Resolution Affirming the Need for Socio-Economic Justice in Federal Budget Prioritization in the US

Whereas Jewish tradition commands us to “open your hand [to the poor person] and provide sufficient for the need” (Deut. 15:8); instructs that “[i]f your brother, being in straits, comes under your authority, you shall strengthen him” (Lev. 25:35); lists health care, aid for the poor and child care as among the most critical community priorities (BT Sanhedrin 17b); mandates that the community provides affordable health care, noting: “Doctors are required to reduce their fees for the poor. Where that is still not sufficient the community should subsidize the patient.” (Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 249).  The Talmud reminds us that “just as God clothed the naked, so too must you supply clothes for the naked [poor]” (BT Sotah 14a); and informs us that work brings dignity to the worker, as the Talmud (Nedarim 49b) says, “Great is work, for it honors the workers”;

Whereas our tradition, from as far back as Mishnah Pe’ah 1:2, has advocated for a progressive taxation system where the wealthy pay more than the poor; yet the current federal tax code is ridden with loopholes that benefit the wealthy, such that the wealthiest Americans often pay lower tax rates than the middle class;

Whereas the Rabbinical Assembly has passed resolutions and its Committee on Jewish Law and Standards has issued teshuvot on the communal responsibility to provide health care, a social safety net, and other aid to the needy, and has affirmed on several occasions that the federal budget should not be balanced on the backs of the poor (CJLS 1998 teshuvah on health care, RA 2011 and 2008 Resolutions on Health Care, RA 2006 Resolution on Poverty, RA 2005 Resolution on Social Security; RA 2003 Resolution on Assistance to Needy Families; RA 2002 Resolution on Helping the Poor; RA 2000 Resolution On Congressional Tax Cuts; and RA 1997 Resolutions on the Federal Deficit and on Social Security);

Whereas the United States federal government deficit presently exceeds $15 trillion and is growing at an alarming pace, yet proposals that attempt to reduce the deficit in an equitable manner, such as the recommendations of the bipartisan “Simpson-Bowles National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform,” have been ignored in current public policy debate;

Whereas, according to the 2010 federal census, 46.2 million Americans are living in poverty, the largest number ever on record, including 22% of all children; social safety net programs such as food stamps (SNAP) and the Earned Income Tax Credit have been proven to prevent millions of Americans from falling below the poverty line; and

Whereas the Jewish community has long demonstrated a commitment to economic and social justice in the United States, as exemplified by the extensive network of Federation supported social service agencies.  Hundreds of Conservative/Masorti synagogues, schools and camps are involved in social justice programs such as food banks, homeless shelters, home rebuilding projects and medical clinics.

Therefore be it resolved that the Rabbinical Assembly support a major bi-partisan effort to balance the federal budget through a combination of increasing sources of revenue and reducing federal spending in ways that do not jeopardize America’s economic recovery or endanger the social safety net for our most vulnerable;

Be it further resolved that the leadership of the Rabbinical Assembly and its United States members contact their members of Congress and other federal, state and local officials to insure continued benefits for a range of social services including Medicare, Medicaid, nutrition assistance (SNAP), child health care (CHIP), education (including Headstart and student financial aid); and subsidized housing; and

Be it further resolved that the leadership of the Rabbinical Assembly and its United States members contact their members of Congress and other federal, state and local officials to advocate for federal deficit relief that fairly balances the burdens on the wealthy and the poor in accordance with our tradition’s attitude toward wealth and communal obligation.

Passed by the Rabbinical Assembly Plenum, May, 2012