This Shabbos our beit midrash will be holding an "Is it Jewish to Occupy Wall Street" Shabbaton at a local shul. On Friday night we're having a Civil Rights dinner program, and we'll discuss a pair of scenarios. Each table will have a set of sources to use in preparing their responses to the scenarios. Here's the material we plan to distribute [each table will have a sub-set of these sources]; I'd love to hear your thoughts:
Scenario #1: Police officers are indicted for harrassing members of a local minority, and a protest rally is held to challenge these practices. Should Jews participate in the protest? Why, and why not?
And you shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Rambam, 12th century Egypt, Mishneh Torah Hilchot Melachim 10:12
It appears to me that we act with resident strangers [who have renounced idolatry] in the manner of the land and with acts of kindness as we do to Jews, for we are instructed to keep them alive, as it is written, 'You shall give it to the stranger in your gates, and he will eat it.' When the Sages said, 'We do not offer them greetings twice,' that was regarding idolaters, not resident strangers. Even regarding idolaters, the Sages instructed us to visit their sick, to bury their dead as we bury Jewish dead, and to support their indigent along with Jewish indigent, to promote peaceful paths, as it is written, 'Gd is good to all, and His mercy is upon all of His creations,' and 'Her paths are pleasant paths, and all of her ways are peace.'
And Esav said, "We will travel and go, and I will go with you." And Yaakov said to him, "My master knows that the children are weak and the nursing cattle are upon me, and they will be pushed for a day and all of the sheep will die. Let my master go before his servant. I will lead slowly, per the work before me and per the children, until I will come to my master, to Se'ir." And Esav said, "I will leave here with you, abandoning the nation that is with me." And Yaakov said, "Why should this find favour in the eyes of my master?"
And Esav returned to his path to Seir that day. And Yaakov travelled to Succot, where he built a house…
R' Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 19th century Russia, Haameik Davar to Bereishit 33:1
[Yaakov said] "Why would travelling together find favor in the eyes of my master? Do not send me any of your men, for their company would be a burden for me." Esav understood from this that Yaakov's loving company with him was only due to temporary need, and that the idea of companionship with him and his men in general was not pleasing to him, and that Yaakov's eye was really toward dwelling securely, alone.
R' William Malev, Congregation Beth Yeshurun (Conservative), Houston, Texas, 1958; (The Temple Bombing, Melissa Fay Greene, pg. 183)
I certainly agree that martyrdom is perhaps the noblest service which anyone can render to a great cause. My only contention is that no one has the right to martyr somebody else for the cause he believes in. Certainly, the Jews of the South have the sovereign and unalienable right to become martyrs in the cause of desegregation if they so wish. I reject however any claim on the part of the national 'defense' organizations to impose martyrdom on the unwilling Jews of the South and to bask in their reflected glory of their self-sacrifice. It would seem to me that if they think so much of martyrdom, they ought to come down South and try it for themselves.
R' Yosef Dov Soloveichik, Confrontation, 1967
We cooperate with the members of other faith communities in all fields of constructive human endeavor, but, simultaneously with our integration into the general social framework, we engage in a movement of recoil and retrace our steps. In a word, we belong to the human society and, at the same time, we feel as strangers and outsiders.
Scenario #2: A fire destroys a community centre in a low-income section of town. Should the Jewish community rally funds to help rebuild the centre? Why, and why not?
And when you sell to your friend or purchase from your friend, one shall not oppress his brother.
Midrash, Sifra Behar 3
How do we know that when you sell you should only sell to your friend? 'When you sell to your friend.' And how do we know that when you purchase you should only purchase from your friend? 'Or purchase from your friend.'
And if your brother becomes needy and his hand descends with you, you shall grab hold of it, the stranger and resident, and he shall live with you.
Midrash, Sifra Behar 5
'Stranger' – This is a righteous stranger. 'Resident' – This is a stranger who eats neveilot [non-kosher]. 'And he shall live with you' – Your life precedes his.
Talmud, Gittin 61a
We support needy non-Jews along with needy Jews, we visit ill non-Jews along with ill Jews, we bury deceased non-Jews along with deceased Jews, in pursuit of peaceful paths.
Rambam, 12th century Egypt, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Zechiyyah uMatanah 3:11
A Jew may not give an idolater a free gift, but he may give it to a resident stranger [who has renounced idolatry], as it is written, 'You shall give it [neveilah] to the stranger in your gates and he shall eat it, or you shall sell it to a non-Jew.' To a non-Jew you sell it, but do not give it. To a resident stranger you may sell it or give it, for you are instructed to keep him alive, as it is written, 'the stranger and resident, and he shall live with you.'
R' Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Confrontation, 1967
Jacob continued, my brother Esau will also ask a third question: "And whose are these before thee?" Are you ready to contribute your talents, capabilities and efforts toward the material and cultural welfare of general society? Are you ready to present me with gifts, oxen, goats, camels and bulls? Are you willing to pay taxes, to develop and industrialize the country? This third inquiry is focused on temporal aspects of life. As regards the third question, Jacob told his agents to answer in the positive. "It is a present unto my lord, even unto Esau." Yes, we are determined to participate in every civic, scientific, and political enterprise. We feel obligated to enrich society with our creative talents and to be constructive and useful citizens.