Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
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Economic Justice: An Overview

Economic Justice
"When a person eats and drinks in celebration of a festival, he is obligated to feed converts, orphans, widows, and others who are destitute and poor. In contrast, a person who locks the gates of his courtyard and eats and drinks with his children and his wife, without feeding the poor and the embittered, is not indulging in rejoicing associated with a mitzvah, but rather the rejoicing of his gut...This rejoicing is a disgrace..."
(Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Sh'vitat Yom Tov 6:18).

One of Sukkot's names is Z'man Simchateinu, the Time of Rejoicing. While we are commanded to rejoice abundantly at this time of year, we also must assist others who are financially incapable of rejoicing. According to Maimonides, proper observance of Sukkot requires that we feed those around us who are in need. Hunger and poverty were facts of life in Maimonides' time and unfortunately continue to be major concerns in our time. Thus, the scholar reminds us to be particularly attentive to the needs of others even in the midst of our celebration.

Housing Issues
"You shall dwell in sukkot for seven days, every person in Israel will dwell in sukkot. In order that your generations will know that I made the children of Israel dwell in Sukkot when I took them out of Egypt, I am the Lord your God." (Lev. 23:42-43).

The observance of Sukkot offers many opportunities to consider a variety of social action themes. We are commanded to live in temporary booths for seven days, to remind us of the time when our wandering ancestors had to dwell in sukkot following the exodus from Egypt. This naturally draws to mind those who are homeless, or who must live in temporary housing all year round, unable to procure a permanent home of their own. We have the privilege of returning to our homes following the seven days, but there are many who have no homes to which they can return.

 

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