Multiple Jewish institutions have vocally come out against President Trump’s immigration policies.
In response to a petition, Yeshiva University, for example, essentially named itself a sanctuary campus, a safe haven for undocumented immigrants, not allowing immigration officials to step onto campus without a warrant. In doing so, YU took a public ideological stance on Trump’s plans to rescind DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protects undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. at a young age and meet certain requirements from deportation.
Similarly, in response to Trump’s executive order banning refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Solomon Schechter Day School in Northbrook, Illinois, told parents of students, “The executive order signed by President Trump on Friday, which makes fundamental changes to America’s policies on immigration and refugees, has resulted in humanitarian and ethical concerns.”
The Jewish Theological Seminary also gave its two cents on the executive order. “Let us be clear: there is no religious obligation more central to Judaism than the protection of refugees and immigrants. ‘You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt’ (Exodus 22:20),” the institution said in a statement. “The president’s executive order flies in the face of that biblical principle—a principle upon which this country was founded and which has enriched the United States with a diversity of cultures, intellectual achievements, and artistic accomplishments.”
We have a problem. Schools, whose mission is to provide a double curriculum of Jewish and secular studies, are making statements irrelevant to Jewish education. Yes, there is a personal obligation to “love the stranger,” but should educational institutions be declaring which political stances constitute following that commandment? (Arguably, that phrase doesn’t mean accepting people unconditionally, as I wrote in a New Voices article last year.)
There is too much divisiveness in the Jewish community, so much that we forget dialogue has a purpose. Without it, the joke “two Jews, three opinions” isn’t an ideal, just a sarcastic statement. Focusing on issues where there’s common ground, like how to educate the next generation of Jews, is more productive.“American democracy and Jewish tradition share a common appreciation for the power of debate,” Nachama Soloveichik wrote in National Review this week. “Not only is debate sanctioned, it is encouraged. Disagreement and challenge help us achieve greater understanding and clarity, provided we do it respectfully and constructively.”
Traditionally, debate is our oldest form of education and brings Jews together. Monolithic statements do not. Whether you’re on the left or the right, you can understand why Jewish institutions shouldn’t alienate swaths of their constituents. Per Soloveichik’s argument, there should be healthy discourse in Jewish schools. (Talmud learning definitely consists of arguments!) But those debates on American politics should be allowed to take place organically between students and in Jewish homes, not through institutions’ public political commentary. Jewish educational institutions exist to teach Jewish history and Torah values, not political leanings. And when schools take hard stances on volatile political issues, students and parents with different beliefs can feel excluded from the conversation.
If parents and students want to connect American politics to how they relate to Jewish values, they should be able to do so without Jewish educational institutions dictating what that means. All individual members of the Jewish community should feel comfortable respectfully expressing their views.
Jewish institutions would be wise to pause and review their policy on releasing political statements unrelated to Israel or anti-Semitism. Although there is a need for Jews to speak out against injustice, pushing an agenda that may alienate a significant portion of the Jewish community can be antithetical to achdut, or unity. Ultimately, we need our political debates in the community to reflect the value of v’ahavta l’raycha kamocha (“Love your neighbor as you’d love yourself”), hence Jewish educational institutions must reconsider making proclamations and, in doing so, allow all “neighbors” at the discussion table.
Jackson Richman is a senior studying political science at George Washington University. He has interned at The Weekly Standard and The Daily Caller. He’s a frequent contributor for Red Alert Politics and American Action News. You can follow him on Twitter: @jacksonrichman.