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Breaking Glass, By Chaim Heller, Head of School

Dear Parents:

Why study Torah? No, seriously, ask yourself why should we study Torah, Jewish texts and teaching? If we study Torah at school and don’t know how to apply it to our lives, why study it at all? Sometimes, studying Jewish values and texts seem separate from how we conduct ourselves in our day to day lives. It’s almost as if we teach Jewish studies here at SDJA (and other places) and put the texts behind a glass door with a small hammer that says “In case of a real life moral issue, break glass.” And we never do.

The current national discussion issue surrounding immigration is what brought this to mind for me. As part of our daily studies, San Diego Jewish Academy students read from Jewish texts to learn about human dignity and behavior that are central to our tradition.

So, here we have a real-life issue about immigration. There is an important national debate that includes our real need for national security, our desire to be welcoming to refugees in need and the complexity of competing perspectives. For all of us this is an opportunity to take Jewish values and apply them to a compelling real-life situation.

At San Diego Jewish Academy we use the teachings of our past to meet the challenges of the present and address questions about the future. Over the course of their journey with us, your children will study many Jewish texts that speak to their ethical responsibility and the importance of human dignity. Here are four (of many) texts that illustrate differing perspectives on the issue of immigration.

Two texts supporting those who are concerned and anxious about the safety of citizens in the United States:

  • “If someone comes to kill you, pre-empt and kill him first.” (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah, chapter 25, excerpt #4).
  • “Pray for the welfare of your government, for without the fear of it, each person would swallow up his fellow.” (Ethics of the Fathers, 3:2).

Two texts supporting those who are concerned with the plight of the refugees:

  • You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)
  • Cursed be the one who subverts the rights of the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. And all the people shall say, Amen. (Deuteronomy 27:19)

This is a teaching moment for all of us who have or teach children in SDJA. How can Jewish texts inform our approaches to the way we live in the real world? If we cannot use Jewish texts to discuss the issues surrounding refugees – when our tradition has so much to say – when can we use them? Do we study text and Jewish values so we may – perhaps one day in the future – use them?

No. This time let’s break the glass, take out our texts and use them to help our children – and ourselves – make meaning of our world and our lives.



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