Monday, February 11, 2013

On raising the minimum wages in New Mexico- remarks on Feb. 11, 2013 to the Las Cruces City Council

 I was studying an ancient text today called Pirkei Avot, the wisdom of the sage, a collection of sayings of the rabbis of 1700-2000 years ago.   One of the sayings that I came upon this morning in my preparations for a class at Temple are relevant for this discussion. 
It is likely that you may have heard the word “tithe,” which means, literally, to set aside a tenth of what you earn for charitable and, even holy purposes.  Jacob Neusner, a professor who wrote the book from which I was studying, asked, “When you give away a tenth of the money you  earn in order to help someone else and your community, are you richer or poorer?   On the one hand, you could say you are poorer, because of the mere fact that you have less money.  But since when do we think about rich and poor only in terms of money?  Neusner concluded that when there is a higher purpose for giving, you are actually richer for what you have done.
    I was reading about the annual salary amount that results from minimum wage – where the conclusion was that such a salary would still put the employee below the poverty level if that was the only job he or she worked.  Does that approach – of an employer or a society – make us rich or poor?   

The Bible teaches that an employer should treat an employee with respect and provide for his or her needs.   Not only the bible – but human decency – demands that such principles be at the basis of what we do.   I urge you to include this approach to human values in your deliberations. 

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