by Karen Maes
Did you ever wonder where the word tzedakah comes from? We have heard it all through our religious school education (the famous “tzedakah box”) and in adulthood but what does it really mean? Typically most think of it as giving charitable donations (this is true to a certain extent) but in the Bible tzedakah means righteous behavior and is easily interchanged with justice.
This week's parashah, Shoftim, deals with exactly that: justice. The parashah, from beginning to end, talks about justice and righteousness. The most memorable line for me is Deuteronomy 16:20, "Justice, justice shall you pursue.” As explained in our own The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, “The repetition of the word tzedek emphasizes that the pursuit of justice is vital to Isrealite society” (1144). The Commentary later explains, when discussing a contemporary reflection of this parashah, that this conclusion is “a procedure to ensure that people do ‘what is right in the sight of God’” (1160).
Justice is a theme that is central to all Women of Reform Judaism starting in our sisterhoods and flowing through to the North American Board. We are on the forefront advocating for economic justice, civil rights, environmental issues, interfaith understanding, religious freedoms, Israeli and global justice, as well as women’s rights.
Justice is ensuring that when someone wants to take the path to become a Rabbi they can do so without fear of retribution and relief of any financial burden. Justice is fighting for equal rights for women and the Reform Movement in Israel. When a sisterhood holds a YES Fund event and the money raised is given to a youth group to help defray the cost of attending a NFTY event or maybe having the money set aside for a scholarship to help a child in the congregation go to a URJ Camp, that is performing righteous behavior.
When WRJ's Resolutions Committee advocates for gun violence prevention or as a Board we raise our voices in unison and denounce abhorrent behavior such as the kidnapping of girls by Boko Haram these are all forms of justice. Working with military Rabbi’s out in the field ensuring our Jewish troops near and far are able to enjoy a Shabbat service or have the tools necessary to observe the High Holy Days or celebrate a festival is righteous behavior. Justice is ensuring the future of Progressive Judaism in North America, Israel, and the world.
As a Jew, being involved in these forms of justice empowers me and keeps me in touch with the heart of what being a Woman of Reform Judaism is all about.
Karen Maes is a WRJ Board member, WRJ Mid-Atlantic District Area Director, and an active member of the Temple B'nai Sholom Sisterhood in Fairfax Station, VA. She was a member of Beth Sholom Temple in Fredericksburg, VA from 2006-2014, where she was a member of their Board of Directors.