Poor This word, in the Scriptures, often denotes not so much a man destitute of the good things of this world, as a man sensible of his spiritual wants. In this sense the greatest and richest men of the world are on a level with the poorest in the eyes of God. In the following treatment of the subject we combine the Scriptural and the Talmudic information.
I. Hebrew and Greek terms so rendered in the A. V. These are:
1. אֶביוֹן, ebyôn (Sept. πτωχός; Vulg. pauper);
2. דִּל, dal (πένης; pauper);
3. חֵלכָה, chelekâh (πτωχός; pauper);
4. מַסכֵּן, misken (πένης; pauper), a word of later usage;
5. עֲנִָה, anrah, Chald. (Da 4:27) (πένης; pauper); from same root as,
6. עָנַי, 2ani, the word most usually "poor" in A. V. (πενιχρός, πτωχός πένης; indigens, pauper. Also Zec 9:9, and Isa 26:6, πρύς; pauper);
7. רשׁ, rosh, part. of רוּשׁ (ταπεινός; pauper). In 2Sa 12:1, רָאשׁ; πένης, πτωχός.
8. Poverty; מִחַסוֹר machsor, lack (ἐνδεία; egestas). In the N.T., πτωχός, pauper, and πένης; egenus, once only (2Co 9:9). "Poor" is also used in the sense of "afflicted," "humble," etc., e.g. Mt 5:3.
II. Jewish Enactments. — The general kindly spirit of the law towards the poor is sufficiently shown by such passages as De 15:7, for the reason that (ver. 11) "the poor shall never cease out of the land;" and a remarkable agreement with some of its directions is expressed in Job 20:19; Job 24:3 sq., where among acts of oppression are particularly mentioned "taking (away) a pledge," and withholding the sheaf from the poor (vers. 9, 10; 29:12, 16; 31:17), "eating with" the poor (comp. De 26:12, etc.). See also such passages as Eze 18:12,16-17; Eze 22:29; Jer 5:28; Jer 22:13,16; Isa 10:2; Am 2:7; Zec 7:10, and Ecclus. 4:1, 4; 7:32; Tobit 12:8, 9. SEE ALMS. Among the special enactments in their favor the following must be mentioned:
1. The right of gleaning. The "corners" of the field were not to be reaped, nor all the grapes of the vineyard to be gathered, the olive-trees not to be beaten a second time, but the stranger, fatherless, and widow to be allowed to gather what was left. So, too, if a sheaf forgotten was left in the field, the owner was not to return for it, but leave it for them (Le 19:9-10; De 24:19,21). Of the practice in such cases in the times of the Judges the story of Ruth is a striking illustration (Ru 2:2, etc.). SEE CORNER; SEE GLEANING.
2. From the produce of the land in sabbatical years the poor and the stranger were to have their portion (Ex 23:11; Le 25:6).
3. Re-entry upon land in the jubilee year, with the limitation as to town homes (Le 25:25-30). SEE JUBILEE.
4. Prohibition of usury, and of retention of pledges, i.e. loans without interest enjoined (Le 25:35,37; Ex 22:25-27; De 7:8; De 24:10-13). SEE LOAN.
5. Permanent bondage forbidden, and manumission of Hebrew bondsmen or bondswomen enjoined in the sabbatical and jubilee years, even when bound to a foreigner, and redemption of such previous to those years (De 15:12-15; Le 25:39-42,47-54). SEE SLAVERY.
6. Portions from the tithes to be shared by the poor after the Levites (De 14:28; De 26:12-13). SEE TITHES.
7. The poor to partake in entertainments at the feasts of Weeks and Tabernacles (De 16:11,14; see Ne 8:10).
8. Daily payment of wages (Le 19:13). On the other hand, while equal justice was commanded to be done to the poor man, he was not allowed to take advantage of his position to obstruct the administration of justice (Ex 23:3; Le 19:15).
On the law of gleaning the Rabbinical writers founded a variety of definitions and refinements, which, notwithstanding their minute and frivolous character, were on the whole strongly in favor of the poor. They are collected in the treatise of Maimonides's Mithnoth Anim, translated by Prideaux (Ugolino, 8:721), and specimens of their character will appear in the following titles: There are, he says, thirteen precepts, seven affirmative and six negative, gathered from Le 19; Le 23; De 14; De 15; De 24. On these the following questions are raised and answered: What is a "corner," a "handful?" What is to "forget" a sheaf? What is a "stranger?" What is to be done when a field or a single tree belongs to two persons;
and further, when one of them is a Gentile, or when it is divided by a road or by water; when insects or enemies destroy the crop? How much grain must a man give by way of alms? Among prohibitions is one forbidding any proprietor to frighten away the poor by a savage beast. An Israelite is forbidden to take alms openly from a Gentile. Unwilling almsgiving is condemned, on the principle expressed in Job 30:25. Those who gave less than their due proportion were to be punished. Mendicants are divided into two classes, settled Door and vagrants. The former were to be relieved by the authorized collectors but all are enjoined to maintain themselves if possible. Lastly, the claim of the poor to the portions prescribed is laid down as a positive right.
Principles similar to those laid down by Moses are inculcated in the N.T., as Lu 3; Lu 11; Lu 14:13; Ac 6:1; Ga 2:10; Jas 2:15. In later times mendicancy, which does not appear to have been contemplated by Moses, became frequent. Instances actual or hypothetical may be seen in the following passages: Mr 10:46; Lu 16:20-21; Lu 18:35; Joh 9:8; Ac 3:2. SEE BEGGAR.
But notwithstanding this, the prophets often complain of the prevalent hardheartedness towards the poor, and especially of judicial oppression practiced upon them (Isa 10:2; Am 2:7; Jer 5:28; Eze 22:29; Zec 7:10). Among the later Jews kindness to the poor was regarded as a prominent virtue (Job 29:16; Job 30:25; Job 31:19 sq.; Tobit 2:15; 4:11; 12:9; Lu 19:8), and pharisaic self-righteousness often took this form (comp. Mt 6:2; Otho, Lex. Rabb. p. 512). SEE ALMS. Beggars, in the proper sense, are unknown in the Mosaic economy (De 15:4; comp. Michaelis. Hos. Recht, 2, 456 sq.), yet such extremity of want is threatened in Ps 109:10 as a punishment from God. In the New Testament, however, they are mentioned, as Mr 10:46; Lu 18:35; Joh 9:8; Ac 3:2, but only in the case of infirm persons.
On the whole subject, besides the treatise above named, see Mishna, Ieah, 1, 2-5; 2, 7; Pesach. 4, 8; Selden, De Jure Natur. 6, 6, p. 735, etc.; Saalschütz. Archaöl. d. Heb. 2, 256; Michaelis, vol. 2, § 142, p. 248; Otho, Lex. Rabb. p. 308. SEE POVERTY.