Poverty and support for the poor are central concepts of rabbinic Judaism. The significance of support for the poor is established already in the earliest stratum of rabbinic literature, the tannaitic corpus, which took shape in Roman Palestine in the early third century C.E. To illuminate rabbinic Judaism’s foundational texts on this central topic, it is crucial to examine the perspective from which they were authored. What was the socio-economic position of the tannaim who authored and redacted these texts and how did this influence their teachings on the poor and support for the poor? Scholars have been divided as to whether the tannaim were wealthy or poor, and have heretofore overlooked the question of how their economic standing shaped their ideas on support for the poor. This paper answers these questions by focusing on compilations from the tannaitic corpus (especially Mishnah Peah and Tosefta Peah), which I read as redacted works within the context of third-century Roman Palestine. I find that the early rabbinic movement included those who were wealthy as well as individuals who lived at middling economic levels. Moreover, the tannaim view the poor as Others – that is, as non-rabbis – who demarcate the socio-economic boundaries of the rabbinic movement. The poor were also objectified as instruments that were needed for the rabbis and their audience to properly fulfill certain religious obligations.


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pp. 515-536
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