Judaism & Immigration

The WORD 1/31/13.  This week, a bi-partisan group of US Senators began the challenging process of changing our country’s immigration laws.  Immigration has always been an important topic in the American Jewish community.

The National Origins Quota of 1924 (which was in place until 1952) severely limited the number Jews allowed legally into the US at a time when the British were limiting the number of Jews into Palestine and European Jews were being slaughtered.  While I am not suggesting that Mexicans are coming to this country to avoid a Holocaust, it seems to me that Jews ought to encourage the loosening of immigration restrictions when those same kinds of limits were used to keep Jews in Europe during WWII.

We know too well that immigrants have something positive to offer this country.  So, it should be no surprise that our Movement has made public statements in favor of immigration. 

2003 RA Resolution on Immigration to the United States

Be it resolved that the Rabbinical Assembly call upon the United States government to take the following measures:

To increase support for refugees abroad to restore refugee admissions to their historic levels in the mid-1990s with appropriate funding levels from Congress,

To protect asylum seekers and expedite the review process under which they are granted asylum, and

To protect the rights and prevent mistreatment of those required to register under the program known as Registration of Certain Nonimmigrant Aliens from Designated Countries.

2005 USCJ Endorsement of the Interfaith Statement in Support of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

We call upon our elected officials to enact legislation that includes the following:

An opportunity for hard-working immigrants who are already contributing to this country to come out of the shadows

Reforms in our family-based immigration system to significantly reduce waiting times for separated families who currently wait many years to be reunited;

The creation of legal avenues for workers and their families who wish to migrate to the U.S. to enter our country and work in a safe, legal, and orderly manner with their rights fully protected; and

Border protection policies that are consistent with humanitarian values.


Over a century ago, a group of Eastern European Jews in New York City established an organization to help out their co-religionists who were fleeing pogroms and other persecutions.  That organization – the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society – still exists today.  As the number of Jewish refugees and immigrants has shrunk over the years, HIAS has helped refugees of all faiths.  It has also advocated for fair immigration policies.

In this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites continued their journey from Egypt to the Land of Israel.  Along the way, they met Yitro – Moshe’s father-in-law, the chieftain of Midian.  Yitro helped Moshe set up a new judicial system.  Also, in this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites received the Ten Commandments.

So, they would ultimately arrive in their new homeland with their collective experience from Egypt, some practical knowledge from Yitro and the tenets of their faith.  They were far from empty-handed.

Similarly, today, most immigrants have something to offer their new homeland – even if it is merely the desire to do jobs that the established population does not want to do.

The Torah is very clear about how we ought to treat immigrants:  “You shall not wrong a stranger (ger) or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:20).”   “You know the mind of a stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9).”  In America, in the year 2013, perhaps we should adapt the text to say:  “You know the mind of an immigrant for your ancestors were immigrants in these United States.”





About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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