Knowing the Heart of the Ger (the Other): The Compassionate Torah of Justice

October 10, 2016

How do we Jews respond to police shootings of African Americans, the deaf and the mentally ill?  In this presentation, I argue that the special gift of being Jewish and following Torah incorporates a response that is based in rebalancing the system.  "Justice" is NOT after-the-fact calls to demand the imprisonment of police offers or join a rally of BLM.  That is not Torah justice, that is a vengeance that reinforces the present system and the myth that "a few bad eggs" who are "racist" are the problem.  "Justice," the entire Hebrew Bible expounds, is a quality of a correctly balanced SYSTEM of laws and their professional, impartial application, not a description of an individual situation.  The Jewish response is to not immediately "react" with a reaction, but to fill that space before reaction with proposals that analyze and correct the systemic problems that created the moment of injustice in the first place.  Revelation is about proaction, not reaction.  With a brief look at the way our American system violates Torah by imprisoning an unprecedented number of people for non-violent offenses, mostly drug offenses, whose 3-strikes and Mandatory-Minimum and other laws have systematically been biased against minorities, and where the prevalence of guns have created real and rational fear in the daily lives of law enforcement, there is no justice possible, especially for the ger, the Other, the minority, or the refugee/migrant.  And the very Revelation that we hold dear is actually the creation of a just system because "we know the heart of the ger," the different ones, the ones who had no legal protections in the lands in which we lived, including at times, the United States.  (The profound quotation I bring from the New York police commissioner is from Rabbi Michael Rothbaum from his exceptional sermon on the topic.)  This sermon was delivered Rosh HaShanah morning.

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