Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Romans 13, Tolerance Zero

Not here. Not now. Not in our name: We have seen the pictures, watched the videos, heard the voices. Children being separated from their parents - by agents of our government - as they cross the US-Mexico border to plea for asylum.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial Cartoonist Rob Rogers: ‘I Was Fired’

Our Attorney General has supported this new and purposefully frightening US policy, in part, by quoting Romans 13, a passage from Paul’s epistle to the Romans.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 
Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

But Abq Jew recalls the words of Antonio in The Merchant of Venice.
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
Oh, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

We Jews, Abq Jew is proud to report, are not Christians.

We need pay no attention to what Paul may (or may not) have said as he was trying to sell (you should forgive the expression) his particular brand of Christianity to what would become, through the mystery of history, the Holy Roman Empire.

But we Jews do, in fact, have our own version of Romans 13.

Allow Abq Jew to present

דינא ד׳מלכותא דינא

Dina d'malkhuta dina (the law of the land is the law) is a Rabbinic / Talmudic statement that Jews must observe the laws of wherever they live.

The blog Jewish Treats explains:
“Dina d’malchuta dina,” the law of the land is the law, is a phrase repeated numerous times in the Talmud, and always attributed to the sage Samuel. According to Samuel, there is no question that a Jew must obey the laws of the land in which he/she resides... unless that law directly contradicts halacha (for instance a law ordering everyone to worship idols).  
In certain cases, the rabbis determined that certain rulers and their unfair and harsh laws were dangerous to the Jewish people, and therefore permitted the local Jews to "skirt the laws" or even to ignore them (such as the anti-Semitic decrees of the Russian Czars). In a country like the United States, however, there is no question that dina d’malchuta dina must be strictly observed.  
What does this mean? This means that being a law-abiding citizen is more that just one’s civic duty, it is one’s religious obligation as well. Taxes, civil law, even the “rules of the road” are our responsibility to uphold.

But let's hold our horses.

Our Rabbis of Blessed Memory, however, were not unequivocal about the matter.

And Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) points out the degree of the Rabbis' uncertainty about dealing with the government.

On one hand:
[Rabban Gamaliel the son of Rabbi Judah the Prince said:] Be careful in your relations with the government; for they draw no man close to themselves except for their own interests. They appear as friends when it is to their advantage, but they do not stand by a man in his time of need. (Pirke Avot 2:3)
But on the other hand:
Rabbi Chanina, an assistant of the High Priest said: Pray for the welfare of the government, since but for fear of it men would swallow each other alive. (Pirke Avot 3:2)
Both of these statements - both of these viewpoints - are, Abq Jew fears, true. Yet, as F. Scott Fitzgerald informs us:
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
From which, Abq Jew claims, we must ask each other

Which side are you on?

Most of the major and minor American Jewish institutions - 27 or more - have issued statements strongly opposing our government's immoral treatment of refugees.

Just one example: Bend the Arc has declared a state of Moral Emergency. Here is their statement:
The Trump Administration's inhumane immigration policies can only continue if good people stay silent. Add your voice to this communal declaration from the Jewish community. 
To this country, in whose promise we still believe, to the millions of people who are outraged and horrified, and especially to the thousands of children who have been separated from their families, we declare our nation to be in a state of moral emergency. 
This Administration has established border policies unprecedented in their scope and cruelty, that are inflicting physical, mental, and emotional harm on immigrants and punishing those seeking refuge at our borders. 
We are anguished by the stories and images of desperate parents torn from their babies and detention facilities packed with children. We shudder with the knowledge that these inhumane policies are committed in our name, and we lift our voices in protest. 
The Jewish community, like many others, knows all too well what it looks like for a government to criminalize the most vulnerable, to lie and obfuscate to justify grossly immoral practices under the banner of “the law,” to interpret holy scripture as a cover for human cruelty, to normalize what can never be made normal. We have seen this before. 
When crying children are taken from their parents’ arms, the American Jewish community must not remain silent. 
To those who are targeted by these cruel policies, know that the Jewish community hears your cries. We will take risks to support you, and we will demand that our nation’s leaders take action. We will not abide the claim that people didn’t know or understand the extent of your suffering; we will not allow your torment to be in vain. 
Our government can persist in this inhumane behavior only if good people remain silent. 
And so we declare a state of moral emergency, and we rise to meet this moment. Even as our democratic institutions are under duress, we raise our voices and take decisive action. United by the wisdom of our tradition, we stand with immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, with the children, and with their parents. 
We declare: Not here. Not now. Not in our name.

No comments: