Money and Faith: Can the Two Walk Together?

Sunday, February 09, 2014 |  Tsvi Sadan

In the wake of celebrity Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto’s supposed attempt to bribe a senior police officer, Finance Minister Yair Lapid stated, “Three tycoons were known to counsel rabbis - Moti Ziser, Ilan Ben Dov and Nochi Dankner – all of whom saw their [financial] empires crumble. Maybe they should have consulted economists rather than rabbis.”

In the increasingly tense debate between religious and secular views in Israel, Lapid seized the opportunity provided by Rabbi Pinto to widen the divide between the spiritual and the material. Money and faith, so Lapid and many Israelis believe, are two unrelated and even opposing spheres.

Pinto set a bad example, so be sure, but to conclude from his scandal that rabbis should not be consulted on financial matters is like concluding from one rotten apple that all apples should be avoided.

Moreover, in light of the presumably sound economic theories and policies that led the Western world into financial crisis, relying on economists for good counsel is apparently as risky as consulting a rabbi.

People’s ill judgment in the financial sphere, as well as just about every other sphere of human life, is ultimately a testimony of human frailty, not a rebuttal of spirituality. If anything, that the ultra-rich, who presumably don’t need any help on financial matters, would seek spiritual guidance should have been cause for concern that they are unable to find the good counsel they need from secular economists.

There are those who will insist that the rich, just as the poor, are simply superstitious. Be that as it may, I believe more credit should be given to one who seeks the company of a rabbi, or the spirituality that he represents.

A case in point was the 2008 gathering of 500 of Israel’s upper echelon in honor of Rabbi Haim Kovalski, who had earned great respect among many Israelis due to his Project Meorot Hadaf Hayomi that aimed to help every Jew study the Talmud on a daily basis.

Asked by a reporter what a respected lawyer was doing at such an event, Gideon Fischer replied: “…people are looking for a wise man. A rabbi has no radio and he doesn’t read secular newspapers. He knows all that is needed to be known, and avoids everything one need not know and need not read or see. All of his time is devoted to studying and casuistry. He has hundreds of thousands of studying hours, and we, how much time are we wasting on television, nonsense and vain things? We want to sit around a refined person.”

True religious people, and by religious I mean anyone who puts his or her faith to practice, knows that the division Lapid suggests between the spiritual and the material is false at best. The Bible has much to say about debt, usury, alms giving and a host of other purely economic issues that if given their proper weight can bring much relief to individuals and society.

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