How Should Natural Gas Profits be Divided?

What does the Torah say about who gets the profits from gas – the public, or those who found it? * The principle set by the Torah: A person is entitled to enjoy the fruits of his own hard work, but natural resources and means of production should be shared equally * How can the idea of Yovel be fulfilled in our time * Today, knowledge and education are the main means of production, and care must be taken to provide them equally for all * What type of music is forbidden to listen to during the “Three Weeks” * Items over which the blessing “Shehechiyanu” is not recited can be purchased during the “Three Weeks”

The Question of Natural Gas

Q: Can we learn from the Torah what should be the fair arrangement – both morally and economically – in regards to the natural gas issue which has recently been the focus of public debate?

On the one hand, representatives of the companies who found the gas claim they deserve to earn large profits for the huge sums they invested in gas exploration at a high risk, and it’s unreasonable that after gas has found, State officials would violate the agreements that were signed before the start of the search. Such a violation could also harm the State of Israel, because capitalists and big companies avoid investing in countries that do not meet their agreements.

On the other hand, many public officials claim that the agreement is unfair, since the gas is a natural resource that belongs to the State, and not to those who found it. Moreover, the public invests a fortune in protecting the country’s borders – including the drilling rigs, as well – and therefore deserves a larger share of the profits. True, investors deserve to capitalize for finding the gas, but there should be limits on their gains as well.

A: In order to express an opinion regarding the current issue of natural gas, all its details must be verified: What were the initial agreements? Were they agreed upon and authorized, or perhaps pressure was placed on government decision-makers? Has the situation changed significantly since then? It would also be worthwhile to know how other countries act, while taking into account the higher security costs in our region. Nevertheless, I will try to clarify the basic position of the Torah.

The Basic Position

Unlike the Communist system, the Torah does not command us to divide profits equally between successful workers, and those who are not. On the contrary, the Torah secures property rights of the individual over his possessions, based on the position that a person is entitled to benefit from the fruits of his own efforts, talents, and God’s blessings. The Torah commanded to sustain the Kohanim, the Levites, and the poor by setting aside a certain percentage of the crop, but even in this matter, the Torah gave the owner of the fruits the right to choose which Kohen to give his terumot (heave offerings), and which Levi or poor person to give his ma’asrot (tithes) (albeit, the gifts to the poor,’ leket ‘, ‘shichacha‘, and ‘pe’ah‘ were made available to them without the owner of the field having the right to distribute them).

Nevertheless, there is an important element of equality in the Torah expressed by the mitzvah of Yovel (the Jubilee Year), whereby all the land in Eretz Yisrael must be divided equally among all of Israel. Even if a person was forced to sell his inheritance – in Yovel, his inheritance returns to him, or his heirs. Similarly, a destitute person who had to sell himself into slavery was released in the Yovel, so he could turn a new page and set out on a fresh path of his own free choice (it should be noted that in an economic situation such as ours, where no one is literally begging for bread, it is forbidden to sell oneself into slavery, and consequently, the institution of slavery is prohibited).

The Integration of the Two Ideas

It can be said that, indeed, both ideas – equality on the one hand, and free will and free enterprise on the other – ought to receive mutual expression. On the one hand, all human beings were created in the image of God and are equal before the law and before all else, lands, which are the means of production, should be divided equally. On the other hand, the most important expression of God’s image in man is his ability to choose and initiate. If he works hard and utilizes his talents – he will profit; if he is lazy – he will lose. And on a spiritual level: If one fulfills the Torah and mitzvot – he will be blessed in the present world, and receive good reward in the Hereafter. But if he chooses to sin – he will not see blessing in this world, and will be punished in the next.

The Significance of Yovel in Our Times

In the past, ninety percent of people made their living from agriculture. Land was the main means of production, and as a result, dividing it equally formed a basis of equality for everyone. Today, land is no longer the primary means of production, and earning a livelihood is dependent on many factors. Nevertheless, we should seemingly learn from the mitzvah of Yovel two foundations: First, just as farmland was divided evenly among all, similarly, we should divide other natural resources which God created equally, including land for construction, water, oil, gas, beaches, radio waves, air, and the sun. Second, just as the Torah commanded dividing the means of production equally, likewise, we should attempt to provide an education for all young people that will procure for them, as best as possible, an equal opportunity to earn a living from their talents and diligence. With effective planning, these two elements can be mutually integrated by diverting the money received from the natural resources towards professional education programs for all.

In this manner, we will have achieved realizing the vision of ​​dividing the land for the entire Jewish nation, together with the tikun (correction) that was made in the return of lands to their original owners in the Yovel, for granting quality education to everyone also allows the children of poor parents to obtain a respectable profession according to their talents and diligence.

It could be said that this is the purpose of Yovel – to restore the natural free-will of man created in the image of God, together with the distribution of the resources God created equally.

A Proposal of Yovel for Capitalists

Perhaps a further suggestion could be made that, just as in the Yovel the fields returned to their original owners and slaves were released to their homes, in a similar fashion, Torah scholars should possibly conduct an in-depth examination of the structure of modern economy, and consider whether it is appropriate that in the Yovel year, a certain percentage of the accumulated wealth be divided equally. For in addition to laws designed to prevent monopolies which harm free competition and stifle industry and trade, we should also avoid creating overly large gaps between the extremely rich and the remainder of the population. This idea also includes a measure of justice, because well-run public organization allows the major capitalists to become wealthy, and therefore, maybe it is fitting that once in fifty years, a portion of their accumulated wealth be once again distributed for education and public needs. This will not affect their quality of life – they will still have hundreds of millions of dollars, but it will grant a more important status to the value of equality, without harming the individual responsibility of every person to earn a living.

The ‘Three Weeks’

The ‘Three Weeks’ that start from the night of the seventeenth of Tammuz till Tisha B’Av are days of grief, about which the verse says: “All who pursue her have overtaken her, in the midst of her distress (in Hebrew, ‘bein hametzarim‘)” (Eicha 1:3). In order to signify the nature of these days, our Sages instituted the reading of Haftarah’s dealing with calamities on the three Sabbath’s of ‘Bein Hametzarim‘, and on the seven Sabbath’s following Tisha B’Av, to read seven Haftarah’s of comfort (S.A., 428:8, according to Pesikta).

The custom in most Jewish communities is not to perform marriages during the ‘Three Weeks’, but there are some Sephardic communities that avoid marriages only during the ‘Nine Days’.

Ashkenazi Jews and some Sephardic Jews, including those from Morocco and Jerba, and those who go according to the Ari HaKadosh, are custom not to take haircuts during the ‘Three Weeks’. Other Mizrachi Jews refrain from taking haircuts only during the ‘Nine Days’.

Dancing and Music

Although our Sages did not institute specific regulations to signify the grief and mourning of the ‘Three Weeks’, Jews are accustomed to avoid dancing and public celebrations for the entire period (M.A. 551:10).

Consequently, we do not listen to happy music during these days, and even music that is not happy should not be listened to at high volume, because doing so also involves a certain measure of festivity and joy. But during the ‘Nine Days’, it is even forbidden to listen to music that is not so happy, rather, only sad music is permitted (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 8:4-5).

The ‘Shehecheyanu‘ Blessing, and Other Purchases

During the days of ‘Bein Hametzarim‘, the custom is not to buy clothing or furniture upon which the ‘Shehecheyanu‘ blessing is recited, because these are days of calamity, and it is not fitting to say “shehecheyanu veqiyemanu vehigi’anu lazeman hazeh” (“who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion”).

However, up until Rosh Chodesh Av, it is permitted to purchase items upon which ‘shehecheyanu‘ are not recited. Therefore during these days, one is allowed to buy socks or undershirts, because since they are not so important, ‘shehecheyanu‘ is not recited over them. One is also permitted to buy clothes which still require repair, because ‘shehecheyanu‘ is not recited over them at the time of purchase, but rather, when first worn; instead, the clothes should be worn for the first time after Tisha B’Av, or the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Av, and the blessing should be recited. Someone whose custom is not to recite the ‘shehecheyanu‘ blessing at the time of purchasing clothes, but rather, while wearing them the first time, may buy new clothes during these days, and wear them for the first time after Tisha B’Av, or the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Av and recite the blessing.

Married couples are permitted to buy a piece of furniture because, seeing as they share the furniture, they recite the blessing “ha’tov ve’hameitiv” (“who is good and does good”) and not ‘shehecheyanu‘, and this blessing is permissible during ‘Bein Hametzarim‘. But an individual should avoid buying a piece of furniture, seeing as he would have to recite ‘shehecheyanu‘.

Someone who chances upon a new fruit, if it can refrigerated until Shabbat, he should wait until Shabbat and then recite the blessing ‘shehecheyanu‘ and eat the fruit. If there is concern that in the meantime the fruit will rot, one should recite the ‘shehecheyanu‘ even during the week, in order not to lose out on the blessing.

Shopping During the “Nine Days”

When the month of Av begins, business transactions are curtailed, and one should even avoid shopping for items upon which ‘shehecheyanu‘ is not recited. During the “Nine Days” it is also appropriate to refrain from doing one’s regular, monthly food shopping.

Trips and Swimming

Some poskim say one should avoid taking trips and bathing in the ocean or in a pool during the “Three Weeks”, in order to lessen one’s pleasure during the days of “Bein Hametzarim“. Additionally, these days have a history of being hazardous, and one should avoid doing things that could place one in danger.

However, according to halakha, there is no prohibition, because our when our Sages said “When the month of Av begins, we reduce our joy”, this refers only from Rosh Chodesh Av, but before that there is no prohibition to do things that are fun and pleasurable, and only particularly joyful events should be avoided, such as the parties, concerts and dances. Therefore, it is permitted to travel, swim, or take a vacation in a hotel until the end of the month of Tammuz.

As for the concern about matters of danger, this does not refer to a risk that would change the precautions necessary throughout the entire year. Therefore, it is permitted to conduct trips, etc., during the “Three Weeks”, and one should be extra careful about safety rules which are meant to be maintained all year long.

When the month of Av enters, we reduce our joy, and therefore trips and recreation which are mainly for pleasure and joy should be avoided. A trip or vacation designed primarily for study purposes or health reasons is permitted during the “Nine Days”. The same holds true for bathing in a pool or ocean – if the purpose is recreational – it is prohibited, but for someone who was instructed to swim for health reasons, it is permitted, and even during the “Nine Days”.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed, can be read at:
http://en.yhb.org.il/