Guest post by R. Daniel Rapp / I began my career as a student in Yeshiva College in January 1988. I was somewhat ambivalent about starting Yeshiva, as I would have much rather finished the year in Israel and was still not comfortable with my decision to attend YU. Like so many students before and after me, I could not figure out if my afternoon classes were some unfortunate byproduct of the reality of needing to make a living, or directed towards some higher, amorphous purpose called “Torah U’Madda.” I believe that it was my second Thursday at Yeshiva when a Torah U’Madda lecture was scheduled in Rubin shul. The topic was less than gripping – A Halachic Analysis of the Minimum Wage, given by Rabbi Dr. Aaron Levine.

Learning From Rabbi Dr. Aaron Levine

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Guest post by R. Daniel Rapp

Rabbi Daniel Rapp is associate dean of Judaic studies and a visiting assistant professor of Talmud for the Irving I. Stone Beit Midrash Program, as well as associate dean of Judaic studies at Isaac Breuer College of Hebraic Studies at Yeshiva University.

I began my career as a student in Yeshiva College in January 1988. I was somewhat ambivalent about starting Yeshiva, as I would have much rather finished the year in Israel and was still not comfortable with my decision to attend YU. Like so many students before and after me, I could not figure out if my afternoon classes were some unfortunate byproduct of the reality of needing to make a living, or directed towards some higher, amorphous purpose called “Torah U’Madda.”

I believe that it was my second Thursday at Yeshiva when a Torah U’Madda lecture was scheduled in Rubin shul. The topic was less than gripping – A Halachic Analysis of the Minimum Wage, given by Rabbi Dr. Aaron Levine. Some of my friends were signed up for Rabbi Levine’s Comparative Economic Systems, a course which compared halacha and economics, and spoke highly of the course, so I decided to attend.

Never before (or afterwards for that matter) was I so taken by the content of a lecture. Rabbi Levine began by analyzing the law from an economic point of view, considering the tradeoff between a living wage and the inevitable jump in unemployment, followed by a halachic analysis of the power of government to interfere in private negotiations between workers and employers. Most impressive for me, however, was his conclusion. Economic studies show that the loss of jobs because of a raise in the minimum wage is most acutely felt by teenagers who lose summer jobs and part-time after school jobs. Rabbi Levine stated that this was a positive outcome as young Jewish men and women should be better spending their spare time learning Torah.

This was it! A world-class scholar armed with PhD in economics analyzing current issues, looking through the prism of the Torah, using both the laws and worldview of the Torah in his search for the truth. I approached Rabbi Levine after the lecture, introduced myself and got over-tallied into Comparative Economics Systems. I had found a mentor.

When I ran out of classes that I could take with Rabbi Levine, I petitioned him to take an independent study where he would teach me practically how to apply the Gemara and halacha to real world cases and policy. He accepted, and changed my life.

The topic Rabbi Levine chose for my independent study was labor unions and the right to force workers to join the union. My first assignment was to find sources in the Gemara for labor unions. The ground rules were that I had to do all the research and he would provide no help. Also, he informed me of one teshuva by Rav Moshe Feinstein, which I was not allowed to see. I would meet with him every week or so to get the next step in my journey. Having progressed through a yeshiva education based on reading marei mekomos and then being told in shiur what the sources said, this approach was both new and difficult for me. Week after week, I built on my own reading of Gemara, Rishonim, and Poskim until I developed an approach to the halachos of labor law and related questions.

Then reality set in. Rabbi Levine had me read the Igros Moshe, which flatly disagreed with most everything I said. Rabbi Levine allowed me to wallow in my depression for only a short time until he challenged me again. On what did I base my approach? Rav Moshe could not argue with the Rishonim I cited. It was time to go back and reconsider my reading of the Rishonim and determine whether my original reading was true or whether Rav Moshe had a better interpretation. Rabbi Levine inspired me to work on the project long after the semester ended. Ultimately, Rabbi Levine included it in the most recent book he edited, which was published by Oxford University Press

I have been blessed with other rabbeim who have taught me the majority of my knowledge and have provided me with invaluable advice in leading my life, but it was Rabbi Aaron Levine who taught me how to read Rishonim. Without him, I could never consider a life of learning and sharing my knowledge with others. For this, I am eternally indebted to him.

As the years went by our relationship grew. I was privileged to sit as a dayan with Rabbi Levine at the Beth Din of America, and I worked with him when he taught in IBC.

Whenever we spoke, the message tended to be the same – I needed to publish. I would respond that I did not have the time necessary, and that the population that cared about what I had to say about the Jewish view of obscure areas of the law was somewhat limited. The response was always the same – “This work is of critical importance! Scholars are seeking the truth and we need to show them that the Torah provides the truth!”

Of course, he was right in terms of the value of the work. The problem was that no one had Rabbi Levine’s combined abilities. In order to represent faithfully the wisdom of the Torah to the highly educated world of scholars, one needs to be both a talmid chacham extraordinaire and scholar in one’s own right. This was Rabbi Dr. Aaron Levine.

We have lost an unparalleled promoter of Torah knowledge to the academic world, a man who embodied our Yeshiva’s mission. May we all strive to continue his work.

About Daniel Rapp

25 comments

  1. A moving recollection.

    “Rav Moshe could not argue with the Rishonim I cited” Why not? He argued on rishonim many times, as R. Schachter is fond of noting in his talks.

  2. Beautiful! Yehi Zichro Baruch!

  3. “Without him, I could never consider a life of learning and sharing my knowledge with others. For this, I am eternally indebted to him”

    Having heard Rabbi Rapp-if Rabbi Levine accomplished nothing else besides that he has accomplished a lot.

    Shloshim is not the time for critical analysis of a persons ideas and what economic schools one appears to be part of.

    ““Rav Moshe could not argue with the Rishonim I cited” Why not? He argued on rishonim many times, as R. Schachter is fond of noting in his talks.”

    Certainly, people have read R Moshe and seen what girsah he uses-for example he appears to have used standard E European Rambam even when the vast majority would believe that Kapach version is likely much more accurate.

    “Beautiful! Yehi Zichro Baruch!”
    Agreed.

  4. “Economic studies show that the loss of jobs because of a raise in the minimum wage is most acutely felt by teenagers who lose summer jobs and part-time after school jobs. Rabbi Levine stated that this was a positive outcome as young Jewish men and women should be better spending their spare time learning Torah”

    From Marvin Schick

    “As an illustration, are we to reject what liberals advocate regarding a minimum wage? I don�t know a single Orthodox Jew who can make do on what is now the minimum wage”

    Read more: http://www.cross-currents.com/page/7/?s=halacha&cat=plus-5-results#ixzz1MVJB9hQC
    Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

  5. “considering the tradeoff between a living wage and the inevitable jump in unemployment”

    Of course, not discussed is that even those working for less than a living wage in order to survive will be forced to get their bread some other way.

  6. ““As an illustration, are we to reject what liberals advocate regarding a minimum wage? I don�t know a single Orthodox Jew who can make do on what is now the minimum wage””

    There are people who earn at least 10 times the minimum wage who maintain that is not enough for a bare MO lifestyle. See all blogs about tuition crisis etc.

  7. Dr. Levine a’h’ was one of the “lamed-vav”niks at YU and in the NYC area. Y’hi zichro baruch!

  8. I thought of him more as a Hirshian than a TUM type (institutional affiliation not-withstanding).
    He is portrayed in this recollection as putting Torah values above economic ones and whose overriding goal was to show how Torah values can inform secular fields. Not the other way around.

  9. Lawrence Kaplan

    David Kornreich: As if TUM types (like Rabbi Lamm) do not put Torah values above secular ones!

  10. MiMedinat HaYam

    ” I don�t know a single Orthodox Jew who can make do on what is now the minimum wage”

    and i didnt understand how some of my non jewish (former) employees made do on the minimum wage (plus) i paid them. (i have since restructured my business, so no criticism of that.) but they did, and (others) still do so today.

    2. do you want to pay $10 for a hot dog? thats what the non dr levine-niks are advocating.

  11. Shalom Rosenfeld

    So nu, Rabbi Rapp, *yagdil torah v’yaadir*, how had you come out about labor unions? And after seeing Rav Moshe’s teshuva, did you feel his mehalech was superior, or did you agree to disagree?

    (I know it’s the process that counts, but I’m curious about this case’s results.)

  12. “Lawrence Kaplan on May 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm
    David Kornreich: As if TUM types (like Rabbi Lamm) do not put Torah values above secular ones!”

    No Orthodox Jew could put secular values above Torah values.

  13. “Dani Rapp on May 17, 2011 at 8:23 pm
    https://www.torahmusings.com/2011/03/judaism-and-unions/

    One will get a better background and dispute on the issues if the topic would be discussed outside of an obituary-thus a reread of the link is worthwhile.
    In general with many exceptions Economists are influenced by the school/professors that they studied under. Certainly, in general
    those from Chicago with some exception tend to have had different ethics than those from Harvard, MIT, Yale. Certainly Professors Tobin/Samuelson-who BTW were both uncles of Lawrence Sumner- had different viewpoints than Prof Freidman. Geographic location one receiving ones doctorate in a city that was cetainly 40 years ago near the center of the finance industry would tend to have different sympathies than those who were getting a doctorate in Main Street.

  14. Just to make it clear what I read by R Levine was worth reading and cogently argued-just a couple of weeks ago I reread his Living Wage article from Tradition of a couple of years ago. He will be missed even by those of us who only knew him by reading his articles.

  15. Shalom Rosenfeld

    Thank you Rabbi Rapp.

    Forgive my ignorance please, and it’s been a while since I’d seen RM”F’s teshuva — [where] are you disagreeing with him?

  16. Mycroft wrote in part:

    “Certainly, in general
    those from Chicago with some exception tend to have had different ethics than those from Harvard, MIT, Yale.”

    IOW, the Chicago school of economics is far more representative of Milton Friedman & Co. than the Ivies and MIT.

  17. “the Chicago school of economics is far more representative of Milton Friedman & Co. than the Ivies and MIT.”

    True-but Milton Friedman is not necessarily accurate in everything that he writes. He certainly was important in bringing back to mainstream economic thought the issue of money supply-his work with Anna Schwartz a history of money supply in the US is one that I read decades ago-money supply matters as Friedman says but it is not all that matters-BTW a practical problem is that there are much more substitutes for money than there were even 50 years ago.
    I am not sure that you would agree with everything that Friedman advocated such as legalization of drugs and prostitution.
    Friedman was important but not by far everything-money supply does matter but it is not all that matters. Friedman as a scholar is important -but he is probably better known as an ideologue where he and his school of thought are sometimes less respected.
    I might agree with his proposal to eliminate licensing of physicians-but I suspect most of Hirhurim supporters of Friedman’s agenda would not agree with him on that.
    Friedman was opposed to minimum wage and labor unions-from about the end of WW11 the ideas of Friedman were essentailly not followed by American policymakers and we had great improvement of our real incomes-since 1976 we’ve had minimal real increase of our incomes during the time period of Friedman.
    Certainly Halacha doesn’t necessarily follow Friedman-and one must be on guard to not try and read his ideas into our sources.

  18. Just as physicians have no special expertise on medical ethics question other than being able to explain facts-economists have no special expertise on equity questions eg how should pie be split up.
    Eg which is better a policy that enables one person to earn $1,000,000,001 a year and 9999 people zero or one that enables 10,000 people to earn $100,000 each. Obviously, the first policy will have more total dollars earned-but the 2nd policy enables 9999 other people to not starve. afford basic medical care. I think it should be obvious which is a better policy-not sure those interested in running mosdos would agree-they are more likely to getthe money they need/desire from one billionaire than from 10,000 average earners.

  19. Mycroft-thanks for your always astute comments. I merely objected to the use of the term “ethics.” I would add that Halacha probably neither is a model for either the Keynesian nor the Chicago school of economics.

    IMO, it is incorrect to characterize different schools of economics with different POVs as having different sets of “ethics”, as if one is inherently more ethical than another. FWIW, I think that one can find far better illustrations of the Chicago school’s influence and POV in such publications as the WSJ and the writings of Judge Posner than in the cherry picking that you engaged in. Of course, it is important to consider the writings of Hayek when one considers the influences on the Chicago school of economics.

  20. “I would add that Halacha probably neither is a model for either the Keynesian nor the Chicago school of economics. ”

    AGREED!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    BTW proper behavior is more than what halacha lets one recover in a beis din-it is certainly improper behavior to engage in midas Sdom, or behavior which will cause a mishepara. Assuming you mean halacha to include what chazal include as proper behavior even if not recoverable in a beis din I agree that halacha should be our model for behavior.

    “it is incorrect to characterize different schools of economics with different POVs as having different sets of “ethics”, as if one is inherently more ethical than another.”
    well I disagree -if hypothetically one set of ethics would say that society has no obligation to the poor,etc-IMHO Judaic ethics is higher than libertarian ethics.

    “FWIW, I think that one can find far better illustrations of the Chicago school’s influence and POV in such publications as the WSJ ”
    Referring to the WSH editorial and opinion pages-they represent the moneyed classes-in general they will follow the CHicago school but I believe it is a correlation not a causation. The News pages of the WSJ historically have been as straight as possible-probably the most accurate paper in the world.

    “and the writings of Judge Posner ”
    I’ve read many of his books and articles argues cogently-I actually in general like his legal opinions-he was too honest to be appointedto SC when a Republican was in office for the then Jewish seat.

    “than in the cherry picking that you engaged in. ”
    I was limiting myself to Friedman-obviously those who are familiar with Gary Becker-his approach has influenced me greatly over the decades-a lot of my comments in Hirhurim that I get attacked for are simply my following the Chicago school of Gary Becker explaining how people behave.

  21. “Certainly Professors Tobin/Samuelson-who BTW were both uncles of Lawrence Sumner- had different viewpoints than Prof Freidman”

    I received the following e-mail from one of the Baker Street Irregulars-

    “should be “Certainly Professors Arrow/Samuelson-who BTW were both uncles of Lawrence Summers- had different viewpoints than Prof Friedman.” Lawrence’s father anglicized his name from Samuelson to Summers.

    Although he is not related to Arrow/Samuelson/Summers, Tobin’s claims to fame include (i) the Tobit model in statistics is named after him, (ii) he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, and (iii) the character Tobit in The Caine Mutiny is modeled after him. ”

    I was a student of someone who received their doctorate from Prof Tobin-not really important for the blog but a correction of my error.

  22. Mycroft wrote in part:

    “Referring to the WSH editorial and opinion pages-they represent the moneyed classes”

    WADR, there is no more pro Israel editorial and opinion page tnan the WSJ.

  23. To Dr. Kaplan:

    David Kornreich: As if TUM types (like Rabbi Lamm) do (not) put Torah values above secular ones!

    When the TUM crowd advance the birth control option for purely economic reasons they are putting economic values over Torah ones.

    And the name is DOvid.

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