Jeremy Corbyn has suggested pay caps as a mechanism to remedy inequalities evident in society in gross income.
I am not convinced this is the primary issue and neither is Jewish teaching. Judaism has never had a restrictive view of earning, but rather a desire for a fair society in which self-dignity is inherent, regardless of wealth.
Pay caps would not have the desired affect and are unworkable. More importantly, if it is ‘fairness’ society is more concerned with, our tax system might be a more appropriate place to start. I say that because Jewish teaching favours a checked market system that, as Rabbi Jill Jacobs says, “permits the ethical acquisition of wealth, with measures aimed at ensuring the market does not allow society’s poorest members to end up with close to nothing”.
So if pay caps are not very ‘Jewish’, what are the modern concepts that might gain the approval of our sages? A primary source text often used by Jewish commentators who want to link Torah to contemporary economics is Deuteronomy 15: the remission of debts (shmita) year. Jewish educators and activists made a lot of the 5776 (2015/16) shmita year, but in reality it didn’t change the world. But then Deuteronomy 15 predicted this, with the paradoxical “there shall be no needy among you” and later “for there will never cease to be needy ones in your land”.
So let me return to the tax system and what Judaism hints at. I have no stats on this, but Jews of wealth tend towards what we might call philanthropy: “The desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the donation of money.”
If others do not ‘believe’ in such philanthropy, tzedakah, a belief in self-dignity for all and the desire to bring
it about as a sacred obligation, then let the tax system at least encourage it.
Aaron Goldstein is senior rabbi at Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue