Rabbi Wein.com The Voice of Jewish History

Rabbi Wein’s Weekly Blog
 Printer Friendly


The word partners - shutafim in Hebrew - usually connotes in the mind of the reader or listener a business type of commercial relationship. In Jewish law, the cases of partnership arrangements and their inevitable disputes are many and varied. In fact, the laws of partnerships occupy a large section of the entire code of Jewish civil law as represented in the Choshen Mishpat section of the Shulchan Aruch, the great code of overall Jewish law and custom. As any attorney can tell you, no matter how well drawn and exact a partnership agreement appears on paper, the relationship is governed by the degree and presence of trust and good will amongst the partners. In my experience, first as a lawyer and then as a rabbi, the crisis in partnership arrangements usually arises when the partnership venture is successful and profitable. It is then that the partners each individually feel that the success of the partnership venture is due solely to each one's particular contribution. And, it is then that they begin to resent having to share the profits of the partnership with someone else whom they feel is not really pulling his or her weight. The Talmud, recognizing the inherent difficulties of human nature in holding a partnership venture together for an extended period of time, provided an escape hatch to end the partnership. It is called gud oh agud - you buy me out or I will buy you out of the partnership. Naturally, since matters of price and other thorny details are yet to be negotiated, this relatively simple formula in theory becomes very complicated in practice. Hence, the enormous amount of case law on this subject in the works of Jewish scholarship over the ages.

However, Jewish thought and tradition makes place for other types of partnerships as well. And even though these partnerships do not occupy the space in the legal tomes that the commercial partnerships do, they are ultimately more important and vital than the commercial relationships, which usually come to mind when one speaks of partnerships. Marriage is seen in Jewish tradition as a partnership - a three-way partnership. The Talmud describes it in that fashion, the three partners being the man, the woman and the Creator Who fashioned them. This partnership is the basis of Jewish survival, the bedrock of society, and the eternal hope for a better future for all of humankind. This partnership is also built upon good will, understanding, adjustments to the wants and needs of others and mutual love and respect. Judaism always contended that bringing the third partner - the Lord - into the partnership, as an active participant would ensure a more harmonious relationship between the other two partners. The partnership of marriage, like all partnerships is subject to dissolution, as Judaism provides for divorce. Nevertheless, the traditional Jewish view of marriage is that it should be viewed as an eternal partnership.

Another type of partnership well publicized in Jewish life is the proverbial Yissachar/Zevulun partnership. Zevulun was the merchant tribe of the Jews while Yissachar was the tribe that devoted itself to full-time Torah study. Zevulun supported Yissachar physically and financially while Yissachar agreed to share its heavenly reward for its Torah study equally with Zevulun. This arrangement has been replicated many times in Jewish history. Rambam and his brother David had such an arrangement. It ended only when David was tragically drowned at sea in a shipwreck. There are many such Yissachar/Zevulun relationships active in the Jewish world today. A case could be made that the active support of yeshivot in the Israeli government's budget is also an example of this kind of physical/spiritual partnership. I don't know if either of the partners to this seemingly political arrangement here in Israel view it as a partnership with such supernatural overtones, but many times in life one does not always realize the true benefit that can eventually accrue to one's self in entering a partnership arrangement. In any event, all partnerships with Torah students have an eternal quality attached to them.

Berel Wein

Subscribe to our blog via email or RSS to get more posts like this one.