Torah For Today! This week: Panic buying 

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Torah For Today! This week: Panic buying 

Rabbi Schiff takes a topical issue and looks at an Orthodox Jewish response. Here, he reflects on the impact of stockpiling

A person wearing a face mask in front of an underground sign in London.
A person wearing a face mask in front of an underground sign in London.

The world is changing beyond recognition on a daily, even hourly basis. Just a month ago, the restrictions that we are currently living under would have seemed unimaginable in the modern world. Travel bans, quarantine, self-isolation and lockdowns have become the new normal. 

One of the most noticeable effects of this current state of emergency is the phenomenon
of empty supermarket shelves. This is something we used to associate with communist Russia or the developing world, not our local Tesco or Sainsbury’s. 

Much of this has been created by panic buying, which is understandable given the circumstances. People are nervous they will not have enough basic supplies to see them through this challenging period and so they buy as much as they can. You don’t have to be an economist at the Bank of England to realise the effect that this has on the supply chain. Our supermarkets only carry a limited amount of stock and whenever we take for ourselves, others will lose out. 

This is why it is essential we strike a healthy balance and develop a genuine sense of social responsibility at this time. 

Of course we have to provide for our families, but unnecessary hoarding demonstrates not only a lack of faith in God and in the both sophisticated and decent societies in which we live, but also a lack of empathy for the needs of others. 

It is specifically at times like these that we need to think of others and their needs. This tension is best summarised by the immortal words of Hillel in Pirkei Avot 1:14: “If I am not for myself who will be for me? 

But if I am only for myself then what am I?” He concludes imploring us not to wait, saying, “If not now, when?” Now is the time. We can all be heroes during this crisis, by containing our understandable, yet base desire to hoard, so that others can have their fair share and together we can get through to the other side of this crisis.

  • Rabbi Schiff is chairman and founder of GIFT and CEO of Jewish Futures 
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