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Foundations of Justice in the Torah: The Stranger
Source sheet by Leiah Moser, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
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Created May 16, 2018 · 198 Views · נוצר 16 May, 2018 · 198 צפיות ·

This collection of texts is meant to serve as the basis for a discussion about the role of the stranger in Jewish approaches to social justice.

Originally published June 16, 2013 at

  1.  When we talk about justice, who are we talking about? In trying to make the world a better place, we have to start with an understanding of who we are concerned for, and why. One of Judaism's most ancient answers to this question can be summed up in three words: the stranger, the widow, and the orphan.

  2. וְגֵר לֹא תוֹנֶה וְלֹא תִלְחָצֶנּוּ כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם: כָּל אַלְמָנָה וְיָתוֹם לֹא תְעַנּוּן: אִם עַנֵּה תְעַנֶּה אֹתוֹ כִּי אִם צָעֹק יִצְעַק אֵלַי שָׁמֹעַ אֶשְׁמַע צַעֲקָתוֹ: וְחָרָה אַפִּי וְהָרַגְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בֶּחָרֶב וְהָיוּ נְשֵׁיכֶם אַלְמָנוֹת וּבְנֵיכֶם יְתֹמִים:
    You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan. If you do mistreat them, I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me, and My anger shall blaze forth and I will put you to the sword, and your own wives shall become widows and your children orphans. [JPS translation. Edited for gender neutrality]
  3. Suggested Discussion Questions

    1. What does it mean to "oppress"? What does it mean to "wrong" a person? Why are we warned against both?
    2. What is the punishment for these actions? Why?
    3. What does this text teach us about the nature of oppression and punishment? Do you agree? Is this always true?

  4. Mechilta d’Rabbi Yishmael, Mishpatim, Chapter 18

    Translation Original
    “You shall not wrong or oppress the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” You shall not wrong with words, and you shall not oppress financially... [Translation by Uri L’Tzedek]
    מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל משפטים - מסכתא דנזיקין פרשה יח

    Suggested Discussion Questions

    1. What does it mean to wrong someone with words?
    2. What does it mean to opress someone financially?
    2. How do we wrong immigrants today with words? How are they oppressed financially?

  5. “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]
  6. 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?

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