Prison Reform: A Jewish Imperative?

prison

The Orthodox social justice organization Uri L'Tzedek has declared this week (on which we read in the weekly Torah portion about Joseph's release from Pharaoh's prison) to be Jewish Prison Reform Week. For anyone interested in considering this issue from an Orthodox social justice perspective, here is an article by that organization's founder and president, the indefatigable Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz:

Prison Reform: A Torah Perspective on the American Crisis (2007)

Outlining the basic state of American prisons today, and providing a brief history of the American penal system and its antecedents, Rabbi Yanklowitz then turns his attention to Biblical penal concepts, Talmudic penal law, and later rabbinic concepts of criminal justice. "Our Torah values and moral convictions place responsibility upon the American Jewish community to advocate for better conditions within prisons and for more creative solutions for rehabilitation than are currently being provided," he writes.

Download this article...

More information on this article...

Uri L'Tzedek's Prison Reform Campaign...

Forging a Unity Through Diversity

For a new installment of our "Office Hours" video series, Prof. Erica Foldy of NYU Wagner suggests that there need not be any tension between unity and diversity. For more in this video series, see: http://www.bjpa.org/blog/index.cfm/Office-Hours

Browse BJPA for Diversity: http://bit.ly/xZJsNT

Note: if you cannot see this embedded video, click here.

Jews for "Race Revolution"

J-Vault logo

The Negro's insistence that everyday practice in America match its democratic promise is bringing about significant changes in our society. The Race Revolution has already affected and will continue to affect Jews, Jewish life and Jewish communal services.

Continuing our Black History Month blog series, for this week's J-Vault we'll sit in on an educational symposium which took place in 1964. This week, from the J-Vault: Changing Race Relations and Jewish Communal Service (1965)

In February, 1964, over 300 Jewish communal workers in the New York metropolitan area attended a one-day conference at the Educational Alliance in New York City... The keynote speaker, Dr. Arthur Hertzberg, and the workshops, which were organized on an inter-disciplinary basis, were asked to consider the following three key questions:

1. How can and should Jewish agencies participate in the race revolution?
2. How can and should Jewish agencies help their members or clients to deal with their attitudes and behavior toward Negroes?
3. How will this affect the agencies' primary Jewish purposes and services?

The major address was delivered by Arthur Hertzberg:

It requires no great moral courage to assert, and even to mean, that every American who lays claim to personal decency must be involved in the struggle for the equality of the Negro... Speaking only for myself, I have acted on the assumption that the task of a Rabbi is not only to preach abstractly against segregation but involve himself concretely in the realities of the battle and to lead those whom he can influence towards comparable action...

...The moral position is clear: segregation is immoral and abhorrent to Judaism... The mandate of this generation, in the light of the acuteness of the problem of race in American society, is for Jews to be in the forefront in the solution of the problem.

This position has many virtues... Nonetheless, it is only a partial truth. To call it into question runs the risk that he who would do so will forthwith be accused of dragging his feet on segregation... Nonetheless, this danger must be risked, and precisely for the sake of a true and realistic Negro-Jewish understanding.

Hertzberg's address goes on, including sections with the following headings:

Defining Jewish Identity in More Than Negative Terms

A Clear and Positive Value—Philanthropy—Is Losing Its Force for Particularism

The Necessity for Jewish Institutions to Reinforce Particularism

Parallelism and Differences in Negro and Jewish Minorities

He concludes with the following:

The Negro is today fighting for his rights, and Jews, along with all other men of good will, must certainly stand beside him. But Jews are today also continuing to work at preserving and trying to define the meaning of their particular survival and identity, in the light of their own tradition and historic experience. Since this is a parochial concern of their own, they must here stand alone.

Our age does not like aloneness; it seems to prefer togetherness on every level. But any serious Jewishness must live in tension between that which unites it with others even in the most moral of struggles and that which sets it uniquely apart.

Solomon Geld spoke on "Implications for Jewish Homes for the Aged".

Irving Greenberg spoke on "Implications for Jewish Casework Agencies," arguing, in effect, for affirmative action in social services: that such agencies "should set aside a portion of our existing services for Negro clients."

Morris Grumer spoke on "Implications for Jewish Vocational Services."

Albert D. Chernin, speaking on "Implications for Jewish Community Relations," took issue with Hertzberg:

 What troubles me is that Rabbi Hertzberg in posing the issue as a clash between Jewish survival and the civil rights revolution does an injustice to both issues and to his own convictions. I am concerned that his arguments may be seized upon by some as justification for turning aside from the problem searing American society...

...The universal character of the struggle need not pose a threat to Jewish particularism. The particularism of Judaism is the process for perpetuating the universal truths to which it is committed.

Walter Ackerman discussed "Implications for the Jewish School."

Walter A. Lurie addressed "Implications for Jewish Community Organization."

Harold Arian spoke on "Implications for the Jewish Community Center:"

In short, the full weight of the Jewish community center as a social institution, as a business operation, as an educational force and as a participant in planning for community improvement should bear upon its fulfilling an important role in the race revolution.

Every J-Vault post ends with a link to the document so you can "Read More" but in this case, there really is so very much more to read. The above shows only the sparest of skeletons of an amazing 42 page document. If you want to reflect about race in America and our (the Jewish community's) relationship to it, do yourself a favor and avail yourself of these links below.

Read more...

Download directly...

J-Vault logo

To read more publications at intersections of Black and Jewish history, see this special Bookshelf for Black History Month.

(Remember, if you're a registered user [it's free], you can create bookshelves like this one to save sets of BJPA documents for later. Keep them private, or publish them to the web to share with colleagues. Sort manually, or automatically by date or title. View or print the lists, or export to MS Word for easy bibliographies.)

Podcast: Jewish Values, Jewish Interests

Ruth Wisse

This was easily our most provocative event to date.

On Monday, December 5th, Prof. Ruth Wisse and Rabbi Joy Levitt joined BJPA Director Prof. Steven M. Cohen at the NYU Law School for a wide-ranging, passionate, broad discussion of how the Jewish community should relate to the outside world.

After a brief ceremony honoring Gail Chalew for her 20+ years as editor of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service (the digitization of which on BJPA was the impetus for the event), Rabbi Levitt spoke of her decisions, as Executive Director of the JCC in Manhattan, to reach out to non-Jewish poor and minority communities, as well as the Muslim community leaders affiliated with the Cordoba Center / Park 51 "Ground Zero mosque" now known as Prayer Space. Prof. Wisse spoke of Israel under attack and an American Jewish community lacking in moral confidence, and judging Judaism based on liberal standards instead of liberalism based on Jewish standards. Our fearless leader, Prof. Cohen, acted as moderator, but without setting aside his own positions on the issues.

Click here to listen.

Negotiating with Terrorists: Shalit May Be Coming Home

Gilad Shalit

Jews worldwide are doubtless thrilled to hear that Gilad Shalit may be on his way home soon. The prayers of millions may be on the verge of being granted.

Amidst the elation, however, many are doubtless also wondering how and why it is that Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has agreed to swap prisoners with the terrorist group Hamas, apparently breaking, bending or changing Israel's long-standing policy: you don't negotiate with terrorists.

[W]e - Israel, the legitimate Palestinian government, the Arab world, and the entire international community - cannot afford to appease or reward Hamas.  (Tzipi Livni)

 Israel has never, nor will it ever, negotiate with Hamas, as long as it refuses to accept the three principles set forth by the international community. (Ehud Olmert)

No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. (President Obama)

 Yet PM Netanyahu has just run afoul of all three of these pronouncements from leaders who can hardly be accused of being more right-wing than he.

Questions upon questions present themselves. Will the Israeli public be so ecstatic to have Gilad back that they approve of this deal? If so, how will they respond the next time international leaders demand that Israel sit down with a Palestinian Authority leadership team that includes Hamas? How then could anyone simply say, we don't negotiate with terrorists? Is there to be an exception for hostages, and if so, what if this causes Hamas to take more hostages? Or what if they don't? Could it not be said that every Israeli and every Palestinian is already, in a way, a hostage to this war?

These are not easy questions, and they deserve a conversation beyond easy responses. It would be useless simply to declare that this deal proves that nations should always be willing to negotiate with terrorists who murder civilians, and equally useless to dismiss this particular deal in this particular situation out of hand, merely because it cuts against the grain of a general principle. Geopolitics is chess, not checkers, and the search for an answer that works in every situation is a search destined to fail.

Yet this kind of simple-minded attitude, it seems to me, generally characterizes American Jewish discourse about the Middle East. Either you're an Israel-booster, eager to refute any criticism, eager to show that Israel is always right, and that the answer to all provocations must be strength, or you're a peacenik convinced that Israeli military action is always wrong, and that all violence is one simple, easily comprehensible "cycle of violence." The missing voices are the voices of nuance and complexity -- voices held hostage within our minds to the natural desire of all of us to fit into a pre-packaged political camp.

This development -- a hardline Prime Minister negotiating with Hamas and agreeing to a deal that releases a thousand Palestinian prisoners -- may turn out to have been brilliant, or it may turn out to have been disastrous. (Only time, and perhaps an enormous amount of it, will tell.) Either way, I think this news should upend our habits of knee-jerk reaction in dialogue on Middle East questions. It should remind us to examine each question in its particulars, and not just in its abstractions.

And either way, if and when Gilad Shalit returns to Israel alive and free, it should be a cause for enormous celebration.

Who Will Rest, and Who Will Wander: The Jewish Transient & Yom Kippur

J-Vault logo

On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time...

During this week leading up to Yom Kippur, many Jews will ponder the words of the High Holiday prayer Unetanneh Tokef, which promises that the unique mitzvah of giving tzedakah can improve one's prospects for the coming year.

...Who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by upheaval, who by plague, who by strangling, and who by stoning....

As the weather turns colder here in New York, our thoughts may turn to those who have no homes to keep out the cold.

...Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.

This week, a special holiday J-Vault: The Jewish Transient (1932)

"Throughout our history," said Emma S. Schreiber at the National Conference of Jewish Social Service, "responsibility for the stranger has been one of the finest examples of the manifest actions of our social conscience." But Schreiber did not intend to flatter the Jewish community; instead, she painted a bleak picture of a terrible problem:

Jewish communities themselves, believe that [Jewish] transients turn to Jewish resources almost entirely. Seven of the 85 communities [in a nationwide study] reported free use of non-Jewish facilities, while the others felt that Jewish transients use them to a limited extent or not at all...

...Discussions with shelter caretakers, representatives of shelter groups, and individuals in the community clearly show that these groups despise the transient, even while they consider it essential to extend him shelter service. The condition of the shelters is the best proof that this spirit exists. In a general way, the Jewish transient is certain of a minimum amount of care in the elementary necessities of food and shelter. In individual cases, the provision is generous. Usually, transients can expect from one to three nights' care and two or three meals a day, although practices vary greatly from place to place. But beyond these elementary provisions, the administration, in terms of sanitation, is below any acceptable community standard...

...All age groups are represented in the transient population, but the Jewish transient is more likely to be in the age group 20 to 30 and less likely to fall into the ages 60 and over... Seventy-nine and three tenths per cent were single men and only 9.5% reported no kinship ties. Almost half of the transients who claimed relatives reported parents as the nearest tie. The Jewish transient is not close to the immigrant period. Fifty-seven and six-tenths per cent were native born and even the foreign born had been in the country long enough to become citizens. Eighty-seven and five-tenths per cent were citizens and 8.4% had their first papers.

Interested? Download the entire publication.

But repentance (teshuvah), and prayer (tefillah), and charity (tzedakah) avert the severity of the decree!

Please consider a donation to one of the many organizations working to end homelessness. The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty provides housing for the homeless, and of course there are many fine non-sectarian agencies, such as Pathways to Housing and Project Renewal. (Know of more? Please share them in the comments section.)

Gemar chatimah tovah.

J-Vault logo

Church and State and Social Services

J-Vault logo

Controversy continues to unfold regarding the US Department of Health and Human Service's announcement that new guidelines will require employers who offer health coverage to cover a number of women's health services, including contraception -- with religious exemptions. Some argue that the exemption denies vital services to women who work for religious employers, while others maintain that the exemption does not go far enough.

As long as private religious groups have been involved in the provision of services, whether as agencies (directly) or as employers (indirectly, as in the current controversy), questions of freedom, regulation, accomodation and coercion have appeared difficult to resolve, with religious freedom and full provision of services to individuals locked in seemingly insoluble conflict. This week's J-Vault pick, written by a distinguished New York family court judge, explores some of these questions as they relate to adoption.

This week, from the J-Vault: State, Religion and Child Welfare (1956)

The Hon. Justine Wise Polier was born into a prominent Jewish family, the daughter of the celebrated Rabbi Stephen Wise. She made her own name, however, when Fiorello LaGuardia appointed her to a family court judgeship, making her the youngest municipal justice in the country, and the first woman in New York State to hold a judicial post above magistrate.

In her address to the 1956 Annual Meeting of the National Conference of Jewish Communal Service (later published in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service) Judge Polier argued that the state frequently intruded into private religious affairs, and frequently neglected vital needs of clients for religious purposes. Ironically, she explained, these abuses originate in a desire that the state precisely not engage in religious coercion:

There was the deep concern that the state, through its representatives, should not misuse the power to provide care for children outside their own homes in order to change their religion or engage in proselytizing. There was also the strong feeling on the part of many religious groups that they should provide for the needy children of their own faith.

The problem, said Judge Polier, was that such religious matching was being placed above quality and type of care being provided:

The state has a basic responsibility to see that every child who needs placement outside his own home shall receive the type of care which the child needs. It may under the laws of many states delegate its responsibility for providing such care to voluntary agencies, sectarian or non-sectarian. It does not have the right, in my opinion, to turn a child over to any kind of care, so long as the child is placed with an agency of its own faith, or to keep a child in cold storage till a sectarian agency has a vacancy...

...Over and over again, we find that though the social study may clearly indicate that a baby needs a foster or adoptive home, if none is available within his own religious group, rather than refer him to an agency of another faith or a non-sectarian agency, such an infant or child will be kept for weeks, months, and even years, in a hospital or shelter. We find that even when a diagnostic study shows the need of psychotherapy and individual care, if none is available within his sectarian group, the child is frequently sent off to a custodial institution in violation of all we know as to his needs...

...There are other areas where the question of the role of religion in child care must be examined. While there is little question that religion can be a significant moral and ethical force in the life of a child, it would certainly seem contrary to the American principle of religious freedom to impose and demand religious adherence and observance of children or parents without at least the consent of the parents. Yet, in recent years, in more and more children's courts, we find judges, as representatives of the state, requiring the performance of religious obligations as a condition of probation. We hear the rationale that if a child is found neglected or delinquent the parent has failed, and the judge has a right to require religious training as part of a program of rehabilitation...

...In New York City we have also been faced by the development of a policy by the Presiding Justice of the Domestic Relations Court that raises yet another question concerning religion and child care. He has decided that probation officers shall be appointed on the basis of a religious quota roughly following the religious affiliation of the children brought before the Court. This means that although the Jewish population of New York City is slightly under 30 per cent, since the percentage of delinquent and neglected Jewish children brought before the Court is roughly 5 per cent, he has decided that only 5 per cent of the probation officers may be Jewish. As a result, even though a qualified Jewish young man or woman has passed his Civil Service Examination, he will be passed over in favor of a less qualified non-Jew...

The Judge did not argue for ignoring religion in adoption:

To the extent that children can be placed in homes of the same faith, as that of their parents, this should be done, except in those cases where the parent or parents freely choose to have their children placed in a home of another faith. Americans have the right to choose and to change their faiths and those of their children. That a parent decides to surrender his or her child for adoption does not abrogate this right or transfer it to any other person, official, institution or the State.

However:

When no adoptive home of the child's faith is available for a child, it is the duty of the State and indeed of voluntary agencies to see that, in the interests of the child's welfare, he shall be placed in the best adoptive home available. No person, no religious institution, no public department, and no State has the right to say to a defenseless child, "You have no home. But because of your race or religion, you shall stay in an institution until you are 16 or 17 and then be turned out into a world in which you have no one to whom you belong." This is happening today in too many areas. It is our duty to see that such injuries to children shall not continue.

Download the full publication.

 

J-Vault logo

Cain's Incomplete Apology, and Religion in Politics

After offending Muslims (and at least one Jew) last week by saying localities have the right to ban mosques because Islam includes the concept of shari'a law, Herman Cain has now met with Muslim leaders and released an apology:

...While I stand by my opposition to the interference of shariah law into the American legal system, I remain humble and contrite for any statements I have made that might have caused offense to Muslim Americans and their friends. I am truly sorry for any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it. Muslims, like all Americans, have the right to practice their faith freely and peacefully.

As I expected, we discovered we have much more in common in our values and virtues. In my own life as a black youth growing up in the segregated South, I understand their frustration with stereotypes. Those in attendance, like most Muslim Americans, are peaceful Muslims and patriotic Americans whose good will is often drowned out by the reprehensible actions of jihadists...

Cain's apology is unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, he ought to have stated specifically that he now realizes that localities do not have the right to ban mosques, if in fact he has come to that realization.  If he has not, and he still believes localities may ban mosques, then his apology for causing offense is utterly hollow. If he has changed his position, then he should say so directly; dodging the specific issue just leaves him looking weaselish. (Speaking of weaselish, see also the phrase "..any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution...")

Second, Cain again makes the problematic assertion that shari'a has no right to "interfere" in the American legal system (see the first sentence excerpted above). It is actually quite tricky to pin down what this might mean, and once again a glance at parallel concepts in other American religions is instructive. Does Cain believe that shari'a should be held to a different standard than Jewish halakhah and Catholic canon law? If so, he continues to favor bigotry. Even if this is the case, I can't imagine he'll be up front about it, so let's assume he would say he believes that religious legal systems should all be held to the same standards. How, then, would Herman Cain define interfering, and how precisely would he seek to curb it?

I have emailed the following questions to Herman Cain's campaign:

  1. Should shari'a law be held to the same standards or different standards than Jewish halakhah or Catholic canon law?
  2. If a Muslim citizen believes shari'a law reflects God's will, and that shari'a prohibits gay marriage, and so votes for a candidate who opposes gay marriage, does that count as "interference"?
  3. If a Jewish citizen believes halakhah reflects God's will, and that halakhah requires a middle ground between the standard pro-life and pro-choice abortion positions, and so votes for a candidate who is centrist on abortion, is that "interference"?
  4. If a Christian citizen believes Jesus commanded socialism, and so votes for a socialist candidate, is that "interference"?
  5. When anti-slavery Christian pastors preached that God insisted slavery be abolished, was that "interference"?
  6. When, in the 1950s and '60s, Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans threatened pro-segregation Catholic politicians with excommunication, was that "interference"?
  7. When, today, pro-life Christian clergy instruct their flocks that God wants the United States to protect unborn life by force of law, is that "interference"?
  8. Please provide a clear, specific hypothetical example of something that would be "interference": an example for shari'a, for halakhah, and for canon law.

We'll have to see whether or not some campaign staffer sends answers.

(As I mentioned last week, the gold standard for addressing these questions, in my opinion, is Prof. Stephen L. Carter's God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics.)

From the J-Vault: Girls Gone Wild

J-Vault logo

This week from the J-Vault: The Delinquent Girl (1914)

Writing in the Bulletin of the National Conference of Jewish Communal Service, Mrs. Julius Andrews (her own first name is not listed) discusses wayward girls in Boston's juvenile justice system.

Statistics show that only about 10 per cent, of the Boston juvenile cases from 1906 to 1911 were girl offenders... But the wayward and stubborn girls are more difficult problems— only too often indicating immorality...

...Girls congregate on the streets, in low dance halls and other commercialized amusement places—free from public interference. It is in such surroundings that many of our young people, seeking diversion from miserable home conditions, begin their downward careers. In an investigation of recreational opportunities in Greater Boston, a pretty young girl naively informed us that she went to the public dances twice a week and wished she could go every night. When asked by the manager of the store whether she was escorted, she said, "No, we dance with any fellow who asks us."

Of course, the dalliances Mrs. Andrews discusses go far beyond dancing, and she notes that although it takes two to tango, society does not dole out its disapproval equally:

When the inevitable harm has been done we ostracize the girl, making reformation almost impossible, while the boy or man, if charged with his share of responsibility, easily escapes by paying a small penalty... Until the law holds man and woman equally guilty and all sex offenses are consistently punished, we shall not be able to control immorality.

Obviously the term "sex offenses" in this usage is not referring to rape and molestation, as we would use the term today -- or at least, it is not exclusively referring to sexual violence. Consensual premarital sex, it seems, is also included under the umbrella of "sex offense."

Interestingly, years before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which secured the right of women to vote in the United States, delinquency is already being blamed (in this case, by a woman) on women's rights:

In speaking to the superintendent of a well-known maternity home for unmarried mothers in regard to the causes which were responsible for girl immorality, she said: "The freedom and privileges allowed girls during the past fifty years were now bearing fruit. They had influenced for good and for evil. The mentally strong girl had benefited and is today our best standard of American womanhood, but the weaker girl and many of foreign parentage, not understanding the ethics of such freedom, fall easy preys to what is presented to them as American privilege and liberty."

Download the full publication...

J-Vault logo

Wiesel at Wagner

by Aimee Gonzalez

(cross-posted at Wagner Today)

Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel, whom many consider to be the most articulate witness of the Holocaust and whose work, Night, has become a classic account of that time, visited New York University’s Puck Building on April 12th with the Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship and the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. In light of his most recent publication, An Ethical Compass, and the general theme of social entrepreneurship Wiesel discussed ethos, and why we need it to advance society.

Speaking to a room filled with students, community members and faculty, Wiesel asked, “Where are we? With so many changes, convulsions, what is happening to the world? We need a historic compass,” to situate and orient ourselves. That compass is ethos.

For Wiesel, ethos “is a choice between good and evil. How can we make such a distinction? First decide what is not good—anything involving humiliation of the other.” He discussed Hitler and Stalin’s use of their leadership position to preach an ethos that was not truly there—and was instead a way to justify millions of deaths. Wiesel reminded his audience that “the choice is always in our hands.” He gives the example of the SS (Hitler’s protection force that grew into a paramilitary organization), emphasizing that they had a choice. In fact, it was a voluntary position; no one should ever believe that they were coerced.

Given Wiesel’s life story, references to Hitler and Nazi Germany are inevitable. However, he also defines ethos as generally “respect[ing] the other for whatever the other is.” His childhood love for the others in his community, beggars and madmen, grew into the social activism he is well known for today. To illustrate this respect for the other, he gave the example of his visit to German President Johannes Rau, in which he pointed out that the one thing Germany had never done was to ask the Jewish people for forgiveness. In 2000, Rau flew to Israel and went before the Knesset, and wrote letters to survivors, asking for forgiveness.

Wiesel gave another example of his social activism, the mediation between the Minister of Apartheid in South Africa and Nelson Mandela. After many days of frustration, he “took them into a room and said, ‘talk to each other.’ That was the beginning of the end of apartheid.”

His policy of respecting the “other” in others has earned Elie Wiesel recognition and reputation beyond his story of survival. Although he has written extensively about his experience, and especially the challenge of writing about the Holocaust, he has also been an activist on behalf of other humanitarian causes. (See, for example, this 2000 open letter of advice to then-President Clinton regarding the situation in Sudan.) Wiesel has also established a foundation to combat injustice and indifference worldwide.

Browse the BJPA for more resources on the Holocaust, Holocaust Education, Genocide, Human Rights, Global Responsibility, and Ethics.