Prioritizing Obligations

The importance of a holistic approach to halakhah.

Print this page Print this page

We can draw inspiration from the holistic ideal of halakhah in our work for global justice. Instead of approaching each issue separately, we should explore the ways in which injustices are interconnected and mutually reinforcing.

For example, the HIV/AIDS pandemic is not an isolated problem of people dying from a disease. The spread of HIV is exacerbated by the social stigma that accompanies it, which prevents governments from taking timely action and deters individuals from undergoing testing.

Pervasive lack of access to healthcare and prevention methods among marginalized populations further contribute to the spread of the disease. HIV/AIDS is also intrinsically linked to poverty: families get poorer when wage earners sicken, and economic growth slows in many countries as workforces are decimated by the disease.

So too in the education system: the loss of teachers to HIV/AIDS results in lower academic achievement levels, higher drop-out rates, and lower child literacy rates.

Responding to such an interconnected problem requires a holistic approach, not the selection of some factors over others. Responding effectively to HIV/AIDS requires improving roads and other forms of infrastructure in rural communities so that people can safely travel to clinics. It involves training health workers to teach communities how to prevent HIV transmission, reducing gender-based violence, and challenging the stigma that surrounds the disease.

Peter Piot, former Executive Director of UNAIDS, the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, articulates the necessity of understanding the HIV/AIDS pandemic in its larger context: "It is patently clear that we need to make real headway against the fundamental drivers of this epidemic, especially gender inequality, stigma and discrimination, deprivation and the failure to protect and realize human rights. This challenge is perhaps the greatest of all those facing the AIDS response."

Later in Parashat Ekev, Moses again reminds the Israelites of the importance of keeping the commandments: "You shall faithfully observe all the commandment [mitzvah, singular] that I enjoin upon you today, that you may thrive" (Deuteronomy 8:1).

The 18th century Italian commentator Ohr HaChaim explains this curious use of the singular: "Moses admonishes the people and uses the singular ‘mitzvah’ as if to say that our relationship to all of the rules in the Torah should be as if to one single commandment."

This conflation of the laws should serve as a lesson to us in our pursuit of global justice, reminding us to contextualize individual issues and seek solutions that account for interlocking systems. Through this approach, let us merit Moses' blessing that we, and all of humanity, may thrive.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Alana Alpert

Alana Alpert earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Community Studies from the University of California in Santa Cruz. She is currently studying at the Conservative Yeshiva and volunteering with organizations working toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.