A selection from An Undoing World
by Tony Kushner (Pulitzer Prize winning playwright)
Copper-plated, nailed together, buffeted by ocean weather Stands the Queen of Exiles and our mother she may be Hollow-breasted broken-hearted watching for her dear departed For her children cast upon the sea
At her back the great idyllic land of jus'ce
For exilic peoples ponders making jus'ce private property Darling never dream another woman might
Have been your mother
Someday you may be a refugee
A refugee, who's running from the wars Hiding from the fire-bombs they've hurled; Eternally a stranger out-of-doors Desperate in this undoing world
Mother for your derelicted
Children from your womb evicted
Grant us shelter harbor solace safety
Let us in!
Let us tell you where we traveled
How our hopes our lives unraveled
How unwelcome everywhere we've been
“The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed.”
Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584, 2588 (U.S. 2015)
(א) וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ (בראשית א, כו), רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן פָּתַח (תהלים קלט, ה): אָחוֹר וָקֶדֶם צַרְתָּנִי וגו', אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן אִם זָכָה אָדָם, אוֹכֵל שְׁנֵי עוֹלָמוֹת, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: אָחוֹר וָקֶדֶם צַרְתָּנִי, וְאִם לָאו הוּא בָּא לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים קלט, ה): וַתָּשֶׁת עָלַי כַּפֶּכָה. אָמַר רַבִּי יִרְמְיָה בֶּן אֶלְעָזָר בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁבָּרָא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן, אַנְדְּרוֹגִינוֹס בְּרָאוֹ, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב (בראשית ה, ב): זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בְּרָאָם. אָמַר רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָן, בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁבָּרָא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן, דְּיוּ פַּרְצוּפִים בְּרָאוֹ, וְנִסְּרוֹ וַעֲשָׂאוֹ גַּבִּים, גַּב לְכָאן וְגַב לְכָאן. אֲתִיבוּן לֵיהּ וְהָכְתִיב (בראשית ב, כא): וַיִּקַּח אַחַת מִצַּלְעֹתָיו, אֲמַר לְהוֹן מִתְּרֵין סִטְרוֹהִי, הֵיךְ מָה דְאַתְּ אָמַר (שמות כו, כ): וּלְצֶלַע הַמִּשְׁכָּן, דִּמְתַרְגְּמִינַן וְלִסְטַר מַשְׁכְּנָא וגו'.
(1) Said G-d, let us make Adam in our image, in our likeness (Bereishit 1:26). R. Yochanan began (Tehillim 139:5): "Back and front You formed me (tzartani), etc." Said R. Yochanan: If a person merits, he eats [of] two worlds, as it says: "Last (achor) and first (kedem) You provisioned me (tzartani)." If not, he comes to give judgment and accounting [of his deeds], as it says (ibid.), "You placed your pressure on me." Said Rabbi Yirmyah ben Elazar: When the Holy One created Adam, He created him as an androgynous person. This is as is written (Bereishit 5:2): "Male and female He created them." Said R. Shmuel bar Nachman: When the Holy One created Adam, He created him with two faces, and split him and made him two spines, a spine here and a spine there. He rebutted him: But is it not written (Bereishit 2:21), "And He took one from his sides (mi-tzal'otav)"? He said to him: From his two sides, as it is said (Shemot 26:20): "And for the side (u-le-tzela') of the Mishkan," as it is translated [into Aramaic], "v-listar mashk'na," etc.
The New Jim Crow (2010)
“In the age of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. . . Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of food stamps and other benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal.
In less than thirty years, the U.S. penal population exploded from around 300,000 to more than 2 million, with drug convictions accounting for the majority of the increase. The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, dwarfing the rates of nearly every developed country, even surpassing those in highly repressive regimes like Russia, China, and Iran. In Germany, 93 people are in prison for every 100,000 adults and children. In the United States, the rate is roughly eight times that, or 750 per 100,000. . .
No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. In Washington, D.C., our nation’s capitol, it is estimated that three out of four young black men (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison. Similar rates of incarceration can be found in black communities across America. “These stark racial disparities cannot be explained by rates of drug crime. Studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates . . . This is not what one would guess, however, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, which are overflowing with black and brown drug offenders.”
(י) פִּדְיוֹן שְׁבוּיִים קוֹדֵם לְפַרְנָסַת עֲנִיִּים וְלִכְסוּתָן. וְאֵין לְךָ מִצְוָה גְּדוֹלָה כְּפִדְיוֹן שְׁבוּיִים שֶׁהַשָּׁבוּי הֲרֵי הוּא בִּכְלַל הָרְעֵבִים וְהַצְּמֵאִים וַעֲרוּמִּים וְעוֹמֵד בְּסַכָּנַת נְפָשׁוֹת. וְהַמַּעֲלִים עֵינָיו מִפִּדְיוֹנוֹ הֲרֵי זֶה עוֹבֵר עַל (דברים טו ז) "לֹא תְאַמֵּץ אֶת לְבָבְךָ וְלֹא תִקְפֹּץ אֶת יָדְךָ" וְעַל (ויקרא יט טז) "לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל דַּם רֵעֶךָ" וְעַל (ויקרא כה נג) "לֹא יִרְדֶּנּוּ בְּפֶרֶךְ לְעֵינֶיךָ". וּבִטֵּל מִצְוַת (דברים טו ח) (דברים טו יא) "פָתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת יָדְךָ לוֹ". וּמִצְוַת (ויקרא כה לו) "וְחֵי אָחִיךָ עִמָּךְ". (ויקרא יט יח) "וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ". (משלי כד יא) "וְהַצֵּל לְקֻחִים לַמָּוֶת" וְהַרְבֵּה דְּבָרִים כָּאֵלּוּ. וְאֵין לְךָ מִצְוָה רַבָּה כְּפִדְיוֹן שְׁבוּיִים:
(10) The redemption of captives held for ransom takes precedence over sustaining the poor and clothing them. You do not find a mitzvah greater than the redemption of captives, for captivity is in the same category as famine, drought, or exposure, and one stands in danger to one's life. One who averts his eyes from redeeming [the captive] transgresses [the commandment], (Deut. 15:7) Do not harden your heart and shut your hand, and (Lev. 19:16) Do not stand upon the blood of your neighbor, and (Lev. 25:53) He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight, and nullifies the commandment (Deut. 15:8) You must open your hand, and the commandment, (Lev. 25:36) Let him live by your side as your kinsman, and (Lev. 19:18) Love your fellow as yourself, and (Proverbs 24:11) If you refrained from rescuing those taken off to death, [those condemned to slaughter--if you say, "We knew nothing of it," surely He who fathoms hearts will discern], and many such sayings. You cannot find a greater mitzvah than the redemption of captives.153See Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 8a-b on the importance of redeeming captives and Chullin 7a where Rabbi Phineas ben Yair travels to redeem captives and, on the way, a river parts for him, enabling him to pass through on dry land to fulfill his duty.