For more than a hundred years liberals and conservatives have been arguing over the true meaning of justice. The left emphasizes just outcomes—seeking smaller gaps between rich and poor, and a comparably dignified standard of living for all members of society. The right stresses just procedures --making sure that individuals keep the fruits of their own labors and remain secure in their property, without seizure by their neighbors or by government.
Liberals accept unequal, potentially unfair treatment by government in order to achieve fair results; conservatives accept unequal, potentially unfair results so long as every citizen receives fair and comparable treatment by government.
These arguments have raged for generations without definitive resolution, but that doesn’t mean that both sides are right, or that the questions that divide them offer no final answers. In fact, key Biblical passages provide a strong indication that conservative concepts of economic justice comport far more closely to the religious and philosophical foundations of western civilization. If the Bible is indeed the word of God (as a big majority of Americans say they believe it is), then it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the Almighty would cast his all-important ballot for Republicans.
For instance, as the weeks count down to the Jewish New Year this September, congregations around the world all read the same weekly Torah portions from the Book of Deuteronomy, including the famous exhortation, “Justice, justice, shall you pursue.” (Chapter 16, Verse 20). The obvious question on this verse is why the Bible repeats the Hebrew word, “Tzedek” – which means both “justice,” and “righteousness”. A great Polish sage from the late 1700’s, Rabbi Bunam of P’schischa, recorded a profound answer from the Tradition. The text uses the word “Tzedek” twice to make sure that when you pursue justice, you only use just-and righteous-means. In other words, the Biblical view directly contradicts the leftist inclination: no, you can’t unjustly confiscate wealth from those who created it to fulfill the righteous goal of helping the poor. The Bible insists that no matter how worthy your purposes, you must employ only righteous means in achieving them.
This understanding turns up repeatedly in Scripture. For instance, a key passage in the Book of Leviticus (19:15) declares: “You shall not commit a perversion of justice; you shall not favor the poor and you shall not honor the great; with righteousness (Tzedek) shall you judge your fellow.” Amazingly, the Bible warns us not to “favor the poor” even before we’re instructed “not to honor the great,” because partiality for the unfortunate counts as an even stronger human temptation.
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