Yesterday I managed to get myself to services for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The familiar rituals and rites of Judaism can be comforting but often lapse into rote recitation. But yesterday, the rabbi’s sermon woke me up and put a new spin on the moral code that underpins all humanity, which is at the heart of not only Jewish teaching, but the foundational premises of our country, principles we are rapidly losing over the course of the Bush Presidency.
The rabbi talked about a little-remarked-upon section of the Old Testament. Leviticus is filled with a laundry list of commandments and guidelines for life in Biblical times. One section focuses on “just weights and measures.”
35 Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure. 36 Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.
An ephah is a unit of dry measure, roughly equivalent to about 23 liters. The way that business was conducted in this time was that every shopkeeper would have their own ephah, and their own stone, and would parcel out portions of products based on how they filled the ephah or balanced against the stone. It was stressed in the Old Testament that you have ONE ephah, and that it be clean and untainted, so that the measure was the same everywhere anyone traveled. What was commanded was that you never substitute “ephah v’ephah”: having one measure for some people, and a different measure for others.
The rabbi made a strong statement paralleling this commandment for just measures with our present policies on immigration. “You deal with the person in front of you, and you have mercy on them and deal with them and provide for them and care for them as you would anyone else.” This is not a political accomodation but a moral imperative; to do any different would be to put our thumb on the scale. And then the rabbi paused, and said, “I should stop there but I won’t. For I must not be silent about torture.” This is also a violation of “ephah v’ephah.” He said that locking up suspects indefinitely and coercing their confessions through prohibited tactics is a sin against God, an “abomination,” as the Old Testament calls it, and one that was held in the highest seriousness to Hebrew scholars. “We know a lot about that other thing called abomination,” he said, a clear reference to the oft-used line by conservative Christians that homosexuality is an “abomination.” Unlike sexuality, using separate ephahs for separate people CANNOT be rectified through penance. It is as serious a sin as there is in Judaism. And this is perhaps because it gets at the very heart of the measure of a man. If we cannot treat others the same, no matter what the circumstances, we have no basis to call ourselves moral human beings.
The United States has their own “ephah,” called the Constitution. We cannot profess to follow the rule of law while breaking it whenever convenient. We not only damage our credibility, but we do violence to the ancient concept of just weights and measures. For six and a half long years we have seen an Administration throw morality out the window while claiming to have the word of God on their side. They have eliminated the Great Writ of habeas corpus, they have spied on their fellow citizens without warrants, they have incarcerated terror suspects at Guantanamo and secret prisons indefinitely and without charges, they have nullified federal statutes through the questionably legal means of signing statements, and more. And we cannot stand idly by while they use one ephah for their friends and allies, and another ephah for anyone they deem a threat, be it militarily or politically. We must stand up for just measures.
This week, the ACLU of Southern California, in partnership with Calitics, is launching The Campaign for Our Constitution. It is an aggressive effort to restore our Constitution and our civil liberties and reverse the extreme policies of the Bush Administration that have made us less safe and called into question just what freedom we’re supposed to be fighting for abroad. Bloggers, constitutional scholars and activists are joining together in the fight to recapture basic constitutional values. There are going to be a lot of action items you can take in the future, but for now I want to give you the schedule for the coming weeks.
The campaign officially kicks off Monday, Sept. 17, with a conference call with Salon.com contributor and New York Times bestselling author Glenn Greenwald. He will discuss the future of the Constitution with Cenk Uygur, co-host of Air America’s “Young Turks” morning show, and take members’ questions. The conference call is open to anyone who RSVPs through www.ourconstitution.net.
In the next month, the campaign will hold conference calls on Sept. 20 with Dr. Drew Westen, an Emory University psychologist, Huffington Post contributor, and author of “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation” and on Oct. 4 with John Dean, former White House counsel for Richard Nixon and author of the new book “Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches,” just released by Viking Press. There also will be a free screening and discussion with director Robert Greenwald (“Outfoxed,” “Unconstitutional”) in Hollywood on Sept. 25.
“Southern Californians are itching for a fight,” said ACLU/SC field director Susanne Savage. “The U.S. Constitution is our core issue. We intend to lead a campaign that will expose the sad truths about our government’s policies, inspire people to act and give our electeds the political cover they need to stop legislating out of fear.”
There is no more important issue for our country moving forward than to regain the sense of justice and truth that’s been sorely missing for too long. Please visit OurConstitution.net and see what you can do to help. We can and must return this nation to one where there are just weights and measures.