More than 60 rabbis representing every major denomination of Judaism have signed a petition supporting Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ economic agenda.
The letter addressed to the American Jewish community was created by Jews for Bernie, a grassroots organization not affiliated officially with the Sanders campaign, to mobilize Jewish support for the independent Vermont senator’s candidacy.
“As American Rabbis living in the United States and abroad, we are compelled to lend our voices in support of the economic agenda expressed by Senator Bernie Sanders which seeks to elevate those living in dire poverty, to restore America’s middle class, and to abate the enrichment of America’s wealthiest at the expense of America’s neediest,” the letter states.
One of the signatures belongs to Rabbi Alana Suskin, director of strategic communications at Americans for Peace Now in Washington.
“Many of us who are in there work for nonprofits or for pulpits and we do not endorse political candidates,” she said. “What we were talking about is the endorsement of economic values in favor of making the playing field more equal — watching out for the poor, that kind of thing, the Jewish values behind economic justice, not specifically Bernie Sanders,” said Suskin.
Dan Sieradski, creator of Jews for Bernie, said the petition was partly inspired by what he considers a false narrative portrayed in some recent articles that the senator is somehow not Jewish because he is not religiously observant.
“One of the things that I really wanted to demonstrate with this petition was that Sanders’ economic message is very much in line with the Jewish moral and ethical tradition, particularly as it pertains to issues of economic justice,” said Sieradski. “Despite his lack of religious observance there is an innate sense of Jewish righteousness in his political platform, and so when he is denigrated as not being authentically Jewish, I personally find that insulting as a person who identifies very strongly with the Jewish social justice tradition.”
According to his campaign website, Sanders’ plan to reduce income and wealth inequality as president would increase taxes on the wealthy and large corporations, including a tax on Wall Street speculators; increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour; invest $1 trillion in rebuilding infrastructure, creating 13 million jobs; reverse trade policies; invest $5.5 billion in youth jobs, creating one million jobs for disadvantaged young Americans; make it easier to join a union; enact a Medicare-for-All single payer universal health care system; break up too big to fail financial institutions; make public college and universities tuition-free; expand Social Security; and fight for pay equity for women workers.
Making the text of the letter open ended was important to Sieradski. Should Sanders not secure the nomination — he’s seeking to best Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination — the rabbis who endorsed his economic agenda can continue pushing for the policies he is putting forth.
“The cause of economic justice is more important than any single candidate,” said Sieradski.
Suskin said Jewish law has a lot to say about economic issues.
“There’s extensive discussion of how competition is to be handled. About the requirement that we have to view wealth as something that actually doesn’t belong to us but comes through us. So the riches of the world don’t belong to human beings, they belong to God and human beings have an obligation to use them well and in service of holy living, which must include the way we treat one another.”