In a rare move, three major voices of Orthodox Judaism in America have expressed common cause with more liberal Jewish organizations on a hot-button issue in the United States: the separation of young children from their parents in the Trump administration’s aggressive enforcement of border security.
The Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America signed onto a joint statement with at least 25 other organizations “to express our strong opposition to the recently expanded ‘zero-tolerance’ policy that includes separating children from their migrant parents when they cross the border.”
Agudath Israel of America issued a separate statement critical of the government’s actions, and the OU issued its own supplementary statement.
A few days earlier, the OU had come under fire from some quarters by honoring Attorney General Jeff Sesions at its annual Leadership Mission in Washington.
The joint statement, addressed to Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, said the child-separation policy “undermines the values of our nation and jeopardizes the safety and well-being of thousands of people.
“As Jews, we understand the plight of being an immigrant fleeing violence and oppression. We believe that the United States is a nation of immigrants and how we treat the stranger reflects on the moral values and ideals of this nation.”
In its statement, Agudath Israel of America expressed “very deep concern and disappointment” over the separations, “a practice that has caused, and will continue to cause, profound suffering and pain to both parents and children.”
“We implore that the policy be immediately rescinded, and that affected families be reunited,” Agudah said.
OU President Moishe Bane said that “as an Orthodox Jewish organization whose values are anchored in those of the Torah and Jewish history, we are deeply concerned about any steps taken that affect families and the parent/child relationship. The family is viewed by the Torah as a sacred institution and fundamental building block of society.
“The Orthodox Union has consistently advocated for an array of public policies designed to strengthen and protect the family unit. Thus, we believe that immigration, asylum and border security policies must also be fashioned and implemented in a manner that takes all steps possible to keep parents and children united.”
Bane justified hosting Sesions and presenting him with a plaque displaying the biblical verse, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”
“Sessions addressed the OU Leadership Mission to Washington on the important topic of religious liberty,” Bane said. “We are very appreciative of Mr. Sessions’ remarks on this topic, which are important to the welfare of our community.”
Bane said that OU leadership met with Sessions privately and discussed the family separaton policy.
“Over the course of decades, OU leaders have met with political officials across the spectrum for the purpose of advancing our community’s values and interests — and we will continue to do so. The Orthodox Union remains committed to effective advocacy work on behalf of our community.”
In its statement, Agudah said:
“The problem of illegal immigration is a serious one, and we support reasonable efforts by the administration and legislature to effectively stem the flow of would-be immigrants who have not been accepted through the legal immigration system.
“But the United States, a shining beacon of freedom in the world, must always exhibit humanity and compassion in its laws and policies. Seeking to enforce our statutes does not relieve us of this moral obligation. The extreme anguish, fear and trauma born of separating undocumented immigrant family members, which is particularly harmful to children, deeply offend our highest values. It is wrong and unjustifiable.
“As Jews, we find this practice particularly loathsome. For millennia, Jews in the diaspora have suffered many forms of persecution, including — among the most tragic — the forced breakup of our families. It is a punishment that neither parents nor children should ever have to endure.”
The right-wing Orthodox daily newspaper Hamodia editorialized on Tuesday against Trump’s family-separation policy.
“Such a policy is a disgrace,” the Brooklyn-based Hamodia said. “It’s a national disgrace, and claiming it as a legal necessity until new legislation can be passed won’t do.”
It said “the United States can and should enforce the immigration laws, but current policy borders on fanaticism.”
The joint statement to Sessions and Nielsen that was joined by the OU and RCA, said, in part:
“Taking children away from their families is unconscionable. Such practices inflict unnecessary trauma on parents and children … [It] is a cruel punishment for children and families simply seeking a better life and exacerbates existing challenges in our immigration system. …
“Our Jewish faith demands of us concern for the stranger in our midst. Our own people’s history as ‘strangers’ reminds us of the many struggles faced by immigrants today and compels our commitment to an immigration system in this country that is compassionate and just. We urge you to immediately rescind the ‘zero tolerance’ policy and uphold the values of family unity and justice on which our nation was built.”