Tuesday, November 11, 2008

unorthodox commentary

This [Jewish] calendar year, I began reading the commentary of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch to accompany the weekly Torah portion. While I have not able to finish even a quarter of the weekly commentary, I've learned some very fascinating insights, some of which I feel are apropos to this little blog of mine (I'm gonna let it shine!)

A few weeks ago we read Parashat Bereshit, otherwise known as Genesis. We read of the two brother Kayin (pronounced "Cain" in English) and Hevel (A.K.A. "Able"). In explaining the etymology of the name 'Kayin' which means to acquire (and so named by Eve), R' Hirsch notes that the concept of ownership derives from that of production. Thus we find from here a biblical support to the Lockean theory of original acquisition, the 'mixing of one's labor' with unowned matter to create "property".

In the following weeks reading of Noah, the Torah states that what sealed the fate of the antediluvians was that they engaged in "Cha'mas" (read that with a gutteral "kh" sound, just like 'Chumas' the famous chickpea spread). Cha'mas is etymologically related to two other words, "Cha'metz", leavened products which are forbidden on Passover, and "Cho'metz" which is vinegar. The common meaning of these three words is that they denote a gradual ruination of a substance until it is unrecoverable, as opposed to a quick-paced ruination.

In this particular case, the wicked people in those times did not steal or rob from one another in a grand fashion. Instead, they each stole in very trivial amounts that were unrecoverable via the legal process. However this trivial amount was multiplied by the actions of many people until the victim was robbed to the point of destitution.

To me, this sounds a lot like the effects of monetary inflation, in that it transfers a couple of percentage points in buying power to the first-recipients of the new money at the expense of those last receivers of money, usually those people on living on pensions or fixed incomes. As far as I know, there is no legal remedy to help the victims of monetary inflation, and so this would probably qualify as Cha'mas, as opposed to Gezel, what we call theft, which if the perpetrator were to be apprehended, we would have the opportunity of legal recourse and some chance of restitution.

This last bit is from Perashat Lech-Lecha, in which R' Hirsch notes that, and I quote verbatim (from the English translation of his original German)--
"Honesty, humanity, and love are duties incumbent upon the individual, but are regarded as folly in relations between nations and are viewed as unimportant by statesmen and politicians. Individuals are imprisoned and hanged for the crimes of fraud and murder, but countries murder and defraud on a grand scale, and those who murder and defraud "in the interest of the state" are decorated and rewarded."

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