I stand here today, on behalf of the Reform Jewish movement. In the Book of Proverbs, we are commanded to "Speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy." If there is one central principle of economic justice that dominates the 3000 years of Jewish thought and communal practice, it is this: the moral test of any society is what its economic and social policies do for the most vulnerable of God's children, and above all, the children of God's children. This legislation fails that test. A nation that neglects its children, that allows children to go hungry, homeless, uneducated and unprotected, is a nation that short-changes its future. Unconscionably, the welfare legislation now before Congress would condemn the most vulnerable of God's children to suffering and deprivation. We therefore call on Congress to defeat this legislation and the President to veto it if it should pass.
We, all of us here this morning, have gathered in the Congress of the United States to ask a simple question: how can Senators and Congresspersons possibly reconcile their support for legislative proposals, which leave more children, more disabled people, more legal immigrants in hunger and poverty, with the clear Biblical mandate to care for the most needy of God's children?
- The so-called welfare "reform" bill would cut almost $28 billion over six years from the Food Stamp program -- the single most important and effective program to feed the hungry in our country. How will the proponents of this legislation reconcile such cuts with the Biblical commandment that we "share our bread with the hungry?"
- The so-called welfare "reform" bill would cut $23 billion over seven years in aid to immigrants -- 95% of which would come from assistance to those who have come to our nation legally in search of a better future for themselves and their children. Just yesterday, How will proponents of this legislation reconcile such cuts with God's commandment to protect the stranger in our midst?
- The so-called welfare "reform" bill would deny additional assistance to help support a child -- innocent and vulnerable -- who is born to a mother who receives welfare. How will proponents of this legislation reconcile the denial of this vital assistance with the Biblical obligation to care for the poor and vulnerable children of our communities?
Breaking the chains of poverty cannot morally be accomplished by taking the most basic needs from the stranger and the hungry and the child. This legislation is certainly not what our religious charities and synagogues and churches -- with decades of experience doing extraordinary work assisting the poor -- consider welfare "reform." No -- these institutions will be crippled by such far-reaching cuts. Already, overloaded and under-funded, they cannot be expected to fill the vacuum created by these massive cutbacks in government services.
In the Book of Exodus, God tells us that the cries of the poor are heard: "I will pay heed for I am compassionate." As we are made in God's image, so we too must have compassion -- compassion for the children, the elderly, the immigrant -- whose cries echo in our midst. Together, we must work towards the day when welfare "reforms" ensure a guarantee of child care, job training, health care, and nutrition assistance to help move people out of poverty and into long-term self-sufficiency. Only then will the cries of the poor be silenced; only then will we be free of our moral obligation to share God's wealth with those of God's children who are less fortunate than we.
--Statement of Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, on Behalf of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis
July 18, 1996
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,800 Reform rabbis in 850 congregations throughout North America.