Parsing The Ethics Of Giving And Taking
Tue, 10/18/2011

So far, “Occupy Judaism” is an embryonic offshoot of the nationwide economic protests sparked by the Occupy Wall Street camp in Lower Manhattan. Like any embryo, it has potential, and it is fragile. Unlike those who are alarmed by Occupy Judaism’s take on the economy and see its synthesis of religion and politics as some kind of cynical manipulation, we do not doubt the Occupy activists’ sincerity.

We wish we could be more certain, however, that they will put their moment to good use, an undertaking that will be even more challenging than gathering hundreds of souls for an open-air Kol Nidre service, as impressive as that achievement was.

Local Jewish activist Dan Sieradski, who is leading the effort, raises an important question when he asks if American Jewish organizations are providing moral cover to donors whose gifts flow from profits that are legal, but compromised by the inequities of broader economy. However, as critics of those organizations, Sieradski and his backers do not have the luxury of ignoring the intricacy of the Jewish communal web.

Indeed, communal money has contributed to Sieradski’s own education, helping develop some of the leadership skills he has used to such striking effect in recent weeks. Sieradski has enjoyed both a Dorot Fellowship and a grant from Natan, a group whose efforts to support innovative entrepreneurial groups is fueled by young leaders of the business world.

That the firebrand himself is implicated in the system he critiques is a powerful example of how interconnected our world is, and how difficult it can be to parse the moral guidelines of whose money can be used for what cause.

We invite the adherents of Occupy Judaism to begin formulating practical ways to detangle good money from bad, and bad from acceptable, in such a way that preserves admirable communal priorities such as support for the poor and the weak.

We also ask them to interrogate and take seriously the concerns of critics, to uphold the integrity of both the community and their cause.

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