While MPs may have been divided over whether to support Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meals, in Jewish thought there is little ambiguity as to our obligation to support those who are hungry.
Perhaps this is unsurprising, given how frequently the question of food instability appears in the stories of Torah and indeed how prevalent a social issue it has been throughout the ages of human life.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all moved lands because of food scarcity. Joseph rose to prominence in Egypt because of his economic planning enabling the population to avert disastrous food shortages.
The vulnerable Israelite population fleeing slavery in Egypt was kept alive by the essential supply of manna provided by God.
Alongside these stories, which bring to life the potential impact of not having access to food, and the life-changing role played by a stable food supply, are numerous laws and teachings that embed the duty to feed the hungry and to build systems into the economic and social structures of Jewish communities.
From Torah, which teaches that farmers must leave the corners of their fields un-ploughed, to Maimonides, who details laws of community building that establish food collectors and a process of distribution to the needy, layers of Jewish teaching emphasise the prime importance of ensuring those who may be hungry do not go without.
Within a few days of the news, posts appeared online ranging from synagogues offering Jewish children on free school meals a kosher lunch throughout half-term to delis and cafes providing meals even in this time when business is so hard.
When you walk through the old Jewish East End of London, you can still see the remnants of soup kitchens and social welfare organisations that were built little more than a century ago to provide a safety net for those in need.
The Jewish community has an amazing capacity to mobilise around this most important of issues, but as well as supporting the immediate need, true action in support of food justice requires engagement with wider questions of inequality, deprivation, and food poverty.
Tackling the causes of hunger is just as vital as ensuring no person, adult or child, goes to bed on an empty stomach.
- Rabbi Deborah Blausten serves Finchley Reform Synagogue
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