On March 3, I wrote in Contentions about a public letter organized by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and signed by a group of Wisconsin rabbis that took the position that support for the state-worker unions in their dispute with the governor and the majority of the legislature of that state was mandated by Judaism. The RAC has replied to that blog post with the following letter. My response follows.
Responding to the effort in Wisconsin to sharply curtail collective bargaining rights of public employees, Wisconsin rabbis wrote a letter to the State Senate opposing Governor Scott Walker’s so-called “budget repair bill.” They asserted that Jews are inspired by our tradition to defend the rights of organized labor.
COMMENTARY’s Jonathan S. Tobin sharply criticized the letter, suggesting the rabbis overstepped their bounds as faith leaders. In doing so, he ignored central Jewish tenets commanding us to pursue justice and to serve as a moral goad to our communities. Jews are commanded to engage in tikkun olam — repair of the world. Government, with its immense resources, is indispensable in this task.
The Talmud alludes to a right to strike and to a precursor form of association akin to collective bargaining. Similarly, the medieval commentator Rashba talks about the right of the equivalent of trade associations and guilds to organize to protect the interests of workers. For the rabbis, the Jewish mandate of social justice included protection of workers and their rights. We do not believe Jewish law is binding upon non-Jewish societies, but we do believe that the manner in which rabbis applied the universal values of Jewish tradition to their own societies can be a model for us today. In that spirit, I am proud of our rabbis who spoke out on this issue. Read More