What would Amos say about the cost-of-living crisis?

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Leap of Faith

What would Amos say about the cost-of-living crisis?

As a new tax year begins, Jews find themselves confronting a ‘double whammy’ of rising costs– one particular and the other universal.

With inflation set to hit a figure not seen since the late 1970s/early 1980s, bringing with it price rises in energy, fuel, food and much else, Britons face a cost-of-living challenge. The poorest and large families will suffer the heaviest impact. The Rowntree Foundation estimates that a further 600,000 people will now be pulled into poverty, of which 150,000 are children.

The coming of Pesach, with its message of freedom, also heralds the cost of kosher l’Pesach goods – a further worry for the poorest in our community.

In moments of moral dilemma, I frequently turn to the Hebrew prophets, of whom Amos often offers most clarity. Amos appears to have preached in the 8th century BCE when the Jewish people were divided into the northern Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam and that of Judah under Uzziah.

We know little about Amos’ life. He is from Tekoa, a town south of Bethlehem and is described as a ‘sheep breeder’, implying a wealthy owner of herds and flocks rather than a jobbing shepherd. Amos – in common with the other prophets of the Hebrew Bible – comments upon the condition of the Jewish community from a religious perspective. He includes the usual themes of the centrality of Jerusalem/Zion, the power of repentance, and the primacy of ethical conduct over ritual acts, but Amos is most clear concerning social and economic justice. His condemnation of the neglect of the poor is unequivocal, as is his setting out of the consequences for those who fail to appreciate the impact that their conduct may have on the poorest in society.

Amos says: “Because you impose a tax on the poor and extract a levy of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone but you shall not live in them; you have planted delightful vineyards, but shall not drink their wine. For I have noted how many are your crimes, and how countless your sins.”

There is no doubt in my mind that Amos would have condemned without equivocation a society whereby some will have to forgo a night at the theatre, but others will be forced to choose to feed the family or heat the home. As to the cost of kosher l’Pesach goods, the Torah itself reminds us that, although a sacrifice was something costly, there was provision for those who could not afford everything.

In last week’s Torah portion (Leviticus 12: 1-8) there is a description of what is expected of a woman after she has given birth. There is a period of ritual isolation which is ended by the bringing of an (expensive) lamb and a pigeon or a dove. However, Leviticus 8:1 reads: “If however, her means do not suffice for a sheep, she shall take two turtle doves or two pigeons.”

A salient reminder that Judaism acknowledges the difficulty of the disadvantaged, both in matters of ritual and in life in general.


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