Eco Rabbi: Parshat Mishpatim – Fair Trade of the Ancient World

Each week Orthodox Jews read one segment of the Five Books of Moses so that they can complete the entire Five Books within the course of a year. In last week’s Eco-Rabbi post we discussed trees and the receiving of the Bible (Torah) on Mount Sinai, this week I’ll discuss free trade and the commandments.

In this week’s parsha there are A LOT of laws. There are laws about slaves, laws about borrowing and guarding and helping people on the street. This list is somewhat of an ethical manifesto, and it is pretty impressive considering what the world looked like when God gave these laws, according to Jewish tradition, some 3400 years ago.

While the past few decades were about globalization, and finding the cheapest ways to manufacture for the greatest profits, the Fair Trade movement IS building momentum. In a nutshell, Fair Trade is about making sure that people are getting treated properly. How are their working conditions? Are children being forced to work? Are they workers getting paid legitimate wages?In this week’s parsha the laws of keeping a slave are laid out. The Rabbis describe the law as being so constrictive that they say (Talmud Bavli Kiddushin 20a): “Whoever buys a Hebrew servant buys a master for himself.” If you only have one pillow, you have to give it to your slave… so forget about any beatings for insolence!

Many of the commandments (Mitzvot) are largely based upon ethical foundations. One might ask how some of the more obscure sounding Mitzvot have anything to do with ethics? But when you believe that the greatest act, as a man, is to connect with God, and by doing so one is making the world a better place, that is the very essence of ethical! What will make the world a better place?

I would suggest that next time you take stock of your spiritual living, don’t only consider the mitzvot that you are doing, but also include how you can make the world a better, healthier place for everyone. If one takes a hard look at many of the ethical movements developing today, from the perspective of Jewish law, one could probably claim that by law one should support most of those causes. After all, isn’t that what all the Mitzvot are about?

This column is published weekly in the Torah Tidbits

Image Credit: Overseas Development Institute

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2 thoughts on “Eco Rabbi: Parshat Mishpatim – Fair Trade of the Ancient World”

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