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Hunger: Introduction & Jewish Values

Hunger is an endemic problem that plagues all aspects of our society. Every city, suburb, and school, has a population in which at least one (if not more) person is experiencing hunger. In fact, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2008, 49.1 million Americans, of whom 16.7 million are children, lived in food insecure households. America's response to this hunger crisis is two fold: through services and through public policy. Congregations, individuals, and private charities provide emergency help through food pantries, food banks, and soup kitchens. Private food assistance, however, is about 1/16th the size of government food assistance.

Thus, it seems that America must do a better job of funding anti-hunger programs and enrolling eligible individuals in these programs. The United States could cut domestic hunger in half within 2 years, and lead a global effort to cut world hunger in half by 2015, by spending approximately $7 billion more annually, or 7 cents per American per day. Many people believe that ending hunger in America is entirely possible. 

Jewish Values on Fighting Hunger

The Torah and Jewish tradition are explicit in commanding that we feed the hungry. "And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I the Eternal am your God. (Leviticus (23:22)" In Isaiah 58:7, God commands us to "share [our] bread with the hungry and bring the homeless into [our] house." Deuteronomy 15:7-10 elaborates on our commitment to helping the hunger person amongst us. The text states, "If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren...you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be."

​The Talmud explains that each Jewish community must establish a public fund to provide food for the hungry, and our sages explain that feeding the hungry is one of our most important responsibilities on earth: "When you are asked in the world to come, 'What was your work?' and you answer: 'I fed the hungry,' you will be told: 'This is the gate of the Lord, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry'" (Midrash to Psalm 118:17).