Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Shabbat and Righteous Giving: A Tzedakah Box for All Times

“Oh, look, mom,” I heard a young congregant say to her mother.  “There’s a beautiful tzedakah box on the wall over there, and it seems very lonely…and very hungry.  Can we give tzedakah on Shabbat?”

“Of course, sweetheart.  The Rabbi said it was all right.”

And it is.  And you should.

Because of the generosity of Roger Brown, one of our congregants, we have a beautifully crafted tzedakah box affixed to the wall outside our sanctuary.  Whenever one enters the building – whether for services, religious school, meetings, or social gatherings – now one can donate a little or a lot to the organization or cause that we have selected that month.

One of the concerns raised was whether it was permitted to give money on Shabbat.  That is, some might ask, would it be permissible to carry funds to Temple, to bring them into the building, and then to deposit them after sundown on Friday and before sundown on Saturday?

My answer is yes, simply stated.  As a liberal movement, we do not disparage the carrying of money – or the giving of tzedakah – on Shabbat, or sneer at those who spend money on Shabbat for the purpose of ‘enjoying the day.’  The opposite is more true!

The giving of tzedakah, or the enjoyment of other activities that elevate the soul and relax the body, is the true aim of Shabbat.  If one goes out into the world and finds ways to recreate oneself on this most blessed day of rest, she or he is to be doubly praised.  Going to the cinema, eating out at a restaurant with friends or family, riding a bicycle 40 miles there and back, paying an entrance fee at a local amusement park or state campsite for recreational use:  All of these are valid and crucial ways to spend the Shabbat day.

The purpose of Shabbat is to bring to the soul a feeling of rest, completeness, and peace.  These are the goals that we should affix to the day of the Sabbath.  I wish us all success in this important endeavor.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Shabbat for All Generations" comes also to Saturday morning!

As you may know, our synagogue has been holding an all-musical service each month, on the third Friday night, for the last four years.  We call this special service Shabbat Midor Lador, a “Shabbat for All Generations,” with the hope that we can bring together worshipers young and old, singers and non-singers, for a joyous and rollicking Shabbat that enriches us as individuals and as a community.

Our all-volunteer band, made up of Temple Beth El members and me, leads us in song, story, and learning in a pleasurable worship service.  And this coming December 3, our “Shabbat for All Generations” comes to Saturday morning, at 10:30 AM at Temple Beth El.  We hope you can be there as well.

“Shabbat services for the community on Saturday morning?”  I hear you say.  “But we’re accustomed to come to Temple on Friday nights.  Is this a change?”

No, it’s not a change, just a one-time experiment to see if perhaps we should have services also on Saturday mornings when we don’t conduct B’nai Mitzvah.

In fact, the Friday evening communal service, usually a late one, is an invention that’s only one hundred and fifty years old, conceived and developed by the founder of Reform Judaism in America, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise.  In those days, Jews stayed away from the synagogue on Saturday morning, but not for the reasons that you may imagine.  Here is what I mean.

Many Jews in those days were merchants and retail store workers and owners.  Many others were federal and state government employees.  Both of these groups had to work on Saturday mornings: Retail workers obviously had to be present when most of the rest of society had free time; government employees worked a six-day week.  So Rabbi Wise wanted to find a solution to the empty synagogue pews that he saw on Saturday mornings.

And the late Friday night service was born.  It was a service with the traditional Shabbat liturgy, usually not a Torah reading (at first; the Torah would still be read on Saturday morning), but did include a sermon to inspire the members.

But over the last 50 years or so, people’s responsibilities and lifestyles changed, and Saturday mornings have now been freed up from work and given over to leisure time.  So we are hoping to fill some of your leisure Shabbat time with good music, fun stories, and worshiping in community.

Please join us for a great Shabbat experience.  You’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Children in the Sanctuary: What’s Not to Like?!

Last Friday evening, November 4, we tried an experiment at Temple Beth El.  We had our usual First Friday night service (oneg Shabbat at 5:30, service at 6, adjourn with a “Shabbat Shalom” at 7 PM) but with a twist.

We specifically invited families with young children to the service (along with the usual attendees, who are mostly adults), offered a few more child-oriented foods on the oneg Shabbat table, and changed our service only slightly.  Our hopes were that we’d attract parents who’d like to offer their children a Shabbat experience that is geared toward them, and yet have a contemplative atmosphere that also addresses the spiritual needs of adults.

This is what happened.

At 6 PM, we began our service where the congregation was, in the Community Court, with songs and table blessings of candles and wine.  Then we led everyone into the Sanctuary while singing.  Then we began the service with readings and prayers, leading us up to the Sh’ma.  After everyone was seated again, I invited the young people, ages 8 and below, up to the bimah steps to listen to a story especially for them.

When the story concluded, teachers and assistants escorted those children out for 45 minutes of a special Shabbat activity: crafts, stories, and fun.  In the Sanctuary, the adults had 45 minutes of calm, quiet, and meditative worship, as well as a brief d’var Torah on the weekly portion of Lech Lecha.

At 7 PM we concluded the service, and, behold, there were the kids in the Community Court, finishing up the pre-service oneg Shabbat foods, and waiting quite patiently for their parents.  We also had some cookies for them as they exited.

What worked?  Most everything worked tremendously well.  We allowed our worshipers to have a peaceful experience.  We let our children have a fun Shabbat time at Temple.  And we had a larger congregation that night than many First Friday nights.

There were a few logistic kinks to be worked out, but the feedback from both parents with kids – and adults who came alone – was quite positive and upbeat.  It is definitely something to be replicated at our earliest opportunity.

It is crucial to stress that both adults and children felt comfortable in this worship environment, and that we hope that both of these groups join us in the future.

If you have ideas about this important facet of Jewish life, that is, attracting young kids to positive experiences at Temple, please comment on this event.

Monday, October 17, 2011

On the Nature of What Moves People

I love my congregants. They’re interested, they’re attentive, and they have passions that I am only beginning to learn about. It is a pleasure to hear them and to work with them.

For example, regarding my High Holy Day sermons: Each one has received reactions, and they’re basically positive ones! Oh, yes, there is some disagreement over my assessment of the Obama administration’s strong support for Israel, but in fact, I have received upbeat reactions to both the messages that I delivered and the services overall.

I have received the majority of comments about my sermon on mental health and mental illness, and my call for an ongoing Temple-based support group for congregants who are mentally ill and their families. I have received offers of help from at least ten members who, for various reasons, expressed the hope to be involved in some way.

Knowing what I know about them, each of them has either a personal or professional connection to the area of mental health and mental illness, and all are willing to be helpful. That says a lot about them, and it also bespeaks a need that we can fulfill. So an agenda is set for the future. And if you’re a member of Temple Beth El, and you are reading these words, please contact me to get involved.

May we all have a wonderful and productive New Year of 5772!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Talmud rabbi has lesson for Wisconsin

(The following blog is an article that appeared in the July edition of the Milwaukee Jewish Chronicle, and was adapted from a sermon that I gave at Temple Beth El, Madison, Wisconsin, on May 27, 2011.)

One day while [Honi was] walking on the road, he noticed a man planting a carob tree. Said Honi to the man: “You know that it takes 70 years before a carob tree bears fruit. Are you so sure that you will live 70 years and eat from it?” “I found this world filled with carob trees,” the man replied. “As my ancestors planted them for me, so do I plant them for my progeny.”

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Ta’anit 23a

Honi the Circle-Maker, a rabbi of our tradition who lived in Judea in the first century BCE, had great foresight and was a champion of the people.

He taught us the lesson about the carob tree: One must plant well in one generation so that the next generation will benefit from a good harvest (Talmud Tractate Ta’anit 23a).

I have been thinking lately about the story of Honi and its message in connection to the events in the state of Wisconsin in the last six to eight months. Specifically, I consider the manner in which our state has gone about introducing, processing, debating, and passing new budget legislation.

In the past, citizens and their elected representatives have raised questions and sought answers in an open, transparent, courteous, thoughtful, and — for the most part — civil manner.

So I wonder: Why have things changed? How have our recent confrontational and hurried-through politics affected the dynamic that exists between the people and the three branches of their government?

I also consider the substance of the new laws that our legislators and governor have passed. And I wonder: If we implement these new ideas — ideas that seem to break fundamentally with past traditions of caring about our neighbor — what will the quality of life be like for future generations in Wisconsin? And how long will we have to live with the consequences of these proposals?

On the issue of civility and tone, I observed these examples over the last six months:

• Candidates for elected office concealed many of their true governmental agendas.

• The new administration of Gov. Scott Walker quickly sought to centralize certain rule-making powers in the executive branch.

• Senate and Assembly leaders hurried legislation through, actions recently declared in violation of our state’s open meetings law.

• State legislators used legal but questionable tactics to slow down or subvert the legislative process.

• And in April, when a group of 30 interfaith clergy met with assistants to the governor to voice our concerns (I was among them), it seemed to us that they met us only as a courtesy.

They refused to understand the needs of lower income Wisconsinites and those most vulnerable, that is, those who would be directly affected by the cuts to services.

I look at all of this, and more, and wonder: Is this the paradigm of civic behavior that we really want to transmit to our children? Do we want our descendants to remember — and believe to be the norm — the image of politicians who routinely play political games with the lives of real people?

I believe that we have not acted in the best tradition of the state of Wisconsin. To my friends in the human services field, these budget proposals represent a condescending disregard toward those who are on the margins of society.

And what is more difficult: We have lessened the tax burden on those more able to pay. Those who can pay more — and who are generally willing to do so — now have fewer obligations.

This combination of fewer taxes on the rich, and more taxes on the poor and working poor, represent a reversal of how things ought to be.

From our faith tradition’s point of view, those on the margins of society are precisely the people whom we are to keep at the forefront of our consciousness. The Torah tells us 37 times to care for the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the stranger.

Our tradition also tells us that, as mere sojourners on this planet, we have a special responsibility to serve as God’s stewards of the earth and its creatures, to care for those in need.

That’s why Honi the Circle-Maker reminds us that one must prepare carefully in one generation for those in the next. I hope that we, in this generation of Wisconsinites, will be able to plant well for the next.

These human values are the ones we received from our ancestors who planted them in our tradition many years ago, and which we carry forth today.

And we should do this not only because we are Jews — and this is what Jews do — but also because we are Wisconsinites concerned with passing on to future generations the tradition of civility and care for those in need.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Faithful Call for Shared Responsibility to Serve People and Balance Budgets

To people of faith, the phrase ‘our budget should be representative of our values’ means everything, and the fulfillment of real human needs becomes a consideration of the highest importance. This is the reason I am so distressed regarding proposals to eliminate $1.6 billion worth of human service and education funding from our state budget.

Since January of this year, our state leadership has advocated for increased tax breaks for wealthy citizens and for large corporations, as well as decreased expenditures to programs that help people achieve lives of dignity. Low-income seniors would then pay a greater share of their medical care; impoverished citizens would see their social safety net will shrink; primary and secondary school students would experience increased class size and the elimination of special educational and GT programs; and many others.

Adding injury to insult, the U.S. House of Representatives last week offered similar proposals that would yield the same callous results. The House passed legislation to cut the national debt over the next four years by severely reducing Medicaid, Pell grants, food stamps, and low-income housing subsidies. More distressing is the proposal to transform completely our Medicare program into state block grants, producing vouchers for senior adult health care that will likely decrease in value as future health care costs escalate.

As in the Wisconsin legislature, nothing in the House plan suggested raising corporate taxes (especially on those corporations who pay little or no tax on their profits) or personal income taxes on wealthier citizens. The vast majority of debt reduction would come at the expense of programs that support low-income Americans.

If we believe that it is essential to reduce our debt, whether on the state or local level, people of faith must consider truly a righteous pathway. Such an approach would call upon each person and corporation to share equitably in the costs of running this nation that is full of opportunity and promise.

It should be the task of each citizen and corporation – those who, each day, benefit from life in America – to be responsible for the welfare of our great and prosperous nation. This is what shared responsibility is all about. Let each person and business entity contribute their equitable share of revenue, in order to receive – in return – their rightful share of the benefit of being part of this nation.

My support of this notion of ‘shared responsibility’ is based on concepts we find in the Hebrew bible. These are some of the values that can create a climate of shared responsibility for our state, nation, and world:

1. The inherent dignity and value of each human being, based on the notion that humanity was created in the Divine Image (derived from Genesis 1:27).

2. The equality of all people, based upon our common descent from Adam and Eve (derived from Genesis 5:1-2).

3. The need to empathize with people who are oppressed, persecuted, and wronged (derived from the many admonitions to care for the stranger, the poor, the widowed, and the orphan (derived from Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:34, Deuteronomy 10:18-19, Deuteronomy 14:29, Deuteronomy 16:11 and Deuteronomy 24:19-21).

4. The belief that we have a responsibility of stewardship over the earth (derived from Genesis 2:15).

5. The inferred “Laws of the Sons of Noah” that are regarded as basic to any civilized society. These include the establishment of fair courts of justice and the prohibition of murder, robbery, blasphemy, idolatry, adultery, and the mistreatment of animals (derived from Genesis 9:8-17).

6. The reassurance that all people, even the highest human rulers, are accountable to the rule of law (derived from Second Samuel 12:11-12).

7. The obligation of individuals and societies to pursue justice, righteousness, and ‘pathways of peace’ (derived from Deuteronomy 16:20 and Psalms 34:15).

I am indebted to Rabbis David Saperstein and Albert Vorspan for their compiling this list of priorities and values. The reader can find it in its entirety in "Jewish Dimensions of Social Justice", URJ Press, 1998.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

People of Faith United for Justice

On March 15, I was privileged to speak before a gathering of people of faith in Madison who were present to lobby their legislators on issues surrounding the proposed biennium budget for Wisconsin. Below are nine values that seemed appropriate to me to impart to them and encourage them to use during both their lobbying visits and their future advocacy work. These are values that emanate from the biblical tradition of doing what is right, the value of tzedek, or righteousness.

Presented before "People of Faith United for Justice"
March 15, 2011

Religious Values that lead to the Perfection of Our World
Adapted from Tough Choices: Jewish Dimensions of Social Justice. URJ Press 1992 and 1998, by Albert Vorspan and David Saperstein

1. The inherent dignity and value of all human beings, derived from the belief that we are all made in the image of God. (Genesis 1:27 – “God created humanity in the divine image, in the image of God, God created it; male and female God created them.”)

2. The equality of all people, rooted in the tradition of our common descent from Adam and Eve. (Genesis 5:1-2 – “This is the book of the generations of humanity. On the day when God created humanity, in the likeness of God, God made them, male and female God created them, and blessed them, and called their name humanity, on the day when they were created.”)

3. The need to empathize with the plight of the Israelites in Egyptian slavery, and, then, to channel our powers of empathy to help people who are oppressed, persecuted, and wronged. (Thirty-six times throughout the Torah we are taught that we should love, as we love ourselves, the stranger who resides with us, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt; see Leviticus 19:34 for example.)

4. The concept of wealth as lent by God in a trust relationship (for example, Psalm 24:1, “The earth and all its fullness belongs to Adonai...”), that requires sharing with the less fortunate. Hence, the special concern that God demands for “the poor, the widowed, the hungry, the orphan, and the stranger,” as the Bible tells us in many places. (Exodus 22:21 – “You shall not afflict any widow, or orphaned child.” Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “God executes the judgment of the orphan and widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and garment. Love you therefore the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 14:29b – “The stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, who are inside your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied, that the Eternal your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.” Deuteronomy 16:11 – “You shall rejoice before the Eternal your God, you, . . . and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, who are among you, in the place which the Eternal your God has chosen to place his name there.” Deuteronomy 24:19-21 – “When you cut down the harvest of your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go again to fetch it. Let it be for the stranger, for the orphan, and for the widow, that the Eternal your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again. Let it be for the stranger, for the orphan, and for the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward. The gleanings shall be for the stranger, for the orphan, and for the widow.

5. The belief that we have a responsibility of “stewardship” over the earth and that we must protect it. (Genesis 2:15 – “The Eternal God took the human, and put him into the Garden of Eden, to serve it and to protect it.”)

6. The inference of certain laws (the seven laws of the Sons of Noah) that are regarded as basic to any civilized society. These include six prohibitions: murder, robbery, blasphemy, idolatry, incest and adultery, and the eating of living flesh; as well as the positive command that every community establish fair courts of justice. (Midrash Genesis Rabbah 34:8)

7. The rule of law to which even the highest human ruler is accountable. (Second Samuel 12:11-12 – “Thus said the Eternal God [to David when he committed adultery with Batsheva and had her husband placed at the most violent battle front], ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own house, and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of the sun. For although you sinned secretly, I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.”)

8. Freedom of choice, and the responsibility of each person for his or her own actions. (Genesis 2:7 – “The Eternal God formed. . . . [The Hebrew word for formed is ייצר, yeitzeir. The Rabbis understood the presence of two yud’s (the first letter of that word) – when only one would be expected – to mean that humanity has two inclinations as part of its basic personalities, the good and the bad. Throughout our life as humans we are always choosing between the two.]. . . .the man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.”)

9. The paramount obligation of individuals and societies to pursue justice, righteousness, and ‘pathways of peace’) that is, to be involved in the work of social justice. (Deuteronomy 16:20 – “Justice, only justice shall you pursue, that you may live, and inherit the land which the Eternal your God gives you.” Psalms 34:15 – “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Night of Justice and Song

"A Night of Justice and Song" led by the Rabbis of Madison will take place at 7 PM on Monday, March 14 - and every Monday at 7 PM from now on - at the State Capitol in Madison, King Street Entrance. Join Madison's Rabbis as they stand vigil and pray for sanity and peace, and for the benefit of the workers of Wisconsin. On March 14, join Rabbis Bonnie Margulis and Jonathan Biatch as they hold a candlelight vigil, and invite the Jewish community to stand with them, to sing and be heard, and bear witness to the right and proper way to support the working people of Wisconsin, and the United States.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Madison Rabbis Speak Out Against Governor Walker’s Proposed Budget Repair Bill

All of the rabbis of Madison, Wisconsin’s liberal Jewish movements (Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative) signed on to the letter below.

Dear Rabbinic Colleagues and Friends,

Many of you have been watching what is going on in our beloved city of Madison, Wisconsin. As rabbis who live and work in Madison, we wanted to share with you some reflections on recent events.

This is an extraordinary time in Madison. We have never seen anything like it. The sheer number of people who have come to protest, testify, or attend vigils at the State Capitol is unbelievable. Through sunshine and freezing rain, we have been shocked at how long people have sustained this engagement. The overwhelming number of protesters has been respectful, peaceful, and well, downright friendly (this is the Midwest, after all!). The energy inside the Capitol rotunda is astounding. It has brought tears to our eyes to watch young people become so passionate about these issues, even sleeping there throughout the night. We have heard some grumbling about the school closures, but there could be no better civics lesson than watching strangers – young and old, workers and professors, from small towns and big cities, all holding hands all around the perimeter of the Capitol and chanting, “This is what democracy looks like.”

We have been very focused on the local level, but we understand that this is a national issue. The stakes are very high. They are so high because our very communities are at risk. Contrary to many news reports, this is not about greedy labor unions. If Governor Walker’s bill passes, it will destroy local economies throughout the state – and drastically reduce the quality of our public schools, universities, nursing homes, child care centers, and hospitals. Through its devastating changes to Medicaid it will jeopardize the health and well-being of the mentally ill, disabled, elderly, and poor. This will affect each of us personally and professionally, and it will spread to other states as well. Sadly, our children’s future is on the line, and Governor Walker has tried to prevent any public discussion or debate on these issues.

As rabbis we find this an affront to our values – the Jewish mandate to protect workers, as well as the poor and needy among us. It is an affront to our deep value for education, for supporting women’s rights, and for creating sustainable communities. And it is an affront to our belief that these issues should be debated openly and fairly under public scrutiny.

We humbly share the attached resources that we have compiled in the hopes that we can renew our commitment to social justice for all members of our society. What is happening in Wisconsin will likely spread to other states, and we hope that you will discuss these issues in your communities.

The organization that has been coordinating the interfaith religious response in Madison is the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin. Their members are a combination of grassroots activists, clergy, laity, congregations, community organizations, and labor unions. If you would like to support their work, please visit http://www.workerjustice.org. The issue of cuts to health care coverage for low income Wisconsin residents is also at stake. To read more about this or to support these efforts, please visit Save Badger Care, http://www.savebadgercare.org.

As Rabbi Hillel once said, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"


Rabbi Renee Bauer
Rabbi Joshua Ben-Gideon
Rabbi Rebecca Ben-Gideon
Rabbi Jonathan Biatch
Rabbi Kenneth Katz
Rabbi Bonnie Margulis
Rabbi Andrea Steinberger
Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Jewish Connection to Labor Issues

The controversy regarding Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to eliminate most of the collective bargaining agreements of public sector employees is, at the time of the publication of this blog, only a few days old. Yet this controversy has engendered heated debate, discussion, and disagreement on the issues.

For this Rabbi, it is difficult to understand the severity of Governor Walker’s proposal, as it runs completely counter to the history and direction of organized labor, and the benefits that organized labor has brought to our economy. The century-and-a-half stream of collective bargaining agreements in our country is a tide that has raised all boats: bringing the working class into the middle class; increasing the productivity and the profitability of the companies and public agencies that hire union workers; and providing lives of dignity for all participants.

The system of union representation has granted real human dignity to each person in our land, those who are union workers and others who have benefited – at some time in their lives – from a union agreement.

What is our connection?

Here is a brief synopsis of the Jewish position on labor and related issues, and perhaps hints as to why Jews can proudly support the stance of the labor union members who will be drastically affected by the proposed loss of the power of collective bargaining.

We Jews are heirs of a prophetic tradition that has ever sought to perfect the world that God gave to us. As the book of Genesis reminds us, we are all made in the divine image, and no one person is inherently better than another. That is why we honor the dignity of each person, for their being a member of the human family, and for their chosen work in the world.

The books of Leviticus [19:13] and Deuteronomy [24:14-15] demand that employers should be fair and honest in their relationships with their employees. From these Scriptures we specifically learn “You shall not defraud your fellow. You shall not commit robbery. Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.” And “Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy…Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it.”

And the book of Exodus [23:12] brought forth the ancient but sublime innovation of a day of rest. Specifically in connection with the laborer, it commands, “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household, and the foreigner as well, may be refreshed”.

The Talmud not only deals with working conditions and appropriate wages, but provides justification for the establishment of workers' unions and guilds. Later Jewish rabbinic tradition continues this trend, referring both to the need for people to work seriously and long, and the sanction for organizers to organize for their benefit and safety. Please contact me at rabbi@templebethelmadison.org if you would like information about specifics.

Textual references are important, but remember this: We in the liberal community follow the words of certain scripture passages not because God commanded them and/or out of a fear of punishment, but rather because they represent wisdom in building – together with God – a just world.

The American Jewish tradition of support for union organizing and collective bargaining began more than 100 years ago, beginning in earnest with the tragedy that we know of as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. One hundred forty-six women lost their lives that March day, whose centenary anniversary we will observe next month. From that event we strove to correct the unsafe and unjust conditions at factories and sweatshops all across the country. We moved forward and continued to honor the dignity of all workers who daily toil for themselves and for their family.

What does all this mean?

Our Jewish religious and civil tradition demands that employers treat workers fairly, from providing adequate wages and benefits, to ensuring safe and appropriate working conditions. And the ability of workers to bargain collectively has allowed us to achieve a higher standard of living for workers, such as a fair and safe workplace; to raise the profits and benefits of employers due to the hard work of dedicated employees such as you; and to receive many other benefits for working people in our country.

We therefore move onward with work and workers' right as sacred , because, our tradition states, “Great is labor for it gives honor to the laborer” [Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 49b].