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May 5, 2014 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Behar

This week’s portion contains a variety of laws designed to limit concentration of wealth.  One of the more interesting ones is the law of redemption of hereditary lands.   Every fifty years, the original owner of land may return to his hereditary land (Lev. 25:28)- even if he does not have the money to redeem it.  This law applies to unwalled villages as well as open land (25:31).

By contrast, this law does not apply in cities.  In walled cities, you have a year to redeem land after selling it (25:29).   Why?  Scharfstein writes: “The inhabitants in walled cities consisted of merchants, artisans and professionals who owned their businesses and could not give up their establishments.”   In other words, urbanites have invested in their land, and if they were thrown off their land, they might not be able to move somewhere else in the city.  Here, the Torah is creating some degree of flexibility to allow people to create careers that do not involve farming.  

This law represents a shift in the Torah’s emphasis from Genesis, whose heroes are nomadic herders rather than urbanites.  The Torah is telling us that a Torah soiciety requires urban as well as rural life.

On the other hand, the Torah’s refusal to expand its “walled city” rule to unwalled cities creates a problem.  This means that in unwalled cities, merchants and artisians can’t permanently live anywhere except their traditional clan homestead, which would make it hard for them to establish permanent professions.  Thus, a viable commercial economy was only possible in walled cities. How hard was it for walled cities to expand to allow commerce to expand with population?  I don’t know.

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