Haaretz reported today that the tender for building a massive solar power plant in the Negev will not be given preference to Israeli companies. The article explains that, “The decision was made, among other things, to avoid the impression that the tender was written for the benefit of the only two Israeli companies who could compete for the power station.”
There are two major issues to take into consideration when giving charity, or tzedakah, according to Jewish Law. The first consideration is who one should to give to. According to Jewish law there is a pecking order. The basic rule is to start with those closest to you, your family, and work your way out: neighbors, city, country etc…
The other consideration is how to give. Maimonides categorizes the different types of tzedakah into eight categories and orders them from the ideal to least formm of giving. The best form of tzedakah, being, giving someone a way to make a living, and the worst form, giving unwillingly.
A question came to my mind when I first read the article in Haaretz. By the government not giving preference to Israeli companies, was it breaking the guidelines of the Jewish laws of charity? Let me clarify, if one is supposed to first give to his neighbor before he gives to a beggar from out of town then shouldn’t the government try to give business to Israeli companies first? One cannot say it isn’t on some level a form of charity since Maimonides states that the highest level of giving charity is giving someone a job.
On the other hand, is it really charity to promote mediocrity? If a company from outside of Israel can do a more efficient job it not only is wasting the people’s tax dollars but it is supporting a sub-par product. How can these Israeli companies compete in the world market if they are not held to a world-class standard?
The root of the word tzedakah in Hebrew is tzedek, which means justice. Giving a person a job is a wonderful thing, however, it is not giving him a profession unless he can do this job in other places as well. The capitalist market pushes for the best product for the most affordable cost. Opening up the market can potentially push the Israeli companies to offer a better product.
Finally, it is the greener way. If we want to make our world a greener place we need to do this by cutting back on waste. It is inefficient and wasteful to give a job to a company who will not do the best job.
The conclusion: when it comes to sound environmental practices, perhaps it is wise to support a free market. We think the rabbis would agree too.