Letter from Oregon rabbis to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf

RELEASE DATE: July 17, 2020

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf

Department of Homeland Security

Washington, DC 20528

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf:

As Oregon Jewish clergy and members of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call For Human Rights, we unequivocally condemn unconstitutional kidnappings by unmarked federal agents, and call on you and President Trump to recall all federal forces from Portland immediately.

According to several media reports, unmarked federal agents have pulled peaceful protestors who are not on federal property into unmarked vans without probable cause, held them in a federal courthouse, and eventually released them with no record of arrest.

Traditional commentators on the Torah understand the prohibition, “do not steal” in the Ten Commandments as referring to the theft of human beings, considered one of the most grievous crimes. The twentieth century Israeli Rabbi Chaim David HaLevi wrote, “Jewish law assures us that no person will be arrested without cause, whether for a serious crime or a minor one.” (Aseh L’kha Rav 3:48)

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, too, bans unjust detention, imprisonment, or exile,  and principles adopted by the UN General Assembly further specify that, “[a]rrest, detention or imprisonment shall only be carried out strictly in accordance with the provisions of the law and by competent officials or persons authorized for that purpose.” Both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and U.S. law grant the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

In recent weeks, federal agents in Portland also shot a peaceful protestor in the head with “less lethal” munitions, causing serious injuries including a skull fracture that required facial reconstruction surgery. Local officials have asserted that the presence of federal agents only escalates tensions and causes more violence. We echo the calls of Oregon’s local, state, and federal elected officials who have repeatedly requested that federal agents leave Portland. And let us not forget that these acts of escalated violence are occurring at a time already full of uncertainty and concern from COVID-19, and when those imprisoned face a significantly heightened risk of contracting the disease.

Jewish text and tradition remind us again and again to be wary of governments and ruling powers taking advantage of those whom they are charged with serving and leading. The proper role of a government, though, must be to do “mishpat” (justice) and “tzedakah” (acts of righteousness) (II Samuel 8:15), understood as specific laws and policies instituted to ensure equality.

Oregon rabbis and Jewish community members have been in the streets and advocating to our elected officials to protest police brutality against Black Americans and other people of color, as well as the systemic racism that perpetuates inequality. We refuse to look away from this escalation in unjust state violence against Oregon residents or anyone else.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Benjamin Barnett, Havurah Shalom, Portland, OR

Rabbi Phil Bressler, Beit Am, Corvallis, OR

Rabbi Abby Cohen, Portland, OR

Rabbi Yizhak Husbands-Hankin, Temple Beth Israel, Eugene, OR

Rabbi Daniel J. Isaak, Emeritus Rabbi, Congregation Neveh Shalom, Portland, OR

Rabbah Debra Kolodny, UnShul, Portland, OR

Rabbi Eve Posen, Congregation Neveh Shalom, Portland, OR

Rabbi Ruhi Sophia Motzkin Rubenstein, Temple Beth Israel, Eugene, OR

Rabbi Laurie Rutenberg, Gesher-A Bridge Home, Portland, OR

Rabbi Ariel Stone, Portland Interfaith Clergy Resistance, Portland, OR

Rabbi Joey Wolf, Havurah Shalom, Portland, OR