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ARTICLES

T H E J E W I S H Q U A R T E R LY R E V I E W , Vol. 104, No. 4 (Fall 2014) 515536

Who Is Rich? The Poor in


Early Rabbinic Judaism
GREGG E. GARDNER

INTRODUCTION

P O V ER T Y AN D SU P PO R T for the poor have long been central concerns


of rabbinic Judaism.1 The earliest works of rabbinic law, the Mishnah
Earlier versions of this essay were presented at the Rabbis and Others in Conversation workshop at Princeton University (2009), the Judaism in Antiquity
workshop at Harvard University (2010), and the Judaic Studies Faculty Seminar
at Brown University (2011). I thank the organizers, Sarit Kattan Gribetz and
Moulie Vidas; Ari B. Finkelstein, Jonathan Kaplan, and Yoni Miller; and
Michael L. Satlow, respectively, for their invitations and helpful feedback. This
essay was further improved by valuable feedback from Aryeh Amihay, Carey
A. Brown, Vered Noam, Jordan D. Rosenblum, Jonathan W. Schofer, and the
anonymous reviewers for this journal. Sections of the essay revise parts of my
dissertation, Giving to the Poor in Early Rabbinic Judaism (Ph.D. diss.;
Princeton University, 2009), which was supported by a Charlotte W. Newcombe
Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Completion Fellowship. I thank my dissertation adviser, Peter Schafer, and committee, Martha Himmelfarb and AnneMarie
Luijendijk for their helpful feedback and guidance. I completed further research
as a Starr Fellow in Judaica at Harvard University (200910) and as a MellonAmerican Council of Learned Societies Recent Doctoral Recipients Fellow at
Brown University (201011). I thank Shaye J. D. Cohen, Eric Nelson, Bernard
Septimus, and Harvards Center for Jewish Studies, as well as Michael Steinberg
and Browns Cogut Center for the Humanities, for their support. Further
research and writing was carried out at the University of British Columbia, and
I thank my colleagues and the Department of Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies for their support.
1. The most important discussions of poverty and support for the poor in classical rabbinic literature are found in mPeah, tPeah, yPeah, bBB 8a11a, bKet
66b68a, and LevR 34. On poverty and support for the poor in classical rabbinic
literature and Judaism in Late Antiquity, see Judah Bergmann, Ha-tsedakah beYisrael (Jerusalem, 1944; repr. 1974), 1938; Hendrik Bolkestein, Wohltatigkeit
und armenpflege im vorchristlichen altertum: Ein beitrag zum problem moral und gesellschaft (Utrecht, 1939), 40114; Roger Brooks, Support for the Poor in the Mishnaic
Law of Agriculture: Tractate Peah (Chico, Calif., 1983); Ephraim Frisch, An HistoriThe Jewish Quarterly Review (Fall 2014)
Copyright 2014 Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.
All rights reserved.

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and Tosefta, which took shape in Roman Palestine in the early third century C.E., devote entire tractates to instructions on how one ought to assist
the needy. Mishnah Peah and Tosefta Peah discuss allocations of produce
for the poor at the time of the harvest, such as peah (the produce in the
corner of a field) and gleanings (produce that fell during the reaping), as well as the tithe for the poor, and charity.2 To illuminate rabbinic
Judaisms foundational discourses on this topic, it is crucial to examine
cal Survey of Jewish Philanthropy: From the Earliest Times to the Nineteenth Century
(New York, 1924), 43124; Gregg E. Gardner, Giving to the Poor in Early
Rabbinic Judaism; Gardner, Charity Wounds: Gifts to the Poor in Early Rabbinic Judaism, in The Gift in Antiquity, ed. M. L. Satlow (Malden, Mass., 2013),
17388; Gardner, Cornering Poverty: Mishnah Peah, Tosefta Peah, and the
Reimagination of Society in Late Antiquity, in Envisioning Judaism: Studies in
Honor of Peter Schafer on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday, ed. R. S. Boustan, et
al. (Tubingen, 2013), 1:20516; Alyssa M. Gray, The Formerly Wealthy Poor:
From Empathy to Ambivalence in Rabbinic Literature of Late Antiquity, AJS
Review 33 (2009): 10133; Gray, Redemptive Almsgiving and the Rabbis of Late
Antiquity, Jewish Studies Quarterly 18 (2011): 14484; Gildas H. Hamel, Poverty
and Charity, in The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Daily Life in Roman Palestine, ed. C.
Hezser (Oxford, 2010), 30824; Hamel, Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine,
First Three Centuries C.E. (Berkeley, Calif., 1990); Michael Hellinger, Charity in
Talmudic and Rabbinic Literature: A Legal, Literary, and Historical Analysis
(Hebrew; Ph.D. diss.; Bar-Ilan University, 1999), 1936; Samuel Krauss, Talmudische Archaologie (3 vols.; Leipzig, 191012), 3:6374; Lee I. Levine, The Rabbinic Class of Roman Palestine in Late Antiquity (Jerusalem, 1989), 16267; Eduard
Lohse and Gunter Mayer, Die Tosefta, Seder I: Zeraim, 1.1: BerakotPea, ed. G.
Kittel et al. (Stuttgart, 1999); George Foot Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of
the Christian Era (Cambridge, Mass., 1962), 2:16279; Tzvi Novick, Charity and
the Scapegoat: On Structures of Exchange in Some Rabbinic Texts, transformingviolence.nd.edu/assets/23011/novickabstract.pdf (2010; accessed April 30,
2013); Novick, Charity and Reciprocity: Structures of Benevolence in Rabbinic
Literature, Harvard Theological Review 105 (2012): 3352; Ben Zion Rosenfeld
and Haim Perlmutter, Foundations of Charitable Organizations in Judea at the
End of the Second Temple Period according to Tannaitic Sources (Hebrew),
Judea and Samaria Research Studies: Proceedings of the 20th Annual Meeting 20 (2011):
4962; Zeev Safrai, The Jewish Community in the Talmudic Period (Hebrew; Jerusalem, 1995), 6276; Michael L. Satlow, Fruit and the Fruit of Fruit: Charity
and Piety in Late Antique Judaism, JQR 100 (2010): 24477; Seth Schwartz,
Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E (Princeton, N.J., 2001),
22730; Seth Schwartz, Were the Jews a Mediterranean Society? Reciprocity and Solidarity in Ancient Judaism (Princeton, N.J., 2010); Ephraim Urbach, Political and
Social Tendencies in Talmudic Concepts of Charity (Hebrew), Zion 16 (1951):
127. For useful collections of rabbinic texts on charity, see Robert Branan Becknell, Almsgiving, the Jewish Legacy of Justice and Mercy (Ph.D. diss.; Miami
University of Ohio, 2000), 472585; C. G. Montefiore and H. M. J. Loewe, eds.,
A Rabbinic Anthology (Cleveland, 1963), 41239.
2. On these allocations, see Gardner, Giving to the Poor, 1641.

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the socioeconomic position of the tannaim who authored and redacted


these texts and how this may have influenced their teachings.3
In this essay, I explore the relationship between the economic situations of the tannaim themselves and their halakhot concerning the indigent by focusing on compilations from the tannaitic corpus within the
context of third-century C.E. Roman Palestine.4 I find that the early rabbinic movement included those who were wealthy as well as individuals
who belonged to the middle strata of society. Moreover, the tannaim view
the poor as others, a term I use (following Hayes) to indicate those
perceived as the mirror opposites of the self, who demarcated the socioeconomic boundaries of the early rabbinic movement.5 The poor, moreover, were objectified as instruments needed for the rabbis and their
audience to properly fulfill certain religious obligations.
ECONOMIC ASPECTS O F T HE RABBINIC SELF

The early rabbinic movement exhibited a great deal of economic diversity, in both the sources and extent of its members income and accumu3. On the tannaim as wealthy, see Shaye J. D. Cohen, The Rabbi in SecondCentury Jewish Society, in The Cambridge History of Judaism, vol. 3, The Early
Roman Period, ed. W. Horbury et al. (Cambridge, 1999), 93132; and Gray, Formerly Wealthy Poor, 122. On the tannaim as poor, see Adolf Buchler, The Political and the Social Leaders of the Jewish Community of Sepphoris in the Second and Third
Centuries (London, 1909), 6678; Martin Goodman, State and Society, A.D. 132212
(London, 2000), 93. Hezser follows Urbach in concluding that the rabbis were
socially and economically diverse, but he does not distinguish between the tannaim and amoraim or explore how this influenced rabbinic discourses on poverty;
see Catherine Hezser, The Social Structure of the Rabbinic Movement in Roman Palestine (Tubingen, 1997), 266; Efraim E. Urbach, The Talmudic SageCharacter
and Authority, Journal of World History 11 (1968): 11647.
4. Following Goodman, State and Society in Roman Galilee, 89, I have excluded
tannaitic traditions that are preserved only in later rabbinic texts, such as the
Talmuds, which are more likely to reflect the interests of the redactors of the
compilations in which they are found than those in which they are not. Thus, I
focus on the Mishnah, Tosefta, Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael, Sifra, Sifre Numbers,
and Sifre Deuteronomy. For a similar approach, see Shaye J. D. Cohen, The
Place of the Rabbi in Jewish Society of the Second Century, in The Galilee in
Late Antiquity, ed. L. I. Levine (New York, 1992), 15758; Cohen, The Rabbi in
Second-Century Jewish Society, 925, n.12; Jordan D. Rosenblum, Food and
Identity in Early Rabbinic Judaism (New York, 2010), 1314. On the problematic
authenticity of tannaitic traditions preserved only in post-tannaitic works, see
H. L. Strack and Gunter Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, trans.
M. N. A. Bockmuehl (Minneapolis, Minn., 1996), 104, 17778, 19899.
5. See Christine Hayes, The Other in Rabbinic Literature, in The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature, ed. C. E. Fonrobert and
M. S. Jaffee (New York, 2007), 243.

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lated wealth. Most prominent were livelihoods directly related to the


land. Many texts address the concerns and perspectives of those who
own land and manage its cultivation. These include discussions on the
acquisition and ownership of land, the rights of its buyers and sellers, and
teachings that privilege land above other media of exchange in marriage
settlements and compensation for damages.6 The laws for leasing land in
mBava Metsia reflect an interest in maintaining a plots long-term productivityprioritizing the interests of a landowner over those of a lessee.7
Many topics of discussion, such as when one party owns a cistern that is
surrounded by the land of another, are relevant only to those who own
land.8 In short, tannaitic discourse often prioritizes the concerns of landownersreflecting the interests of the authors, the intended audience, or
both.9
The authors and redactors of tannaitic compilations also choose to
depict the members of their movement as owners and managers of land.
R. Yohanan b. Matthiah and his family are said to have owned and operated a farm that was profitable enough to hire labor.10 R. Eliezer owned
a vineyard, R. Ishmael owned land in Kefar Aziz, and R. Simeon Shazuri
was from a family of wealthy landowners.11 Landownership is presupposed when R. Eleazar b. Diglai refers to the goats kept by his fathers
household.12 Rabban Gamaliel IIs tenants and hired laborers raised cattle
and cultivated crops on his land.13
Activities not directly related to the land and its cultivationprimarily
crafts and commercetended to be viewed with disdain by ancient
6. Hayim Lapin, Early Rabbinic Civil Law and the Social History of Roman Galilee:
A Study of Mishnah Tractate Baba Mesia (Atlanta, 1995); Jacob Neusner, Judaism:
The Evidence of the Mishnah (2nd ed.; Atlanta, 1988), 25056.
7. Lapin, Early Rabbinic Civil Law, 21832.
8. mBB 6.45; see also mBM 5.2, which discusses the legality of a lender
living in the courtyard of a borrower. On these texts, see Neusner, Judaism,
25153.
9. See generally Lapin, Early Rabbinic Civil Law, 21832; Jacob Neusner, The
Economics of the Mishnah (Chicago, 1990), 92113.
10. mBM 7.1.
11. mKil 6.4, tMS 5.16, tBK 8.14 (either Simeon Shazuri or Ishmael, depending on the version); on these texts, see S. Applebaum, Economic Life in Palestine, in The Jewish People in the First Century: Historical Geography, Political History,
Social, Cultural and Religious Life and Institutions, ed. S. Safrai and M. Stern (Assen,
1974), 697; Cohen, The Rabbi in Second-Century Jewish Society, 930; Hezser,
Social Structure, 259.
12. mTam 3.8.
13. mPeah 2.4, mDem 3.1, mBM 5.8, tShab 15.2.

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authors. Wage labor, Cicero writes, is sordid and unworthy of a fine


man, and Seneca writes, There was no beauty or honor in the arts
of the workman.14 Many examples of inimical attitudes toward these
professions can likewise be found in early rabbinic texts. Typical are the
words attributed to Abba Gorion of Zaidan, who identifies animal drivers, barbers, sailors, and shopkeepers as those who engage in a craft of
robbers.15 Likewise, such practical or worldly professions are placed
on the lowest rung of vocational hierarchies. Sifre Deuteronomy, for
example, claims that R. Yohanan b. Zakkai worked as a merchant for
forty years before ascending to greater heights. After serving the sages
for forty years, the aggadic narrative goes, ben Zakkai lead all of Israel
for the final forty years of his life. While more literary than historical, the
passages hierarchy expresses a lowly attitude toward merchants.16
Yet once we look past these and other programmatic statements, a
more accepting attitude toward crafts and commerce can be detected.
Many tannaitic texts address issues that are of interest to those who work
in labor and commerce,17 and some trades are singled out for special
14. Cicero, De officiis 1.150; Seneca, Epistulae morales 88.21; translations
according to C. R. Whittaker, The Poor in the City of Rome, in Land, City, and
Trade in the Roman Empire, ed. C. R. Whittaker (Aldershot, 1993), 2. Cicero (De
officiis 1.15051) writes that only a handful of professions not directly tied to
agriculture were not to be greatly censured. See the discussion in M. I. Finley,
The Ancient Economy (Berkeley, Calif., 1999), 3561; and critiques in Jean
Andreau, Twenty Years after Moses I. Finleys The Ancient Economy, in The
Ancient Economy, ed. S. Von Reden and W. Scheidel (Edinburgh, 2002), 4346;
and William V. Harris, The Late Republic, in The Cambridge Economic History of
the Greco-Roman World, ed. W. Scheidel, I. Morris, and R. P. Saller (Cambridge,
2007), 52526.
15. mKid 4.14. See also mKet 7.10, tKid 5.14, and the collection of sources in
Moses Aberbach, Labor, Crafts and Commerce in Ancient Israel (Jerusalem, 1994).
For a recent overview of labor and trade in Roman Palestine, see Uzi Leibner,
Arts and Crafts, Manufacture and Production, in The Oxford Handbook of Jewish
Daily Life in Roman Palestine, ed. C. Hezser (Oxford, 2010), 26496. See also Zeev
Safrai, The Economy of Roman Palestine (London, 1994), and the critique of his
method in Seth Schwartz, Historiography on the Jews in the Talmudic Period
(70640 CE), in The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies, ed. M. Goodman et al.
(Oxford, 2002), 9195.
16. SifreDt 357.
17. E.g., mDem 5.7, mBM 2.4, 4.112, mBB 5.8, mAZ 4.9, mKel 5.5, tDem
3.10, tBM 2.14. See generally Meir Ayali, Nomenclature of Workers and Artisans in
the Talmudic and Midrashic Literature (Hebrew; 2nd ed.; Tel Aviv, 2001), 2798;
Lapin, Early Rabbinic Civil Law, and the tannaitic sources discussed in Ben-Zion
Rosenfeld and Joseph Menirav, Markets and Marketing in Roman Palestine (Leiden,
2005).

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praise. R. Judah, for example, commends camel drivers and sailors as


proper folk and saintly.18 Likewise, the texts portray some tannaim as
artisans and others engaged in commerce, including R. Yohanan the
sandal-maker and R. Isaac Nappaha, a blacksmith.19 In tannaitic writings, R. Eleazar b. Azariah traded in wine, oil, and pulse all his life, R.
Judah b. Isaiah was a perfumer, R. Judah a baker, R. Joshua a grit
dealer, and R. Eleazar b. R. Zadok kept a store in Jerusalem all his
life.20 In tBK 7.10 we read, see how beloved labor is to God, and tKid
1.11: teach your son a trade, or he will become a robber.21 Early rabbinic ambivalence toward crafts and trade may well indicate that such
professions were plied by some early rabbis.22
The rabbis were diverse in not only the sources of their income but
also the extent of their wealth. At the top end of the scale are those few
who are depicted as particularly wealthy. The Tosefta portrays R. Eleazar
b. R. Zadok as rich enough to purchase a synagogue in Jerusalem.23 R.
Akivawhose image would be recrafted in later rabbinic texts as one
who was poor in his youthexchanges valuable silver coins for even
more valuable gold coins with Rabban Gamaliel and R. Joshua.24 Gama18. mKid 4.14. R. Judahs remarks come in response to those of Abba Gurion,
man of Sidon, who says in the name of Abba Guria that one should not teach
ones son to be a camel driver or sailor, for their trades are the trade of bandits.
R. Judah emphasizes the importance of the individual over the nature of the
profession: For there is no trade in which there is not poverty and wealth, for
poverty does not come from a trade and wealth does not come from a trade, but
everything is according to his merit.
19. See tShab 2.15, tEruv 5.7, and Cohen, The Rabbi in Second-Century
Jewish Society, 933, n. 48; Strack and Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and
Midrash, 79.
20. Eleazar b. Azariah: tAZ 4.1, who also owned livestock (mShab 5.4),
which presupposes that he also owned or leased land; Judah b. Isaiah: tShev
5.12; Judah: tMen 1.15; Joshua: tMakh 3.13; Eleazar b. R. Tsadok: tBes 3.8. It
is notable that the rabbis professions are mentioned far more often in the Tosefta
than any other tannaitic compilation; see Hezser, Social Structure, 261.
21. See also mAvot 1.10: love labor.
22. To be sure, the tannaim may not have been self-conscious of their ambivalence. Surely one individual could hold both positive and negative views toward
artisans. Similarly, Cam Grey, Salvian and the Poor in Fifth-Century Gaul, in
Poverty in the Roman World, ed. M. Atkins and R. Osborne (Cambridge, 2006),
17374, notes that Christians and their pagan predecessors often viewed the poor
in contradictory ways.
23. tMeg 2.17.
24. mMS 2.7. On the later traditions associated with Akiva and other tannaim,
see Cohen, The Rabbi in Second-Century Jewish Society, 93132; Gray, For-

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liel is said to have owned slaves, who symbolized their masters prestige.
The texts in which Gamaliel and his slave Tabi appear together, moreover, are authored from the perspective of the masternot that of the
slave or a disinterested third party.25 Gamaliels landholdings afforded
him banquets as lavish as any symposium in the Roman worldguests
relaxed on furniture while being served food prepared with exotic
spices.26 Landownership, wealth, and status were closely intertwined in
the ancient world and Gamaliel stood at the pinnacle, as he possessed
unmatched amounts of all three, a rabbi-of-leisure if ever there was one.27
Not all rabbis, however, were necessarily wealthy. Indeed, early rabbinic texts include perspectives of those who were smallholders, who cultivated their plots with their own hands.28 Although an occupation does
not determine the extent of ones holdings, the incomes of craftsmen and
merchants tended to be modest.29 The Mekhilta uses the term tekhakhim
to indicate men of medium wealth, of some means.30 Here, individuals
who live at middling economic levels are distinguished from the affluent
on one hand and the poor on the other.31 The inclusion of middle-income
merly Wealthy Poor, 12223. On the image of Akiva in rabbinic literature, see
Azzan Yadin, Rabbi Akivas Youth, JQR 100 (2010): 57397.
25. On Gamaliel and Tabi, see mBer 2.7; mSuk 2.1; mPes 7.2; tPes 2.15. See
also tMK 2.16.
26. tBes 2.1314, 2.1617; SifreDt 38; on spices as a luxury, see tAZ 4.1.
27. Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi was also legendary for his wealth, though these
depictions are only found in later, amoraic texts; see Lee I. Levine, Tekufato shel
rabbi yehudah ha-nasi, in Eretz Israel from the Destruction of the Second Temple to
the Muslim Conquest, ed. Z. Baras and Y. Tsafrir (Hebrew; Jerusalem, 1982),
1:100102.
28. E.g., mPeah 4.1011.
29. mKid 4.14.
30. Mekhilta, Amalek 4; H. S. Horovitz and I. A. Rabin, eds., Mechilta dRabbi
Ismael (2d., 1931; repr. Jerusalem, 1997), 201. For the development of the term,
see Ludwig Kohler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament
(Leiden, 1994), s.v. tokh; Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud
Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (London, 1903), 1668.
31. That some rabbis are part of a provincial middle strata is also suggested
in passing by Schwartz, Were the Jews a Mediterranean Society, 142. Ben Zion
Rosenfeld and Haim Perlmutter, in Landowners in Roman Palestine, 100300
C.E.: A Distinct Social Group, Journal of Ancient Judaism 2 (2011): 32752,
employ a maximalist approach to rabbinic texts (see esp. pp. 33536) to argue
for the existence of an extensive population of middling individuals in Jewish
society in Roman Palestine in the first to third centuries C.E. (p. 327). By contrast, my critical reading of the sources finds that the authors and redactors of these
texts included individuals who lived at middling levels. That is, the sources can-

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individuals within the rabbinic movement had heretofore been highlighted only in later, amoraic texts.32 But the Mekilta passage suggests
that the binary of rich and poor, so frequently mentioned in tannaitic
texts, needs to be nuanced.33
The awareness of a middling economic standing should be viewed
against the background of recent scholarship on the economy of the
ancient world. Walter Scheidel and others have undermined the old paradigm depicting the Roman world as a super-rich few and the indigent
masses.34 Instead, there seem to have been a significant number of individuals living at middle levels and an overall socioeconomic structure
characterized by a gradual continuum from rich to poor.35 Modern scholnot be used to draw conclusionsas Rosenfeld and Perlmutter doabout Jewish society at large. Rather, they can be used to better understand the small group
of one hundred or so individuals who comprised the early rabbinic movement
and how this played a role in the way that these texts were shaped.
32. Levine, Rabbinic Class, 69.
33. For the binary of rich and poor, see, for example, mBB 10.7, mKet 6.6,
mNeg 14.11, mEruv 4.9. One way to harmonize the problem is to suggest that
the rabbis had an expansive view that rich includes those with middling
incomes. Rich and poor function largely as legal categories. The reality
behind this seemingly simple binary, however, is rather complex. A similar conclusion on the meaning of these terms is reached by Rosenfeld and Perlmutter,
Landowners in Roman Palestine, 32752. To be sure, the language of rich
and poor could be a useful rhetorical tool, as it allowed the authors and redactors to position themselves at different points along the spectrum according to
the point that they wish to make at any particular moment. As I will show, in
mPeah 8.5 and tPeah 4.17 the tannaim align themselves with those of middling
means to demonstrate how they can fulfill certain religious obligations. Similarly,
the rhetoric of rich/poor would also be used by later Christian writers, albeit
for different purposes. Following pagan writers, Christian writers employed this
rhetoric in part as a means to invoke pity and guilt in order to excite generosity
and giving through the charitable institutions controlled by the bishops; see Cam
Grey, Constructing Communities in the Late Roman Countryside (Cambridge, 2011),
1013, 12829. Using the poor to raise money for charitable institutions that
the authors themselves claimed to control would only emerge in the rabbinic
tradition in the amoraic age.
34. Finley, to name one prominent example, held that there was no middle
class (Finley, Ancient Economy, 49); on the reception of Finleys position, see
Andreau, Twenty Years, 45.
35. Bruce W. Longenecker, Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty, and the GrecoRoman World (Grand Rapids, Mich., 2010), 4459; Scheidel, Stratification, Deprivation and Quality of Life, in Poverty in the Roman World, ed. M. Atkins and R.
Osborne (Cambridge, 2006), 4059; Walter Scheidel and Steven J. Friesen,
The Size of the Economy and the Distribution of Income in the Roman Empire,
Journal of Roman Studies 99 (2009): 6191. See also Geza Alfoldy, The Social His-

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arship on class in the Roman world is helpful in understanding who these


middling individuals were. William Harris defines the middle class as
those who possessed the resources for economic independence (such as
sufficient land or a workshop) and worked themselves. Some may have
been able to use dependent labor, but not nearly to the extent of the
upper class. Nor were these individuals dependent upon others for their
livelihood, as was the lower class.36 Similar understandings of a middle
strata are offered by Garnsey and Saller, and Scheidel.37
The implications of the existence of middle-income individuals within
the early rabbinic movement are seen in tannaitic instructions on the
treatment of the poor. The texts explore ways for those who are neither
wealthy nor poor enough to receive support to fulfill certain religious
obligations.38 We see this, for example, in the laws of the poor mans tithe.
After separating the heave offering for the priests and the first tithe for
the Levites, one-tenth of the remainder (the second tithe) was reserved
for the poor in the third and sixth years of every seven-year sabbatical
cycle. The laws of the poor mans tithe derive from a few verses in Deuteronomy (14.2829, 26.1214), which the rabbis expand in mPeah
8.56. mPeah 8.5, delineates the minimum amount that should be left
for the poor. The subsequent pericope addresses instances in which the
householder cannot meet these minimum requirements:
If he had but little, he should set it before them while they divide it
among themselves. (mPeah 8.6)
When a householder lacks sufficient produce to satisfy the minimum
amount of provisions to be given to poor individuals, he is instructed to
allow the poor to divide it equally among themselves. This enables the
householder to fulfill the commandment as well as avoid favoritism, maintaining the principle of fairness that is characteristic of rabbinic laws on
support for the poor.
tory of Rome (Baltimore, Md., 1988), 3738, 51, 149, 19293, who points out how
formal status categories masked the possible existence of those who lived between
extreme wealth and poverty.
36. William V. Harris, On the Applicability of the Concept of Class in
Roman History, in Romes Imperial Economy: Twelve Essays, ed. W. V. Harris
(Oxford, 2011), 24. Harris also discusses the appropriateness of using the term
class for Roman history.
37. Peter Garnsey and Richard P. Saller, The Roman Empire: Economy, Society,
and Culture (London, 1987), 116; Walter Scheidel, Stratification, Deprivation
and Quality of Life, 4344.
38. For similar findings, see Novick, Charity and the Scapegoat, 9.

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Likewise, the tannaim put forward a way for those of middling economic levels to fulfill the obligation to give charity:
a. [If] he said that he [would] give (charity to the poor) and [then]
gave, [then] he is given a sakhar (pay or wage) for saying and
a sakhar for doing.
b. [If] he said that he [would] give, but [then] did not have enough in
his hand to give, [then] he is given a sakhar for saying that is equivalent to a sakhar for doing.
c. [If] he did not say that he [would] give, but said to others, Give!
[then] he is given a sakhar for this, as it is said: for on this account
(dbr)39 the Lord your God will bless you (Dt 15.10).
d. [If] he did not say to others Give! but he eases him [i.e., the poor
man] with kind words (dbr), [then] from where [do we know]
that he is given a sakhar for this?
e. As it is said: for on this account (dbr). (tPeah 4.17)40
In this pericope, lemma (b) addresses a scenario in which an individual
does not have enough in hand to give in charity.41 It is extraordinary that
the subject is rewarded for his words, as sakhar (pay or wage) is
usually reserved for deeds in tannaitic literature.42 A tannaitic exegesis on
Ex 13.2, for example, repeatedly emphasizes earning a sakhar for fulfilling
or doing commandments related to the consecration of the first born, the
sacrificial cult of the Jerusalem Temple, and, more generally, Gods will.43
Likewise, Mekhilta on Ex 12.6 reads, For one cannot obtain rewards
39. dbr can be rendered as either account or word. It should be noted
that the Erfurt manuscript omits the text from this point to end of the pericope.
See the variants in Saul Lieberman, The Tosefta: According to Codex Vienna, with
Variants from Codex Erfurt, Genizah Mss. and Editio Princeps [Venice 1521] (Hebrew;
New York, 195588), 1:5960. On the preference of the Vienna manuscript (as
transcribed in Liebermans edition) over the Erfurt manuscript, see Paul Mandel,
The Tosefta, in The Cambridge History of Judaism, vol. 4, The Late Roman-Rabbinic
Period, ed. S. T. Katz (Cambridge, 2006), 33133, and notes there.
40. Cf. the parallel in SifreDt 117. The translation of tPeah 4.17 is my own
and is based on the Hebrew text of Lieberman, The Tosefta, 1:5960.
41. A similar scenario is explored by Augustine, though there the giver is
clearly wealthy (Enarrations on the Psalms 39.28).
42. On sakhar, see Morton Smith, Tannaitic Parallels to the Gospels (Philadelphia, 1951), 54. For sakhar in biblical literature, see E. Lipinski, sakar, in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. J. Botterweck and H. Ringgren
(Grand Rapids, Mich., 1974), 14:12935.
43. Mekhilta, Pish.a 16 (ed. Horovitz and Rabin, 5859).

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except for deeds.44 The Mekhilta on Ex 12.28 distinguishes between


sakhar for something that is about to be done and sakhar for performing
the deed.45 This preference for actions over words, however, contrasts
with what we find in tPeah 4.17, where speech is placed on par with
deeds. This problem is anticipated by the rabbinic authors themselves as
they pose the question: From where [do we know] that they give him a
sakhar for this? (lemma [d]). The question is answered with a prooftext,
in an effort to strengthen the position that words should be rewarded.
These words do things, like speech acts, and are worthy of a reward.46
For present purposes, the words uttered and rewarded in tPeah 4.17
perform a very specific actthey enable those of middling means, who
do not have enough in hand, to fulfill the commandment of giving charity.47 Thus, in this passage we see how rabbinic law is shaped to address
the interests of those who are neither wealthy nor poor but rather of
middle-income levels. These findings complement those of Bolkestein,
Longenecker, and Parkin that a great deal of almsgiving among Greeks,
Romans, and early Christians was carried out by those who were not
elites, including individuals who lived just above the poverty line.48
44. Mekhilta, Pish.a 5 (ed. Horovitz and Rabin, 14). Translation based on
Jacob Z. Lauterbach, Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael (2 vols.; Philadelphia, 2004), 1:24,
with my emendations.
45. Mekhilta, Pish.a 12 (ed. Horovitz and Rabin, 42).
46. The rabbis evidently understood conversing with the poor to be meritorious. Soothing the poor with kind words is a social engagement that could alleviate
the poors sense of exclusion, bringing them back into the matrix of society. Dialogues could allow the rabbis to work out their own anxieties. Cf. Christine
Hayes, Displaced Self-Perceptions: The Deployment of Minim and Romans in
Bavli Sanhedrin 90b91a, in Religious and Ethnic Communities in Later Roman Palestine, ed. H. Lapin (Potomac, Md., 1998), 254, 27175; Richard Kalmin, Christians and Heretics in Rabbinic Literature of Late Antiquity, Harvard Theological
Review 87 (1994): 16465; Sarit Kattan Gribetz and Moulie Vidas, Rabbis and
Others in Conversation, Jewish Studies Quarterly 19 (2012): 9697. Surely, like
most nonpoor in the ancient world, the rabbis feared sudden impoverishment and
the social exclusion that comes with poverty.
47. An association of sakhar with charity may already appear in the Wisdom
of Ben Sira; see E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (London, 1977), 335.
48. Bolkestein, Wohltatigkeit und armenpflege im vorchristlichen altertum, 9495;
Longenecker, Remember the Poor, 7780; Anneliese Parkin, An Exploration of
Pagan Almsgiving, in Poverty in the Roman World, 6974. While it is possible that
the tannaim here address charitable giving by the poor, I find it unlikely. The
tannaim do address charitable giving by the poor elsewhere, and when they do,
they explicitly identify these givers as poor. We see this, for example, in tPeah
4.10, If a poor man gives a perutah (a small coin) to the charity fund (kupa) and

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THE P OOR AS O THERS

Among the tannaim were the wealthy and individuals of modest means
not one tanna, however, is depicted in tannaitic compilations as poor.49
While some Hellenistic Jewish and Roman writers self-identify as poor,
the tannaim do not.50 Rather, the economic attributes of early rabbinic
identity, as we will see, are circumscribed and defined in opposition to
what they are not. They are pointedly not poor. The poor are portrayed
as an undifferentiated mass characterized solely by their failure to reach
certain thresholds. Instructive is mPeah 8.89, the locus classicus of tannaitic discussions of the poor and poverty:51
He who has two hundred zuz [ denar]52 may not take gleanings, forgotten things,53 or peah or the poor mans tithe.
a piece of bread to the soup kitchen (tamh.ui). This passage then goes on to
instruct the charity supervisor on how to handle such small contributions. That
is, it is notable that tPeah 4.10 is written from the perspective of the nonpoor
and for an audience of charity supervisorswho are also not poor. While the
issue of whether the poor should give charity may be nonsensical to modern
sensibilities, in rabbinic texts giving charity was an obligation incumbent upon
everyone. Indeed, the question of whether or not the poor themselves must give
continued to be addressed and debated in later rabbinic texts (e.g., bGit 7ab).
49. Cohen, The Rabbi in Second-Century Jewish Society, 93132; Gray,
Formerly Wealthy Poor, 122; cf. Buchler, Political and the Social Leaders, 6678,
whose conclusion that the tannaim were mostly poor is based on their portrayal
in later, post-tannaitic compilations such as the Talmuds.
50. See, for example, those designating themselves or their audience as poor
in the Epistle of Enoch (1 Enoch 91105) and in the Dead Sea Scrolls (e.g., Hymns
of Thanksgiving, 4QInstruction). On these texts, see Samuel L. Adams, Poverty
and Otherness in Second Temple Instructions, in The Other in Second Temple
Judaism: Essays in Honor of John J. Collins, ed. D. C. Harlow et al. (Grand Rapids,
Mich., 2011), 189203; Hamel, Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine, 17786;
Catherine M. Murphy, Wealth in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the Qumran Community
(Leiden, 2002), 3445. There are also rare instances of ancient writers of elite
status who find rhetorical advantages to present themselves as poor (e.g., Martial;
Philo); see Finley, Ancient Economy, 37; Longenecker, Remember the Poor, 39; Greg
Woolf, Writing Poverty in Rome, in Poverty in the Roman World, 9799.
51. This passage is the foundation of approaches to the poor and poverty in
subsequent Jewish texts, from the Middle Ages through the modern era; see
Michael Hellinger, The Emerging Definition of the Poverty Line in Jewish
Law, Jewish Law Association Studies 14 (2004): 12739.
52. A zuz is a denar, a Roman coin.
53. Forgotten things are sheaves and other items that are left in a field after
the harvest; see mPeah, tPeah and the discussion in Gardner, Giving to the
Poor, 1641.

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[If] he had two hundred less one denar, even if they [later] give him a
thousand [denars] at once, he may take [gleanings, forgotten things,
peah, and the poor mans tithe].
[If] they were pledged in his wifes marriage contract or to a creditor,
he may take [gleanings, peah, and the poor mans tithe].
They may not obligate him to sell his dwelling or the tools of his trade.
(mPeah 8.8)
He who has fifty zuz, [and] he takes and gives [i.e., deals, transacts]
with them, he may not take [gleanings, forgotten things, peah, and the
poor mans tithe].
And he who does not need to take but does take will not die of old
age54 until he is in need of [support from other] men.
And he who needs to take but does not take will not die of old age
until he supports others from that which is his.
On this it is written: Blessed is he [who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the
Lord] (Jer 17.7). (mPeah 8.9)55
The overarching principle of these passages is that one may collect gleanings, forgotten things, peah, or the poor mans tithe if their annual income
falls below a certain threshold amount, 200 zuz or denaran amount
understood in rabbinic texts as that needed to acquire basic necessities
for one year.56 The Mishnah goes on to clarify and refine this position.
54. In printed editions, expire from the world; see Hanoch Albeck, Shishah
Sidre Mishnah The Mishnah (Hebrew; 6 vols.; Jerusalem, 195258 [repr.
1988]), 1:66; Gregor Buss, Die Mischna: Textkritische Ausgabe mit deutscher Ubersetzung und Kommentar, Pea (Feldecke) (Jerusalem, 2008), 49; N. Sacks, ed. The Mishnah with Variant Readings Collected from Manuscripts, Fragments of the Genizah and
Early Printed Editions and Collated with Quotations from the Mishnah in Early Rabbinic
Literature as well as with Bertinoros Commentary from Manuscripts: Order Zeraim I
(Jerusalem, 1972), 1:163.
55. The translation, except for the quotation of Jer 17.7 ( NJPS), is my
own. I follow the Hebrew text of the Kauffman manuscript, particularly the
manuscripts earlier hand. For later emendations to the text of mPeah 8.9, including the pericopes permutations in printed editions, see Walter Bauer, Pea (Vom
Ackerwinkel): Text, Ubersetzung und Erklarung, ed. G. Beer and O. Holtzmann
(Giessen, 1914), 71; Brooks, Support for the Poor, 151; Buss, Pea (Feldecke), 49, 51;
Sacks, Mishnah with Variant ReadingsZeraim I, 1:16566. On the multiple hands
detected in the Kaufmann manuscript, see Michael Krupp, Manuscripts of the
Mishna, in The Literature of the Sages: First Part: Oral Tora, Halakha, Mishna,
Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates, ed. S. Safrai (Assen, 1987), 253.
56. On mPeah 8.89, see also the commentary in Albeck, Shishah Sidre Mishnah, 1:6566; Bauer, Pea, 6063; Brooks, Support for the Poor, 15052; Hellinger,
Emerging Definition of the Poverty Line, 12830. Scholars have calculated
that ones basic caloric requirements (approximately 2,000 calories per day)

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The poors eligibility for these entitlements does not change if they later
receive additional income (even 1,000 zuz) that would elevate them above
the 200zuz threshold. The 200 zuz must also be readily available, liquid,
and free from liens or other commitments, such as assets pledged in a
marriage contract or as collateral to a creditor. One cannot be compelled
to sell his dwelling or the tools he needs for earning a living in order to
reach the 200zuz minimum. If one has only 50 zuz, but gives and takes
with ituses it, that is, for trade or commercial purposesthen he is
probably not truly in need.
The Mishnah (mPeah 8.9) then warns that those who misrepresent
themselves will later be subject to punishment, measure-for-measure:
anyone who unnecessarily takes the entitlements will one day become
truly dependent upon others. Here mPeah 8.9 reflects a suspicion, widespread throughout the ancient world, that many people who claimed to
be poor were imposters seeking to sponge off of others.57 The passage
then promises a measure-for-measure reward for those who are eligible for
aid but refuse to accept it, lauding their economic independence. In a
reversal of fortune, needy individuals who avoid subordinating themselves into positions of dependency will one day be wealthy enough to
support others. The rewards and punishments are dealt out in this
worldand not the world to comeplacing mPeah 8.9 in line with what
we find in sapiential texts such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Wisdom
could be satisfied with 490600 grams of bread per day; see Willem M. Jongman,
The Early Roman Empire: Consumption, in Cambridge Economic History (Cambridge, 2007), 59899, which is based on findings from developmental economics,
particularly Colin Clark and Margaret Rosary Haswell, The Economics of Subsistence Agriculture (London, 1967); Arye Ben-David, Talmudische Okonomie: Die Wirtschaft des judischen Palastina zur Zeit der Mischna und des Talmud (Hildesheim, 1974),
1:30610; Hamel, Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine, 3942, 24348. It is
unclear how these real figures relate to the numbers presented in rabbinic texts,
which tend to be highly problematic, as they are both internally inconsistent and
difficult to convert into modern units; see Ben-David, Talmudische Okonomie,
1:33143; Magen Broshi, Bread, Wine, Walls and Scrolls (London, 2001), 12122;
David Kraemer, Food, Eating, and Meals, in The Oxford Handbook of Jewish
Daily Life in Roman Palestine, ed. C. Hezser (Oxford, 2010), 4045. Indeed, the
figure of 200 zuz appears to be a stock figure used in rabbinic texts to indicate a
minimum amount of income for a year (e.g., mKet 5.1). Similarly, rabbinic texts
prescribe that one requires a minimum of two meals per day (mPeah 8.7; mEruv
8.2; mKel 17.11) but do not indicate precisely what those meals should include.
57. For suspicion of imposters, see also tPeah 4. 14 and generally Whittaker,
Poor in the City of Rome, 2; Codex Theodosianus 14.18.1; Cam Grey and Anneliese Parkin, Controlling the Urban Mob: The colonatus perpetuus of CTh 14.18.1,
Phoenix 57 (2003): 28499.

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of Ben Sira.58 Note that the passage measures poverty by ones level of
income. This is consistent with the rabbis penchant for quantification
and reflects the monetization of the Greco-Roman world in which they
lived.59
The literary context of these passages is significant, as they constitute
the final pericopae of mPeah, a tractate devoted to the expansion of biblical laws on agricultural entitlements for aliens, orphans, widows, and the
poor (as Lev 19.910; Lev 23.22; Dt 24.1921). Stated only briefly in the
Hebrew Bible, mPeah (as well as its parallels in tPeah 1.14.7) amplifies
these laws, concluding with the above-quoted discussions on who is eligible to receive these entitlements. These laws divide all parties into two
categories: those who allocate Gods share of the produce and those eligible to collect it. Indeed, mPeah 8.89 defines the poor solely for the sake
of identifying to whom these entitlements should be allocated. They are
objectified as mere vessels through which householders fulfill religious
obligations that require the participation of the poor.60 While it is common for the rabbis to flesh out concepts by posing questions such as
What are gleanings? and, famously, Who is rich?61 no tannaitic text
asks, Who is poor? That is, the tannaim are uninterested in the poor as
58. See Adams, Poverty and Otherness, 189203.
59. For an overview of the monetization of the Roman imperial economy, see
Elio Lo Cascio, The Early Roman Empire: The State and the Economy, in
Cambridge Economic History (Cambridge, 2007), 62730. For the portrayal of a
monetized economy in classical rabbinic texts, see the sources in Rosenfeld and
Menirav, Markets and Marketing; Daniel Sperber, Roman Palestine, 200400: Money
and Prices (Ramat-Gan, 1991). On the rabbinic penchant for quantification and
measurement, see Yitzhak D. Gilat, Studies in the Development of the Halakha
(Hebrew; Ramat Gan, 1992), 6371; Aharon Shemesh, Things That Have
Required Quantities (Hebrew), Tarbiz 73 (2004): 387405; Shemesh, The History of the Creation of Measurements: Between Qumran and the Mishnah, in
Rabbinic Perspectives: Rabbinic Literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. S. D. Fraade et
al. (Boston, 2006), 14773.
60. While there are certainly collective aspects of these laws (e.g., everyone
either leaves these items for the poor or is entitled to collect them), a sense of
a clearly delineated community is more prevalent in the discourses on charity
institutions in tPeah 4.815. These laws foster a greater sense of community,
whereby residents of a particular town have a heightened responsibility to support the poor of their own town; see the discussions in Gardner, Giving to the
Poor in Early Rabbinic Judaism, 4295; Gardner, Cornering Poverty, 1:205
16. These institutions can be seen in line with efforts elsewhere in the Roman
world to manage social and subsistence risks in rural communities; see Grey,
Constructing Communities, 3.
61. mPeah 4.10; mAvot 4.1.

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such. Rather, in line with early rabbinic approaches to other groups of


others, the poor are understood as a legal category constructed and
explored for the sake of clarifying the rabbinic audiences religious obligation. My findings are consistent with and supported by those of Alyssa
Gray, who has rightly observed that tannaitic discussions of charity focus
almost entirely on the giver, with scant attention devoted to the poor
recipient.62
In the Hebrew Bible, the aforementioned entitlements are allocated to
a number of different beneficiaries: aliens, orphans, widows, as well as
the poor. Mishnah Peah, however, conflates these recipients into one
undifferentiated mass, reduced and defined solely by monetary criteria.63
Tannaitic literature also fails to distinguish between differences in need.
By predominantly employing a single term, ani (poor), to cover those
identified separately as ani and evyon (needy, distressed) in the Hebrew
Bible, the tannaim erase an important distinction between moderate and
severe want, between the poor and the destitute.64
62. Gray, Redemptive Almsgiving, 14954. In this respect, as Gray notes,
tannaitic sources are similar to third-century Christian texts that disappear the
poor. Scholars of Christianity have noted how the well-off of the Roman Empire
largely fail even to see the many destitute that wander the streets of their cities
(Michael De Vinne, The Advocacy of Empty Bellies: Episcopal Representation
of the Poor in the Late Empire, [Ph.D. diss.; Stanford University, 1995], iv).
Indeed, the promotion of almsgiving by the bishops of the fourth-fifth centuries
gave new visibility to the poor; see De Vinne, Advocacy of Empty Bellies, 4,
1516, 26, 30, 35, 3940; Richard Finn, Portraying the Poor: Descriptions of
Poverty in Christian Texts from the Late Roman Empire, in Poverty in the Roman
World, ed. M. Atkins and R. Osborne, (Cambridge, 2006), 13031; R. D. Finn,
Almsgiving in the Later Roman Empire: Christian Promotion and Practice (313450)
(Oxford, 2006), 22, 111; Susan R. Holman, The Hungry Are Dying: Beggars and
Bishops in Roman Cappadocia (New York, 2001), 1920.
63. Brooks, Support for the Poor, 152.
64. The term ani is found eighty times in the Hebrew Bible and evyon sixty
onethe latter indicates extreme need; see Hamel, Poverty and Charity,
31516; Hamel, Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine, 167, 172, 17576. Thus,
the tannaim collapse the differences between structural or endemic poverty, and
episodic poverty, whereby individuals who normally lived just above the poverty
line would plunge into destitution in times of famines, crises, or other conjunctures. The categories of structural/conjunctural poverty have been developed and
applied by classicists; see among others Peter Garnsey, Food and Society in Classical
Antiquity (Cambridge, 1999), 2; Neville Morley, The Poor in the City of Rome,
in Poverty in the Roman World, 2829; Robin Osborne, Introduction: Roman Poverty in Context, in Poverty in the Roman World, 1, 5; Parkin, An Exploration of
Pagan Almsgiving, 77, 82.

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An amoraic rabbinic text, by contrast, highlights the differences


between the Hebrew Bibles various terms for the needy:
Seven designations were given to the poor man: ani, evyon, misken, rash,
dal, dakh, makh. Ani means literally, poor. He is called evyon because he
longs (mitaveh)65 for everything; misken because he is despised by all,
as it says, the poor mans (misken) wisdom is despised (Eccl 9.16); rash
because he is dispossessed (rash) of property; dal because he is
detached (meduldal) from property; dakh because he is crushed (medukhdakh)he sees a thing and cannot eat it, he sees a thing and cannot
drink it; makh because he is lowly (makh) before every one, like a kind
of lowest threshold. (LevR 34.6)66
In her classic study of poverty, Evelyne Patlagean has shown how Christian writers depict the poor in the language of material need, while pagan
writers depict them in social terms.67 Leviticus Rabbah 34.6 depicts the
poor in terms of material need (rash, dal) like the Christians and in social
terms like the pagans (misken, makh). LevR 34.6 also adds language associated with the emotions of the poor (evyon, dakh). While this may reflect the
inclusion of poor individuals into the rabbinic movement during the amoraic era (and, thus, insight into the perspectives of the poor), the contemptible character of these emotions suggests that this was written from the
perspective of one who pities the poor but is not poor himself. In any case,
the multiplicity of terms in LevR 34.6 casts into high relief the fact that
tannaitic literature uses a single term, ani, to denote multiple types of
poverty. Similarly late antique Christian writers such as Augustine and
others use a single term (pauper) to denote various levels of poverty.68
Richard Finn raises the possibility that Christian promoters of almsgiving
favored vague or elastic terms to lend respectability to those in severe
want, who tend to trigger contempt among onlookers.69 It is possible that
65. Manuscript variants read metaev; see Mordecai Margulies, Midrash Wayyikra Rabbah: A Critical Edition Based on Manuscripts and Genizah Fragments with
Variants and Notes (Hebrew; New York, 19531960 [repr. 1999]), 783.
66. LevR 34.6; translation adapted from J. Israelstam in H. Freedman and
Maurice Simon, eds., Midrash rabbah (10 vols.; London, 1983), vol. 4, ad loc., and
based on the Hebrew edition of Margulies, 78283.
67. Evelyne Patlagean, Pauvrete economique et pauvrete sociale a` Byzance, 4e7e
sie`cles (Paris, 1977), 2535.
68. Finn, Portraying the Poor, 135; Grey, Constructing Communities, 12.
69. Finn, Portraying the Poor, 136; Finn, Almsgiving, 18288.

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the tannaitic aversion to evyona term common in the Hebrew Bible but
nearly absent from the tannaitic corpusand use of ani as a blanket term
for various levels and kinds of poverty could be motivated by similar goals.
Indeed, this is supported by Grays findings that tannaitic texts express
greater empathy for the poor than do amoraic works.70
There are a number of possible reasons why the poor are set up as
boundary markers to define economic attributes of early rabbinic group
identity. Poverty presumes dependency, which is anathema to the selfimage of a tanna as an economically independent householder who provides for and supports the members of his household.71 Historical developments may have also been a factor, as leading figures such as Gamaliel
emerged from wealthy circles of Jewish society.72 The nature of the subject also plays a role. Charity and initiatives that aim to relieve poverty
(such as peah and gleanings) divide all parties into two categories: givers
and recipients.73 In this binary structure, when the authors take the perspective of the benefactor, the beneficiaries are others by necessity.
The alterity of the poor is also related to the early rabbinic movements
internal cultural preoccupations, most notably the study of Torah. The
rabbis are an intellectual elite, as literacy, education, and wealth are
closely intertwined. Moreover, Torah study requires time away from tending to the necessities of life, such as procuring food, clothing, and shelter
for oneself and ones household.74 Tannaitic literature, significantly, does
not discuss material support for rabbis and their students. Only in later,
post-tannaitic texts do we begin to find discussions of financial support
for rabbis and their disciples.75
70. Gray, Formerly Wealthy Poor, 10133. Hamel, Poverty and Charity,
31516; Hamel, Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine, 167, 172, calls the near
absence of evyon in tannaitic texts striking and puzzling though he does not
elaborate.
71. On the rabbis as householders, see Hayim Lapin, The Construction of
Households in the Mishnah, in The Mishnah in Contemporary Perspective, ed. A. J.
Avery-Peck and J. Neusner (Leiden, 2006), 5580; Neusner, Economics of the
Mishnah, 5071; Michael L. Satlow, Jewish Marriage in Antiquity (Princeton, N.J.,
2001), 341; Alexei Sivertsev, Households, Sects, and the Origins of Rabbinic Judaism
(Leiden, 2005); Sivertsev, The Household Economy, in The Oxford Handbook of
Jewish Daily Life in Roman Palestine, ed. C. Hezser (Oxford, 2010), 22945.
72. On the prominence of the Gamaliel line, see the overview in Emil Schurer
et al., The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.A.D. 135)
(3 vols.; Edinburgh, 197387), 2:36769, 37276.
73. Novick. Charity and the Scapegoat.
74. Cohen, The Rabbi in Second-Century Jewish Society, 93334.
75. Ibid., 935. For later amoraic texts in which charity is directed toward the
rabbis, see Richard L. Kalmin, The Sage in Jewish Society in Late Antiquity (London,

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In tannaitic compilations, Torah study is carried out exclusively by


those who were economically independent, as the tannaim recognize a
trade-off between work and learning. For example, in a tannaitic exegesis
of Ex 16.33, R. Eliezer places the following words into the mouths of the
Israelites: If we kept busy with the words of the Torah, how will we get
our sustenance?76 Likewise in the Mekhilta, R. Shimon b. Yohai
exclaims, For behold, how can a man be sitting and studying when he
does not know where his food and drink will come from, nor where he
can get his clothes and coverings?77 Poverty was incompatible with
Torah study, prohibiting the poor from becoming rabbis (at least, in the
tannaitic corpus). The link between otherness, wealth, and Torah study
aligns with scholars observations that distance from literacy and textuality were the principle determinants of otherness in rabbinic literature.78
Moreover, early rabbinic views resonate with those of the Greek and
Roman upper classes, whose own views on wealth and poverty were
shaped by the pursuit of economic independence and the leisure time
that it affordedwhich were understood to be necessary conditions of
freedom.79
Any groups subjective sense of itself relies on a sense of being different
from other groups.80 This sense of the early rabbinic self, I find, includes
economic or material attributes as the tannaim define themselves in opposition to the poor. This enables the movement to internalize its own economic diversity and include members drawn from a variety of professions
earning high and middle-range incomes.
CONCLUSIONS

This essay set out to understand the socioeconomic perspectives from


which early rabbinic texts were authored and redacted, in an effort to
illuminate the tannaitic discourses on the poor and support for the poor.
These texts were shaped by and for individuals who were not poor. The
first implication is that, in addition to the rich, the early rabbinic move1999), 2933; Levine, Rabbinic Class, 16267; Burton L. Visotzky, Golden Bells and
Pomegranates: Studies in Midrash Leviticus Rabbah (Tubingen, 2003), 12428.
76. Mekhilta, Wayasa 6 (ed. Horovitz and Rabin, 172). On this text, see
Cohen, The Rabbi in Second-Century Jewish Society, 933.
77. Mekhilta, Wayasa 3 (ed. Horovitz and Rabin, 161).
78. William S. Green, Otherness Within: Toward a Theory of Difference in
Rabbinic Judaism, in Christians, Jews, Others in Late Antiquity, ed. E. S. Frerichs, J. Neusner, and C. McCracken-Flesher (Chico, Calif., 1985), 58; Hayes,
The Other in Rabbinic Literature, 25763.
79. On these Greco-Roman views, see Finley, Ancient Economy, 4042.
80. Hayes, The Other in Rabbinic Literature, 243.

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ment included those of moderate means. Previous scholarship had only


identified middle-income rabbis in post-tannaitic sources. The existence
of those with moderate wealth finds support in recent scholarship on the
Roman economy, which has increasingly highlighted the prominence of
individuals living at middle-income levels. This also problematizes the
rabbinic dichotomy of rich and poor or at the very least suggests that
rich should be understood in a more expansive way, namely, as someone who is not poor. In this respect, early rabbinic literature differs from
other writings of its age, as ancient rhetoricians tended to lump together
all nonelites as poor.81 A second implication is that the perspective of
those of moderate means shaped rabbinic law. We see this in instructions
on the poor mans tithe and charity, where special provisions are made to
enable those with limited means to fulfill these religious obligations.
Further, tannaitic texts reflect the perspectives of benefactors, not
beneficiaries. In this respect, tannaitic literature is typical of most discussions of poverty from the ancient world, as they reflect what the nonpoor
perceive the poors interests and needs to be. While some Jewish texts
from the Second Temple period explicitly reflect the interests of authors
and target an audience, which struggles economically, the poor characters
who sometimes appear in early rabbinic texts are stock figures. The literature does not preserve the actual voices or perspectives of the poor.82 It
follows that the poor in early rabbinic literature are understood as others,
in the sense that they are nonrabbis.83 The rabbinic authors and redactors
81. See, for example, the writings of Martial discussed Longenecker, Remember the Poor, 3839.
82. See tPeah 4.1213. Contrast this with the first-person solicitations for
alms that we have for other premodern episodes, such as those from medieval
Egypt; see Mark R. Cohen, The Voice of the Poor in the Middle Ages: An Anthology of
Documents from the Cairo Geniza (Princeton, N.J., 2005).
83. While other can suggest negative connotations, it is notable that the
extensive tannaitic discussions on the poor and poverty relief do not reflect contempt. By contrast, in Greco-Roman writings, the poor were despised and
deridedwhen not simply ignored; see Finley, Ancient Economy, 3940; Richard
Saller, Poverty, Honor, and Obligation in Imperial Rome, Criterion 37 (1998):
12, 1619. The rabbinic interest in discussing the poor and poverty relief may be
a product of their general preoccupation to flesh out the Hebrew Bibles own
interest in the poor. The rabbis interests in the poor may also be related to the
importance of land to daily life in Roman Palestine, as laws on support for the
poor are an integral part of the religious laws associated with the land and its
use. These tannaitic discourses may also have been prompted by the special
empathy that the tannaim held for poor individuals, which has been highlighted
by Gray, Formerly Wealthy Poor, 1059. That the poor are nonrabbis is also
presupposed in later texts from the Yerushalmi and Bavli. Notably, Kalmin

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WHO IS RICH?GARDNER

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conflate various categories of needy individuals and dependents and present them as an undifferentiated mass defined solely by their failure to reach
a minimum income level.84 Indeed, in this sense, the tannaim follow the
sapiential tradition (especially Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Wisdom of
Ben Sira) which expresses sympathy and pity for the poorfrom the perspective of those who are not. In early rabbinic literature, the poor can be
identified as internal others or non-rabbinic Jewsas opposed to external others who are gentiles. Such internal others serve as boundary markers against those whom the rabbis define themselves and shape their
collective identity. Likewise, the poor demarcate the limits of rabbinic economic diversity. A few tannaim are very wealthy and many are well off or
middling, but to be poor is incompatible with being a tanna.
The texts focus more on the benefactors obligations than the beneficiaries rights or needs. Likewise, in late antique Christian writings, the
poor are often presented and defined as a passive and anonymous group,
as the recipients of gifts and the objects of protection.85 For the rabbis,
the poor serve instrumental purposes. They constitute the individuals to
whom one must leave peah, gleanings, forgotten things, and the poor mans
tithe, and give charity: those through whom one fulfills certain religious
obligations.86 The rabbis did not seek to erase economic inequalities. The
existence of the poor was necessary in order to properly fulfill certain
religious obligations.87 Thus, it was of utmost importance to keep the poor
detects a desire by Babylonian rabbis to avoid direct encounters with lowly nonrabbis; see Kalmin, Sage in Jewish Society, 43.
84. Another possible reason for understanding the poor as an undifferentiated
mass is that it enabled the tannaim to cope with the problem of poverty that may
have seemed as too massive and overwhelming to comprehend. The tannaim were
surely familiar with the sentiment in Dt 15.11 that there will always be some in
need (cf. Matt. 26.11). To be sure, the sense that poverty was everywhere would
become more acute in amoraic texts, which, as Gray and Goodman have noted,
are the earliest rabbinic texts that reflect the third-century economic crisis; see
Goodman, State and Society, 60; Gray, Formerly Wealthy Poor, 118, n. 62.
85. Peter Brown, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire (Hanover,
N.H., 2002), 14.
86. On the poor as instruments who enable the well off to discharge their
religious obligations, see Satlow, Fruit and the Fruit of Fruit, 25058. Likewise, the poor enable the rich to achieve merit; see Gary A. Anderson, Sin: A
History (New Haven, Conn., 2009), 151.
87. On the Mishnahs preservation of economic inequalities, see also Calvin
Goldscheider, Inequality, Stratification, and Exclusion in the Mishnah: An
Exploratory Social Science Analysis, in Gazing on the Deep: Ancient Near Eastern
and Other Studies in Honor of Tsvi Abusch, ed. J. Stackert et al. (Bethesda, Md.,
2011), 56583.

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alive but, as SifreDt 116 instructs, you are not commanded to make
him rich.88 The rabbis approach, rather, is profitably likened to John
Rawlss difference principle, which accepts income inequalities so long
as the least advantaged are made better off than they would be otherwise.89
In light of my findings, it is illuminating to take a fresh look at a classic
tannaitic text on attitudes toward wealth. In mAvot 4.1, Ben Zoma asks:
Who is rich? He who rejoices in his lot. As it is said, You shall enjoy the
fruit of your labors; you shall be happy and you shall prosper (Ps 128.2).
This text is often read as a demonstration of contentment and an exhortation to forgo the pursuit of material pleasures. What is often overlooked,
however, is that such sentiments are more likely to be expressed by and
for those who did not want for food, clothing, or shelter than those who
were hungry and cold.

88. Cf. Urbach, Political and Social Tendencies, 18, who upholds the apologetic stance that the rabbis aimed to lift the poor out of poverty.
89. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass., 1999), 6573, 13.

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