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Elliot Dorff, a Conservative Jewish rabbi, first appeared on SOF as part of “Marriage, Family, and Divorce.” Now a somewhat old program. It was before my time, an era when Krista and Mitch and Kate would pop in at conferences and interview interesting voices in a hotel room with mattresses and drapes serving as sound baffles. (Well, I guess we still do that once in a while, even today!)

Dorff, a Conservative Jewish rabbi, looks to the Torah and ancient rabbinic wisdom as a model for acting in the world during these difficult financial times. He has a special way of explaining things plainly. At the beginning of the interview, he opens with an idea that, although not particularly novel, but becomes more poignant in light of current events and crises: our collective focus on money and material wealth is a form of idolatry. When the Torah forbids people from worshipping “false idols,” the sacred text doesn’t just intend for it to apply to statuettes or icons or paintings. For Dorff, that means any being or object or idea that takes one’s focus away from God.

He sees the current economic and cultural crisis as more than just a spiritual dilemma — it’s a point of pragmatism that pulls together community for those in need. The Torah requires him to help the poor and the needy. And serving those in need means more than charity. Helping others means preserving their human dignity and we, he reminds us, should not look on this service to others as a duty but as a responsibility.

One of the best ways to help is to give that person a job or invest with that person. It’s a matter of dignity by empowering people in need to foster long-term sufficiency. He tells a story where he and other faculty members put this idea into practice by taking a salary cut so that fellow colleagues’ positions would be preserved.

Dorff’s perspective and grounded wisdom reminds me that the psyche of my fellow man is as important as is his basic need for food and shelter. Being able to hold one’s head up brings alleviates the burden of survival. We don’t want to simply exist, we crave respect and creation and ambition, in the best sense of the word.


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Reflections

Thank you Mr. Droff for sharing your thoughts. I particularly enjoyed hearing about your wish for economic wisdom. The fact that there really isn't anyone out there who can definitively tell us what to do, might be very unsettling for those of us who are suffering as a result of loss of jobs or savings. Yet, I also wonder, as you mentioned in your comparison to handling illness, whether the present crisis doesn't precisely do what crises are meant to do. And, that is to pass the main burden of responsibility for decision-making back upon our own shoulders. Have we not spent enough time seeking advice from others instead of learning to live with the consequences of our own making?

So refreshing to hear the "i" word used to describe all of this. I wonder why so few clergy are using it. Is the big lesson that every generation will be blind to its own idolatry and injustices, all the while harping on about superiority over people of the past? Anything to distract us from living in the moment, fully conscious, fully aware of cause and effect, and fully responsible.

I have pointed it out to my own Bishop and national church leaders, but there seems to be a code of silence. I know it has to do with money gifts.

Of course, they should have seen this a long time ago, since those sacred texts in all of these western faith traditions, of which they alone are expert for all their complexity, speak of it in the whole story of the formation of the Hebrew nation: golden calves, foreign lands, and later a desire for a king and a temple and probably many other things we don't even perceive yet. The Prophets spoke unpopularly then about injustices, indifference and self-serving social systems built around 'temples' and the societies they spawned.

The Clergy, and all their hierarchies they themselves serve (and any of the idolatry that symbolizes), have a lot to answer for once again. They alone are paid to understand the conditions of hearts of people in their care who work every day in the 'marketplace', and make all the decisions that got us to where we are today.

Perhaps, they will see fit to pass along the donation money they've all received from their spiritual charges needing to unload their subconscious sense of guilt to the little people in society now who need real support since there are not little jobs for them anymore!