Jewish tradition places great importance on just treatment of immigrants; our faith demands of us concern for the stranger in our midst in at least 36 ways. Leviticus commands, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” [19:33-34]. 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.
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. Below, you will find Jewish sources to draw on for inspiration and a PDF of high holiday resources for clergy.
No less than 36 times, the Torah commands just treatment of stranger, including the following:
“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).
“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress them, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:20).
“You shall have one standard for stranger and citizen alike: for I the LORD am your God” (Leviticus 24:22).
You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pawn (Deuteronomy 24:17)
Our story as Jewish people, one with repeated displacement and migration, can sensitize us to the experience of immigrants today.
The LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)
In the Passover story, we say the phrase “arami oved avi,” often translated as “My father was a wandering Aramean.” This line also translates to “An Aramean tried to destroy my father.” In these two meanings, we see that our ancestors knew what it was like to be a migrant people facing persecution.
In the Passover Haggadah, we read “in every generation, a person is obligated to see themselves as though they came forth from Egypt” (Hilchot Chametz U’Matzah 7:6). Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish philosopher, encourages us to read it as “a person is obligated to show themselves as though they came forth from Egypt” (Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, Festival of Freedom: Essays on Pesach and the Haggadah).