Judaism and money

Judaism and money

Speaker sees wealth as ‘relational’

Rabbi Mary Zamore
Rabbi Mary Zamore

As head of the Reform Movement’s Women’s Rabbinic Network, Rabbi Mary Zamore is no stranger to the topic of money. For example, the group has launched a pay equity initiative not only for the Reform Movement but for the greater Jewish community as well.

While many people might consider talks about money to be dry, the rabbi — who will deliver one of those talks on October 25 at Teaneck’s Temple Emeth — said the topic actually is quite exciting.

“People miss the fact that it’s relational; it’s how we interact with each other and the world,” she said. “It’s the power to live our values — how to create a life that reflects our Jewish values.”

In delivering the annual Rabbi Joshua Trachtenberg Memorial Lecture at the Teaneck synagogue, Rabbi Zamore will speak not only about the Jewish mandate to give, but even more, about the imperative to look more closely at where our money goes.

Her talk, “Creating a Just World: Tzedaka and Judaism’s Giving Mindset,” will be drawn from a chapter in the book “The Sacred Exchange: Creating a Jewish Money Ethic,” published recently by CCAR Press. Rabbi Zamore conceived, designed, and edited the book. This is her second such book. The first, “The Sacred Table,” published in 2011, was a Jewish Book Award finalist.

Her new anthology is divided into six parts.

The first part, she said, “explores wisdom from our texts about wealth. You walk away with a greater understanding of what Judaism has to say about it.” This is followed by a section on tzedakah and tzedek, the power of money.

The next group of articles concerns Israel, “giving to Israel and laws about money rooted in Israel in biblical times.” Under the heading “We are all employers,” Part Four deals with employment, “including our history with the Jewish labor movement and the treatment of domestic workers.”

The next section explores religious life and money, “for example, the value of membership, the costs of buying Jewishly, and the expense of life-cycle parties.” But it deals also with liturgy and ritual, “exploring new rituals we might do in connection with financial life cycles. What could you do when you pay off your mortgage, or write your last check for Jewish day school tuition? How could you sanctify them Jewishly?”

Part Six, “Uncomfortable Conversations,” deals with a variety of topics, from stereotypes about Jews and moneylending to the “monetizing of teshuvah,” looking at issues such as Holocaust reparations.

The rabbi described compiling such an anthology to “playing fantasy football. You come up with a concept and outline the book and then you think, ‘Who would be a perfect person for this?’” Even if that person is on sabbatical or writing their own book and you turn to someone else, “you end up with an amazing team.” Sometimes, people write pieces “with a twist you never expected,” adding to the enjoyment.

Rabbi Zamore said she is “very excited to bring ‘The Sacred Exchange’ and its teachings to Teaneck. There are so many themes in the book, it was hard to pick just one. We decided to focus on the giving mindset. That’s special to Judaism, which has a very neutral attitude toward money. Some religions have a negative attitude, calling it evil.”

Our neutral attitude, she said, “leads us to examine and think about what we do with our money,” causing us to ask how Jewish tradition can guide the way we interact with the world through money. While giving tzedakah is vitally important, “To really be imbued with giving in that way, we have to start with the mindset.” The Ten Commandments tell us not to covet, pointing to what we shouldn’t be doing, she said, while Maimonides talks not only about giving willingly and freely but about examining what we give to.

“It really doesn’t matter how much you have,” she said. “The mindset is what matters. When we do chesed, when we earn a living, Judaism recognizes these as very positive human actions. We have to find a middle road between earning money, having money, and allocating it to help others. Deciding where it goes is empowering and rewarding. Jewish teachings recognized something about human nature. It elevates our souls when we’re able to assist others.”

Rabbi Zamore was born on Long Island and has lived in Westfield since 1996. She and her husband, Terje Lande, have one son, Aryeh, who is in college. The Women’s Rabbinic Network, comprising some 725 rabbis internationally, has been in existence “for more than 40 years and does support and advocacy for Reform women rabbis and for the issues and values we uphold.

“Members come from all over the world,” and issues range from pay equity, to harassment, to the advancement of women to positions of leadership. Rabbi Zamore, who heads the group, said it is learning a good deal from its Israeli members, who are waging an uphill battle on these issues.

On the issue of pay equity, she noted that five professional organizations in the Reform movement have looked at the subject “through a gender lens and have documented a pay gap, just as there is in the greater Jewish world and the world as a whole. No profession is free of it. We’re training both employees and employers to do interventions to narrow the wage gap.”

Under the rubric Safe Space, the network is working with 11 seminary communities — that’s mainstream seminaries from all denominations, from the Jewish Theological Seminary to HUC-JIR to Chovevei Torah — “to create safer, more respectful communities there, for all people.” The multi-hour training programs “are fully compliant with states and cities requiring anti-sexual harassment training but far exceed the scope of that and talk about the intersection between respectful behavior and creating a non-abusive environment.” The emphasis, she said, is on the contention that everyone can help attain that.

Save the Date

Who: Rabbi Mary Zamore

What: Will speak on “Tzedaka and Judaism’s Giving Mindset”

When: On October 25 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: At Temple Emeth, 1666 Windsor Road, Teaneck

Also: The lecture is free and all are welcome. For more information, call (201) 833-1322 or go to www.emeth.org.

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