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February 22, 2014 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Pekudei

This coming week’s Torah portion continues to focus on the construction of the Tabernacle, and notes that Moses “blessed the craftsmen.”  (Exodus 39:43).

Scharfstein adds that according to mid-20th-c. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (often referred to as “The Rav” by modern Orthodox Jews)  the Tabernacle’s work united the nation.  He explains that “One person cannot acquire all the skills necessary for the gratification of all his needs; he therefore must exchange services with his neighbors.  The exchange of services brings about independence and interaction, which in turn bring about the unity needed to turn individuals into a community and a nation.”    The Rav views division of labor as a good thing.  And indeed, the U.S. Constitution is in part based on the same idea: that rather than being a confederation of states who block interstate commerce, the U.S. should be a nation of people freely conducting interstate commerce.

Indeed, other portions of the Bible reference trade beyond the boundaries of the land of Israel. Solomon used Lebanese trees (1 Kings 5:6) to build the First Temple.

In recent years, the political Left has began to wonder if the division of labor has gone too far.  Division of labor within a city is fine.  But should we really be trading so much across the country or across the world?  Environmentalists worry about the greenhouse gases emitted in travel, and worry about whether they should be “eating locally” or buying Chinese goods.* (Although in my experience, people who obsess over “sustainable” food or consumer goods rarely seem to have qualms about travel by air or by car).  Labor union supporters and other leftists claim that globalization has reduced the American standard of living, because Americans can’t compete with cheap labor from poorer countries.**

Regardless of whether one stands on these issues, I do think it interesting that Judaism has at least something to say about the division of labor.

*Not that there aren’t plenty of other countries Americans buy stuff from, but I think there’s a fairly high level of obsession with China among my left-wing friends.  I am not going to bother to psychoanalyze the roots of this attitude

**Though many of the same people who oppose buying stuff made with cheap foreign labor are just fine with importing said cheap Third World labor into the United States, both through allowing more immigration and granting amnesty for illegal immigrations already here.   

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One Comment

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  1. Shira Salamone / Feb 26 2014 3:34 pm

    ” . . . should we really be trading so much across the country or across the world?”

    Only if we can figure out how to “export” some of New York City’s wet weather to the western US, where folks are suffering from a draught. 😦

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