I am a rabbi and teacher at The Weber School, a Jewish high school in Sandy Springs, where teaching Torah—instilling values in the next generation—is my sacred calling.
Every day, I try to impress upon my students that education must lead to meaningful action and that our tradition teaches us to speak out on behalf of our neighbors in distress. We read in Leviticus, “Do not stand idly by as your neighbor’s blood is shed.” The ancient rabbis, sages of the first centuries, expand upon this verse in the Talmud, and they teach: when we see a person in pursuit of another to do harm, we must intervene. Our religious principles—and our faith—demand that we step in to protect others against harm.
As a Jewish American, I treasure the religious freedom afforded me in this country and protected by the first amendment of the Constitution. I am free to practice my religion, to observe my faith traditions and rituals, as I see fit. Indeed, as a Conservative rabbi, ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, I am free to choose to officiate or not officiate at religious ceremonies as I deem appropriate. I DO NOT NEED a religious freedom restoration or pastor protection act to exercise my rights as a Jewish American or as a member of the Jewish clergy.
These bills, now working their way through our state legislature, use words like “freedom” and “protection” to misdirect our attention away from their true purpose, which is to allow discrimination under the guise of religion. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, this legislation seeks to harm the most vulnerable members of our society: citizens without protections under our state’s constitution and without legal recourse against discrimination.
Today, I left my students at school with another teacher on our faculty so that I could model for them how to take action when our Torah, our Jewish values, requires us to act. Like the ancient rabbis, I understand it is my religious duty to intervene and stop a pursuer about to do harm.
I cannot stand idly by while my neighbors are threatened by laws that would allow discrimination against them, while each and every one of us is threatened by the narrowest interpretation of God.
The God I worship is not small;
The God I worship has an expansive love for all humanity.
This legislation will NOT protect our religious freedom, nor defend our right to worship God. This legislation will actually prevent us from living up to our religious principles and ideals:
My faith requires that we love our neighbors;
My faith demands that we not mistreat our neighbors;
My faith insists that we see every human being as created in the divine image.
We must intervene before the pursuers do harm.
We must stop these discriminatory bills before they become law.
Rabbi Pamela Jay Gottfried
February 9, 2016
Rosh Hodesh Adar I 5776