Purim and Speaking Truth to Power

Posted by on Feb 21, 2019

Purim and Speaking Truth to Power

On Adar Bet 14, the evening of March 20, we begin our celebration of Purim, the one holy day that we are taught will continue to exist in messianic times.

There are so many lessons that Purim teaches us which might be considered the rationale for this belief. One of them is that if we do not speak truth to power we can never be safe, never be free. And we have all we need to be the agents of our own salvation.

On Monday, February 18, 2019 I had the opportunity to give testimony to two committees at the Oregon State Legislature, an opportunity to speak true (and Torah!) to power. For this month’s bisell Torah, for your reading pleasure, below is what I offered up.

May our joy at last double in this leap year, when we have two months of Adar!

Rav brachot/huge blessings, Rabbah D

Rabbi Kolodny testimony for House Bill 2020, February 18, 2019

Co-Chair Dembrow, Co-Chair Power, and members of the Committee: my name is Rabbi Debra Kolodny and I’m the Rabbi of Portland’s UnShul, the Executive Director of As the Spirit Moves Us, a religious justice organization and the convener for the Portland Spirit Led Justice Alliance.

I am here to urge you to pass the strongest possible version of House Bill 2020.

As a rabbi I am guided by the wisdom and dictates of the Jewish tradition, which begin in Genesis, where we are told to be shomrei adamah, guardians of the earth. Later in our scriptures, in Deuteronomy we are instructed how to perform this role. We are told lo taschit – do not destroy or waste.

This command was analyzed extensively by our sages and by 1500 the broad scope of its instruction was clear. Wasting ANY resources of benefit to humans is prohibited by Torah. For example, in the late 11 hundreds Maimonides taught that a Jew is forbidden to “smash household goods, tear clothes, demolish a building, stop up a spring, or destroy articles of food.” Perhaps his commentary is the source text for reduce, reuse and recycle!

Rabbeinu Yerucham in the early 1300’s rails against wasting water when others are in need. By the 1800’s Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch made clear that that lo tashchit, “do not destroy,” is “the most comprehensive warning to human beings not to misuse the position which Gd has given them as masters of the world and its matter through capricious, passionate, or merely thoughtless wasteful destruction of anything on earth.”

But it doesn’t take a theologian to know that our very existence on this planet is at stake and that no other Bill this session will do more to reduce climate pollution in Oregon.

The cap-and-invest system set up by Clean Energy Jobs guarantees that harmful pollution will be reduced as it builds our economy and communities.

I ask you to pass a strong bill with a meaningful cap to reduce emissions as quickly as scientists say we must. We must reduce GHG emissions by 20% by 2025, at least 55% by 2035 and 100% by 2050.

We must hold major polluters accountable with a price on greenhouse gases and not allow exemptions for ANY polluting industries, including aviation, marine, and railroad fuels, as well as fluorinated gases and solid waste incinerators. Any attempt to exempt the proposed Jordan Cove LNG terminal from coverage in the legislation must be denied. Those hit first and worst by climate change should be a priority for job opportunities and other community benefits. This means prioritizing low-income, rural, communities of color and Oregon Tribes for investments, jobs, and training.

Finally, decision-making structures must be transparent, equitable, flexible, and accountable. All advisory and oversight committees should have an over-representation of historically underrepresented communities; the Environmental Justice Task Force, equity groups, and Sovereign Nation representatives must play significant and meaningful roles. I ask you to champion bold climate action with a strong HB 2020.

Rabbi Debra Kolodny Testimony on SB 608, Monday, February 18, 2019

Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony today on Senate Bill 608. My name is Rabbi Debra Kolodny and I’m the Rabbi of Portland’s UnShul, the Executive Director of As the Spirit Moves Us, a religious justice organization, and the convener for the Portland Spirit Led Justice Alliance.

While I believe that anyone with a conscious would see the housing crisis we face in this state and see for-cause eviction and rent stabilization as the absolute minimum necessary steps for providing affordable housing, I speak today as someone guided by clear directives in the Jewish tradition.

For example, under Jewish law landlords are forbidden from evicting tenants without due warning, and may not evict tenants during the winter months, when new housing will be hard to find.  According to Moses Maimonides, a landlord must give the tenant sufficient notice before terminating a lease “so that [the tenant] can look for another place and will not be abandoned in the street”. The landlord, Maimonides suggests, will be held responsible if a tenant becomes homeless as the result of eviction.

In addition to protecting tenants from premature eviction, Jewish law requires landlords to keep rented units habitable. Landlords are required to fix doors, windows, and ceilings, and to perform other repairs generally done by specialists. At least one authority emphasizes that it is the tenant, and not the landlord, who determines what repairs the home needs.  The landlord cannot refuse to repair the windows based on his or her assessment that the house does not need more light.

I also speak today as a native New Yorker, accustomed to the kinds of basic protections that SB 608 would provide. To be blunt, I am shocked that they do not already exist in the progressive state of Oregon.

Today, people who rent their homes in our great state can be evicted without reason with as little as thirty days notice, or can receive an unlimited rent increase. It is unconscionable that every Oregonian does not have the safety and stability of a home, without fear of eviction for no reason or a rent increase that will displace us from our communities.

This must simply end. The Legislature must limit no cause evictions, and provide statewide rent stabilization to prevent displacement.

The bill’s limitations on annual rent increases likewise constitute the bare minimum protection for our most vulnerable neighbors. A limitation of 7% plus the consumer price index in a 12-month period is necessary to help stem the tide of our houseless crisis. This is especially true in Portland, where dramatic population increases and development are driving out affordable housing to devastating effect for those now houseless.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today. I urge you to pass Senate Bill 608 in its entirety.

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