If there is a single common theme running throughout our Jewish tradition, it is that of social justice. Our scriptures teach us to support the widow, to extend our hands to the downtrodden. Our tradition demands that we "speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy (Proverbs 31:9)." As Jews, we have an obligation not only to feed the hungry but also to help those in need become self-sufficient (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah).
Our Torah also emphasizes the importance of a worker's wages. "You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer… but you must pay him his wages on the same day, for he is needy and urgently depends on it (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)." A similar statement appears in Leviticus, "You shall not defraud your neighbor, nor rob him; the wages of he who is hired shall not remain with you all night until the morning (Leviticus 19:13)." The Torah further expresses a commitment to economic justice in the remark, "If one hires a worker to work with straw and stubble and the worker says to him, "Give me my wages," if the employer says, "take the results of your labor as payment," we do not listen to him (Mishnah Bava Metziah 10:5)."
The Position of the Reform Movement
The Reform Movement has policy that speaks directly to workers achieving livable wages. In 1965, the Union of Reform Judaism passed a resolution entitled "The Eradication and Amelioration of Poverty" which urged the government to adopt measures "which would assure every man willing and able to work at a wage which makes possible a decent standard of living."
At its December 1999 Biennial, the Union of Reform Judaism also passed a resolution entitled "Adopted Resolution on Living Wage Campaigns," which calls on congregations to get more involved in local living wage campaigns. The Union for Reform Judaism resolved to:
1. Support living wage ordinances and bills to bring wages to at least the poverty line, preferably higher;
2. Encourage our congregations across North America to become involved in living wage campaigns in their local communities;
3. Urge members of the community, including supporters of a living wage, to commit themselves to advocate for and help raise necessary funds to enable non-profits to pay living wages without curtailing their services; and
4. Call upon our congregations, and all arms of the Reform Movement, examine their employment and contracting practices to ensure they reflect the spirit of this resolution.
In May 1999, the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed a resolution entitled "Living Wage Campaigns." It resolved to:
1. Support living wage ordinances and bills to bring wages to the poverty line;
2. Encourage rabbis across North America to become involved in living wage campaigns in their local communities; and
3. Encourage rabbis, their congregations, and all arms of the Reform Movement, to examine their employment practices to insure they reflect the policies set forth in this resolution.
Resolution on Living Wage Campaign (1999)