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Letter 26 | American Values Religious Voices

Letter 26

Tamara Cohn Eskenazi

Effie Wise Ochs Professor of Biblical Literature and History
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles

February 14, 2017

Dear President Trump, Vice President Pence, Members of the Trump Administration and 115th Congress,

The Bible has been a major force in the formation of this country and the shaping of its religious values. In the Torah (or Pentateuch), the foundational part of the Bible shared by Jews and Christians, we find a commandment that has come to be regarded as the “Golden Rule”: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).

Love in the Bible is about commitment, loyalty and action, rather than feelings. To love others is to take responsibility for their well-being.

A less-famous, but even more extraordinary biblical verse commands: “You shall love the stranger as yourself”! The larger passage states: “When a stranger (Hebrew ger, or ‘resident alien’) resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the stranger. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

Laws in the Jewish Scriptures repeatedly insist that minority groups be accorded rights and legal protection (for example, Numbers 15:16) and share the blessings that accrue: “You shall rejoice in your festival, with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow in your communities” (Deuteronomy 16:14).

The biblical prophets likewise underscore the significance of caring for the disenfranchised, warning that a society is only as strong as its most vulnerable members. Prophets rightly note that greed and gross inequality destroy the very foundations of society and bring about the collapse of the entire nation. Do not think, declares the prophet Jeremiah, that you can exploit others and consider yourselves safe (Jeremiah 7:1-15).

These core biblical teachings have not lost their relevance for our time. Given all that America is and can be, these ancient words call out to us even more urgently today.

Cordially,

Tamara Cohn Eskenazi

Rabbi Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, Ph.D.
The Effie Wise Ochs Professor of Biblical Literature and History
Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles

 

About the author

Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, Effie Wise Ochs Professor of Biblical Literature and History at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, is a rabbi and noted scholar in the area of Persian Period studies. She produced two award winning books as Editor of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (URJ Press, 2008) and author of The JPS Bible Commentary: Ruth (Jewish Publication Society, 2011).