Report on AJCO-CSGE Panel: Wealth and Responsibility to the Poor

Dr. Vilma Balmaceda, director of Nyack’s Center for Scholarship and Global Engagement (CSGE) recently shared the following report submitted on the September 10 event co-sponsored by CSGE and the Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins Department.

“Do you have what it takes to attain life in the world to come?” Jesus’ answer to this question may be one of Christian theology’s most abandoned topics, yet it was the focal point of the Ancient Judaism/Center for Scholarship and Global Engagement panel discussion held on the New York City campus recently.

At the panel, Professor George Kohler, Ph.D. of Bar Ilan University (Israel) (above, standing), and Professor Jeffrey García, Ph.D.c., (above, seated with Constance Diggs, AJCO program coordinator) of Nyack College dialogued with Nyack students and faculty, tracing the Old and New Testament principles on poverty, justice, and charity back to its roots in Judaism, appealing to literature from the Old and New Testaments, rabbinic law, and Jewish and Christian theology, respectively.

The opening paraphrase above is extracted from the commonly known parable of the rich young ruler. “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus finalizes hi answer with, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”

Caring for the poor should be an integral part of the discussion about observing God’s commandments, yet this topic tends to be largely neglected. “Even the pioneering studies…have overlooked the manner in which giving to the poor functions in Jesus’ view of the Jewish law,” said Prof. García.

Can it be that Christians neglect to help the neglected? While the demands of justice and charity might not have been a critical concern for most Evangelical Christians in North America in the last decades, according to Dr. Kohler, charity and particularly the justice (tsedaqah) principle of caring for the poor, constitutes a fundamental pillar of Jewish theology. A failure to care for the poor is equivalent to idolatry, and therefore, a violation of the law. The social question is fundamentally a spiritual question.