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!

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.