Monday, October 7, 2019
Throughout the nation, houses of worship have declared themselves to be “sanctuaries” for refugees and asylum-seekers fleeing not only repression in their native countries but also Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Hundreds of synagogues have joined in this effort, but its basis in Jewish law remains obscure and under-developed. In this Essay, I present a halachic (Jewish legal) analysis arguing that synagogues must sometimes offer sanctuary but not always. More specifically, I argue:
1) the synagogue is obligated to conceal the asylum-seeker’s presence from immigration authorities, whether by hiding her in its building, renting an apartment for her, or providing her with funds to hide from ICE:
2) if returning her to her home country creates a reasonable probability of death, torture, or severe injury; unless
3) doing so creates a reasonable probability of death, torture, or severe injury to members of the congregation itself.
I conclude that members of a congregation must take these steps even under the threat of imprisonment or financial sanctions. This is severe. It is, however, what Torah demands.