The ‘Resident Alien’ in Ancient Israel and the ‘Dreamer’ in Contemporary America: A Biblical Analysis
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Reported widely by state newspapers, including The Oklahoman, The Norman Transcript as well as national media sources. (May 12, 2017).
Theresa Vargas, “Trump Advisor Stephen Miller Was Right About the Statue of Liberty’s Famous Inscription,” The Washington Post, 2 August, 2017. Vargas, in my view, is far too generous. True, Emma Lazarus died at age of thirty-eight before her poem could be added to the status, but she was a proponent of Jewish culture and no champion of an enforced melting pot. On Lazarus, see Jonathan Sarna, American Judaism. A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 138–39.
In an earlier generation, Miller’s comments would have been denounced as a “schande,” a shamefully heartless thing for any Jew to say—ever. Regrettably, this laudable instinct has been eroded by assimilation—not every accommodation to the majority culture is a desirable one. See Ari Feldman, “Stephen Miller’s Johnstown Roots,” Forward, October (2018): 7–9.
As reported by Andrea Noble, The Washington Times, 11 April, 2017. The effectiveness of this policy may be debated, the use of fishing language (“catch and release”) used for human beings strikes me as patently offensive.
See the excellent discussions of the “ger” in Jacob Milgrom ed., The JPS Torah Commentary, Numbers // Bamidbar, 398–402; Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Shmot/Exodus, 379–401; Joel Rembaum, “Dealing with Strangers,” in Etz Hayim (The Conservative Movement’s Torah Commentary), (JPS, 2001), 1377–82; David Lieber, “Strangers and Gentiles” in Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd edition, 19: 240–42; Michael Fagenblatt, “The Concept of Neighbor in Jewish and Christian Ethics,” The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 540–43. As so often the limited vocabulary of biblical Hebrew forces multiple translations of a single word: sometime ger is stranger, sometimes resident alien—the context must prevail.
Israel was enslaved in Egypt and then lived in the hillsides of Israel with the Canaanites being the dominant power.
If we take the book of Joshua literally, the Israelites decimated the Canaanites. More likely, as reflected in Judges and Samuel, the Israelites became dominant after a long period of conflict and acculturation. The relationship of the United States with its Native American population is complicated, but ultimately an unambiguous case of ethnic cleansing. See the works of my University of Oklahoma colleague, Gary Anderson, Kinsmen of Another Kind (1984) and The Conquest of Texas (2006).
This has been witnessed by the recent (2017) and often painful debates over the differences between the slave-owning Virginia founders and the leaders of the Confederacy.
I note, but do not enter, into the nettlesome question of how Christian were the founders. Whatever one’s judgment on this issue, it is clear that even the most deistic (or least Orthodox) were steeped in Bible, bible-teachings, and biblical language. See, among many others: Mark Noll, Sacvan Berkovitch, Carl Richard, Eran Shalev, Daniel Dreisbach and Edwin Gaustad. It is also beyond dispute that the United States and modern Israel have seen themselves at various times and degrees as biblical nations.
I apply this especially unwitting illegal aliens—the very subjects covered by President Obama’s DACA executive order—more below.
“Steve Bannon Criticizes Catholic Bishops For Response To DACA”on Charlie Rose. http://www.npr.org/2017/09/08/549549900/steve-bannon-criticizes-catholic-bishops-for-response-to-daca. Lincoln’s Second’s Inaugural Address may qualify as the most searching comments: “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God” by both opposing sides two sides in the cause of single conflict. Ronald C. White, Lincoln’s Greatest Speech. The Second Inaugural (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2002).
Naturally Joshua 10 is recalled by skeptics mainly for the “sun and moon” standing still over the Valley of Ayalon—an astronomical impossibility. The Israelite commitment in Joshua 10 to its promises in Joshua 9, in light of current circumstances, seems more noteworthy. See: Robert Boling and G. Ernest Wright, The Anchor Bible Joshua (NY: Doubleday, 1964), 256–88.
Dhimmi status, formalized in the Pact Omar, is presented as a letter from Christian Syrians to the Islamic overlords. Medieval and early modern Jews and Christians, like gerim, were not the equals of Muslims, but were, in usually, accorded a modicum of safety and security. For the text, see Norman Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands (Philadelphia: JPS, 1979), 157–58.
Obviously, some scholarly biblical minimalists would regard all of this history as a fairy tale. I do not, and neither do the segments of the Christian community who regularly appeal to the Bible as an authority on other issues.
Milgrom judges that the development of the word ger toward “religious convert,” its rabbinic denotation, is already in process during the biblical era— this seems to me absolutely correct.
The terms zar or nokhri also have a number of referents, including the use of zar for native-born Israelites who are nevertheless “strange” to priestly duties—that is, they are neither kohanim nor leviim.
Whether thirty-six or forty-six times—the protection warnings regarding the ger are recurrent. Our Rabbis taught: He who wounds the feelings of a proselyte transgresses three negative injunctions, and he who oppresses him infringes two. Wherein does wronging differ? . . . Because three negative injunctions are stated: Viz., Thou shalt not wrong a stranger [i.e., a proselyte], And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not wrong him, and ye shall not therefore wrong each his fellowman, a proselyte being included in ‘fellowman.’ . . . It has been taught: R. Eliezer the Great said: Why did the Torah warn against [the wronging of ] a proselyte in thirty-six, or as others say, in forty-six, places? Because he has a strong inclination to evil. What is the meaning of the verse, Thou shalt neither wrong a stranger, nor oppress him; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt? It has been taught: R. Nathan said: Do not taunt your neighbor with the blemish you yourself have.
My view is that this usage Bible is rhetorical, specifically ironical: the Author knows very well that Israel was enslaved while the resident alien in Israel was subordinate, but protected. In my view, the Author is counting on Israelites’ recognizing this disparity.
See Everett Fox’s comment on the emphatic nature of this warning in his“Introduction” to The Five Books of Moses (NY: Schocken, 1995), xiv–xv. Note also Deut. 24:17–22, which groups widows, orphans and gerim together, while providing the cautionary rational of Egyptian bondage. Obviously, the gerim are the most natural referent here. I do not mean to imply that protection for widows and orphans is not important: only that protection for resident aliens is surely also important.
See David Novak, The Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism, second edition. (Oxford-Portland: Littman Library, 2011).
Ruth 4:10–14 has a sort of naturalization ceremony in which she is brought in line via Naomi with the great matriarchs of Genesis.
Compare the BT Avodah Zarah, 36a–b where the intermarriage prohibition is extended. But note: even here, fears of religious idolatry, not race mixing, provides the key to the passage. For a clear overview see Maurice Samuel, “Race, Nation and People in the Hebrew Bible” B.G. Rudolph Lecture, Syracuse University, March, 1967.
The one exception to this rule is Amalek. The Amalekites attacked Israel in desert when they were escaping from Egypt and the biblical and rabbinic sources never forgave them for this. So, for example, the character Haman in the book of Esther is made an Amalekite and we have a special liturgical prophetic reading on Parashat Zakhor, “Remember what Amalek did.” See also BT, Sanhedrin 96b. In some Jewish circles until today the term “Amalek” is used as opprobrium and demonization of the enemy. I wish this tradition did not exist in Judaism -- it does. Nobody’s religion is flawless.
The term for native-born citizen, or ezrach appears, tellingly, fewer times than the term ger. See Baruch Levine, ed., JPS Torah Commentary Leviticus // Va-Yikra, 134, n. 34.
The terms Latino or Hispanic tend be used interchangeably in the popular press. Latino seems to be the preferred, broader term, with Hispanic best confined to encompass descendants of the Spanish explorers-conquerors who populated much of the Americas. Obviously, neither term captures what is a highly diverse population, originating from many countries and displaying the full gamut of political, cultural, intellectual and sexual expression.
“Latinos and the New Trump Administration” Pew Research Center Latinos and the New Trump Administration: http://www.pewhispanic.org/2017/02/23/latinos-and-the-new-trump-administration/
Based on my interactions with faculty and students at the University of Oklahoma, the Latinos I have encountered in my ten years here are uniformly hard-working, family-oriented, and tend to share the religious views of the dominant Christian society.
Approximately eighty students at the University of Oklahoma alone still face an “Uncertain Future.” See OU Daily (September 13–16, 2018).
According to my admittedly sketchy knowledge of American history, there has been a progression away from a homogenous view of what America looks like. I am on surer grounds when I claim that the cultural pluralism championed by Horace Kallen and others has changed the standard view of ethnicity and nation. See Heschel, Biale, Galchinsky, eds., Insider/Outsider: American Jews and Multiculturalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998) and Daniel Greene, The Jewish Origins of American Pluralism (Indiana University Press, 2011). The ever-burgeoning literature on “whiteness” is immense: See Neil Painter’s A History of White People (NY: Norton, 2010) and the end notes for a recent overview of the state of this scholarship.
Cited in Ralph Melnick, The Life and Work of Ludwig Lewisohn, vol. 2 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998), 52–53.
I thank my colleague Robert Con Davis-Undiano for the following citations. Needless to say, my views present mine alone. On Latinos and the New Trump Administration: http://www.pewhispanic.org/2017/02/23/latinos-and-the-new-trump-administration/ Democrats Maintain Edge as Party ‘More Concerned’ for Latinos, but Views Similar to 2012: http://www.pewhispanic.org/2016/10/11/democrats-maintain-edge-as-party-more-concerned-for-latinos-but-views-similar-to-2012/ Unlike other Latinos, about half of Cuban voters in Florida backed Trump: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/15/unlike-other-latinos-about-half-of-cuban-voters-in-florida-backed-trump/ Border wall is Trump’s least popular policy internationally: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/07/28/border-wall-is-trumps-least-popular-policy-internationally/
Ron Unz, “His-Panic: The Myth of Immigrant Crime,” The American Conservative, March (2010): 22–23.
Irving Howe, The World of Our Fathers (NY: Random House, 1967, Schocken Edition, 1990), 133–134.
In the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, “Hilchot Gerut,” 268, I see no indication that ger means anything other than convert.
The Bible inconsistently distinguishes between the ger, which I have translated here as “resident alien,” and the ger v’toshav, the “stranger and sojourner” who stands outside the community, although the difference between these two is clarified in the Talmud. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz defines a ger toshav in halachah (Jewish law) as “A resident alien who has accepted some of the laws of Judaism,” and a ger tzedek as “A righteous convert.” Steinsaltz, The Talmud. A Reference Guide (NY: Random House, 1989), 177.
The short-handed way that media customarily refers to the rule (DACA), rather than the humans affected by this rule, presumably arose out of time constraints, but seems also to be a way to anaesthetize the public against the cruel results should this protection be removed.
This raises another biblical issue: the extent to which someone may be held accountable for the transgressions of others, specifically, of their own family. To give a short version: Deut. 24 rejects the idea that any human court will hold children responsible for the sins of their parents. The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel push this point even further, using this deuteronomic teaching to reject earlier biblical ideas of divine vicarious punishment as found in Exod. 20 and Exod. 34. See the illuminating discussion in Michael Fishbane’s Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979).
New Rochelle High School in the 1970s had three principal minority groups: Jewish, Italian and African-American. There were also Latino, Asian, and others, but these three groups predominated.
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