Many people find the notion that monetary considerations should play a role in religious teachings demeaning. Religious issues should not be "tainted" by the all powerful dollar, by the intrusion of the secular unto the holy. Such an argument is foreign to Judaism on both practical and ideological grounds. Like it or not most of life's key decisions are greatly impacted by financial considerations. We spend most of our waking hours engaged in the pursuit of money - a pursuit that can have much religious value. It should not be surprising that there are more mitzvoth related to the economic sphere that to any other in Judaism. We need much guidance in this crucial area of life.
By examining a person's relationship to money, how they earn it, how they spend it and with whom they share it we gain insight into one's true character. With character development arguably the fundamental goal of Judaism, and considering the role of money in such development, we can readily understand the Talmudic assertion that G-d's judgment begins with an examination of our monetary dealings. All this should come as no surprise to the religious thinker.
What may be surprising to some is that the way in which Jewish law is applied varies depending on the financial status of the questioner. We are not discussing only charity obligations or monies one should spend beautifying our mitzvoth. This "flexibility" includes such areas as what foods one may eat or even aspects of Shabbat observance. An accidental mixing of meat and milk might be permissible for one yet forbidden to another, the determining factor being their financial means.
"The Torah takes mercy on the money of the Jewish people" is a hallowed principle of Jewish law. It highlights the fact that Jewish law is both an art and a science. While technical data and proficiency are the basic building blocks of any legal ruling socioeconomic, cultural and communal factors refine the ruling so that it is properly applied to the questioner given their particular set of circumstances.
Despite its importance, the aforementioned principle should not be misunderstood. Its applicability is limited to rabbinic law and to cases of biblical law in which a generally rejected interpretation is accepted due to extreme financial hardship. Financial considerations play no role when an explicit biblical law is being violated; only potential danger to life can serve as a mandate to override the law. One should not be critical of those who due to financial considerations gave up much of Jewish law - we can not be certain how we might act in a similarly desperate situation. However the heroic efforts of those immigrants to North America whose refusal to work on Shabbat forced them to look for new jobs every Monday, must inspire us who thankfully can, with ease, take off work for "religious reasons".
Monetary considerations play an even greater role in decisions affecting the people of Israel. Thus many rabbinic authorities have authorized the "selling of the land" of Israel during the Sabbatical year (which we are currently in). Initially the sale enabled the 19 th century settlers of the land to remain in Israel - ceasing work on the land for a year would have meant emigration from the land; today it serves to prevent the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars to the Israeli economy. Additionally there is the political angle - a factor that must not be overlooked in questions affecting the State of Israel. Without use of this legal loophole, allowing farmers to work the land and sell the produce grown, food must be imported from Gaza thereby providing funds to those who continue to terrorize our people.