We founded Hebrew Seminary on the principles of inclusion and equality. We at Hebrew Seminary join with other Jewish religious institutions throughout the United States in condemning President Trump’s executive order suspending immigration from seven Muslim countries. We find discrimination against any religion to be antithetical to our Torah and to the beliefs of our founding fathers.
In 1779, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison proposed the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, which would be the basis of the First Amendment to the Constitution. When certain devout Christians wanted to substitute the words “Jesus Christ” for “Almighty God” in the opening passage, they were overwhelmingly voted down, because Virginia’s representatives wanted the law “to comprehend within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahomedan (sic), the Hindu and infidel of every denomination.”
In August, 1790, President George Washington, wrote “The government of the United States, gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no tolerance, and requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens….” These words were written by our founding president, after visiting the first Jewish congregation in Newport, Rhode Island. Prior to this time, President Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson also showed their support and compassion to the Roman Catholics by attending services at a Roman Catholic church, whose parishioners were not warmly embraced by many Americans at that time.
There is no religious obligation more important in Judaism than the protection of the refugee and the immigrant. “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:20) The Torah admonishes us at least thirty six times to treat “the other” with fairness and compassion. In this country, “strangers” have added greatly to making us the strong, diverse land that we are today.
According to the Talmud, “he who saves one life, saves the entire world.” It does not say “one Jewish life, one Christian life, one Muslim life.” It says “one life,” because all lives are equal before Hashem. We applaud those who have protested President Trump’s attempted ban, and we are grateful for the wisdom of the Federal judges that have stayed the ban. We are especially grateful to our Founding Fathers for their brilliance in establishing our system of checks and balances.
Let us not fear the stranger but let us have faith in God that He will inspire these strangers and our citizenry to come together to form bonds of friendship that will enrich all our lives. As Jews, we must remember the horrible consequences of closing U.S. borders to those facing persecution, and speak up to prevent that shameful history from repeating itself.
Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer, Ph.D., D.D.
Hebrew Seminary President
Thomas Giller, J.D., L.S.W.
Hebrew Seminary Chairman of the Board