Tag: RAC

Supporting Jewish Values by Opposing Anti-Choice Legislation

RAC_2011logoI just wrote my Congressman to urge his opposition to anti-choice legislation. On the recommendation of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, I stepped up and let my voice be heard. I hope you will also.

The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 7) is a dangerous and highly restrictive bill that severely threatens the right to choice affirmed by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. This legislation would prevent women seeking needed reproductive health care from using their own, private money to pay for abortion services. H.R. 7 would also deny women the right to deduct abortion services in their health care tax credit, infringing not only on federally-administered health care plans, but also on privately-run and paid-for plans. This legislation, if passed, would likely lead many private health insurance plans to eliminate abortion coverage altogether, thus dramatically reducing women’s access to safe and affordable abortion services.

H.R. 7 further enshrines the “Hyde Amendment” into law, barring any federal government money from being spent on abortions needed by women who rely on Medicaid, Medicare or the Indian Health Service except for in the cases of rape, incest or endangerment to the life of the mother. Despite the health care disparities the Affordable Care Act seeks to correct, this bill would certainly reinforce an unfortunate reality that a woman’s ability to fully access her reproductive rights is dependent on where she falls on the income ladder.

Jewish Values

Our tradition teaches that all life is sacred. Although an unborn fetus is precious and to be protected, Judaism views the life and well-being of the mother as paramount, placing a higher value on existing life than on potential life.

We learn from Mishnah Ohalot 7:6 that a woman is forbidden from sacrificing her own life for that of the fetus, and if her life is threatened, the text permits her no other option but abortion. In addition, if the mental health, sanity, or self-esteem of the woman (i.e. in the case of rape or incest) is at risk due to the pregnancy itself, the Mishnah permits the woman to terminate the pregnancy. It is due to the fundamental Jewish belief in the sanctity of life that abortion is viewed as both a moral and correct decision under some circumstances.

Take Action

Urge your representatives to vote against this extreme legislation, which would deprive women of the ability to make their own choices about their reproductive health.

We cannot stand silent while the House of Representatives considers a bill that violates the U.S. Constitution, decades of U.S. Supreme Court precedent, and many of our core Jewish values.

To reach your Members of Congress, call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.
Or take action by email.

Let me know when you take action.

Speaking out on behalf of Bedouins in the south of Israel

Today I wrote the leadership of the Israeli government on behalf of Bedouins in Southern Israel. Along with so many American Jews, including Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, I reminded these leaders that Israel is poised to use the full might of state power against a hapless minority. The Praver/Begin bill that the government has sent to the Knesset will demolish tens of villages, transfer some 40,000 citizens from their homes to townships that are statistically proven to have four times more poverty and unemployment than recognized villages, and dispossess them of most of their lands without fair due process. 

If this issue feels important to you too, you may sign onto the letter.

Benyamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel
Tzipi Livni, Justice Minister
Yair Lapid, Finance Minister
Meir Cohen, Welfare Minister
Amir Peretz, Environmental Minister

Please use your authority to reverse the Israeli government’s decision to send the Praver/Begin bill to the Knesset, where it is scheduled for a first reading on Monday.

Israel is poised to use the full might of state power against a hapless minority. The Praver/Begin bill that the government has sent to the Knesset will demolish tens of villages, transfer some 40,000 citizens from their homes to townships that are statistically proven to have four times more poverty and unemployment than recognized villages, and dispossess them of most of their lands without fair due process. You will create a new “Bedouin Pale of Settlement” similar to the Jewish Pale of Settlement in the late 19th century.

You have a coalition agreement to support legislation to resolve the issue of the Negev Bedouin, but you are not bound to this particular bill. And, no coalition agreement can override your obligation to carry out the Torah’s command, “When a non-Jew resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him or her. The non-Jew shall be to you as one of your citizens. You shall love him/her as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. ” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Seen as strangers, the Bedouin are victims of prejudice and stereotypes. They are seen as criminals and illegal squatters who will take over the Negev. Yet, if all of their land claims were to be proven and honored, they are only asking for 5.4% of the Negev. The Bedouin are not inherently criminal or violent. However, uprooted from their lands and their culture, crime abounds in the artificially created townships. “The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied.” (Pirke Avot)

The Praver/Begin bill stipulates complicated formulas, where the best that a Bedouin landowner can hope for is to hold on to 50% of their land. This is using state power to dispossess and uproot. Are these the prophetic values of “Freedom, Justice and Peace” espoused in Israel’s Declaration of Independence? Is this “Full and equal social and political rights for all, regardless of religion, race or gender?”

As Israel is faced with tough economic choices and serious socioeconomic problems, it is terribly unwise to use NIS 6- 8 billion to create additional problems. The rates of poverty, unemployment, crime and drugs are much higher in the artificially created townships than in the villages. Cutting off people from their sources of income and destroying their social fabric and way of life will only increase these problems, and the funds needed to deal with them. At the same time, the increasing tension created will discourage investment, and make matters worse for both the Jewish and Bedouin residents of the Negev.

The time has come for an equitable resolution of Bedouin rights in the Negev. Any worthy resolution must preserve the following principles:
A. It will be arrived at only with real involvement from the Bedouin community institutions.
B. Full recognition for the 35 “Unrecognized villages, even if that means altering the national zoning plan.
C. Acceptance of the ownership claims made in the 1970’s.
D. Diversity of settlement types, not just towns or large villages.
E. Integration of the community in planning and finding solutions.
F. Developing the Negev equally – for all its residents. 

The first step is that the government withdraw its support for the Praver/Begin Bill, and that there be no first reading this Monday. 

Sincerely, Rabbi Paul Kipnes

If this issue feels important to you too, you may sign onto the letter.

Jewish Clergy Letter to the Boy Scouts of America

I signed onto this letter to the Boy Scouts of America about its policy that excludes gay scouts and scout leaders from its ranks. I was Life Scout, member of the Order of the Arrow, Junior Assistant Scout Master, and BSA Camp staff member (at Camp Wahtutca in New Hampshire; the Boy Scouts had a significant positive influence – especially on my leadership skills – during my formative years.

The Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism in Washington, DC, is shepherding a letter from Jewish clergy. For years the Boy Scouts of America has maintained a policy that excludes gay scouts and scout leaders from its ranks. Later this month the Boy Scouts National Council will consider a proposal to lift the ban on gay youth but uphold its policy of prohibiting LGBT adults from serving in the organization:

We write as rabbis and cantors to add our voices to the call for the Boy Scouts of America (“BSA”) to end the ban on gay scouts and scout leaders. Many of us are former scouts, the parents of scouts or children who aspire to scouting, and admirers of the mission and purpose of the BSA. Each of us, however, opposes the BSA’s discriminatory policy that excludes gay scouts and leaders.

The BSA ban causes real harm to gay youths, adults and their families around the country. LGBT youth, and often the children of LGBT parents as well, face alarming amounts of bullying, harassment, discrimination, and – most distressingly – LGBT youth experience significantly higher rates of suicide. These children and their families must not be denied the opportunities to achieve and the structures of support that the Boy Scouts already provide to so many.

The book of Proverbs tells us, “Train up a child in the way the child should go, and even when the child is old, they will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). For many children across America the Boy Scouts has proven an excellent way of sharing such life lessons and building character. Like the Boy Scouts, our Jewish tradition emphasizes the values of personal responsibility, service to the community and a broader commitment to justice. These values apply equally to gay and straight individuals. Indeed, how can we teach service to a community when that community excludes our friends, family members and neighbors?

We are pleased to hear that the Boy Scouts of America will consider a proposal to end the ban against gay scouts. However, we were deeply troubled to learn that the ban on LGBT scout leaders would remain in place. We believe that each human being is created b’tselem elohim, in the image of God. That stamp of the divine does not change between childhood and adulthood. Indeed, LGBT adults can and do provide exemplary role models for both straight and gay youth.

As Jewish clergy, we urge you to fully lift the BSA’s policy of discrimination that currently impacts both children and adults. When that occurs, we look forward to participating again in the worthy work of the BSA.

Other Jewish clergy may sign on here.

Repairing the Injustice by Passing the TRUST Act

In preparation for Passover, the festival commemorating our people’s passage from oppression to freedom, from fear to faith, I signed on to this letter by Reform CA, to pass the Trust Act in California (here’s a backgrounder on the Trust Act):

The imperative of Jewish history commands us to speak out loudly. As a wandering people that has often depended upon the good graces of nations for protection from physical harm and economic hardship, we are sensitive to the needs of another immigrant population. 

And as Californians, we are proud that our state has been the leader in this country for compassionate and just legislation. We know that when California sets the standard for public policy, the nation takes notice and follows 

It is for these reasons that we endorse, support, and encourage the passage of the Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) Act. The TRUST Act will serve to redress the daily injustices faced by undocumented immigrants in California.
Joining our voices with police officials, immigrants rights groups, other faith communities, and many more, we sign this petition in order to raise our voices to our state legislators and to Governor Brown and implore them to action – to vote yes on The TRUST Act and to sign it into law. 


A Jewish poet once wrote:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.”

Reform CA is delighted to launch our first campaign on statewide immigration reform through the California TRUST Act. With Pesach quickly approaching, we are reminded of our own Exodus narrative of journey and wandering, finding ourselves in so many generations the stranger in a strange land. At our seder, we hear our own cry for redemption echo in our charge to care for the stranger in our midst. As Reform Jews and Californians, we seek compassionate and fair laws for our immigrant brothers and sisters who call California home.

We are working to get thousands of signatures as we demonstrate to our elected officials the strength of the California Reform Movement. Sign our petition now – tell the California Legislature that it’s time to pass the TRUST Act and restore stability and security to our immigrant communities.
When we are young, we are often told by a loving parent that if we are lost or hurt or scared, we should find a police officer who can help us. Unfortunately, millions of California parents who are immigrants without documents must tell their children the opposite, to avoid police officers, because under current state law, contact with an officer can result in deportation. In addition, undocumented immigrants who are victims of spousal abuse or who witness a crime are afraid to reach out to local police for protection because doing so risks their own deportation.

By signing this petition here, we, the Reform Jewish community of California, say it is time to repair this injustice.


I am also including this Passover Seder ritual to help bring awareness of this issue to the people gathered around our seder table.  I invite you to do so also.

Beyond Kvetching and Handwringing: Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

There are those who look out at our country and our world, kvetch and complain, and then turn back inward, content that their kvetching was enough. 

There are those who see injustice, wring their hands and worry in silence about the effects of this action or that, and then compartmentalize the anxiety and go back to a good book. 

And then there is the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (RAC), the Washington DC address of our Jewish values, which daily moves beyond the handwringing and kvetching to ensure the world tips in the direction of tzedek (justice), rachamim (compassion) and emet (truth). This small group of people, led by the indefatigable  Rabbi David Saperstein and the tireless Mark Pelavin, take  talmudic Rabbi Tarfon’s dictum (lo alecha – yours is not to complete the task but neither can you desist from it), and run in so many holy directions that it is hard to keep up. 

Directing an army of 20-something year old Legislative Assistants, their bare bones staff take on more issues than any of us can count. They stay up on the current legislation, meet with high-powered congressional aides and communal lobbyists, and move forward an agenda growing out of the values of Torah. Masters of the crucial art of coalition building, they make friends from across the political spectrum to ensure that our Jewish values do make a difference in the world. They move upstream, always searching for causes instead of just responding to effects. Then, with finesse, they turn to rabbis and lay leaders around the country – through their Chai Action networks – to teach and pressure our legislators to vote for moderate Jewish values of decency and justice. 

I experienced all this once when, in 1985-86, I served as an Eisendrath Fellow, metaphorically chained to a desk, seeking every opportunity to effect bracha (blessing) in our world. Superfund Cleanup, Economic Justice, Shabbat HaGadol and The Sanctuary movement for Central American Refugees were in my portfolio. I helped organize the first Tzedek Society fundraising drive. I debated the Sanctuary movement opposite the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central American. Those were heady times for a 22 year old. 

Ani v’atah nishaneh et haolam – you and I will change the world. So we sang in NFTY. The Religious Action Center taught me how. 

So this week, as I rabbi out on the far West Coast, I returned home, to the RAC’s Consultation on Conscience, to learn, and argue and come to understand new perspectives on current challenges. To remember that kol dracheha shalom – that all the ways of Torah should lead to peace. we heard from VP Al Gore, Rep. Howard Berman, John Prendergast of Enough Project, Jacob Lew of the White House OMB, and Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood. And more and more. 

If my parents Linda and Ken Kipnes nurtured me on social action, and NFTY and Kutz camp strengthened the Jewish underpinnings and contemporary impetus to act, then Rabbi David Saperstein and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism transformed and transforms me with the perspectives and skills to be a Jewish agent of change in my community, country and world. 

 We came here with 6 Congregation Or Ami members (plus our kid, your press Secretary Eric Harris). We will go home, change the world for the better, and come back at the next Consultation with double the number. Happy 50th anniversary Religious Action Center.