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IRF Statement on Executive Order Concerning Entrance to the United States from Muslim-Majority Nations

Thursday, February 2, 2017

In response to President Trump's Executive Order, the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), an organization of close to 230 Orthodox rabbis, communal scholars, clergy and educators, feels compelled to share our Torah based values regarding welcoming and caring for the immigrants. We strongly urge our elected leaders to adhere to these values as they make their decisions.

The Torah mandates Jews to remember our experience of slavery in Egypt in order for us never to oppress others. “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:20). This mitzvah, repeated time and again in the Torah, is a cornerstone of our identities as Jews and of our relationship with God.

Rabbi Eliezer (Bava Metzia 59b) noted that the Torah repeatedly warns against harming the stranger thirty six, or even forty six times. Maimonides wrote that compassion is so fundamental to Jewish identity even so far as to question how any Jew could act with callous indifference to the suffering of another human being.

In recent times, the guidance of our teachers reflected the importance of this mandate. In 1979, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein z’l arose in the middle of the study hall to announce that he will be collecting money to support the "Vietnamese Boat People" who were escaping on unsafe boats and were in desperate need of help and support. He asked: “If yeshiva students do not help, then who will?”

Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Ephraim Mirvis, in response to the EO, stated: "President Trump has signed an Executive Order which seeks to discriminate against individuals based on their religion or nationality. We, as Jews, more than any others, know exactly what it's like to be the victims of such discrimination. It is totally unacceptable."

We call on the IRF membership and our constituency to engage in American democracy in order to ensure the Torah’s mandate is fulfilled through protests, lobbying elected officials, and fighting for the rights of the stranger. We applaud those Republicans and Democrats who are standing up on behalf of vulnerable segments of the population.

The IRF calls on all responsible civic, political and religious leaders to avoid all forms of discrimination, bias, and bigotry. We affirm the need to hear the cries of the stranger and the pain of those who suffer.

We share and affirm the desire for every American to be assured of safe borders and freedom from terrorism. To achieve this end, the Federal government should continue, and revise when necessary, a prudent policy to protect Americans. Closing borders and inhumane policies are outgrowths of fear alone and will not achieve safety. Political experts from both parties, including those acutely aware of security concerns, have questioned the wisdom of this action.

As children of immigrants, many of whose own relatives were denied entry by the United States as they fled from genocide, we are especially grieved. Tragically, many who were sent back from American, based on the irrational fears, faced certain death in the hands of the Nazis. We still mourn these tragic losses. Yet as must always be the case in Jewish history, our own tragic history should provide us with greater sensitivity to the plight of others. Our immigrant forefathers, lived and worked in their new communities enriched by people of many nationalities, languages and faiths and proved themselves to be hard-working, law-abiding, and filled with appreciation for this nation.

The IRF calls upon our members and constituency to listen to the moral voice of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s comments on not wronging a stranger “The degree of justice in a land is measured, not so much by the rights accorded to the native-born inhabitants, to the rich, or people who have, at any rate, representatives or connections who look after their interests, but by what justice is meted out to the completely unprotected stranger.” At this pressing time, we hope to inspire our community and our country to “Let justice well up as
waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24).