Let My People Go—Not Stay: Passover and Jewish Immigration Enthusiasm

April 01, 2010

[Previously by Charles Bloch: Human Events vs. Pat Buchanan]

The Jewish holiday of Passover, which is now on the fourth of seven days, is now being used to promote Open Borders.

This should not be too surprising. Jews are unfortunately over represented in the Open Borders lobby. Said lobby manages to turn every holiday—both religious and secular—into an excuse for immigration enthusiasm. And unlike say Christmas or Fourth of July, there at least appears to be some semblance of a connection between Passover and immigration.

For those who are not familiar with the holiday, Passover, along with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is the main religious holiday for Jews (as opposed to the manufactured holidays like Hanukah.)

Passover celebrates the biblical exodus of the Jews from Egypt.

In the Book of Genesis, Joseph interprets the dreams of Pharaoh and predicts a famine.  In gratitude, Pharaoh allows the Jews into Egypt where they prosper. Later, a less benevolent Pharaoh enslaves the Jews, and they remain in bondage for four hundred years. As their numbers multiply, he fears that they will revolt so he orders the death of all newborn Israelite boys.

One Israelite sends her son Moses in a basket in the river to avoid this fate. He is found and adopted by the Pharaoh's daughter. Moses, aware of his true pedigree, becomes the leader of the Israelites after a revelation by God. Moses demands that the Pharaoh free the Israelites. Pharaoh refuses. In retaliation God sets ten plagues upon the Egyptians, culminating in sending an Angel of Death to kill all first-born boys The Israelites' houses are "passed over" by the Angel, hence the name of this week's festival.

The Pharaoh finally relents and the Jews are freed. Then Pharaoh changes his mind once again, and his army to chase the Jews to the Red Sea. God parts the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross, and then closes it and drowns the Egyptians.

The usual suspects try to portray the Israelites as migrant workers. They point to biblical passages such as "Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 22:21); "When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Leviticus 19: 33-34,) and "You shall not oppress the stranger; you know the heart of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 23:9)

At the pro-amnesty rally last Sunday, a Rabbi said that the "the Jewish community understands that the story of Passover is the story of the first group of migrant workers." [March on America, Youth for Western Civilization, (video clip, plays at 2:40)]

In the Huffington Post, New York State Senator Eric T. Schneiderman writes that "that the holiday offers some guidance to Jews on how to ethically address the modern question of American immigration." He quotes some of the aforementioned passages and rhetorically asks

"…Can we honestly say to ourselves that we don't 'wrong' the immigrants who are strangers in our land when we allow them to be paid less than minimum wage, or look the other way when contractors fail to provide safety equipment to workers doing dangerous jobs? When families are torn apart? Or when we detain or deport people without the due process that our own citizens would expect if they were faced with losing their homes or their liberty? The Jews are commanded over and over to welcome the stranger, but lawmakers across the country want to make it a crime to provide assistance of any kind to an undocumented immigrant." [Passover and Immigration, Eric T. Schneiderman, Huffington Post, March 29, 2010]

But this is nonsense, as both a literal and metaphorical look at the Torah reveals.

The precise Hebrew word that is used for stranger or alien in the Torah is "Ger v'tohshav", which translates literally into "sojourner". Stephen Steinlight, a former national affairs director with the American Jewish Community, explains why these passages have absolutely no bearing on immigration policy:

"'Ger v'tohshav' is first used in Genesis 4:23 [actually Genesis 23:4] to describe Abraham when he dwells briefly with the Hittites in Kiryat Arba, what is today Hebron. Richard Elliot Friedman, a leading authority on biblical language, translates the term as 'alien' and 'visitor.' And every English dictionary defines sojourn as a temporary stay. Given this translation, this passage has absolutely no utility to those, including leaders of mainstream Jewish organizations, who argue that 12 million illegal aliens should be permitted to remain permanently in the United States. Indeed, it furnishes excellent ammunition for the anti-amnesty coalition—that is, were it equally prepared to trivialize scripture." [Cease Citing Bible To Defend Bush's Immigration Bill, Stephen Steinlight, The Forward, April 27, 2007]

It is also wrong to compare the Biblical Jews with modern day illegal aliens, because they immigrated legally.

"And Pharaoh said unto Joseph: 'Say unto they brethren: This do ye: lade your beasts, and go, get you until the land of Canaan; and take your father and your households, and come unto me; and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land. Now thou art commanded, this do ye: take you wagons out of the land of Egypt for your little ones, and for your wives, and bring your father, and come." (Genesis 45:17-18)

Beyond this, if one is to use the "immigrants are Israelites" analogy, then Americans must be Egyptians. Then we must ask: were the Israelites good for the Egyptians?

Clearly, Joseph and his small family helped out economically by advising the Pharaoh to store grain prior to a famine. While initially only a handful of Israelites came to Israel for economic benefit, "And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them." (Exodus 1:7)

The Pharaoh's justification for the extreme measures against the Israelis was their sheer numbers:

"Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land." (Exodus 1:9-10)

While the Pharaoh's measures were draconian, the people of Egypt did not deserve to be filled with locusts, plague, and have their first-born sons killed.

In this respect, the story of Exodus can be seen as a warning against the high costs of cheap labor.

Beyond the plagues set forth on the Egyptians, the Israelites were not model immigrants. Before Joseph even came to Egypt, it was clear that the Israelites had no intention of assimilating. God told his father Jacob, "'I am God, the God of your father…Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make your family into a great nation.'" (Genesis 46:3)

The Israelites, hence never considered themselves to be part of the nation they joined, but rather a nation within a nation. Moses' life journey was to bring the Israelites to the promise land so that they could be their own nation.

Beyond these specific passages, anyone who has ever seen the old Cecil B. DeMille movie The Ten Commandments can spot immediately an obvious difference between the Israelites in Egypt and immigrants in America: The Israelites wanted to leave Egypt—while immigrants want to come to America.

The story of Passover is about the Israelites' flight from Egypt. Moses demanded to the Pharaoh "Let My People Go". Today's illegal aliens are demanding "Let My People Stay"—and even "Let My People Invade".

Charles Bloch (email him) is a Jewish supporter of patriotic immigration reform.