Sounding Board:Faith leaders share faith teachings on migration
Jewish teachings on immigrants and refugees relate to Jewish experiences as immigrants and refugees through the ages. They speak to Jewish experiences in the 20th century, leaving Eastern Europe in the early 1920s and 1930s, and leaving Arab countries fleeing persecution. They also connect to the mass migration in the 1930s and 1940s before and after World War II.
Most of the people in our community and other communities have a story to tell of ancestors being or having been immigrants or refugees.
It’s powerful to look at texts about Abraham as the first Jew going forth from the land (Gen 12:1) to the land God will show him to begin a new life somewhere else, with the promise that God will make of him a great nation, a great name and a blessing.
When people travel from their homelands, it decreases their family life, wealth and renown, so God gives Abraham three blessings, the promise of children, wealth and a great name, said Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, an 11th century French commentator on the Torah.
Exodus 23:9 teaches that “you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” So Lev. 19:34 says that the stranger shall be as the homeborn, to “love as yourself” and Num. 15:14-15 says that there shall be one law for you and the stranger because “you are alike before Adonai.”
Thirty-six times it is repeated that we are to love the stranger as ourselves because it is so much harder to do that than love the neighbor, someone who is familiar to us. It’s harder to see the stranger, who may look different, speak or act differently, as alike before God.
Deut. 23:16 adds to the reference that applies to refugees fleeing slavery, difficult situations and suffering, “not to turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge with you.”
Numbers 35:11-12 also sets up refuge cities for someone fleeing after having unintentionally killed someone (manslaughter), seeking safety from the family of the person killed who might take vengeance before a trial. Six refuge cities were established in Israel—a land the size of New Jersey. This says how important it was.
After Jews experienced mass emigration and were not living in Israel, the teachings talked of how to construct a just society. Teachings do not just apply to one’s relationship with God but also to one’s relationship with people. Traditional civil law of the rabbis describes the details of how these sanctuary cities should work, the need to shelter people, requiring maintenance of good roads and accompanying people on their journeys, assuring access to water and means to make a living.
If these teachings are the case for the person accused of manslaughter, how much more are we to treat individuals fleeing their original homes, who may be innocent of doing anything wrong or illegal, by providing water, roads, accompaniment, employment and in some cases the ability to live rent free.
What if we apply these teachings to how we welcome immigrants and refugees today? In other words, Jewish law does not allow one to make an economic argument against immigration.
We learn from these perspectives that we are to love the immigrant and refugee, to pay attention to their needs as they look for a new place to live and to assure that the same laws apply to them. I hope we will live in a way that we are committed to these teachings and to justice for immigrants and refugees in Spokane, Washington, the United States and the world.
Rabbi Tamar Malino, Temple Beth Shalom
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, November, 2019