Impact Investing: Rabbinic Perspectives

At its core, Judaism is a religion of tikkun olam – literally, repair of the world. Tikkun is about more than social justice. It is about building a world that supports life and all its dignities. The human being, the most developed form of life, is to be treated as having three fundamental dignities – infinite value, equality and uniqueness (Talmud Sanhedrin 37A). The Jewish messianic dream is to upgrade this planet – so that both nature and society will fully honor these dignities. The prophets teach that to reach this level of repair of the world, we shall have to overcome poverty and hunger, stop all forms of oppression and inequality (such as racism, sexism, discrimination, stereotyping), end war and violence against others, and cure sickness. In short our goal must be to overcome all the enemies of life and dignity. The same principle applies to the treatment of nature. There is a general mitzvah that encompasses all our behaviors. We are commanded to act in a way that respects nature so that every action we take enhances the world’s capacity to sustain life, rather than degrades the environment and/or destroys other species.

In our lifetime, the messianic vision has become the stuff of everyday possibilities. As is well known, the planet now can produce enough food to feed all the inhabitants of the earth. Hunger persists because of the failures in distribution, in income fairness, and in access to the right to work. These flaws condemn millions, even billions, to poverty and hunger. By the same token, human technology and political power can now abolish war – or obliterate humanity. Human productivity can now generate affluence for all; it can also exploit the masses, warm the globe, degrade the environment, even make the planet uninhabitable. In short, we are literally experiencing the words of Moses in the Torah: “Behold I place before you, today, life and good, and death and evil… Choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deuteronomy 30:15,19). This is also an age of unparalleled opportunities and achievements for Jews (notwithstanding threats to our existence in parts of the world). Jews are listened to – even sought out – as never before. Today Jews have the opportunity, indeed, the obligation, to contribute to tikkun olam on a vast scale. This opens the door to a flowering of Jewish religion and values in which the Jewish people, individually and collectively, might model, as “a light unto the nations,” how to use talent, technology and money to repair the world.

Our covenant, the partnership for tikkun olam between God and humanity and between the generations, teaches us that every action of life can, and should be, directed to be an act of tikkun, of repair. All work, every word spoken, the way we eat, dress or dwell – all should be reshaped to advance life, not reduce or harm it. The road to repair the world is open. It is up to us, the living generation, to draw upon the teachings of Jewish wisdom and values, to channel our capacities of love and relationship, to be driven by our memories of our past suffering – in short, to work harder to insure a better, more humane future for all.

Investing is one of the most powerful areas of economic, social, and political impact. Done right, investing can create the infrastructure of a better life, enabling a higher level of human dignity and health for all. Paradoxically, while individual Jews lead, organized Jewry lags. Many pioneers and leaders in socially responsible investing and impact investing are Jewish. However, in terms of community norms and assets devoted to such investing, including guidelines, information, and vehicles for ethical investment, the Jewish community trails behind.

This study rightly focuses our attention on the frontiers of tikkun olam. It is the first step in a process of concentrating Jewish attention and efforts to the remarkable opportunity. The survey on which it is based zeroed in on rabbis and their attitudes, because rabbis occupy many places of influence in the Jewish community and are respected within broader society. JLens also seeks to invite rabbis to take the lead in drawing upon Jewish tradition and wisdom for the purpose of increasing socially responsible investing and the new and growing field of impact investing.

The conversation that JLens and Jumpstart seek to launch about impact investing offers not only rabbis, but indeed all of us, a new opportunity to forge alliances with professionals, community leaders, and individual investors to direct our energies and resources to the betterment of all humankind. To overcome poverty and hunger, to push forward equality and justice, to heal the environment, to create a more livable world for us and for our future generations – can there be a more noble set of goals? Can there be a more important expression of Judaism and Jewish values that would help the world and add dignity and respect for Jews at one and the same time? Read this study and begin the process. I salute a new generation of leaders who intend to multiply and amplify social impact investing of Jews and by Jews. Let us together do so much in this area that future generations will say of our work for tikkun: this was their finest hour.

Over the past five decades, rabbi and theologian Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, PhD, has been a pioneer and activist in the causes of Soviet Jewry, Jewish renewal and outreach, Holocaust memory and education, pluralism and inter-religious dialogue, social justice, and entrepreneurial philanthropy. His work and thought can be accessed at www.rabbiirvinggreenberg.com

Rabbi Greenberg’s essay is excerpted from Impact Investing: “Rabbinic Perspectives, aJumpstart Report” written by Julie Hammerman which is based on the JLens Rabbinic Survey on Jewish Values and Investment Decisions, The full report is available here: http://j.mp/JumpstartReport5

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Investors should consult with an advisor to determine the suitability of any investment option or strategy.  JLens is a sponsored project of Jumpstart Labs.