Civil Rights & Voting Rights
The Torah teaches to accept others without prejudice and to work with others to achieve social justice. Since the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Jewish community has continued its support of civil rights laws addressing systemic discrimination in voting, housing, and employment against not only women and people of color but also the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities.
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Why We Care about Civil Rights & Voting Rights
The Sage Hillel taught "Al tifros min hatzibur, Do not separate yourself from the community" (Pirke Avot 2:5). Moreover, it is our responsibility to play an active role in our community and choosing its leaders.
Rabbi Yitzhak taught that "A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted" (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 55a). Rabbi Yitzhak further explained that in the Torah, Bezalel could be chosen to build the Tabernacle only with the community's approval. This deeply embedded ethic of political participation has guided Jews to enthusiastically participate in the American electoral process.
Jews played an active role in the dramatic civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, a movement that ultimately granted citizens of color unfettered access to the franchise. Indeed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was partially drafted in the conference room of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, under the aegis of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Given our longstanding commitment to the civil rights struggle, allegations of voter disenfranchisement and evidence of higher numbers of disqualified votes for citizens of color compel us to speak out. It is our duty to ensure that all citizens are afforded the opportunity to vote and have their votes counted.
As Reform Jews, we must heed the teachings of our tradition that speak to the dangers of mixing money and politics and recognize the distorting effect that money can have on a leader’s ability to govern fairly. We are reminded of this teaching from Deuteronomy 16:19, "You shall not judge unfairly: you shall know no partiality; you shall not take gifts, for gifts blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just." We are commanded to stand up for the widow, the poor, the orphan and the stranger. In a system that allows for disproportionate power of money, it is these groups who are ignored and who suffer the most.
The COVID-19 pandemic requires people to observe social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. However, in many states, it is currently impossible to socially distance and conduct elections that are safe and accessible.
In the 116th Congress, Representative Terri Sewell (D-AL) introduced the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 (H.R.4). The bill would improve the voting process in the United States by modernizing the preclearance formula to cover states with a pattern of discrimination that puts voters at risk, protecting voters from the types of voting changes.
Systemic racial oppression in the United States began four hundred years ago with the institution of slavery and it was inextricably intertwined with the development of the American economy and of the nation overall.
Campaign finance refers to fundraising and spending involved in candidates’ run for office. These campaigns cost a great deal of money; from travel expenses to advertisements and compensation of staff, enormous financial burdens come with running for office.
Related Press Releases
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner and Reform Jewish Leaders Engage in Civil Disobedience with the Poor People’s Campaign
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