"There are those who are asking the devotees of Civil Rights, 'When will you be satisfied?'...No!, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until 'justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream'."
--Martin Luther King, "I Have a Dream" (1963)
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, A Letter in the Scroll, p. 72
In terms of ethics, Judaism was the first religion to insist upon the dignity of the person and the sanctity of human life. For the first time, the individual could no longer be sacrificed for the group. Murder became not just a crime against man but a sin against God: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God has God made man.” Already prefigured here is the phrase in the American Declaration of Independence that speaks of all human beings as “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” We cannot give up what is not ours. The sanctity of life is written into the structure of the universe by the terms of creation. It is a non-negotiable standard by which all human conduct is to be judged.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, p. 58
Nowhere is the singularity of biblical ethics more evident than in its treatment of the issue that has proved to be the most difficult in the history of human interaction, namely the problem of the stranger, the one who is not like us. Most societies at most times have been suspicious of, and aggressive toward, strangers. That is understandable, even natural. Strangers are nonkin. They come from beyond the tribe. They stand outside the network of reciprocity that creates and sustains communities. That is what makes the Mosaic books unusual in the history of moral thought. As the rabbis noted, the Hebrew Bible in one verse commands, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself ”, but in no fewer than 36 places commands us to “love the stranger”.
Abraham Joshua Heschel, Telegram to President John F. Kennedy, June 16, 1963
|I look forward to privilege of being present at meeting tomorrow. Likelihood exists that Negro problem will be like the weather. Everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it. Please demand of religious leaders personal involvement not just solemn declaration. We forfeit the right to worship God as long as we continue to humiliate Negroes. Church synagogue have failed. They must repent. Ask of religious leaders to call for national repentance and personal sacrifice. Let religious leaders donate one month's salary toward fund for Negro housing and education. I propose that you Mr. President declare state of moral emergency. A Marshall plan for aid to Negroes is becoming a necessity. The hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.