Joseph Heinemann on Torah and Socialism

Here are selection from a 1940’s Religious Zionist bestseller, Hans (Joseph) Heinemann’s tract Torah and Social Order. In the work, he claims that the social order envisioned in the Talmud and halakhah are against the spirit of capitalism, and currently socialism in Israel is the closest we can come.

I post this because readers were amused by my May Day post and the post of Isidore Epstein’s socialism of the Soncino Talmud. Many readers did not about the socialist Zionism that was produced by German Orthodoxy. The last of these German born Orthodox liberals was the recently deceased Yoshke Achituv.I had expected to post this in May with the other Orthodox socialism tracts, but this pamphlet turned out to be exceedingly rare even for interlibrary loan.

Joseph Heinemann, (1915-1978,  originally Hans) was the preeminent liturgy and Aggadah scholar of the 20th century. He was born in Germany and went to Mir for yeshiva. He served as rabbi on the kinder transport and for the kibbutz training. He spent the end of the war in Manchester. Heinemann became a leading ideologue of the German Religious Zionist Orthodoxy. He eventually got to Israel in 1949. His most famous work was Tefilah in the Era of the Tannaim and Ammoraim [Hebrew], translated decades later as Prayer in the Talmud, Forms and Patterns.

He is not to confused with his contemporary namesake in the same academic field, the Hebrew editor of Hirsch, and aggadah scholar Isaac Heinemann.

This work Torah and Social Order (Brit Chalutzim Datiim-Bachad 1944) was based on his MA. This little tract went through four editions and was translated into French, Hungarian, and Romanian. Picture immigrants to the kibbutz arriving with copies of this work in their suitcase.

Heinemann concludes from his study of the Rabbis that the system of capitalism can never lead to righteousness as required by the Torah. Socialism is the closest we can come today. He does not want to combine Marxism with Torah just to let the Torah’s ideal of communalism to come out. And as he says, he does not preach class-struggle, rather accepts it as Torah reality. Heineman also think halakhah will change to overcome the individualism of the exile and return to the true intention of the Torah contained in Rabbinic statements. He rejects legal loophole and wants to return to the true spirit of the law.  Heinemann wrote many articles and educational works for Religious Zionist community on topics ranging from Biblical criticism and how to teach Mishnah to economics, many of them are online

There are several other works in this Brit Chalutzim Datiim-Bachad series. Should I do Rav Amiel’s socialist work next the Izbitz influences first mayor of Jerusalem, Sh. Z. Shragai  ?

Heinemann- Torah and Social Order

This second edition of “Torah and Social Order” appears after a comparatively short time, owing to the great interest which this pamphlet has been received in wide circles. It has met with appreciation and serious attention among Jewish youth, many of whom were surprised to learn that Judaism does not altogether belong to the past, but still holds a meaning for the present and a message for the future.[1]

I have not attempted to draw a comparison between socialism as a philosophy, and Judaism. Still less do I advocate an amalgamation of Marxian materialism with the teachings of the Torah. I am concerned with socialism as a system of social and economic organization, based on common, instead of private ownership of the means of production, and this I sincerely believe to be the only sensible and workable social system for our age, as well as the only one under which the social ideals of the Torah can be translated into reality to-day… I do not “preach” class-struggle, but I accept it as an important factor of social reality.[2]

But now the time is over when the doctrine of laissez-faire letting economics look after itself—can be maintained. To-day decisions of far-reaching consequence have to be taken regarding the order of society: and in these decisions the moral aspect ought to play a decisive role. If so, it is up to religion to concern itself with this part of life again…The church has started to show a way. Judaism has not yet done so.[3]

Our society is based on egoism, acquisitiveness, competition and self-assertiveness, and continuously strengthens and develops those qualities in its members. It is therefore a mere illusion to believe that religion can leave social questions to the state and concentrate on its particular task of educating the individual to righteousness.[4]

What is to be the Jewish attitude to modern social problems? How can we apply the social legislation and social principles of the Torah to present-day conditions? It is clear that we cannot simply take over the social institution of the Torah as they are and attempt to introduce them to-day. Even if it were possible, the effect would not be the same under entirely different conditions. The cornerstone of the Torah-society is the distribution of the land among all citizens; in an agrarian society this ensures economic independence for everybody. Even if the same measure could be introduced to-day, it would be meaningless in our society, where the essential question is that of ownership of industrial means or production, and would leave the problem of economic dependence and exploitation unsolved.[5]

The rights of property are very limited, and he who possesses wealth must put it at the disposal of others without expecting any profit by doing so.
It is a society which is based on two main ideas:

  1. That all wealth ultimately belongs to G-d who only lent it to man: “Ki li haaretz.” (“For mine is the Land”).
  2. That men are brothers, with equal rights and standing, and with an equal claim to enjoy the fruits of the soil; obliged to co-operate and help, not to compete and fight each other; “ve-ahavta lere’acha kamocha.” (“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”).[6]

One thing has emerged clearly from what has been said so far: that the capitalist system is fundamentally opposed to the ideals of the Torah…This does not mean the Torah teaches Socialism… Those ideas are very much akin to those of the Torah: they are not identical with them, but they are the nearest approach to them which is feasible in our times. To-day, therefore, the Torah leads us to join in the struggle for socialism.[7]

What will be necessary, then, is new legislation, which will solve in the spirit of Torah those social problems, that would not be covered by the existing traditional laws. We must see to it, that social and economic relations as a whole should be governed by the principles of co-operation and mutual help rather than competition and egotism; that economic inequality, dividing the nation into an exploited and an exploiting class, will be avoided and that the main means of production will not be controlled by individuals or small groups to their own benefit.[8]

It will be a great task for our Rabbis in conjunction with economists to decide in what way exactly those and similar questions will be dealt with. But so much can already be said now, that the resulting social order will, broadly speaking be socialist in character—for that is only alternative to capitalism to-day.[9]

It may be asked how far such “modern” measures, such new forms of social organization could be said to be an application of the Torah; and how far we have the right to create the necessary new legislation which though in keeping with the Torah spirit will, after all, result in a society very much different from that of the Torah. This question is, however, unjustified. Through centuries of Galut-history, during which there was hardly any opportunity for Jewish social legislation, we may have gained the impression that new or additional legislation by Jewish authorities is impossible; but, in fact, the very opposite is true. The Torah itself makes it the duty, not merely the right, of the religious leaders and the state to create new legislation in accordance with the needs of the times … [10]

The Mishnah is full of rabbinic legislation of religious, social and economic character that is motivated by “Tikkun haOlam” which might be translated freely as “the promotion of welfare of the world.”… Jewish authorities have always realized and responded to the need of change in social matters. Their powers in this field of legislation are specially wide; they are based on the principle of “Hefker Bet Din Hefker,” by which any Jewish Court, even one the members of which have no Semichah (full authorization), may transfer property from its legal owner to another person or even alter laws concerning property. In the field of “Dine Menonot”—economics—then, there is full scope for change, wherever necessary… Our aim, then will not be somehow to satisfy the claims of Halachah; but to build up an order permeated by the true spirit of Torah, and, where necessary and possible even to go further than the “law” demands.[11]

There is a “Kavvanat Hatorah” (“Intention of the Torah”) in addition to its legislation… [W]e shall endeavor to create a society which corresponds to its true and real intentions as closely as possible. We shall not base our social and economic life on “Hetterim,” loopholes of the law, as the medieval Jew had to do and as the Galut (Dispersion).[12]

This individualistic way of life is so characteristic of modern European civilization is far from the way of life the Torah visualizes where everybody forms an integral part of an organic community.[13]

Read the Rest Here- Heinemann- Torah and Social Order

This next section was included in the volume. I do not know the author.

Brit Chalutzim Datiim Bahad Platform adopted at the fourth meeting 1943

The long unhappy history of the Jewish people since the dispersion has been punctuated by a series of crises and at each emergency some temporary movement has taken place which has enabled our exiled people to carry on until the next crisis arose.
But this is the darkest hour of all. Never before have ALL doors been closed to fugitive Jews; never before has such wholesale slaughter been carried out; never before has the outlook been so bleak.
Faced with this stark tragedy two things stand out clear to us. One, that only by a return to Zion can we really avert such disasters from recurring, and secondly that the salvation of the Jew depends on himself—that he must to-day take stock of himself, throw off the yoke of Galuth and undertake a change in his way of life—in thought, in word, in deed.
We call upon you to do this by accepting with us TORAH VA’AVODAH as the only ideal on which the Jewish people can re-establish themselves; RELIGIOUS CHALUTZUIT as the only means by which they can do so. You must in this time of crumbling spiritual values declare your faith in God, your loyalty to the eternal principles of our ancient faith…

You must see with us that realization of these ideals can only come about by a collective communal life. You must recognize Zionism without the will and readiness to Hagshamah and Chalutziut has no reality, for neither wealth nor political power can be effective without the chalutzic spirit to guide our people and our youth.[14]


[1] H.Heinemann, Torah and Social Order (London: Brit Chalutzim Datiim-Bachad, 1944)  1.
[2] H.Heinemann, Torah and Social Order 2.
[3] H.Heinemann, Torah and Social Order 5.
[4] H.Heinemann, Torah and Social Order 6.
[5] H.Heinemann, Torah and Social Order 6.
[6] H.Heinemann, Torah and Social Order 9.
[7] H.Heinemann, Torah and Social Order 9.
[8] H.Heinemann, Torah and Social Order 11.
[9] H.Heinemann, Torah and Social Order 11.
[10] H.Heinemann, Torah and Social Order 11.
[11] H.Heinemann, Torah and Social Order 15-16.
[12] H.Heinemann, Torah and Social Order 16-17.
[13] H.Heinemann, Torah and Social Order 17.
[14] H.Heinemann, Torah and Social Order 20.

9 responses to “Joseph Heinemann on Torah and Socialism

  1. Walter Block shows that according to the (presumed) goal of the Talmud’s, to benefit the poor, the Talmud’s own social legislation was guaranteed, according to modern economic science, to accomplish precisely the opposite of the Talmud’s own goals: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1896480

    I believe we ought to take the tack which Rambam took with astrology and with tereifot contra Rashba.

  2. I might further note that Rabbis Epstein and Heinemann, as well as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, display a tendency which we see in non-Jewish moral philosophers as well:

    They presume to speak of the morality of markets and economics without actually knowing any economics! John Rawls, for example, is a prime example. See economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe discussing Rawls (Hoppe makes similar remarks in his introduction to Murray Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doNpgfxsW14

  3. Heinemann’s remarks have an antiquated feel about them, and in this respect Michael Makovi has a point. Heinemann doesn’t explain how a Jewish version of socialism would be more successful than in Russia or Cuba etc.. But Heinemann’s heart is in the right place, and for this alone it is good to be reminded that there was a moment in Orthodoxy where Jews took such issues seriously. There is greater concentration of wealth in Israel today than in the US, the ideological center of wild west- winner take all capitalism. Four families or forty families, depending on who you read, own/control 30%-70% of the basic industries, banks and utilities. These oligarchs use their crony relationships with the banks to leverage their equity many times over. They have created a system where heads they win, tails the subsidiary declares bankruptcy, and the loss is shifted elsewhere. (Take a look at a chart of the TA stock market, the ETF symbol being EIS, and it becomes apparent something not right is going on.)What happened in Russia happened in Israel, but with much less publicity. The demonstrations last summer didn’t demand the state nationalize the basic industries or impose even greater taxes for the rich. The demonstrators wanted the state to break up these concentrations of wealth, and use its power to improve the standard of living of the middle class by lowering import duties, selling state land, etc. This is not socialism but creating a better chance for free competition and equal opportunity to flourish. So far the status quo cronyism remains firmly in place, Olmert is still a free man, except for one interesting case, the cellular phone business. May it be the first of many.

  4. “The demonstrations last summer didn’t demand the state nationalize the basic industries or impose even greater taxes for the rich. The demonstrators wanted the state to break up these concentrations of wealth, and use its power to improve the standard of living of the middle class by lowering import duties, selling state land, etc”

    ej, I seem to remember the demonstrators arguing for standard socialist solutions (more public housing and rent control, for instance). Many of the pamphlets written by ideologues close to the movement were also very old-school socialist in tone.

    Perhaps you could tell me where and when they said otherwise?

    “But Heinemann’s heart is in the right place, and for this alone it is good to be reminded that there was a moment in Orthodoxy where Jews took such issues seriously”

    We do, but more and more Orthodox Jews (and non-religious Israeli Jews) have become advocates of the freer markets, breaking monopolies and customs barriers as a better solution for problems. Nevertheless, you’ll still find many Orthodox Jews who support ‘social justice’ such as R. Benny Lau.

  5. Thanks for sharing this. Its worth noting that the prayer book begins with a long meditation on Tzibbur and Yachid thats inflected with German idealism. It also claims that tefillah is egalitarian because we go from Kohanim to a democratized world where we can all pray.

  6. AIWAC…As is well known the protesters did what they could to stay away from politics and initially refused to provide any suggestions how to solve the housing problems. Netanyahu in response to the protests announced a new housing plan, including significant incentives for contractors who build student, rent controlled or smaller apartments. The plan would allow contractors to purchase land from the state up to 50% cheaper, would then be obligated to rent out half of their apartments at 30% of their current value, but would be allowed to sell the other half of apartments at a market price. I personally have invested in such type deals when they were available from the FHA, and they ended up wildly profitable. Where we differ is what constitutes socialism. A demand for a welfare net is not socialism. I wouldn’t call rent control, which admittedly is a last ditch measure, socialist. Nor is public housing. You might argue they are distortions of the outcomes of a perfectly competitive market, but so is the mortgage deduction, accelerated depreciation, differential taxation rates for capital gains and the endless twists and contortions in legal codes that favor capital over wages. Socialism is either state ownership of industry or common ownership as in some of the kibbutzim, not spending tax dollars to alleviate some failure of the marketplace. The problem is that to my knowledge these plans have not been implemented, and today in the current 2012 atmosphere the government feels free to crush the demonstrations before they begin. I am hardly an expert on the inner working of the protest movement, but a cursory look at their web page led me to the following article, http://j14.org.il/articles/32885. Any movement that is happy emulating Northern Europe and the US under Obama are hardly left wing radicals.

  7. THE CONVERSATION ABOUT RECENT POLITICS IS CLOSED.
    All Comments should be about Bachad, Heinemann, German Orthodoxy, Talmud, or even liturgy.

  8. Reblogged this on jewish philosophy place and commented:
    I really liked this post by Alan about Torah and Socialism. The text by Joseph Heinemann is from 1944, so it has that classical feel to it. As a special treat, Alan linked the entire piece in translation further down under “Read the Rest Here- Heinemann- Torah and Social Order.” I may include it as part of my course this fall on Israel and Israeli Judaism. It’s a nice reminder that religion, Judaism, and Orthodox Judaism do not necessarily have to be reactionary. Or is that just whistling in the wind?

  9. Simcha Gottlieb

    First thoughts… (I would like to get to the full translation when time permits) …Heinemann strikes me as naive, well-meaning, and constrained by the vicissitudes of his times.  
    I think Torah and Talmud, particularly as illuminated by and integrated with Chassidut (primarily Chabad), has a far more nuanced perspective on the perennial challenges of balancing the needs and rights of yachid and klal than Heinemann’s simple conclusions suggest.  I’ll add that he appears to make the same mistake as most neo-classical economists in failing to distinguish between the three factors that produce wealth: (a) land and natural resources (which is what the Biblical verse he cites refers to – ‘ki Li ha’aretz’) – which do indeed belong by rights to the community and should not be monopolized by individuals; (b) labor, the fruits of which rightly belong to labor; and (c) capital, the fruits (or risks, or losses) of which are rightfully claimed by the capitalist.

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