Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, "Torah Concept of Empathetic Justice Can Bring Peace," The Jewish Week, (New York, 3 April 1977), P. 19

[Empathic justice] seeks to make people identify themselves with each other – with each other’s needs, with each other’s hopes and aspirations, with each other’s defeats and frustrations. Because Jews have known the distress of slaves and the loneliness of strangers, we are to project ourselves into their souls and make their plight our own.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is empathy and what is its role in social activism?

2. How do we make the plight of others our own? To what extent?

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Judaism and Immigrant Rights (Jewish Funds for Justice).

For the rabbis, themselves living under foreign rule, it may have been inconceivable to imagine a situation in which Jews constituted the majority and non-Jews needed protection. Perhaps for this reason, the rabbis reconstructed the biblical mandate to protect the stranger as a warning not to discriminate against converts to Judaism. Such is the nature of the world: in times of personal struggle, it becomes difficult to look outward. Ultimately, the lesson implicit both in the biblical protections of sojourners, and in the rabbinic re-imagination of the ger as a convert, is that history imposes obligations. For the bible, the experience of not being fully secure in Egypt obligates the Jewish people, now secure in their own land, to care for those who remain perpetually on the outside. Though we may reject the rabbis’ disregard for non-Jews, we can at least learn from the rabbis that our own history of imperfection should prevent us from feeling superior to others. Within the American context, many Jews have reinterpreted the word “ger” as “immigrant.” Here, the idea that history imposes obligations is extended to reminding Jews that our own community once occupied the position now held by newer immigrant groups. [Jewish Funds for Justice,

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How do you respond to Rabbi Jacobs push "to care for those who remain perpetually on the outside?"

2. How has "Jewish security" in the late 20th and 21st centuries impacted Jewish social justice movements? Has it impacted the Jewish commitment to immigrant rights?

3. Is the argument that "we were once slaves" an effective tool in pushing for social justice against contemporary slavery?

Jacob Milgrom, "Reflections on the Biblical Ger," Leviticus 17-22 (Anchor Bible, 2000)

The ger. . . is a resident alien; he has uprooted himself (or has been uprooted) from his homeland and has taken permanent residence in the land of Israel...Having severed his ties with his original home, he has no family to turn to for support. Thus deprived of both land and family, he was generally poor, listed together with the Levite, the fatherless, and the widow among the wards of society (Deut. 26:12), and exposed to exploitation and oppression. (Ezek.22:7).

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does this insight add to your understanding of the "Ger?"

2. How should you treat the Ger, and what forms of justice would this treatment invoke?

(א) וגר לא תלחץ. בְּהַרְבֵּה מְקוֹמוֹת הִזְהִירָה תּוֹרָה עַל הַגֵּר מִפְּנֵי שֶׁסּוּרוֹ רָע (בבא מציעא נ"ט): (ב) את נפש הגר. כַּמָּה קָשֶׁה לוֹ כְּשֶׁלּוֹחֲצִים אוֹתוֹ:

"Do not oppress a stranger"- You know the feelings of the stranger - how painful it is for the stranger when you oppress them. [Nechama Leibowitz Haggadah translation. Edited for gender neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions [From Nechama Leibowitz Haggadah, citing Leibowitz's "Studies on Shemot"]

The ethical imperative: Nechama pointed out that the Torah cautions us regarding our behavior toward the stranger no less than 36 times, the most repeated injunction in the Torah. Empathy is an outgrowth of experience. Nechama summarized, "We are bidden to put ourselves in the position of the stranger by remembering how it felt when we were strangers in another land."

1. Why do we engage in the process of collective remembering?

2. How does a common experience affect the way we treat each other?

(ב) תניא אידך אמר הקב"ה לתורה נעשה אדם אמרה לפניו רבונו של עולם האדם הזה קצר ימים ושבע רוגז ובא לידי חטא ואם אין ואתה מאריך אפך עמו הרי הוא כאלו לא בא לעולם אמר לה ועל חנם אני נקראתי ארך אפים ורב חסד. התחיל לקבץ עפרו מד' פנות העולם אדום שחור לבן ירקרק. אדום זה הדם שחור אלו הקרבים ירקרק זה הגוף. ולמה מד' פנות העולם שאם יבא מן המזרח למערב ויגיע קצן להפטר מן העולם שלא תאמר הארץ אין עפר גופך משלי חזור למקום שנבראת אלא כל מקום שאדם הולך משם הוא גופו ולשם הוא חוזר:

God gathered the dust [of the first human] from the four corners of the world - red, black, white and green. Red is the blood, black is the inards and green for the body. Why from the four corners of the earth? So that if one comes from the east to the west and arrives arrives at the end of his life as he nears departing from the world, it will not be said to him, "This land is not the dust of your body, it's of mine. Go back to where you were created." Rather, every place that a person walks, from there she was created and from there she will return." [AJWS translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does this text teach us about the relative value of human life?

2. Is it ever useful or just to draw distinctions between people?

3. How could this text be used to create better immigration policies?

(לג) וְכִֽי־יָג֧וּר אִתְּךָ֛ גֵּ֖ר בְּאַרְצְכֶ֑ם לֹ֥א תוֹנ֖וּ אֹתֽוֹ׃ (לד) כְּאֶזְרָ֣ח מִכֶּם֩ יִהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֜ם הַגֵּ֣ר ׀ הַגָּ֣ר אִתְּכֶ֗ם וְאָהַבְתָּ֥ לוֹ֙ כָּמ֔וֹךָ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃

When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong them. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the LORD am your God. [JPS translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Is our natural inclination to treat strangers poorly? Why?

2. How does a common identity with a stranger enhance your relationship with them?

3. What are common ways that foreigners are not treated as equals? In what ways do government policies about immigration impact this?

(טו) שַׁמַּאי אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה תוֹרָתְךָ קֶבַע. אֱמֹר מְעַט וַעֲשֵׂה הַרְבֵּה, וֶהֱוֵי מְקַבֵּל אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם בְּסֵבֶר פָּנִים יָפוֹת:

Shammai said: Make your Torah fixed, say little and do much, and receive every person with a cheerful countenance. [Translation by CAJE]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why does Shammai provide each of these three pieces of advice? How do they make you a better person?

2. In what way do each of these three apply to your life today?

3. What does it mean to make your Torah fixed?

Rav. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, Exodus 22:20

“You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Here it says simply and absolutely, “for you were strangers,” your whole misfortune in Egypt was that you were strangers there. As such, according to the views of other nations, you had no right to be there, has no claim to rights of settlement, home, or property. Accordingly, you had no rights in appeal against unfair or unjust treatment. As aliens you were without any rights in Egypt, out of that grew all of your bondage and oppression, your slavery and wretchedness. Therefore beware, so runs the warning, from making rights in your own State conditional on anything other than on that simple humanity which every human being as such bears within. With any limitation in these human rights the gate is opened ot the whole horror of Egyptian mishandling of human beings. [Translation by Uri L’Tzedek. Original in German]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. According to Rav Hirsch, why are we commanded not to oppress or wrong a stranger?

2. How does stripping someone of their rights lead to bondage and oppression?

3. Can you think of examples of ways that we oppress strangers today? How does this affect the stranger? How does it affect the oppressor?

(ח) לֹֽא־תְתַעֵ֣ב אֲדֹמִ֔י כִּ֥י אָחִ֖יךָ ה֑וּא (ס) לֹא־תְתַעֵ֣ב מִצְרִ֔י כִּי־גֵ֖ר הָיִ֥יתָ בְאַרְצֽוֹ׃

You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your kinsman. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in her land. [JPS translation [1]. Edited for gender neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What are the rationales given for not hating these people?

2. What is this text suggesting about our relationships with people from other races and cultures?

3. How is this similar or different to the way we relate with people from other cultures today?