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Jewish Values and Civil Liberties

Jewish tradition cherishes free speech. "When a person refrains from speech, the ideas die, the soul stops, and the senses deteriorate," said Moses ibn Ezra, insisting on respect for honest differences of opinion (Shirat Yisrael 12c). The assertion of unpopular opinions permeates the Bible: the prophet Nathan denouncing King David for having stolen Bathsheba from her husband; Elijah excoriating King Ahab for his evil doings; prophets chastising neighbors and ruling powers alike; Job asserting his innocence; Abraham arguing with God-these are but a few of the many examples of fiercely unpopular opinions freely and openly expressed.

If one reads the classic texts of the rabbinic era, the Mishnah and the Gemara, every page brims with the arguments both of the majority and of those who dissented from them, recognizing that each reflected aspects of Gods truth. "These and these are the words of God," the Talmud observes about these disputes (Eruvin 13b). Implicit in such an approach was the realization that today's minority could be tomorrow's majority.

Position of the Reform Jewish Movement

The URJ and the CCAR have long-standing positions on preserving the freedom of speech in all of its forms.


  • Civil Liberties and National Security: Striking the Proper Balance (2003)
    "The government must be empowered to detain and prosecute terrorists effectively. However, the protections of privacy and due process embedded in our judicial system must not be diminished for the sake of expedience."
  • September 11th and Its Aftermath (2001)
    "The Union for Reform Judaism resolves to call on President Bush, the Administration and Congress, and the Canadian Parliament, to avoid broad Administrative orders and policies which could lead to assault on civil liberties to ensure the protection of basic liberties, even during wartime, working to ensure that we not breach the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom."
  • First Amendment Rights (1995)
    "The Union for Reform Judaism resolves to oppose all attempts to weaken the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States or to erode the protections it provides." 
  • Free Press (1973)
    "The attempt to inhibit freedom of the press by indirect pressures is no less dangerous than censorship by law; it is, in fact, more insidious because its direct threat is not apparent. Secrecy in government shields not only corruption, but also inefficiency and favoritism, and prevents the people from being forewarned against impending dangers."


  • Response to September 11th (2001)
    “New anti-terrorism legislation, if misapplied, could jeopardize the civil liberties of American citizens.”
  • Internet (1999)
    "Private use of filters is protected under the First Amendment and should not be infringed upon. We only need to be concerned when the government interferes with the freedom of expression." 
  • Erosion of Civil Liberties (1982)
    "Only through continued effective and vigorous enforcement of the laws of the land can we preserve the momentum to translate constitutional guarantees of justice and equality for all into reality." 
  • Privacy (1975)
    "We are alarmed at recent revelations of the amassing of information about individuals by governmental agencies that severely infringe on constitutional rights of privacy, free expression and free association."