Ki Teitzei, Ethics, and Israel
I think that Parashat Ki Teitzei is one of those Torah portions that particularly resonates with Progressive Jews. It is fittingly placed in Elul, the month before the High Holidays. The portion is filled with the basic ethics of how we treat our fellow human beings, such as:
- Do not withhold wages even to those who are lowly and defenseless, even if they are strangers
- Do not pervert justice for converts or orphans or take things from widows
- Do not use all of the food you produce for yourselves, but leave some for the poor and defenseless in your community
- Holding trials to find out who is innocent and who guilty and to hand down judgments
The portion ends with:
- Remember the injustice that was done to us as we fled Egypt by Amalek
What makes the Torah and Judaism special is that they are more than just a belief in a higher power— they are about what we do and how we treat each other. During the month of Elul, we are supposed to think about how we have acted in the past year. If we have wronged others, we are to take steps to right them—to make t’shuvah—and to return to the path that God laid out for us.
Similarly, Reform Zionism is not only about being in the land that God gave us, but about how we live out our relations in the land and to the people. Many of us support Israel, but as Reform Jews is that enough? If we really care about ethics and how we treat people, shouldn’t we also get involved in the ethics of Israel, of how Israel treats its citizens and how the citizens treat each other? Elul is a good time for each of us to think about whether we are doing what we can to promote an ethical Israel.
ARZA is our pathway for having an impact in Israel. We are all able to be members of ARZA, either through our congregations or directly through ARZA. With the help of its members, ARZA is the single largest supporter of the Reform Movement in Israel (IMPJ). IMPJ is actively involved in social service projects that feed the poor and provide them with the tools to not need assistance. Our movement in Israel actively promotes positive relations with Arabs in Israel, Christians, and Muslims. Through IMPJ’s social action arm, the Israel Religious Action Center, they oppose racism, sexism, and other behaviors we would consider unethical. They promote equality by educating people, and by providing opportunities for practices like b’not mitzvah for girls and women. Membership in ARZA supports these positive ethical acts.
As a Zionist membership organization, ARZA is a member of the World Zionist Organization and has seats on the Jewish Agency Board. Through those relationships, we are able to help support, in addition to IMPJ, our movement in Israel—to Hebrew Union College, the World Union, and the worldwide Reform Youth Movement, and to promote good government policies towards Bedouins, non-orthodox congregations, and more.
ARZA’s membership campaign this year, which in many congregations is in full gear in Elul, promotes an underlying sense of ethics, and our role in it. We call on people to “Picture Israel, a Pluralistic and Democratic State.” Our second annual wall calendar, which comes out this month, is “We are Family.” This calendar features pictures of URJ and IMPJ twinned congregations, to help us put ourselves in the picture. While you reflect on this week’s parashah, and when you look at your actions during the month of Elul, please think about your relationship to the State of Israel and life there. Are you doing all you can to be part of ethical relations there? Are you a member of ARZA?
Barbara Kavadias is the Acting Executive Director of ARZA, the Reform Israel Fund.