Socialism is on a rise in America lately. The recent midterm elections brought some self-declared socialist to Congress, prompting the president to announce in his 2019 state of the union that “We renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
I’m not sure it’s up to President Trump to decide that. If it took for much-worse movements much-less time to rise to power without social media, then America’s socialists surely have a head start.
In our circles, we tend to identify more with conservative-republican political values, but I want to take a step back and examine socialism more objectively from a Torah perspective.
A number of years ago I was skimming through a book of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s letters, and I came across a very surprising letter.
In it, the Rebbe writes that “In the midst of the heat of the Russian revolution I personally knew many socialists, among them very radical ones, which were deeply religious observant people. They were proud of it [their religious affiliation] and at the same time they occupied leadership positions in the Russian socialist parties.”
That is to say that one should not feel that if he holds socialist values dear to himself, it means they are contradictory to Torah. “If someone feels that way, it is out of ignorance,” the Rebbe concludes the letter.
I wish to echo again what the Rebbe wrote in that letter, as I find it more relevant than ever with the quick-paced social-media world. Rabbis and anyone who represents Yiddishkeit (even by the looks of his or her face) in my opinion should refrain from expressing his opinion on political matters that have no bearing on Torah laws and Jewish values.
It may cause a Jew who otherwise would be willing to listen to a message of Torah, Yiddishkeit, and Moshiach, to feel alienated. I think this is especially true regarding expressing support to political figures. Your political opinions should be reserved for the ballot-box alone.
I once spoke to a smart taxi driver in Israel about Yiddishkeit. After talking for a while, I asked him, “Nu, so what do you think?” The smart man responded with a pearl of wisdom. “I think that my customer is always right…”
We are first and foremost proponents of Yiddishkeit and the news of Moshiach’s imminent arrival. Our political opinions are very far down on the list of what’s important to us, and should definitely not be allowed to block us from reaching the heart of a Jew who has other opinions.
The ideal governing style of Yiddishkeit is not confined to any one of the existing forms of government. The Torah is from Hashem, and as such is perfect. If there is something good in a specific form of government, it is sourced in the holy Torah.
Does that mean that whatever is not culled from Torah is necessarily evil?
I don’t believe so. As long as those laws don’t contradict Torah laws they fall under the category of “Dina D’malchusa” and must be respected. We must only remember that it’s a human creation and is far from perfect. As Winston Churchill famously said: “Democracy is the worst form of Government, except all others.”
Both socialism and capitalism have pros and cons and are each not perfect. Nothing is perfect besides for Hashem and His holy Torah.
A famous quote says that “If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain.”
This quote is often quoted to ridicule socialists, but while it does capture socialism’s inviable nature, in the long run, it also brings out the good part of it, and even the evilest things, Chassidus teaches, have good sparks in them.
A socialist (at least as long as he is uninformed of the repercussions of basing an economy on his world view) has a deep desire to do good and to care for the needy. Confiscating private property for this goal, however, is — at least to my personal opinion — wrong.
But as the Rebbe seems to imply in his letter, a person can even be a “radical socialist” and that won’t be a contradiction to being a proud “deeply religious” person.
True, that capitalism’s basic core is a person’s right to own his personal property and is indeed a highly commended Jewish concept, but what fuels people to grow their private property and engage in free enterprise is competition and envy, (and also some greed…) — not the best middos.
Moshiach will bring about a mode of peace in the world, between nations, between animals, between people — and also between the heart and the mind.