For the spring 2021 semester, Rabbi Daniel Feldman, RIETS rosh yeshiva, is teaching Judaism and Economics. YU News sat down with Rabbi Feldman to discuss the course, which is being offered at Yeshiva College in collaboration with the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought.
How does a Jewish/Halakhic economic policy differentiate from general economic policy?
Jewish economic policy is the realization of the Torah’s value system in the marketplace. While honesty and integrity are at the core of system, there are many other principles, both interpersonal and between man and God, that are translated into practice.
The course does not just focus on economic topics like property, market regulation and minimum wage but also seemingly unrelated topics like health care, education and intellectual property. How do Judaism’s ideas regarding economics influence these other areas?
Economics is not only about business. It is also about the allotment of resources toward the needs of society and the implications of ownership and value. It is also about the drivers of human behavior, incentives and disincentives, and how they are brought to bear in the perfection of society.
How has the pandemic changed your view on Jewish/Halakhic economic policy?
The pandemic has shone a bright light on the value of what is too often taken for granted—a harsh light on deficiencies within our global systems— and reordered our collective priorities. All of this brings new focus to the study and the conclusions.
How does the class exemplify the ideal of Torah Umadda?
Economics is a combination of philosophy, theory and the realities of human behavior. All these aspects draw upon the writings and findings of many realms, and in our course, we are fortunate to have the head of the economics department, Dr. James Kahn, provide a number of lectures for the course.
Why did you decide to teach this course? Why is it important and meaningful to you?
I have devoted much attention over the years to the study of halakhah’s view on human relations, the topic of my three English language volumes. So much of this area expresses itself in the realm of economics, which covers not only the formal marketplace but interactions of all types. Recent popular books such as Freakonomics have drawn attention to the relevance of economics to the broad spectrum of life experiences, and the more recent field of behavioral economics has displayed the interplay of psychology and economic decisions. All of this highlights the role this study can play in maximizing our success in living up to the Torah’s ideals as individuals and as a society.
What is one book you would recommend to someone who is not taking the course but still wants to understand Jewish perspectives on economics?
First and foremost would be the many books and writings of my revered teacher Rabbi Dr. Aaron Levine, zatza”l, who contributed so much to the field. I’m sure he would be extremely proud of the work his nephew, Rabbi Soloveichik, is doing with the Straus Center.
Further reading about Rabbi Daniel Feldman’s ideas can be found in the latest issue of YU Today.