In parashat Pekudei, Exodus, Moses provided a detailed account of how the precious metals donated to build the mishkan (Tabernacle) were used.
We learn that the use of public money must be transparent and accountable and even Moses must provide an explanation.
The Talmud says: “A person should not give a penny to the communal charity purse unless it is under the supervision of a person [as honest as] Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradyon”, who made up monies from his own pocket when he confused two charities (Avodah Zara 17b).
The Nolan principles, the ethical standards for those who work in public life, include integrity, accountability, openness and honesty. Decision-making and public spending that is for the public good must be accountable and honest.
Already the exposure of pay gaps only down to gender has embarrassed the BBC and its willingness to address this unfairness has been accelerated only since it has been more widely known.
It is important to know not only how our public money is being spent, but also who is spending private money to buy political capital.
Our media is increasingly funded by people whose agenda is to shape public opinion, rather than objectively report news. Dark money is funnelled via undisclosed donations in legal loopholes, so rich businessmen can skew government policy and public opinion to become even richer at the expense of society.
Until we have transparency about how money is spent in the public arena, we risk creating an unethical society built for the wealthy.
Moses knew it, rabbinic tradition knew it. We know it too. Accountability and transparency are critical in healthy societies.
We ignore this at our peril.
Sylvia Rothschild is rabbi of Wimbledon Synagogue