Steve Jobs (z”l)
As I was in the final stages of preparing for Yom Kippur, Steve Jobs passed away. After thinking of his family’s suffering and loss and his tremendous importance to the world of technology, I am sure every rabbi in the country had the same thought: “Do I mention him in my High Holyday remarks?” I always had a tremendous amount of respect for Jobs as an innovator and a businessman. In addition, he was very much a self-made man, which I admire. However, after much thought, I decided not to change my sermons. I did not know Jobs personally, nor did I I feel it appropriate to eulogize him in shul.
Over the course of the following two days leading up to Yom Kippur, I was surprised by the number of articles that popped up criticizing Jobs, particularly his philanthropic giving. Just google “Steve Jobs” and “philanthropy” together in a query and you will find a large number of articles criticizing Jobs for not giving more of his immense wealth to charity. Other pieces fault him for being brusque. Some of my rabbinic colleagues even posted messages on Facebook stating that his personality and dearth of giving were reasons to omit Job’s passing from our High Holyday remarks. I was appalled by these articles and comments.
Regarding charity: Judaism, most famously through the tzedekah pyramid laid out by Maimonides, places a premium on anonymous giving. It is considered to be one of the highest levels of tzedakah. I don’t have any way to know whether Jobs gave money to tzedekah or not, but I do know it is not my place to judge. I would have loved to have seen Jobs join the Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge, but his refusal should not be taken as absolute proof of anything. Regarding his personality: I never met Jobs (probably like most of the authors who felt their criticism was appropriate) nor do I have any real knowledge of his personality beyond what I read on the internet. What I do know is that Jobs made an indelible mark on our world through his work. He changed the lives of many, evidenced by the public outpouring of sadness after his death on Facebook, Twitter, and the internet as a whole. The mishnah tells us in Avot that we should always judge people favorably. It is befitting of every Jew to give Jobs the benefit of the doubt regarding his philanthropy and character until definitively proven wrong and leave judgment to the one true Judge. Avot also teaches that there is something to learn from everyone. Certainly we can all learn from Jobs’ work ethic, dedication, creativity, and perseverance. May his memory be a blessing to his family, to all who knew him, and to us all.
Rabbi Philip Ohriner