We Have Seen This Before

And if a stranger live with you in your land, you will not do him wrong. – Leviticus 19:33

Possibly the most frequently repeated commandment in the Hebrew Bible is “welcome the stranger.” One of my colleagues, Rabbi Michael Latz, finds it in some form in 36 different places. It is often bolstered with the logic, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” (e.g. Leviticus 19:34) which brings to mind Hillel’s version of the Golden Rule: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellows.” (Shabbat 31a)

Today the news is full of suspicion for the Syrian refugees fleeing the disaster of Daesh (aka ISIS, but follow that link to find out why I am not going to call them “Islamic State” anymore.) One of the men who murdered hostages in the Bataclan Theater in Paris carried a Syrian passport and now the cry has gone up: “Don’t take them in, they may be terrorists!”

In places connected to Syria by land masses or the Mediterranean, I can understand the fear. But here in the United States, the border for Syrian travelers is well-defined: it’s a secure area in airports and seaports, and no one gets through unless U.S. Customs and Border Security says they get through. Refugees are subjected to special screening by various offices of several different departments of the government, any of which can turn them down. The process takes 18-24 months; it’s no quickie. If you want to learn more about it, you can do so here.

There was a time in the past when people were desperately trying to flee an evil regime, and we Americans took it upon ourselves to see them all as undesirables: wrong religion, possibly spies, maybe saboteurs! Our ports were firmly closed to them. We actually turned away whole shiploads of them: refugees not wanted.

It emerged, after the war, that the Nazis had manipulated the whole thing: they sent agents to Cuba to aggravate antisemitic feeling there and in the U.S., and spread rumors that some of the refugees were “a criminal element.” Eventually the ship returned to Germany, and the refugees went to the camps, most of them, to their deaths.

Let’s not make the same mistake twice. Check thoroughly everyone who applies for refugee status, by all means, but do not allow Daesh or any other evil regime to manipulate U.S. policy.

And remember, my fellow Jews: we were once strangers fleeing the land of Egypt.

Image: “Women and children Syrian refugees at the Budapest Keleti railway station” taken by Mystslav Chernov. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi based in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, mom, poodle groomer, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at https://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ as the Coffee Shop Rabbi.

24 thoughts on “We Have Seen This Before”

  1. It’s hard to believe that you would equate Jewish refugees—who had no state and had been persecuted and kicked out of every nation who hosted them for almost 2000 years—with these Syrian refugees. There are some 50 Muslim countries that could absorb them, there were no Jewish states to absorb Jews.

    There are millions of Muslims dedicated to murdering Christians and Jews, yet I don’t recall Jewish refugees making any such threats. I also don’t remember a single Jewish suicide bomber or coordinated attack on anyone.

    Americans aren’t wrong for not wanting these folks here, and it’s immoral and idiotic to allow them in, especially since it’s impossible to vet these people since we aren’t in Syria.


    1. I would argue that these Syrian refugees have had their state destroyed from under them, while the world looked on and wrung its hands. Yes, I agree that it is a scandal that other Muslim states are slamming the door on them, but that does not change the fact that they are fleeing for their lives. There’s no clause in the texts that I know of that says we can delegate the mitzvah to someone else if we don’t feel like doing it.

      I don’t know about “millions of Muslims dedicated to murdering Christians and Jews.” Most of the people murdered and raped by Daesh have been other Muslims. There are many Muslims worldwide who have spoken out against the extremist Muslims, but it’s curious how their voices are seldom repeated on TV news in the US.


      1. “There’s no clause in the texts that I know of that says we can delegate the mitzvah to someone else if we don’t feel like doing it.”

        This isn’t Israel, and the American people are not all (or even mostly) Jewish. While we were founded on Judeo-Christian mores, we were never solely governed by the Torah, which was specifically given to Jews to instruct them on how to live in Israel.

        Granted, there are universal truths that I believe God expects from all of his (human) creation, and certainly from those who claim to be devoted to him — so, for example, this would govern our interpersonal relationships—but our country is based on laws, some derived from New Testament and Torah, others not. Anyway, let’s face it, given recent Supreme Court rulings and the fervor to ruin Christian people trying to live out their faith, we are long way from Torah in this country!

        “I don’t know about “millions of Muslims dedicated to murdering Christians and Jews”

        2013 Pew Research says there are 1.6 billion Muslims, others say more. Pro-Muslim scholars have said that in 2008, 7% of Muslims are radicalized (although others say 37% is more accurate). So, a very conservative, and long-out-of-date estimate is 112,000,000 radicalized Muslims who cry “death to America” and believe that we are the “Great Satan” who must be defeated before their Mahdi will come.


        1. Vicky, surely you are not suggesting that since this isn’t Israel, and there is a separation of church and state in the U.S., that individual Jews are somehow exempt from keeping mitzvot?

          I regard it as a sacred duty to keep the mitzvot as an individual Jew who happens to live in the U.S. That means speaking up for the stranger and the outcast (do not stand by while your neighbor bleeds.) I regard it as a sacred duty to vote the values that Judaism has taught me.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Also Vicky, your statistics are completely wrong. It is neither 7% or 37% but more like .001% of Muslims are radicalized to the point of violence. If there were really 112 million violent Muslims we would see far more violence. Daesh alone comes nothing close to that number. Keep in mind there are millions of Muslims in France and only 8 radicalized to the point of killing 127 people. Also almost all Muslim groups have explicitly condemned Daesh. Your facts about how many Muslims are terrorists just plain wrong. It is a tiny group of BARBARIANS that are violent terrorists. Not 7% or 37% of the Muslim community.


          2. Rabbi Adar,
            No, I’m not suggesting that at all, and my comment clearly states that I’m differentiating between governing principles of interpersonal relationships, and government policies of immigration. You were conflating the two and that is what I was addressing.


  2. thank you, Rabbi. It is easy to fear the unknown and claim security concerns, but then we would never trust anyone, because no group of people is clear of someone from their midst doing something harmful. we have to stop stereotyping groups of people based on the actions of a few.


    1. I don’t think we need to trust anyone, Meredith – or rather, I would quote Ronald Reagan and say, “Trust and verify.” Most Americans don’t realize how stringent our policies about refugees already are. The multi-departmental vetting required of potential refugees is formidable.


  3. I just keep wondering…
    When democratic countries that professes to believe such things as “all men were created equal” slam their doors in the face of desperate women and children, have we not encouraged those children to grow up hating us?
    Ought we not be offering helpless and hopeless people an opportunity at “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” before their only viable option for immediate survival becomes turning to the very extremist-oppressors they currently flee?


  4. I have been wondering how to respond to this blog all afternoon and I am still not sure just how I want to pose my words. But I will give it a try. My heart bleeds for these refugees and I truly believe in the depth of my soul that we need to offer our hospitality to some of them fleeing the oppression of the war in their country. That is the premise the United States was built upon and to do less would be an unforgivable denial of the principles and values of our democracy. To simply say that because some of these refugees are of the Islamic faith means that they are potential terrorists denies the very fact that we, here in the U. S. also have citizens of our very own who profess to be of the faith of Christianity or some faith otherwise than Islam and are terrorists; or have we already forgotten the white Christian terrorist who entered the AME Church in South Carolina, who was genially invited to join the the prayer group of black worshippers and then shot and murdered them all in the name of white Christian supremacy?


    1. Sheila:

      You call the white shooter a “Christian terrorist”? Really? You mean like, the Boston bombers, the 9-11 crew, those in France this past weekend, the bombers of the Russian plane, and the train attack this summer that was thwarted by the 3 Americans? (and so on).

      Where are the “Christian terrorist” recruitment centers? Or the Christian groups/leaders saying that all non-Christians must die before Jesus returns?

      Which churches are funneling money into terrorist organizations hell-bent on the demise of Western civilization?

      Even the nasty, hateful picketing “Westboro Baptist Church”—which is unaffiliated—has very low membership, and is supported by no Christian group. But even then, I’m aware of no shootings or bombings committed by them.

      The Boston bombers were Syrian “refugees” who were trained to lie, and blow people up. The church shooter claimed he was trying to incite a civil war (he told friends he was going to shoot up a college), and he acted alone. It’s unfortunate that you aren’t able to see the difference between these and instead engage in Christian bashing.

      There are over 50 Muslim countries and if the “refugees” walked into Turkey they would be safe. However, there are ZERO places for Arabic speaking Christians to be safe. Ancient Christian communities are being wiped out as these Muslim terrorists rape, torture, crucify and behead them. Yet, Obama won’t bring them here.


      1. Vicky:

        You ask if I call the white, Christian shooter a terrorist like the Boston bombers, the 9-11 crews, those in France this past week and the bombers of the Russian plane. My response is an emphatic YES!

        I say this very simply because it matters not where the terrorist gets the money to support the motive, where the training occurs or if there is a large group supporting the killing or the actual act is done by a lone individual. An at of terror is still an act of terror.

        You specifically mention the Boston bombers as Syrian refugees who were trained to lie and blow up people. Well, on that fact you are definitely incorrect. They were Chechnian refugees whose family had taken refuge in Krygystan and entered the United States legally after requesting asylum. It was their own mother who it is believed radicalized the older brother when he went back to Krygystan to visit. You need to better fact check your information before slinging arrows at others in a debate to win favor to your point of view.

        As a last point I am not Christian bashing! Rather I am making the point of pointing out that anyone or any group of people can become a terrorist or terrorists regardless of their motive or religion. Anytime that person or group believes that their motive(s) are superior to another(s) and believes the way to gain control over the other is by killing that is TERRORISM!

        I’m sure you will want the last word on this, but do not expect another reply from me. Frankly, I wish your heart healing and peace.


        1. Sheila,

          Because I strongly disagree with your perspectives does not mean my heart is in need of “healing and peace”. Wow. Nice way to shut down the exchange of ideas while insulting me.

          Notice, I pushed back on your perspectives but I didn’t attack your intellect. And, if you insist on equating a white racist—acting alone and trying to get attention by committing a wicked act killing innocent people—with known terrorists who are well organized, well funded, have training and recruitment centers, are watched by intelligence agencies around the world, and are growing and have declared war on Christians, Jews, and Western civilization, then I have no idea how to have a productive exchange with you.


          1. Vicky, for more information about hate groups in the United States, I recommend reading the materials at the Southern Poverty Law Center (https://www.splcenter.org/). They are the experts on this phenomenon, and have been tracking it now since 1971.

            I would agree with you that none of these groups are truly Christian, just as some “Jewish” extremists have wandered far from Torah, and Muslim extremists are far from the mainstream of Islamic tradition. However, many of them self-identify as Christian, again, just as similar hate organizations self-identify as Jewish or Muslim.

            As for the “acting alone” aspect of it, I agree that’s one of the scariest things around. In the case of young man who murdered people in the Charleston church, he may have personally acted alone, but he was radicalized by websites and learned his methods via online how-to information, much like the “stabbing charts” on Palestinian websites.

            I’m extremely worried about home-grown terrorists of all stripes, much more so than imported ones, because they are NOT vetted as the refugees are. They have easy access to all manner of weapons via loopholes in our gun laws (e.g. the “gun show” rule.) Hate speech on hate organization websites inspires them and tells them how to do horrible things.

            I appreciate your spirited conversation!


  5. Isaiah:

    *My* information was taken from Pew Research and the work of John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, both of who are pro-Islamic scholars. However, I didn’t see you list any sources to base your attack on these statistics. What are you basing this “.001%” on?


    1. ICM research poll and Gallup. I will have to apologize for not having exact sources for my number of .001%. I heard that somewhere and could not find the source however my point that it is a *TINY* minority is still there. I am aware of your sources however. This is why I am surprised you put John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed in your list of sources. In their book ‘Who Speaks for Islam?’ they actually disproved the claim you are currently making. The claim that there is a sizeable portion of Muslims who support/are terrorists. I’d like to reference this book in the current discussion. My first reference is the fact that in the book they showed how Muslims who support terrorists are *just as religious* as Muslims who do not support terrorists. This proves that Muslims who support terrorists are doing so for political reasons and not religious reasons. To point to it as religious extremism is political dishonesty. The other reference I’d like to make is the fact that Muslims and Americans *are just as likely* to not support attacks on civilians. And for the record the Gallup poll polled more than 90% of the Islamic world. This is far greater then the Pew Research that if I can remember correctly polled 35% of the Islamic community?

      On a related note the overall claim that Syrian refugees should not be allowed in is very strange. Syrian refugees are *fleeing* Isis not supporting it. People who support ISIS are *going to* and *joining* Isis. Yes, there is a risk of terrorists going from ISIS back. That is a risk when ISIS is defeated and there is a lot of violent young men with guns who are recent veterans of a Jihad War. Think Soviet struggle for Afghanistan. *However* we are not at that stage and generally speaking ISIS supporters do not go for attacks at home but join ISIS. And for the record *Syrian* ISIS supporters just join ISIS. They are very close to ISIS. The terrorists that attack American or European targets are generally speaking born in Europe and America. This is an extremely important point. For example, the terrorists who attacked Paris? Belgian and French. *Not* Syrian refugees coming to Europe.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Isaiah, I appreciate the information you bring and your reasoning. More than anything I appreciate the tone you bring to argument.

        Thank you so much for participating in this discussion – I hope we see more of you around here! Shabbat shalom!


        1. Rabbi Ruth, I appreciate you bringing the Southern Poverty Law Center to the dialogue as a resource. It is an excellent one on home-grown terrorism.


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