Paul Ryan Takes On Maimonides

Paul Ryan was being callous and absurd. “Don’t feed fish” is a mean and selfish response to a very old and eloquent proverb, but there is another layer to this story. The quote, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” is attributed to Moses Maimonides (Rambam) and it is likely related to his Ladder of Tzedakah, which means righteousness and charity.

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There is a strange irony in the fact that Ryan chose to twist a quote that is attributed to Maimonides into a rhetorical and ideological weapon on the day of Yom Kippur, which is not only a very important Jewish high-holiday, but a holy day that has been heavily influenced and shaped by Maimonides’s teachings. Maimonides was a 12th-century physician and philosopher, who codified Jewish law, and unlike Paul Ryan and his budget, Maimonides was in no way saying: ‘don’t give a man a fish so that he may go hungry today.’ I can’t think of a single religion that would praise such a teaching. That sounds like Ayn Rand, not Maimonides.

In his Laws about Giving to Poor People, Chapter 10:7–14, Maimonides argued that the highest degree of charity is to support those in need through a gift, an interest-free loan, partnership in business, and help until they are no longer dependent upon others, and this was not the only degree of charity that he defined. There are eight degrees of giving on Rambam’s Ladder.

Moreover, Yom Kippur is a holiday in which Maimonides’s teachings are highly pronounced. It is a day of self-reflection, repentance, and atonement, which are all subjects that Rambam wrote about. It is a day on which the Jewish tradition is to fast and to ask of one’s self how we as individuals can become better people to ourselves, to others, and to God; how we can change and become more righteous in spirit, thought, and action.

I’m not posting this to preach, but only to offer context to the quote that Paul Ryan twisted into an ideological weapon and to agree with Rev. Sharpton that Ryan was throwing overboard the woman who told him of her financial hardships and all who struggle in our country. His statement was an abandonment of his responsibilities as a Member of Congress and a rejection of basic moral character.

On the surrounding walls within the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives there are decorative images of the faces of philosophers from legal history. Maimonides is up there, and so is Moses. In fact, Moses is the only face that is not in profile and his eyes are aimed at the Speaker’s chair. I support the separation of church and state, but in terms of symbolism and mythology, as it is inscribed on Maimonides’s tomb in Tiberias: “From Moses to Moses there were none like Moses.”

Basically, Paul Ryan: #Fail.

For more on Moses Maimonides:

Wikipedia: The Rambam:


Architect of the Capitol:


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