Our Complete Torah vs. Their Idle Chatter – Influences Of Secular Law and Politics On the Halachah

I gave a lecture with this title earlier today; audio and source sheets, in various file formats, are available at the Internet Archive.

Many of the sources that I discuss have been previously discussed on the blog (here, here, here and here) but there is also novel material. Of particular interest are a couple of responsa on rent control that approach the question from very different perspectives: Rav Dovid Menahem Manis of Tarnipol’s skepticism is a model of economic conservatism / libertarianism, and he refers scathingly to the law in question as being the product of

איזו נבחרים חפשיים שיש בהם דיעות ושיטות הקאמוניסטען וסאציאליסטען. ללחוץ את העשירים ולקחת ממונם שכל אלו השיטות הם נגד דעת תורה.

while Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, on the other hand, is quite favorably disposed toward such legislation. His remarkable analysis of the specific question, as well as the broader issue of דינא דמלכותא דינא, has not received the attention that it deserves.

3 thoughts on “Our Complete Torah vs. Their Idle Chatter – Influences Of Secular Law and Politics On the Halachah”

  1. Rabbi Henkin argues that rent control is a good thing because it helps the poor. Even if you assume that it is meant to help the poor and does help the poor (which is a big if) it imposes the burden of providing housing to the poor on apartment building owners. It does not impose the burden on other rich citizens- not on the rich banker, lawyer, doctor- only on the rich landowner. Is this the normal way hilchos tzedakah and halacha in general apply? We do find that leket, shikcha and payeh apply only to landowners. Does halacha apply this system elsewhere to impose support of the poor on one member of an otherwise equally able group? In addition does halacha allow a tax to be imposed on specific people when the taxed and untaxed are otherwise equal? Are there any procedural safeguards?

    In addition rent stabilization/control in NY is not contingent on wealth. In fact the tenant can sometimes be wealthier than the apartment owner. How can one then argue that the system is good because it helps the poor. There are some poor people that pay less rent than they otherwise would. Other poor people can not even get an apartment. Furthermore, why is the landlord required to help out the rich tenant. (Seems like there is some baptist and bootlegger element to these laws)

  2. I have cited Rav Henkin’s discussion in the source sheets (ODF / ODT, DOC); the full text is available here. He argues that the fact that the law may be occasionally unfair does not detract from its validity, and he also addresses some of your other points.

    The objections of the חבצלת השרון (also cited in the source sheets) are largely from the economic libertarian perspective that you take.

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