Providence and International Commerce: Two Halakhic Views

Jesse Lempel Spring 2020 Issue 52.2

1 Comment

  1. TRADITION says:

    Kudos to Jesse Lempel on a fascinating and delightfully broad study on Torah attitudes towards trade (“Providence and International Commerce: Two Halakhic Views,” TRADITION 52:2 [Spring 2020]). I was slightly surprised that Taanit 6b and Rashi, ad loc., did not receive a nod. The Talmud there records that if half the state receives adequate rain and half does not, this is no curse because the rainy side can sell produce to the drought-afflicted side. In other words, God may grant regions different natural resource and this is certainly no cause for worry, as it encourages trade, which promotes peace and prosperity. While I recognize this refers to domestic commerce, the logical step to international trade is not a large one. Perhaps this source was omitted for brevity.

    On homiletically reading ve-lo me’ever la-yam as a critique of seafaring merchants, see R. Avraham Danzig’s preface to Hokhmat Adam where he defends his own business travels “at the trade shows of Frankfurt and Leipzig” as just what was necessary to feed his family, vs. the Midrash’s target being those seeking great wealth.

    Shalom Rosenfeld, Silver Spring, MD

    Jesse Lempel replies:
    Shalom Rosenfeld kindly suggests that I neglected to discuss Taanit 6b for brevity’s sake. The truth is that the source eluded me and I thank him for pointing it out. It calls to mind the Patriarchs, who were occasionally forced to travel to Egypt to get food in times of famine. Indeed, Saadya Gaon claims that these narratives are meant to teach us that travel is sometimes a good thing. See Perushei Rav Saadya Gaon on Genesis (ed. and trans. Moshe Zucker, 1984), 179. However, a temporary need for trade due to a natural emergency may be distinct from establishing permanent commercial relationships.

    Brevity did force me to omit another fascinating comment by Saadya Gaon with potential implications for the normative value of trade. On Genesis 1:26, which grants the new human creature “dominion over the fish of the sea,” Saadya Gaon observes that people should harness the power of water in various ways, including travel in “large ships carrying thousands of people to traverse the wide seas,” ibid., 258.

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