Culture, Justice

Decade in Review: Social Justice

Jewschool’s decade-in-review series began with the best JewFilms of the 2000s, Independent Minyanim, and the Jewish Food Movement and continues with this roundup of the Social Justice phenomenon.
Organizations which either didn’t exist or hadn’t yet gotten their voice a decade ago: Progressive Jewish Alliance (with regions in Los Angeles and San Francisco), Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps, which launched in New York, and now has branches in DC, Chicago and New Orleans, the environmental group Hazon, American Jewish World Service (actually AJWS with Ruth Messinger—whole different thing than AJWS), Jewish FundS for Justice, the New York group Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Jews United for Justice in Washington DC, Boston’s Jewish Organizing Initiative, Minnesota’s Jewish Community Action. In addition, the eminence grise of Jewish social justice organizations, Chicago’s Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, hired Jill Jacobs, a Conservative Rabbi as Director of Outreach and Education in 2004, and started a summer seminar for rabbis (modeled on Interfaith Worker Justice’s “Seminary Summer”) which integrated Torah study and the practice of social justice. (Jacobs was then hired away from JCUA by JFSJ).
Cautious embrace of some social justice goals by the institutions of the Conservative and (to a much smaller extent) the Orthodox movements: Spurred on by the exposure of the unjust treatment of workers and the abuse of animals at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here -this is not an exhaustive list- for various JS posts on this never ending source of nausea) in Postville, Iowa, the Conservative movement launched the so-called heksher tzedek. This is a kosher seal of approval which guaranteed that the product under supervision was manufactured ethically—that workers’ rights were being respected and that animals were not being abused. An Orthodox group called Uri L’tzedek (“Awaken to Justice”) organized shortly afterwards to the same end. Also during this time, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly approved a decision (a “responsa”) authored by Rabbi Jill Jacobs (by then having moved to the Jewish Funds for Justice as their Rabbi in Residence) requiring synagogues to pay their employees living wages. There is also a concurring responsa by Rabbi Elliot Dorff.
Finally, the latest Rabbinical seminary on the block, the Modern Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCC) has a social justice track which culminates in doing a social project (Canfei Nesharim was started by students at YCC).
Add it all up: the old split between the Jews who are interested in ritual practice and Jews who are interested in ethical practice is finally being eroded. The practice of social justice as a Jewish textual and ritual and political practice got a solid footing in the past decade. Keep it up.

One thought on “Decade in Review: Social Justice

  1. Aryeh, it’s Uri L’Tzedek (, not canfei nesharim, that was launched as the first Orthodx social justice organization. Also, no mention of the Tav HaYosher? It’s up in almost 30 places (

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