Judaism and Social Justice

Judaism is a religion that promotes social justice. We are taught to be giving throughout the year. During the high holidays in the “Unetane Tokef” prayer we recite the words: “Repentance, Prayer and Charity annul the evil decree”. On Sukkot, we invite “Ushpizin”, spiritual “virtual” guests as well as physical guests into our sukkot. On Purim we give “mishloach manot”, gifts to friends as well as “matanot l’evyonim”, gifts to the poor. On Pesach we invite all who are hungry to come and eat and the list can go on and on.

We are involved in social justice during life cycle events as well. The mitzvah of “hachnasat kallah”, provides whatever is needed for a poor bride to have a respectable wedding and the mitzvah of “levayat hamet” makes sure that everyone has a proper burial.

On a daily basis we are obligated in honoring parents, visiting the sick and doing “gmilut chasadim”, acts of loving kindness.

In Parshat Ki Tetzei, we see many mitzvot that protect the convert, orphan and widow especially when it comes to how they are treated in court.

Our parsha also teaches us the mitzvah of shichecha: if we are reaping and forget a sheaf in the field, we may not return and take it. Rather, we are commanded to leave it for the convert, widow or orphan, who were often poor as they did not have anyone to take care of them.

Today the mitzvah of shichecha may not be as relevant as many of us do not have fields, yet the message is very clear. Rashi explains that if we are blessed for unintentionally dropping a sheaf and not returning to pick it up, then we will be even more blessed if we drop something such as a coin intentionally so that a poor person may find it.

Acts of social justice are not limited to our own backyards. Exactly three years ago, during the Tzuk Eitan war, Rabbi Barry Gelman came to Israel on behalf of his congregation in Houston to help us deliver packages to the wounded soldiers in Israel’s hospitals. In a strange turn of events, now in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the Houston community needs Israel’s assistance and many Israeli groups have already gone to Houston to help out.

Delivering packages to Israel's wounded soldiers with Rabbi Barry Gelman during Tzuk Eitan.
Delivering packages to Israel’s wounded soldiers with Rabbi Barry Gelman during Tzuk Eitan.

Social justice is not new to Judaism and the concept really affects every moment of our lives. Whether it is a holiday, life cycle event or natural disaster we must continue to help those in need in our own communities and throughout the world.


About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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