And what about all the Biblical demands, in both Old and New Testaments, to show compassion to widows, orphans and the poor?
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi), the 11th century giant who became the most influential of all Torah expositors, explains that the verse in Leviticus draws an all-important, eternal distinction between charity and justice: “Do not say that since the wealthy man is obligated to help the poor one, it is proper for a judge to rule in favor of the poor litigant so that he will be supported in dignity. The Torah insists that justice be rendered honestly; charity may not interfere with it.”
In other words, assistance for the destitute remains an individual obligation on God-fearing individuals, but should not bring a tilt to the law to favor the less fortunate.
It is no coincidence, surely, that this crucial verse in Leviticus appears just two sentences away from the most famous declaration in all the Bible: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18). This famous line makes clear that the same God who wants us to deal kindly with our fellow human beings, also requires that we respect and honor ourselves. You don’t demean or damage yourself for the sake of your fellow; the Bible consistently backs the conservative supposition that we help others best when we help ourselves.
If such Biblical passages strongly support the conservative conception of justice, then why are so many churches, synagogues and divinity schools filled with outspokenly liberal clergy?
The answer reflects differing approaches to Biblical interpretation, with literalists in every denomination who focus on Scripture as written, without attempts at alteration or updating, lean overwhelmingly to the right.
Of course, many committed leftists dismiss the Bible as an ancient irrelevancy, but its call for a process-oriented, no-respecter-of-persons concept of justice has lasted far longer than today’s sense of ruthless compassion and legal favoritism, and the sweet reason of Biblical logic will continue to engage the human spirit when tender-hearted political correctness is no more than a sour memory.
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