Rabbi Waskow: Families Torn Apart – The Lightning Flash that Reveals our Hidden Cruelties

Rabbi Waskow arrested. (Photo Credit: John Zanga, #NoKXL Actions, D.C.)

Rabbi Arthur Waskow reflects on the deep scriptural issues at stake with the current Trump administration policy that separates children from parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Please see the Shalom Center’s action steps.

Rabbi Waskow writes: “One leading official of the United States Government has claimed that biblical calls to obey the law are paramount here. We affirm that the Bible actually speaks the contrary.

Some officials are saying – even boasting – that the family-separation policy was deliberately intended by its ruthlessness to deter families from coming to the United States, seeking asylum because of well-founded fears that their lives and the lives of their children are in immediate danger if they were to stay in Central American countries that have been overwhelmed by violence.

But the Bible sees the world through God’s commitment to justice and compassion: “You shall not hand over to their masters serfs [or, some translators say, “slaves”]  who have escaped from their masters to you. They may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which they choose within your gates, wherever it seems best to them. You shall not maltreat them”  (Deuteronomy 23: 15-16).

Of course neither the biblical understanding of serfdom, indentured servitude, or slavery nor the experience of these refugees today, fleeing murder and rape and seeking asylum, is identical with the past of chattel slavery in the United States. Yet their experience bears elements of the same ruthless and violent subjugation. And this biblical verse is uncanny in its direct address of the crisis we face now, even more than other, broader teachings about love and justice for “foreigners.”

And the “law” that Attorney General Sessions cites to subjugate love and destroy our families is not law at all. It is a policy concocted by elements of the present US government that actually violates the law. It is intended to keep asylum-seekers from making their case as they are entitled to do both by US law and the binding law of the land, embedded in treaties the US has ratified.

It is about “laws” like these that the Bible speaks and Isaiah (10:2) cries out, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”

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Happy New Year to the Trees!

“When you come to the land and you plant any tree, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years it will be forbidden and not eaten. In the fourth year, all of its fruit shall be sanctified to praise the L-RD. In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit.”–Leviticus 19:23-25

“There are four new years… the first of Shevat is the new year for trees according to the ruling of Beit Shammai; Beit Hillel, however, places it on the fifteenth of that month.”–Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1

On the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat we are invited to celebrate a New Year for the Trees, rejoicing in the fruit of the tree and the fruit of the vine, celebrating the splendid, abundant gifts of the natural world which give our senses delight and our bodies life. It’s a chance to celebrate the wholeness of nature’s body –trees, water, fruits, soil, sun, and us — and delight with God in what God has made. Many communities celebrate by gathering with children to plant trees and celebrate a special “fruit seder.”

…Thousands of years ago Rabbis, in their deepest wisdom, knew that trees are literally our life support system. In a religion focused for much of its history on survival, Jews recognized early on that when societies stopped planting and caring for trees those trees disappeared, and along with them went their soil, their food and their water.  When that happened those societies disappeared.  Perhaps that’s why we have, and continue to need a holiday with the sole purpose of remembering and appreciating trees.

Tu B’Shevat celebrates a victory over disappearance, and contains vital wisdom to remind us what’s needed not only to survive today, but to thrive.–Andy Lipkis, Jewish Journal