Workfare, Justice For the Poor and Other Overlooked Mosaic Laws

The parts of the Torah (Old Testament law) that skeptics find objectionable are generally well publicized. But some may be surprised to find that there are many laws that they agree with, including the lesser-known laws listed here.

Love, treatment of enemies
Treatment of the disadvantaged
Treatment of immigrants
Laws for priests and authority figures
Justice
Sabbath laws
Miscellaneous laws
Further reading


Love, treatment of enemies

People often don't realize that God's command to love everyone, even one's enemies, originates from the Torah.

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. (Lev 19:18)

If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it. (Ex 23:4-5)

When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. (Lev 19:33-34)


Treatment of the disadvantaged

Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. (Ex 22:22-23)

Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. (Lev 19:14)

Cursed is the man who leads the blind astray on the road. (Dt 27:18)

When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into his house to get what he is offering as a pledge. Stay outside and let the man to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. If the man is poor, do not go to sleep with his pledge in your possession. Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. Then he will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the Lord your God.

Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin. (Dt 24:10-15)

If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: "The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near," so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. (Dt 15:7-11)

A sort of workfare system was in place to provide for those who had no property:

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. (Lev 19:9-10)

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this. (Dt 24:19-22)

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Dt 14:28-29)


Treatment of immigrants

When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. (Lev 19:33-34)

Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt. (Ex 23:9)


Laws for priests and authority figures

It is the Levites who are to do the work at the Tent of Meeting and bear the responsibility for offenses against it. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites....Speak to the Levites and say to them: "When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord's offering...You must present as the Lord's portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you." (Num 18:23, 26, 29)

The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, "You are not to go back that way again." He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. (Dt 17:16-20)


Justice

Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin. (Dt 24:16)

One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Dt 19:15)

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. (Lev 19:15)


Sabbath laws

The Sabbath was intended as a time of rest not only for the Israelites but for everyone living in their nation, even the animals.

For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alienas well, may be refreshed. (Ex 23:10-12)


Miscellaneous laws

If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his master. Let him live among you wherever he likes and in whatever town he chooses. Do not oppress him. (Dt 23:15-16)

Don't sacrifice your children on the altar fires to the god Molech. I am the Lord your God, and that would disgrace me. (Lev 18:21 (CEV))

If you see your brother's ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to him. If the brother does not live near you or if you do not know who he is, take it home with you and keep it until he comes looking for it. Then give it back to him. Do the same if you find your brother's donkey or his cloak or anything he loses. Do not ignore it. If you see your brother's donkey or his ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it. Help him get it to its feet. (Dt 22:1-4)

Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. (Lev 19:16)

If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married. (Dt 24:5)

If you enter your neighbor's vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. If you enter your neighbor's grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing grain. (Dt 23:24-25)


Further reading


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