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Reform Jewish group endorses study of reparations

December 13, 2019 GMT
FILE - In this June 19, 2019, file photo Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, right, speaks during a hearing about reparation for the descendants of slaves before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, at the Capitol in Washington. Looking on is Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. The Union of Reform Judaism has publicly backed the study of proposals to pay reparations aimed at healing the legacy of slavery. The Reform Jewish group, which calls itself the continent’s “largest and most diverse Jewish movement,” passed a resolution on the issue Friday at its biennial meeting in Chicago. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
FILE - In this June 19, 2019, file photo Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, right, speaks during a hearing about reparation for the descendants of slaves before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, at the Capitol in Washington. Looking on is Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. The Union of Reform Judaism has publicly backed the study of proposals to pay reparations aimed at healing the legacy of slavery. The Reform Jewish group, which calls itself the continent’s “largest and most diverse Jewish movement,” passed a resolution on the issue Friday at its biennial meeting in Chicago. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

The Union of Reform Judaism, which calls itself the continent’s “largest and most diverse Jewish movement,” on Friday endorsed the study of reparations proposals designed to remedy the legacy of slavery in America.

The resolution that the Reform Jewish union passed at its biennial meeting in Chicago does not support a specific method for reparations. Instead, the group committed to supporting the creation of a federal commission that would examine how to “redress the historic and continuing effects of slavery and subsequent systemic racial, societal, and economic discrimination against Black Americans.”

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that the union consulted with Reform Jews of color as it searched for a way their congregations could act substantively to advance racial equality.

“We really let our commitment to combating racism be informed by the impacted people,” Pesner said in an interview. “They really challenged us to look seriously at what a racially just America would look like.”

The Reform Jewish union’s reparations resolution begins by noting the Talmudic roots of the idea that no one’s ancestor is superior to another, later stating: “Our Jewish texts are clear on the importance of restitution for wrongs committed.”

The vote marked the first statement on reparations by a major Jewish group, according to Pesner. The Episcopal Church has previously endorsed the study of reparations and earlier this year testified in favor of congressional legislation that would create a commission for studying reparations.

Also supporting that legislation are multiple Democratic presidential candidates and more than 120 congressional Democrats. Republicans have largely avoided the measure while condemning the brutal, systemic effects of slavery, citing the difficulty of crafting any legal or equitable remedy.

The Reform Jewish union also passed a resolution on Friday stating its opposition to private prisons.

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