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Pure SJW territory

‘Social Justice Warrior,’ the social media label that mocks liberals, has roots in the Torah, where it’s a good thing

Look here!

No, seriously, that’s what this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, literally means: Look! See! Observe! Over its 126 verses (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17) and 55 mitzvot, Re’eh covers a lot of ground. And much of it is pure SJW territory.

“SJW,” which in online insult “culture” stands for Social Justice Warrior, has become an epithet for liberals and leftists. Caring for the less fortunate is controversial nowadays, so why not mock people for it?

But the title of this post could very well stand for: Social Justice — Why That’s Frum. Frum, religious, mitzvah-observant, traditionally Jewish… these are terms which, for some odd reason, are considered to be antithetical to Social Justice Warrior status, but it is quite thetical. OK, that’s not a word, but let’s talk about the words which do pop up, over and over, in Re’eh.

Parts Hand 17
Eye 8
Heart 4
Participants Brother/ Sister 10
Sons 10
Daughters 6
Manservant 11
Maidservant 5
Levite (Teacher)
Pauper 6
Stranger 4
Orphan 3
Widow 3
Poor 2
Foreigner 2
Participles Giving 10
Rejoicing 7
Remitting 6
Granting/ Lending 6
Opening 4

It’s not that Re’eh doesn’t talk about ritualistic aspects of Judaism; it’s just that everything in it has a social-justice element. The idolatry which is harshly condemned throughout the Torah is finally explained (13:29): “You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every taboo (to’avat) thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.” The fight against ancient paganism is not about theological debates, but the abuse of the defenseless. Just as God’s angel told Abraham on Mt. Moriah “Set not your hand against the boy,” we must do the same as God’s children and representatives (14:1-2).

The laws of keeping kosher are set down, but they are bookended in the following way (14:3, 21): “You shall not eat anything taboo (to’eva)… You shall not eat anything that has died naturally. You may give it to the stranger who is within your towns, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.” The dietary laws are not about creating an ethnically pure society, but inculcating values.

How punctilious we frum are when it comes to separating meat and milk, when it comes to denouncing foreign forms of worship. But when it comes to matters of social justice, should we mock and deride? Re’eh should make us open our eyes.

About the Author
Yoseif Bloch is a rabbi who has taught at Yeshivat HaKotel, Yeshivat Har Etzion and Yeshivat Shvilei Hatorah and served as a congregational rabbi in Canada. He currently works as an editor, translator and publisher. As a blogger and podcaster, he is known as Rabbi Joe in Jerusalem.
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