Q. Are Jews allowed by the Torah to be materialistic?
A. Judaism believes that material possessions are legitimate, provided that:
1. The ultimate source is seen as God: one must not boast, “My strength and capacity gained me this wealth” (Deut. 8:17).
2. They are acquired honestly without making other people suffer: “Woe to them that join house to house… till there be no room (for others)” (Isa. 5:8; cf. Prov. 10:2, 11:4).
3. They do not become an end in themselves: “Let not the rich man glory in his riches. but that he understands and knows Me,… says the Lord” (Jer. 9:22-23; cf. Prov. 11:28).
4. They are not used only for one’s own benefit but for the benefit of society; wealth is a trust and man is a trustee (Haggai 2:8, Deut. 15:17-8). Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote, “Whatever we receive from this world… is only a loan granted to us to help us to strive for and bring about those goals by means of which we advance the welfare of God’s world” (Commentary on Pirkei Avot).
Neither poverty nor affluence is a disgrace. Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, editor of the Mishnah, showed honour to rich people (Eruv. 86a), presumably because their affluence helped to maintain the community.