF.[xxxiv] The introductory section of the Statement and Call indicated that the signers were covenanting together to oppose “unaccountable corporate globalization’” and “to seek instead a planetary community of the earth and its peoples, workers and congregants, families and neighborhoods.”[xxxv]
The Statement called on signers to bring the Statement and Call and the teachings of their religious traditions about “globalization” to their home congregations and communities through a fast of contrition and commitment, of some duration in late September or early October, 2001, and a gathering in Washington, D.C. on the night of Saturday, September 29, 2001 for a religious service and a candle-light vigil.[xxxvi]
The Statement and Call asserted:
“The global corporations have invented unaccountable, undemocratic institutions [including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund] to shield them from the will of the people….[These institutions advance corporate interests by] insisting that loans and grants be conditioned on [cutbacks in desperately needed] social programs, public schools, public health, and water supplies… [by imposing] privatization of the basic needs of life,…[by encouraging] sweatshops and the smashing of labor unions…,by destroying the lives and hopes of children [and supporting child labor]…, by doing all this first to the poor in the poorest societies… and then, through the threat of capital export and cut-throat competition, putting workers, consumers, and the earth itself in danger in even the more prosperous societies.” The call and statement ended by demanding that “The World Bank and IMF cancel the crushing debt of the nations that [those same international organizations] themselves have impoverished and forced into debt,…[condition all grants and loans on] workers’ freedom to organize unions and everyone’s freedom to [advocate protection of the environment] and…that they open their own meetings and deliberation to public scrutiny and democratic control.”[xxxvii]
As a follow up to the Statement and Call, the Shalom Center is preparing study guides for synagogues and churches that will facilitate local congregational work on five major aspects of globalization — top-down control; damage to the earth; the oppression of workers; the pressure for overwhelming overwork that distorts families, neighborhoods, and spiritual life; and the destruction of public health and other public services — and to bring sacred texts and teachings to bear on those problems.[xxxviii]
Fortunately, there is an alternative to current economic globalization practices, an approach far better for the world’s people as well as for global sustainability. This is the way of genuinely applying Jewish values: bal tashchit (reducing waste), so that we are not dependent on repressive regimes for resources; treating every person as created in God’s image, so that we will work to end violations of human rights wherever they occur; the pursuit of justice, to end the conditions whereby a minority of the world’s people prosper while the majority lack food and other basic human needs; and the pursuit of peace, so that arms races that drain the world’s labor, ingenuity, and resources can be reduced. Only these alternatives can result in global harmony and humane conditions for the world’s people.
JUDAISM AND INTERNATIONAL CONCERNS
Judaism encompasses universal as well as particular concerns. Particularistic aspects include observances of the Sabbath and holy days, rules of kashrut (kosher eating), and prayer obligations. Jews are taught to be especially concerned about their co-religionists: “All Israel is responsible, one for each other.”[xxxix] However, the message of Judaism is also universal, expressing concern for each person and every nation. We have already discussed many Jewish teachings related to humanity: Every person is created in God’s image; every life is sacred and is to be treated with dignity and respect; we should be kind to the stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt; we should show compassion even to enemies.
Additional Jewish universal teachings include:
* The first covenant God made was with Noah, on behalf of the entire human race, as well as the animal kingdom (Genesis 9:11).
* Abraham challenged God on behalf of the pagan, evil-doing cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. In an attempt to save the righteous, he pleaded, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?” (Genesis 18:25)
* Some of the noblest characters in Scripture are not necessarily Jewish. Ruth, a Moabite who later became an Israelite, is presented as a model of an ideal human being, representing the values of kindness, self-sacrificing loyalty, and love. Job, the symbol of the righteous person who maintains his faith in God in spite of unprecedented suffering, is not generally depicted as a Jew.
* Some of Israel’s greatest leaders were descendants of proselytes. This includes King David, who is the ancestor of the Messiah. The Eighteen Benedictions of the Prayer Book include a special prayer for “righteous proselytes.” Hillel, the foremost Talmudic sage of his day, received converts with special eagerness.
* Even of the traditional enemy of the Jewish people, the Edomites, it is said; “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother” (Deuteronomy 23:8).
* The prophets stress that Jews have a universal mandate, a charge to improve conditions for all the world’s people. Consider, for example, these words of Isaiah (Isaiah 42:6-7):
“Thus says God, the Lord…. ‘I the Lord have called you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and kept you, and set you for a covenant of the people, for a light unto the nations; To open the blind eyes, to bring the prisoners from the dungeon, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.”
* Throughout their history, Jews have worked not for individual salvation, but for salvation for the entire world:
“In that day, there shall be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians shall join with the Egyptians and Egyptians with Assyrians, and both countries shall serve the Lord. In that day, Israel shall be a third partner with Egypt and Assyria as a blessing on earth; for the Lord of Hosts will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be My people, Egypt, My handiwork Assyria, and My very own Israel.'” (Isaiah 19:23-25)
* Hillel, in his famous formulation, teaches that we must be concerned with other people as well as ourselves:
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”[xl]
* The prophet Malachi (2:10) powerfully expresses Jewish universal concerns:
“Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then do we deal treacherously with one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?”
* Amos (9:7) proclaims God’s concern for all nations:
“’Are you not like the Ethiopians to Me, O people of Israel?” says the Lord. ‘Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor; and the Syrians from Kir?’”
* Jeremiah was appointed as “a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). God tells him:
“See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:10)
* The Book of Jonah shows God’s concern for the Gentile inhabitants of the city of Nineveh, the very same people who destroyed the ancient state of Israel. Jonah, a Jew, is sent to teach the people of Nineveh to repent and serve God, and is taught, in turn, that God cares for all people, as well as animals.
* The Talmud states: “The pious of all nations shall have a place in the world to come.”[xli]
* During the festival of Sukkot in the days of the Temple of Jerusalem, seventy sacrifices were made for the “seventy nations” (a term that represented all sectors of humanity).
The sukkah (temporary harvest booth dwelt in by Jews during Sukkot) must possess enough of an opening through the top so that the person inside can see the stars and the universe beyond, perhaps to remind us that there are worlds and nations beyond our own, which always deserve consideration.
After a benediction is recited, the lulav (palm branch) which is held during Sukkot is waved to the north, south, east, and west, and then up and down, to signify that God’s sovereignty is universal in all directions. Hence, when we pray for salvation and help, we must have in mind these blessings not only for ourselves, but also for humanity.
Rabbi Hanninah, a third century sage, stated that salvation for the world would come only when the nations accepted the lesson of the sukkah and the lulav: that no nation can experience prosperity and happiness unless there is harmony among all nations.[xlii]
* The sages declare that any person can accept the Torah:
“The Torah was given in public, openly, in a free place. For had the Torah been given in the land of Israel, the Israelites could have said to the nations of the world: “You have no share in it,” but now that it has been given in the wilderness, publicly and openly, in a place that is free for all, everyone willing to accept it may come and accept it.”[xliii]
* A Chassidic wisdom-story expresses the universal spirit of Judaism:
“’Why,’ a student asked, ‘is the stork called in Hebrew Chassidah, which means the loving one?’
‘Because,”’ the rabbi answered, ‘he gives so much love to his wife and offspring.”’
‘Then why,’ asked the student, ‘if he gives so much love to his mate and his young, is the stork considered trayfe (forbidden as food) rather than kosher?’
‘He is considered trayfe,’ the rabbi answered, ‘because he gives love only to his own.’”[xliv]
* Rabbi Nachman of Breslov asserts: “Our sages taught that] every person must say, ‘the whole world was created for my sake.’ [xlv] Therefore, since the whole world was created for my sake, I must always be concerned with improving the world, fulfilling the needs of humanity, and praying for its benefit.”[xlvi]
The concept of Jews as a “chosen people” has often been misinterpreted as a form of exclusivity. But the prophets remind the people that being chosen does not mean divine favoritism, nor guarantee immunity from punishment; on the contrary, it means being held to a higher standard and thus being more intensely exposed to God’s judgment and chastisement:
“Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family whom I brought up out of the land of Egypt. You only have I known of all the families of the earth. Therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities.” ( Amos 3: 1,2)
“In the end of days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills. Peoples shall flow unto it, and many nations shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; So that He may teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.” For the Torah shall go forth from Zion, And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war anymore. They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken it. For all the peoples will walk every one in the name of his god; we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever.” (Micah 4:1-5)
For global harmony, “a law (Torah) must go forth from Zion.” Such a “law” has been proclaimed, but the nations have refused to acknowledge it. It is a law that states that there is one Creator of the entire world, that every person, created in God’s image, is of infinite worth and ought to be able to share in the bounties provided by God’s earth, and that people and nations must seek and pursue peace, pursue justice, and love others, since they are like themselves. If people and nations took this law out of Zion seriously, there would be increased harmony, peace, and sufficient resources for all the world’s people.
Micah’s words provide a moral blueprint for the world, a covenant rooted in truth and justice that supports the structure of peace. This is explicitly spelled out by the Talmudic teaching mentioned in the previous chapter:
“Upon three things the world rests, upon justice, upon truth, and upon peace. And the three are one, for when justice is practiced, truth prevails, and peace is established.”[xlvii]
While the prophets believed that different nations would continue to exist, they were true internationalists who urged and foresaw the creation of proper relations among nations, based on peace, justice, and truth. Their vision represented a farsighted view of national interests, in which love of one’s country and loyalty to humanity represent two concentric circles.[xlviii] The philosopher George Santayana stated, “A man’s feet may be firmly planted in his own country, but his eyes serve the world.” Rabbi Robert Gordis added: “The prophets went further; their hearts embraced the world.”[xlix]
In ways consistent with Jewish tradition and values, Jews must be in the forefront of those working for greater international justice, so that the needs of all the world’s people may be met and so that nations will finally beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and so that each person will be able to sit unafraid, “under his vine and fig tree.”
[i] Lester Brown, World Without Borders, New York: Vintage, 1973, 41.
[ii] Calculation based on data in the 2001 World Population Data Sheet, Population Reference Bureau, 1875 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, D. C. 20009-5728.
[vi] Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1979, 33.
[vii] “World Population: More Than Just Numbers.” Population Reference Bureau booklet. Washington, D. C., 2000.
[viii] Sider, 34.
[ix] Lester Brown, In the Human Interest , New York: Norton, 1974, 165.
[x] 2000 World Population Data Sheet.
[xi] Frances Moore Lappe, et al, World Hunger: Twelve Myths , New York: Grove Press, 1998, 2.
[xii] Robert L. Heilbroner, The Great Assent: The Struggle for Economic Development in Our Time , New York: Harper and Row, 1963, 33 – 36.
[xiii] See Lappe, 3, for a discussion of these factors.
[xiv] Much of the background information in this section came from Hilary French, Vanishing Borders: Protecting the Planet in the Age of Globalization. New York/London: W.W. Norton, 2000; Frances Moore Lappe, et al, World Hunger: Twelve Myths , New York: Grove Press, 1998; and Walden Bello, The Future in the Balance: Essays on Globalization and Resistance. Oakland, California: Food First Books, 2001.
[xv] Hilary French, Vanishing Borders, 6.
[xviii] Ibid. 7.
[xx] Ibid, 6.
[xxi] Jerry Mander, “Economic Globalization: The Era of Corporate Rule,” Nineteenth Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures, October 1999, Salisbury Congregational Church, Salisbury, Connecticut, http://www.schumachersociety.org/lec-man.html.
[xxiv] Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization , Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 2000, 5.
[xxix] Aristide, Eyes of the Heart, 11-12.
[xxxi] Quoted in Maude Barlow, “Water as Commodity – the Wrong Prescription,” Food First Backgrounder, Summer 2001.
[xxxii] Ed Ayres, “The Global and the Local.” WorldWatch, September, October, 2001, 3.
[xxxiii] Walter Bello, The Future in the Balance: Essays on Globalization and Resistance. Oakland, California: Food First Books, 2001, 60.
[xxxiv] Information on the Statement and Call can be obtained from The Shalom Center; www.shalomctr.org; 6711 Lincoln Drive, Philadelphia PA 19119 or the Religious Working Group on the World Bank and IMF, P.O. Box 29132, Washington DC 20017.
[xxxix] Shavuot 39a.
[xl] Pirke Avot 1:14.
[xli] Sanhedrin 105a; also see Yalkut, II KINGS, 296; Jerusalem Talmud: Pe’ah 1:1; and David Sears, Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition., Northvale, New Jersey/Jerusalem: Jason Aronson, 1998, 53 – 56.
[xlii] Philip Goodman, (ed.), The Sukkot and Simchat Torah Anthology,Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Jewish Publication Society, 1973, 114.
[xliii] Mechilta D’Rabbi Ishmael.
[xliv] Martin Buber, Ten Rungs: Hasidic Sayings (New York: Schocken, Books, Inc. 1961), 81.
[xlv] Sanhedrin 37a.
[xlvi] Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likkutei Moharan I, 5:1; quoted by David Sears, Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition, Northvale, New Jersey/ Jerusalem: Jason Aronson, 1998, 93, 94.
[xlvii] Ta’anit 4:2; Megilla 3:5.
[xlviii] Robert Gordis, “The Vision of Micha,” in Judaism and Human Rights, R. Konvitz, ed., New York: W. W. Norton, 1972, 287.
This post is chapter 8 from the 2nd edition of my 2002 book, “Judaism and Global Survival.”