Juneteenth Reflections

In our Torah portion this week, shlah, we are taught once again that there should be one law for all in the Israelite community. Whether a person is an Israelite, a resident alien, or a passerby, each person must be treated equally under the law.

Application of this precept was difficult not only for the Israelites in the Torah but also for the rabbis throughout their history. Yet that is the Jewish ideal: all people — regardless of their religious status or legal status — have equal treatment under the law.

Today is Juneteenth Day observed. (Just like if July 4th falls on a Sunday, we celebrate it Monday, Juneteenth fell yesterday and is observed today). It celebrates the end of legal slavery in Texas and, by extension, in the United States in 1865. Just as with the Torah, the official laws of our country recognize that all people — of any and all races, colors, and nationalities — must be treated equally under the law.

Still, we recognize that we have work to do. Equal legal status is not the same as equity. Nor does it mean that we apply the laws fairly. Just as we as Jews continue to strive for the Torah’s ideal of full equity under the law, so may we continue in our country to strive for full equity — both legally and socially — for people of color, as well.

Happy Juneteenth!