Shabbat Talmud Study: Do We Serve the God Who Loves the Vulnerable? Or Do We Domesticate the Texts That Tells us To?


What light do Jewish values shed on the current conversation on immigration? Take the issue of the 200,000 people from El Salvador who immigrated here legally but on a temporary basis–which meant that the American government that let them in could, legally, say their time is up and it is time to go, which is what the administration recently decided.

This decision may be legally sound. Does it cut muster from a Jewish point of view?

Consider the following fact pattern. Two people who came here temporarily from El Salvador years ago meet and marry. They work in America. They pay into social security. They get married and have three children, all of whom are born in the United States, all of whom are American citizens. This family of five is living and working productively in an American city. The decision of the administration to send people from El Salvador back home means that the parents will be forced to return to a place they have not been to for years, where they have no opportunity and will face violence and destitution. Their children face the choice of going back to El Salvador with their parents, without prospects. Or staying in America without their parents, their family broken.

Do Jewish values have anything to say here?

When Rabbi Shai Held came to Newton in September to talk about his book of Torah commentaries The Heart of Torah, he made an observation that has not only stuck with me, but has haunted me. Namely, the Torah has all these beautiful passages about God loving the most vulnerable among us, the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and commanding us to have empathy for the vulnerable, because we were slaves unto Pharaoh in Egypt. Rabbi Held pointed out that there is a danger that we “domesticate” (his word) these texts. That we treat them like pets. There, there, nice, nice text. But we don’t actually live them. If we lived these texts, what would we do now? How would we act?

Rabbi Held wondered out loud, a few days before Yom Kippur, whether he had ever truly served the God who loves the vulnerable. Maybe he only domesticated the texts that tell us to do so.

Tomorrow morning, we will read excerpts from two essays in Rabbi Held’s book that ask the same question.

Wherever you happen to come down on the merits of this contemporary issue, our thinking should be deepened, and challenged, and enhanced, by Torah, ever contemporary and wise.

See you tomorrow at 8:30 in room 24-25.

Shabbat shalom,
Wes