It is Inspiring When Jews Can Agree on Somthing

Jews disagreeing is not news.

When the entire organized Jewish community speaks with a similar voice on an important issue, THAT’s news.

In the past week, vocal opposition has been growing to the separation of families at the border. Under the policy implemented in recent months, every illegal migrant who crosses the United States border is prosecuted and detained. Since children cannot be prosecuted with adults, they are reclassified as unaccompanied minors, separated from their parents, and taken either to mass children’s shelters or foster homes.

Numerous religious groups have opposed the policy. In recent days, the Southern Baptist Convention and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have criticized these actions. In the Jewish community, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) spearheaded a letter that was signed by more than two dozen Jewish groups from across the communal spectrum.

Breaking apart families is just plain wrong, and it is not in accordance with Jewish values. As the Jewish communal letter states:

“As Jews, we understand the plight of being an immigrant fleeing violence and oppression. We believe that the United States is a nation of immigrants and how we treat the stranger reflects on the moral values and ideals of this nation…

Our Jewish faith demands of us concern for the stranger in our midst. Our own people’s history as “strangers” reminds us of the many struggles faced by immigrants today and compels our commitment to an immigration system in this country that is compassionate and just. We urge you to immediately rescind the “zero tolerance” policy and uphold the values of family unity and justice on which our nation was built.”

Initially, the letter included only one Orthodox signatory – Uri L’Tzedek, The Orthodox Social Justice Movement.

What about other Orthodox organizations? Where was the voice of my community on this matter? This is not an issue fraught with ambiguity. This is not a question of whether or not one supports President Trump. This is about families. This is about children.

Has our community really reached a point where we can’t find common ground to speak jointly on an issue on which we feel strongly has a Jewish point of view? Is this another manifestation of our hyper-politicized environment? Can those who are more favorably inclined towards the Trump Administration not join in criticizing a policy which so clearly goes against our religious values?

Thankfully, it was only a matter of time. The Orthodox Union (OU) issued a statement expressing concern regarding “any steps taken that affect families and the parent/child relationship” and reported on their raising this issue in a private meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The next day, the OU added its name to the letter. Yesterday, Agudath Israel of America, which represents some of the more traditional elements within the Orthodox community, added its voice of “deep concern and disappointment over the recently adopted policy of separating the members of families who have entered the United States illegally…We implore that the policy be immediately rescinded, and that affected families be reunited.”

Neis gadol haya po – A great miracle has happened here! The Jewish world can still unite and speak with moral clarity.

The Jewish community has spoken out together in defense of the sacredness of the family unit. Regardless of the complexity of addressing the issue of illegal immigration in this country, it is encouraging to see Jewish communal leaders – along with thousands of individual Jews – making a unified statement on an important national issue.

How can we make the moment last?

I wish I had the magic formula. I do think that a little more humility might help.

The issues confronting the Jewish community and the world today are complex, and our community is more diverse with very little middle ground remaining for genuine discourse. The battle for the hearts and minds of our community – and our children – will not be won with angry pronouncements. We can be committed to our own views, but we are stronger when we include consideration and discussion with those who maintain an opposing view. Even while disagreeing on other fronts, we need to find the confidence to speak out together when we agree that Judaism has a position that adds to the public discourse.

About the Author
Rabbi Elie Weinstock is Rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City. A believer in a Judaism that is accessible to all, he prefers "Just Judaism" to any denominational label.