Reform Jewish Leader Speaks at Minimum Wage Press Conference Alongside Top Senators
Namath: “Our government policies are ultimately a reflection of our society’s priorities and moral values.”
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Washington, DC, June, 29, 2006 – Today, Rabbi Michael Namath, Program Director at the Religious Action Center participated in a Senate press event designed to highlight the urgent need for a Minimum Wage increase. His full statement follows:
Thank you Senator. I am Rabbi Michael Namath of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. We are the Washington office of the Reform Jewish Movement – the largest of the Jewish denominations in North America.
The issue that brings us here today, of course, is the minimum wage and ensuring the dignity of all American workers. For people of faith, there are few values of greater importance. Judaism teaches that the highest form of tzedakah, of charity, is to help another person achieve self-sufficiency. So it is shameful that the minimum wage has not been raised since 1996 – even as the cost of living has gone ever higher and the challenge of supporting a family on a shrinking dollar has grown. No man or woman, working a 40 hour week, providing for a son or daughter and a husband or wife, should find themselves unable to even meet the poverty line. That is not a path to self-sufficiency.
We look to our traditions to guide our actions as individuals and as a nation. And our government policies are ultimately a reflection of our society’s priorities and moral values. If we can not ensure the dignity of America’s workers; if we do not allow people to lift themselves out of poverty through their own hard work, what does that say about our nation?
The great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with Dr. King in Selma, frequently invoked the biblical prophets in calling for a more just society:
“To us,” said Heschel, “a single act of injustice – cheating in business, exploitation of the poor—is slight; to the prophets, a disaster … to them, it is a catastrophe, a threat to the world.”
The exhortations of the Prophets and the words of Deuteronomy remain in our hearts: ‘Give [the laborer] his wages in the daytime, and do not let the sun set on them, for he is poor, and his life depends on them.’ Together with the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, the Alliance of Baptists, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and people of faith from across our nation, we say to the Senate: Give our laborers the wages they deserve; do not let another week go by without heeding the calls of those who need our help – and are committed to earning their way.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis.