We learn in Gemara Megillah 17B that the ninth bracha of Shmone Esre, Birchat Hashanim, was instituted in interpretation of David Hamelech’s tefila in Tehilim to break the power of the wicked by providing a generous harvest so that food prices cannot be raised by the wealthy over the poor.
Birchat Hashanim is really a Tefilla against high food prices. An idea that might seem silly to some people, but shouldn’t seem silly now.
The idea was that if you had a large bountiful harvest that price gouging would become impossible. The problem was that David Hamelech never had to deal with Hasgachas. Breaking the power of the wicked is a lot tougher, because no matter how plentiful food is, you can always raise prices in the frum world.
As I wrote not long ago Gefilte fish has passed 7 dollars. Now that’s junk fish scraps. Anything with beef in it is sky high, even if it’s beef patties which run anywhere from between 5 to 8 dollars a pound. Again junk meat and scraps. Beef franks are somewhere in the half of that range at 2.50 to 5 bucks.
Are those real prices or are they jacked up prices? I don’t work in the industry so I have no idea, but I have my doubts.
The problem is that the days when the Rabbis viewed economic fairness as part of their role are done. They ended some time in Europe. Today’s Rabbis don’t interfere in business or in price gouging. After all the rich make money, they give tzedaka and that’s supposed to even everything out. Except it doesn’t.
Tzedaka was never the ideal. Tzedaka serves to correct a problem that exists, but the ideal is to help lift up the burden on the donkey before the donkey falls under it. Which was why Chazal stepped in against economic exploitation. When the Kohanim jacked up the prices of Korbanot, Chazal reduced the number of required Korbanot. The Kohanim folded. The people won.
Using Birchat Hashanim as a prayer against economic exploitation in food prices is part and parcel of what Chazal stood for. Hasgachas, particularly chumras in Hasgachas, mean you can expect to pay higher prices no matter how plentiful the food is.
I’m all for Hasgachas when necessary. I’m all for buying from fellow Jews first, but not at the cost of lining some bigshot’s pockets so he can then give a fraction of that money to some Yeshiva and get a plaque for it. That is not how Chazal wanted a Jewish society to work.
They wanted a just society in which you had to give less Tzedaka because there were less people who needed it, not a society where the rich could squeeze people and then dole out a fraction of that money to Yeshivas and the poor. That’s a hypocritical system and it’s a bad one. It’s the Christian order we lived among for too long, the one that venerates the “poor” by keeping them poor while the clergy and the rich make the occasional gesture and benefit. It’s not a Jewish system.