April 16, 2014 · 16 Nisan

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Jewish Texts on Immigration

Jewish tradition is clear on the treatment of immigrants. Our faith demands of us concern for the stranger in our midst. Leviticus commands, “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” [19:33-34].

This principle permeates Jewish tradition and is echoed 35 times in the Torah – the most repeated of any commandment. Our own people’s history as “strangers” reminds us of the many struggles faced by immigrants today, and we affirm our commitment to create the same opportunities for today’s immigrants that were so valuable to our own community not so many years ago. Our tradition also teaches that “the sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied” (Pirkei Avot 5:12).

Now is the time to turn our creeds into action, and to ensure that justice for our country’s most vulnerable is imminent and everlasting – that it is neither delayed nor denied. This season of renewal is a time to remember our community's past and imagine the new history we can write together. How might this High Holy Day season allow us to contribute toward becoming a more just and compassionate nation?

Download a PDF of the Rabbis Organizing Rabbis High Holy Days Text Resources from Rabbi Mona Alfi.

Arami Oved Avi - "My father was a wandering Aramean" - Our Origin Story

Genesis
And the Eternal had said to Abram, “Get out from your country, and from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) [God] said to Abram, “Know now that your descendants shall be strangers in a land not theirs; they shall be enslaved and afflicted for four hundred years. (Genesis 15:13)

Deuteronomy
You shall then recite as follows before your Eternal God: “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried to the Eternal, the God of our ancestors, and the Eternal heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. The Eternal freed us from Egypt by a might hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents, bringing us to this place and giving us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Deuteronomy 26:5-8)

Torah

1. You shall not wrong nor oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:20)

2. You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

3. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger; I the Eternal am your God. (Leviticus 19:10)

4. When strangers reside with you in your land, you shall not wrong them. The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as your citizens; you shall love each one as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I the Eternal am your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

5. You too must befriend (love) the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.. (Deuteronomy 10:19)

6. You shall not abhor an Edomite, for such is your kin. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in that land. (Deuteronomy 23:8)

7. You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pawn. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that your Eternal God redeemed you there; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment. (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)

8. Cursed be the one who subverts the rights of the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. And all the people shall say, Amen. (Deuteronomy 27:19)

Mishnah Pesachim 10:5 (and from the Haggadah)

"In every generation, a person is obligated to see him or herself as though s/he came forth from Egypt."

Rambam, Hilkhot Chamez u’matzah7:6
"In every generation, a person is obligated to show him or herself as though s/he came forth from Egypt."

Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, Festival of Freedom: Essays on Pesach and the Haggadah
The standard text reads, “In each generation, one is duty-bound lirot et atzmo, to consider himself, as if he had been delivered from Egyptian bondage.” Instead of the reflexive verb lirot et atzmo, signifying an inner experience, Maimonides substitutes the verb, l’harot et atzmo, to demonstrate, to behave in a manner manifesting the experience of finding liberty after having been enslaved for a long time.



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