Today’s Jam

I am a new mom and after a three-month parental leave from work it is time for me to return to the office. My partner and I have been interviewing several potential caregivers, and we just met a person we really like. She is warm, bright, and has excellent references from the last two families for whom she worked. The only issue is that this young woman’s visa just expired and she does not plan on renewing it in the near future because it would likely require her to leave the US with no guarantee of readmission. Further, while she would be safe in her native country, this woman has far better opportunities for work and education in the U.S. What do you recommend we do?

Shmuly Yanklowitz says…

Shmuly Yanklowitz founded Uri L'Tzedek and is the Rabbi of Kehilath Israel

I really sympathize with you here. You are clearly struggling as a new mom, a working parent, and a thoughtful member of society with a real moral dilemma.

There is a tension here.

On the one hand, we are required by Jewish law to follow the law of the land (dina d’malchuta dina). It is so important that Jews are outstanding citizens and are law obedient.

On the other hand, we are required as Jews to be compassionate toward others and not to discriminate. This is all the more true when we’re dealing with one as vulnerable as an undocumented worker. Immigrants are incredibly vulnerable in the U.S. and are often living in fear and poverty. When we encounter a worker needing support in our broken system, we ought to do all we can to support them (Exodus 22:20).

Many good people are in a similar situation and have made choices going both ways here. There are moral consequences to either choice. What matters most is that whoever you hire you treat with the highest dignity and respect. Too often, domestic workers are mistreated (especially when they’re undocumented and unprotected by law).

If I were in this situation, I would do what’s best for my family (hire the right caregiver) and what’s right for the caregiver (treating her well). As for the continued immigration paperwork, that is up to the caregiver to complete as needed and we must do all we can to abide by the law and encourage others to do so as well.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO ofThe Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.”

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg says…

J Wittenberg Headshot

For some context, I live in Britain where the process of applying for visas is different.

As it happens, when my wife was going back to work we encountered a similar situation. We offered someone a position but it quickly became clear that he didn’t have or intend to obtain a work permit. We felt bound as British citizens and as Jews to obey the law of the land, as Shmuly mentioned above. This was heightened by the fact that we’re a rabbinic household, open to particular scrutiny.

I’d like to add a rider. People are quick to judge asylum-seekers and immigrants. There’s too much sympathy with the cry of ‘Keep them out!’ This was the sin of Sodom: its citizens were rich but refused to share their wealth and left strangers to starve in the street. Both Jewish law and historical experience mandate compassion towards outsiders, because we were ‘once strangers in Egypt’. I think of Sodom whenever I hear the expression ‘Fortress Europe’.

We have an obvious duty to support asylum-seekers against the threat of deportation to places where they face persecution or death. We shouldn’t be quick to judge ‘economic migrants’ either. That’s how many of our grandparents came to America and Europe. Who wouldn’t want a better future for their children?

Our applicant had charm, had been in work until now and had opportunities elsewhere. Had he been destitute, we’d have felt a responsibility to help him somehow.

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg is the Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism in the United Kingdom and Rabbi of the New North London Synagogue, with approximately 2400 members.

Rabbi Toba Spitzer says…

Toba Spitzer

I agree with elements of both Jonathan and Shmuly’s responses, and I find myself tending to agree with Shmuly’s prescription, and want to emphasize his point about the vulnerability of domestic workers, and the importance of treating them well. My caveat would be that, not being an immigration or employment lawyer, I do not know the legal implications for an individual knowingly hiring an undocumented worker.  While the mess that is the U.S. immigration system inclines me to say that in this case the dina d’malkhuta is so flawed as to merit exceptions, I would ask the family if they feel comfortable putting themselves at potential legal risk by hiring this young woman (and so I would recommend consulting someone with expertise in this realm).

The last thing I would add is that this case highlights the need for immigration reform, and a path to citizenship for someone like this young woman, if that is what she desires.  Whatever the new mother decides—and since either decision will involve some moral damage, either in terms of not giving the woman the job or knowingly flouting the law—it might be a kind of tikkun (repair) to accompany that decision with some action to further the cause of immigration reform.

Toba Spitzer is the Rabbi of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek in West Newton, Massachusetts and was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

Now, what do YOU say?

How do we navigate between the principles of ethical conduct handed down to us through Jewish tradition with the (secular) laws of the land? Do our answers change if we regard either (or elements of both) to be unjust? How have our experiences as members of an immigrant community shaped our attitudes and opinions on this case? We welcome your thoughts in the comments section below.

And of course, if you have a dilemma you’d like us to address in the Ethical Jam, send it to EthicalJam@timesofisrael.com

Ethical Jam is a project of the Center for Global Judaism of Hebrew College, Newton Centre, Massachusetts, which is working to create a rich pluralistic discourse on issues of vital concern to the Jewish community and to the world at large.

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