Civil Rights: What Should I Do?
1 א

Civil Rights: What Would I Do?

Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 9b
2 ב
מקדש ראשון מפני מה חרב? מפני שלשה דברים שהיו בו: עבודה זרה, וגלוי עריות, ושפיכות דמים. . . . אבל מקדש שני, שהיו עוסקין בתורה ובמצות וגמילות חסדים מפני מה חרב? מפני שהיתה בו שנאת חנם. ללמדך ששקולה שנאת חנם כנגד שלש עבירות: עבודה זרה, גלוי עריות, ושפיכות דמים.
Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three evils in it: idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed . . . But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that during the time it stood people occupied themselves with Torah, with observance of precepts, and with the practice of charity? Because during the time it stood, hatred without rightful cause prevailed. This is to teach you that hatred without rightful cause is deemed as grave as all the three sins of idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed together. [AJWS translation]
3 ג
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean to hate without rightful cause? Where would apathy fall on this scale?
2. What would it look like to love without rightful cause? How would that impact our interpersonal interactions? Our government policies?
3. What other social justice themes emerge from this text?

Leviticus 19:16
4 ד
לֹא־תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל־דַּם רֵעֶךָ אֲנִי ה':
You shall not be a tale-bearer among your people; you shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor; I am Adonai. [translation by AJWS]
5 ה
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean to "stand idly by"? What if you are not in a position to directly save the life?
2. Who is the "neighbor" the Torah is talking about?
3. What if it seems like there is nothing you can do?

Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 9b
6 ו
מקדש ראשון מפני מה חרב? מפני שלשה דברים שהיו בו: עבודה זרה, וגלוי עריות, ושפיכות דמים. . . . אבל מקדש שני, שהיו עוסקין בתורה ובמצות וגמילות חסדים מפני מה חרב? מפני שהיתה בו שנאת חנם. ללמדך ששקולה שנאת חנם כנגד שלש עבירות: עבודה זרה, גלוי עריות, ושפיכות דמים.
Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three evils in it: idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed . . . But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that during the time it stood people occupied themselves with Torah, with observance of precepts, and with the practice of charity? Because during the time it stood, hatred without rightful cause prevailed. This is to teach you that hatred without rightful cause is deemed as grave as all the three sins of idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed together. [AJWS translation]
7 ז
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean to hate without rightful cause? Where would apathy fall on this scale?
2. What would it look like to love without rightful cause? How would that impact our interpersonal interactions? Our government policies?
3. What other social justice themes emerge from this text?

8 ח
Babylonian Talmud, Ta'anit 20a-b
Translation Original
Our Rabbis have taught: A man should always be gentle as the reed and never unyielding as the cedar. Once R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon was coming from Migdal Gedor, from the house of his teacher, and he was riding leisurely on his donkey by the riverside and was feeling happy and elated because he had studied much Torah. There chanced to meet him an exceedingly ugly man who greeted him, ‘Peace be upon you, Sir’. He, however, did not return his salutation but instead said to him, ‘Reika (Worthless!), how ugly you are. Are all your fellow citizens as ugly as you are?’ The man replied: ‘I do not know, but go and tell the craftsman who made me, "How Ugly is the vessel which you have made".’ When R. Eleazar realized that he had done wrong he dismounted from the donkey and prostrated himself before the man and said to him, ‘I submit myself to you, forgive me’. The man replied: ‘I will not forgive you until you go to the craftsman who made me and say to him,"How ugly is the vessel which you have made".’ He [R. Eleazar] walked behind him until he reached his native city. When his fellow citizens came out to meet him greeting him with the words, ‘Peace be upon you O Teacher, O Master,’ the man asked them, ‘Whom are you addressing thus’? They replied, ‘The man who is walking behind you.’ Thereupon he exclaimed: ‘If this man is a teacher, may there not be any more like him in Israel’! The people then asked him: ‘Why’? He replied: ‘Such and such a thing has he done to me. They said to him: ‘Nevertheless, forgive him, for he is a man greatly learned in the Torah.’ The man replied: ‘For your sakes I will forgive him, but only on the condition that he does not act in the same manner in the future.’ Soon after this R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon entered [the Beit Hamidrash] and expounded thus, A man should always be gentle as the reed and let him never be unyielding as the cedar. And for this reason the reed merited that of it should be made a pen for the writing of the Law, Tefillin and Mezuzot. [Soncino translation] תנו רבנן: לעולם יהא אדם רך כקנה ואל יהא קשה כארז. מעשה שבא רבי אלעזרבן רבי שמעון ממגדל גדור מבית רבו, והיה רכוב על חמור ומטייל על שפת נהר, ושמח שמחה גדולה, והיתה דעתו גסה עליו מפני שלמד תורה הרבה. נזדמן לו אדם אחד שהיה מכוער ביותר. אמר לו: שלום עליך רבי! ולא החזיר לו. אמר לו: ריקה, כמה מכוער אותו האיש! שמא כל בני עירך מכוערין כמותך? אמר לו: איני יודע, אלא לך ואמור לאומן שעשאני כמה מכוער כלי זה שעשית. כיון שידע בעצמו שחטא ירד מן החמור ונשתטח לפניו, ואמר לו: נעניתי לך, מחול לי! - אמר לו: איני מוחל לך עד שתלך לאומן שעשאני ואמור לו כמה מכוער כלי זה שעשית. היה מטייל אחריו עד שהגיע לעירו. יצאו בני עירו לקראתו, והיו אומרים לו: שלום עליך רבי רבי, מורי מורי! אמר להם: למי אתם קורין רבי רבי? - אמרו לו: לזה שמטייל אחריך. אמר להם: אם זה רבי - אל ירבו כמותו בישראל. - אמרו לו: מפני מה? - אמר להם: כך וכך עשה לי. - אמרו לו: אף על פי כן, מחול לו, שאדם גדול בתורה הוא. אמר להם: בשבילכם הריני מוחל לו. ובלבד שלא יהא רגיל לעשות כן. מיד נכנס רבי אלעזר בן רבי שמעון ודרש: לעולם יהא אדם רך כקנה ואל יהא קשה כארז, ולפיכך זכה קנה ליטול הימנה קולמוס לכתוב בו ספר תורה תפילין ומזוזות.
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. In what way did R. Eleazar's status as a scholar lead him to treat the ugly man so poorly?
2. What does it mean to be flexible like the reed rather than rigid like the cedar?
3. In what ways do we all forget that every human being was created in the image of God? How can we improve on our track record here?

Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 19b
9 ט
תא שמע (דברים כ"ב) והתעלמת מהם - פעמים שאתה מתעלם מהם ופעמים שאין אתה מתעלם מהם; הא כיצד? אם היה כהן והיא בבית הקברות, או היה זקן ואינה לפי כבודו, או שהיתה מלאכתו מרובה משל חברו, לכך נאמר: "והתעלמת."
Come and learn: "And you avoided taking responsibility" [to find the owner of a lost object] There are times one may avoid taking responsibility and there are times one may not avoid taking responsibility. When is it so? If he is a Cohen, or is in the cemetary, or he is elderly and this would disrespect him, or that his work is greater than his friends, for these it says, "and you avoided." [AJWS translation]
10 י
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What power dynamics are at play?
3. What social justice themes emerge from this text?

Genesis Rabbah 24:7
11 יא
בן עזאי אומר זה ספר תולדות אדם זה כלל גדול בתורה, ר"ע אומר (ויקרא יט) ואהבת לרעך כמוך, זה כלל גדול בתורה, שלא תאמר הואיל ונתבזיתי יתבזה חבירי עמי הואיל ונתקללתי יתקלל חבירי עמי, א"ר תנחומא אם עשית כן דע למי אתה מבזה, בדמות אלהים עשה אותו.
Ben ‘Azzai said: “'This is the book of the descendants of Adam' is a great principle of the Torah.” R. Akiva said: "'Love your neighbor as yourself' (Leviticus 19:18) is a great principle, so that you must not say, "Since I have been put to shame, let my neighbor be put to shame, since I have been cursed, let my neighbor be cursed." R. Tanhuma said: "If you do so, know whom you put to shame, for 'In the image of God did God make him'" (Genesis 5:1). [AJWS translation]
12 יב
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. This text has powerful implication on how we relate to those around us. What are some ways we can implement this thinking into our daily lives? our politics?

Babylonian Talmud Gittin 10b
13 יג
אמר שמואל: דינא דמלכותא דינא.
Samuel said: The law of the kingdom is the (Jewish) law.
14 יד
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How does this text represent the relationship between Judaism and the surrounding culture?
2. What might this imply about our obligation to change the law of the land if we find it unethical?

15 טו
Rambam, Laws of the Murderer and Protecting Life 1:14
Translation Original
Whenever a person can save another person’s life but fails to do so, he transgresses a negative commandment, as Leviticus 19:16 states: “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” Similarly, [this commandment applies] when a person sees a colleague drowning at sea or being attacked by robbers or a wild animal, and he can save him himself or can hire others to save him and does not. Similarly, [it applies] when he hears [others] conspiring to harm a colleague or planning a snare for him, and he does not inform him and notify him [of the danger]. And similarly this is true if he knows of others scheming to harm a friend and can appease the conspirator and prevent him from carrying out the plot and does not, and all things in this vein, the one who does these things transgresses the commandment of "Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor." [AJWS translation]
כל היכול להציל ולא הציל עובר על (ויקרא י"ט ,ט"ז) לא תעמוד על דם רעך, וכן הרואה את חבירו טובע בים או ליסטים באים עליו או חיה רעה באה עליו ויכול להצילו הוא בעצמו או שישכור אחרים להצילו ולא הציל, או ששמע גוים או מוסרים מחשבים עליו רעה או טומנין לו פח ולא גלה אוזן חבירו והודיעו, או שידע בגוי או באנס שהוא קובל על חבירו ויכול לפייסו בגלל חבירו ולהסיר מה שבלבו ולא פייסו, וכל כיוצא בדברים אלו, העושה אותם עובר על לא תעמוד על דם רעך.
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. According to this text, one can hire others to save someone. In our contemporary context, who can we hire to save the thousands of lives lost daily?
2. We know that it is common practice for corporations to undermine labor and health regulations. How can we help those being hurt? How can we stop these practices from happening?

16 טז
Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 10:12
Translation Original
Our sages commanded us to visit the non-Jewish sick and to bury the non-Jewish dead along with the Jewish dead, and support the non-Jewish poor along with the Jewish poor for the sake of peace. As it says, “God is good to all and God’s mercies extend over all God’s works” (Psalms 145:9), and “[The Torah’s] ways are pleasant and all its paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). [AJWS translation]
אפילו העכו"ם צוו חכמים לבקר חוליהם, ולקבור מתיהם עם מתי ישראל, ולפרנס ענייהם בכלל עניי ישראל, מפני דרכי שלום. הרי נאמר טוב ה' לכל ורחמיו על כל מעשיו, ונאמר דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום.
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does it meant to do something for the sake of peace? What are other reasons are there to do things?
2. Who are the players in this text - seen and unseen?

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:3
17 יז
לפי מה שחסר העני אתה מצווה ליתן לו, אם אין לו כסות מכסים אותו, אם אין לו כלי בית קונין לו...ומצווה אתה להשלים חסרונו ואין אתה מצווה לעשרו.
You are commanded to provide the needy with whatever they lack. If they lack clothing, you must clothe them. If they lack household goods, you must provide them...You are commanded to fulfill all their needs, though not required to make them wealthy. [translation by AJWS]
18 יח
Suggested Discussion Questions

1) What does this text teach us about our obligation to provide for those in need?
2) What social justice themes emerge from this text?
3) What do you do when you feel you are being asked for more than you can give?

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:2
19 יט
וכל הרואה עני מבקש והעלים עיניו ממנו ולא נתן לו צדקה עבר בלא תעשה שנאמר (דברים טו:ז) לא תאמץ את לבבך ולא תקפוץ את ידך מאחיך האביון.
And any who sees a poor person begging and hides his eyes and does not give him charity transgresses a negative commandment, as it says (Deuteronomy 15:7), “Do not harden your heart or close your hand from your poor brother.” [AJWS translation]
20 כ
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean to hide your eyes? In what ways to do we hide our eyes every day?
2. What would happen if we never hid our eyes? How could we work toward that goal in a way this is sustainable for us?

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:1
21 כא
מצות עשה ליתן צדקה לעניים כפי מה שראוי לעני, אם היתה יד הנותן משגת, שנאמר פתוח תפתח את ידך לו ונאמר והחזקת בו גר ותושב וחי עמך ונאמר וחי אחיך עמך.
It is a positive commandment to give charity to the poor, as is appropriate to the poor person, providing the giver can afford it, as it says, “You shall open your hand to him,” and “You shall strengthen the stranger who dwells with you,” and “Your brother shall live with you.” [AJWS translation]
22 כב
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What does it mean to give "as is appropriate to the poor person?"

Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 61a
23 כג
ת"ר: מפרנסים עניי נכרים עם עניי ישראל, ומבקרין חולי נכרים עם חולי ישראל, וקוברין מתי נכרים עם מתי ישראל, מפני דרכי שלום.
Our Rabbis taught: We sustain the non-Jewish poor with the Jewish poor, visit the non-Jewish sick with the Jewish sick, and bury the non-Jewish dead with the Jewish dead, for the sake of peace. [AJWS translation]
24 כד
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What does the "for the sake of peace" mean?
3. How do we reconcile this text with the common tenancy to care for our own first?

Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 71a
25 כה
דתני רב יוסף (שמות כ"ב) אם כסף תלוה את עמי את העני עמך, עמי ונכרי - עמי קודם, עני ועשיר - עני קודם, ענייך ועניי עירך - ענייך קודמין, עניי עירך ועניי עיר אחרת - עניי עירך קודמין.
R. Joseph learnt: If you lend money to any of my people that are poor with you: [this teaches, if the choice lies between] a Jew and a non-Jew, a Jew has preference; the poor or the rich the poor takes precedence; your poor [i.e. your relatives] and the [general] poor of your town, your poor come first; the poor of your city and the poor of another town the poor of your own town have prior rights. [Soncino translation]
26 כו
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What causes us to attend to the needs of some over the needs of others?
3. How do both acknowledge that we prioritize our giving and at the same time work to end all hardship?

Exodus 23:6-9
27 כז
לֹא תַטֶּה מִשְׁפַּט אֶבְיֹנְךָ בְּרִיבוֹ: מִדְּבַר שֶׁקֶר תִּרְחָק וְנָקִי וְצַדִּיק אַל תַּהֲרֹג כִּי לֹא אַצְדִּיק רָשָׁע: וְשֹׁחַד לֹא תִקָּח כִּי הַשֹּׁחַד יְעַוֵּר פִּקְחִים וִיסַלֵּף דִּבְרֵי צַדִּיקִים: וְגֵר לֹא תִלְחָץ וְאַתֶּם יְדַעְתֶּם אֶת נֶפֶשׁ הַגֵּר כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:
You shall not subvert the rights of your needy in their disputes. Keep far from a false charge; do not bring death on those who are innocent and in the right, for I will not acquit the wrongdoer. Do not take bribes, for bribes blind the clear-sighted and upset the pleas of those who are in the right. You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt. [JPS translation]
28 כח
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What power dynamics are at play?
3. What social justice themes emerge from this text?