Vulnerable

Concern for the vulnerable is a key refrain in the Bible. Numerous times we are told to be sensitive to the widow, orphan and poor. No fewer than thirty-six times the Bible urges to welcome the stranger and to protect the underdog (Talmud, Bava Metziah 59b). This concern for the vulnerable has been shown to underpin many of the laws of Judaism, such as marriage, criminal justice and wealth (see: Defending the Human Spirit, Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein). Isaiah (1:17) exhorted: "Learn to do good, seek justice, vindicate the victim, render justice to the orphan, take up the grievance of the widow." Jeremiah (22:3) likewise taught: "Administer justice and righteousness, and save the robbed from the hand of the oppressor; do not taunt and do not cheat the stranger, the orphan and the widow."

However, protecting the vulnerable in Jewish Social Values extends to being aware that people are made vulnerable when they are denied social support and inclusion. Jewish sources show us that isolation can be the beginning of a potentially worsening situation where people are isolated by their peers, leaving them vulnerable to greater victimisation. When a person is included in the group, the group members offer a measure of protection. When excluded from the group, the individual is more easily targeted for abuse – both verbal and physical.

We see this with the biblical story of Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37:4). Initially he was just excluded by the other brothers but this exclusion was the beginning of a rather dangerous dynamic of creating an 'other'. The result was his attempted murder and eventual sale into slavery (Genesis 37:27). A seminal incident recorded in the Talmud (Gittin 55b) articulates the consequences of rejecting someone:

The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Kamza and a Bar Kamza. A man had a friend Kamza and an enemy Bar Kamza. He once made a party and said to his servant, Go and bring Kamza. The man went and brought Bar Kamza. When the host found him there he said, "You tell tales about me; what are you doing here? Get out". Said the other: "Since I am here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink." He refused. Then let me give you half the cost of the party. He refused. "Then let me pay for the whole party." He still declined, and he took him by the hand and put him out.

This act of exclusion resulted in total destruction, when the offended party went to the Roman authorities to pay revenge.

Leaving someone exposed can have tragic consequences. The Bible (Deuteronomy 21:4) states that if a person is found dead on the road and it is not possible to discover the cause of death, the elders of the nearest town need to enact a ceremony of penance in which they declare "Our hands did not spill this blood." Upon this the Talmud (Sotah 45b) asks: "Does anyone really think that the Elders of the Beth Din were murderers? Rather, in their case, perhaps having left him without provisions or not having accompanied him along the way would be sufficient crime." A wayfarer who appears neglected is a ready target for bandits; a more visible interest from the community for his welfare may have afforded a greater measure of protection. Similarly, the Talmud (Makkot 11a) relates how a great sage was snubbed for a tragedy that occurred in his proximity: When a lion devoured someone a few miles from Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, Elijah avoided him for three days.

For this reason, the biblical Joseph offered vast gifts to his brothers when he sent them back to Canaan to collect Jacob (Genesis 43:11). Even though he had urged them to return in haste, in which case all those food gifts would not have been necessary, he wanted to demonstrate that they were now being looked after, thereby reducing their vulnerability. When praying in the synagogue, the Talmud (Berachot 5b) rules that a person may not leave if another worshipper

has not finished, and that doing so will result in his prayers being rejected. Showing concern for another makes them less vulnerable and more secure.