Obligations to the Poor at Harvest Time.

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In his highly evocative painting of 1857 (oil on canvas) entitled "The Gleaners," Jean-Francois Millet captured the grim reality of survival by gleaning. In the foreground, three swarthy, stocky peasant women are bent over trying to salvage a few stalks from the sparse stubble left in the ground. The slimness of the pickings is accentuated by the mountains of hay rising in the distance. Precious little has been left to glean. Millet's empathy for the peasants does imbue them with a stolid dignity that lifts them above their pain and despair.

Still, Scripture alone could not rectify the inequities of an economic system that put a premium on profit. In a rapidly secularizing age, government would eventually have to step in as the moral arbiter of civil society.

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Rabbi Ismar Schorsch

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch served as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.