Detroit Jews for Justice works with partners on a wide range of issues relating to social and economic justice. The following is an (evolving) collection of resources, articles, and videos to help our leaders and community members understand the issues we engage with.
Water Access Source Sheet
by Rabbi David Polsky
Background to the following source: A Tosefta is an early rabbinic source from that, for one reason or another, was not included in the Mishnah. This passage speaks about a case in which one town has a water source, but another town needs water as well. What should happen? The passage first states that the town that owns the water source is entitled to make sure that they have enough water to drink before giving their leftovers to other towns.
A stream owned by a particular town--if both that town and others [need it for drinking water], they come before the others...
Afterwards [i.e. after the other towns have finished using the first town's stream], they come together to settle the cost [of their usage].
Discussion: The passage suggests that the first town should give any necessary water to the second town before demanding any payment. But why should that be? One of the commentaries explains:
- Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor b. Avraham, Mitzpeh Shmuel Bava Metzia 11:37
[The town receiving water] uses what they need, they calculate the value of the water they used afterwards, and not beforehand, since [water is] essential for life…
Background to the following source: This passage is an early Rabbinic source that discusses the obligations of neighbors to contribute towards mutual needs. Citizens of a town are obligated towards things like education, a synagogue, and a Torah scroll, whether or not they actually make use of these things. According to this passage, if someone owns a house in one city but lives in another, their obligations are more limited. Since they do not live in the city, they don’t have to pay for a synagogue they don’t use. However, the very fact that they own a home in a locale obligates them for certain payments:
If someone has a courtyard in another city, the people of the city can still force them to help them dig wells, ditches, and caves, and to help them repair the ritual baths and water streams. But they cannot compel them regarding other things. Though if they lived in that city, they can compel them regarding all of the charges.
Discussion: In other words, even if they don’t live in the city where they own a home , they must still pay for the water needs of the town.
Rabbi Yosef Ibn Migash, a medieval commentator, explains why this should be the case:
...Rabbi Yosef Ibn Migash explains... that without these ditches and caves [for water], no one would be able to live in the city, and it would become desolate...
Discussion: Water access is considered so essential to the life of a municipality that it is impossible for it to function without it. Every stakeholder within the town must therefore contribute so that everyone living there has water.
But how much should each person contribute towards the cost of water? How should it be determined? The Talmud isn’t completely clear, but a number of rabbinical authorities suggest that the cost should be apportioned based on wealth. R. Menachem ben Abraham Krochmal (1600-1661) makes this argument the most explicitly. In his volume of responsa, Tzemach Tzedek, he responds to a community asking him how to apportion the cost of extending a water source closer to the Jewish community:
…Improving the water supply to bring it towards the Jewish community is a communal enactment that is brought about through money and thus it is collected apportioned based on wealth….
But based on [the fact that the water would also be used to put out fires to homes in the community], it is possible to say that some of the funds should be collected based on property values. (However, nonetheless, homes owned by rich people will be worth more than those owned by the poor.) Thus, it seems that three quarters of the money should be apportioned based on wealth, while a quarter of the money should be collected according to property values.
Discussion: Since, in that time, the same water could be used to save houses from fire, which meant that home values should play a role in such assessments. However, the cost of fixing drinking water should be apportioned based on wealth.
With G-d’s help, we will ensure that all citizens of Detroit have access to water, enabling us to apply this verse:
Joyfully shall you draw water from the fountains of triumph.
Source Sheet created on Sefaria by Rabbi David Polsky
Did you miss my op-ed in the Detroit Jewish News last week? Well here it is!
As a transgender Jew watching the current news cycle, I can’t help but feel the Purim story acutely — the scapegoating, the persecution, the decrees that limit us and may threaten our very lives.
Every year, Detroit Jews for Justice throws what we call our “Annual Purim Party Extravaganza.” Every year, we focus on a relevant issue of the times — last year we focused on abortion rights. In years past, it’s been water shutoffs or evictions. This year, we’re partnering with the Hate Won’t Win Coalition to shine a light on the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community to gain and retain our everyday civil rights.
As a transgender Jew watching the current news cycle, I can’t help but feel the Purim story acutely — the scapegoating, the persecution, the decrees that limit us and may threaten our very lives. It isn’t hard to see the correlations. As transgender and nonbinary people become more visible and more comfortable with showing ourselves in the public eye, we have been targeted as a way to gain political power. Some of the most aggressive religious conservatives have called for our eradication, much as Haman called for the eradication of the Jews from Persia in the time of Esther. In the same way as Ahasuerus, in many ways our current administration has turned a blind eye to this. It’s coalitions like Hate Won’t Win that are our Esthers, calling out for change and a reversal of the transphobia and homophobia that threaten our safety in the world.
Hate Won’t Win is a Michigan-based coalition of LGBTQ nonprofit organizations and their allies that works to secure and expand rights for LGBTQIA+ Michiganders. Right now, members of the coalition have introduced a bill to transform the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976, or ELCRA, which protects the rights of Michigan residents against discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status or marital status. If Hate Won’t Win coalition members’ efforts are successful, ELCRA will soon be amended to prevent discrimination based on sexuality, gender identity or gender expression.
This will be a huge win for LGBTQIA+ Michiganders, and a strike against homophobia and transphobia throughout the state. Businesses will no longer be able to deny services to LGBTQ customers by using religion as an excuse for homophobia. Schools will have to uphold the rights of students to use the facilities and play on the sports team that match their gender identities. The transformation of ELCRA, as simple as it sounds, will be a foundation for a profound statewide transformation in our rights as queer and trans people in Michigan.
So, on Sunday, March 5, from 4-6:30 p.m., Detroit Jews for Justice will be partying. We’ll be singing and dancing and shaking our groggers, cheering our queer version of Mordechai and booing the homophobic Haman. We’ll hear from Hate Won’t Win representatives and have a chance to cheer them on and thank them for the work that they’re doing to keep all of us safe.
I will be there too, feeling grateful to be part of a Jewish community that loves and supports me for my whole trans self. I know that the same God that has protected us as Jews for all of these centuries will protect us as trans people. Why? Because we, too, are holy.
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