I am a child of refugees. With Auschwitz and forced labor behind them, my parents languished for two years in a Displaced Refugee camp in Stuttgart, Germany. Visas were hard to come by. Neither of my parents had a learned skill. Neither had finished high school amidst the disruption of war. Such visas during the war were even harder to obtain, because of the fear that spies might enter as Jews. Consequently, Anne Frank’s family applied and were denied such an entry visa. My parents had extended family who signed affidavits of financial support, enabling a new beginning. Their gratitude to America was strong and consistent.
We will maintain a welcoming synagogue for all political persuasions. And yet, Judaism is not value free. The Conservative Movement and my alma mater, the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), have responded to the recent ban on refugees from seven Moslem nations. I share the letter that I received today, which also includes the Rabbinical Assembly’s statement.
In the days ahead, I do not intend to speak directly about politics from the bimah, namely supporting a particular party or political leader. And yet, it is our sacred challenge to explore Jewish and American values and to ask how those values guide our lives and the life of our nation.
Blessings, Your rabbi.
JTS Statement on the Presidential Executive Order Banning Immigration from Seven Muslim Countries
“This is no time for neutrality. We Jews cannot remain aloof or indifferent. We, too, are either ministers of the sacred or slaves of evil.”
—JTS Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel
The Jewish Theological Seminary has joined with other institutions of the Conservative Movement in condemning President Trump’s executive order banning immigration from Syria, Iraq, Iran, and four other Muslim countries. We were proud to do so. But as a preeminent institution of American Judaism, which has produced religious leaders for our beloved country and other countries for more than 130 years, we feel compelled to speak in our own voice in the face of this pernicious attack on the fundamental values of our tradition.
Let us be clear: there is no religious obligation more central to Judaism than the protection of refugees and immigrants. “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:20). According to the Rabbis of the Talmud, the Torah admonishes us no fewer than 36 times to treat those who are foreign born with fairness and compassion. No other commandment is repeated so often.
The president’s executive order flies in the face of that biblical principle—a principle upon which this country was founded and which has enriched the United States with a diversity of cultures, intellectual achievements, and artistic accomplishments. As an institution of higher learning, JTS has benefitted immeasurably from foreign born scholars who joined the faculty of JTS and contributed to its standing as one of the great institutions of religious scholarship in North America. We continue to attract students and visiting faculty from abroad and our community is richer as a result. The attack on immigration is an attack on the intellectual life of this country and on all institutions of higher education that nurture that life.
We stand with our Muslim neighbors, both here and abroad, for we are all neighbors in this ever shrinking globe. Religious prejudice as reflected in words and policies is a desecration of God’s name and holiness. We will not abide it. “Spiritual betrayal on the part of one of us affects the faith of all of us,” said Professor Heschel.
We stand with those who have courageously protested this assault on our values. In particular, we applaud those in the president’s own party who have denounced this executive order, pointing out that the ban will not advance our country’s security interests but may very well undermine them. We appeal to those who rejected these policies during the primary elections but have fallen silent in the wake of the executive order, to find their voice once again in the face of this injustice. This is no time for neutrality.
And finally, we stand with the courts and the other institutions of justice in this land that are fulfilling their sacred obligations to protect the United States from unconstitutional discrimination, religious bigotry, and oppression. As the federal district court for the Eastern District of New York held, the executive order imposes irreparable harm upon those it has targeted. Unless it is rescinded, it will also impose irreparable harm on our country, its values, and its standing in the world.
We will not stand idly by, nor will we be silent in the face of this injustice.
The Jewish Theological Seminary
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