This week’s progressive Judaism debate tackles…Europe

Q: Does Jewish thinking side more naturally with Nick Clegg or Nigel Farage on Europe?

  • Rabbi Colin Eimer

    Rabbi Colin Eimer

    Rabbi Colin Eimer says…

It strikes me that for many this is less a question about the EU and more one about immigration.

Jews have been both asylum seekers and economic migrants into this country. The contribution of immigrants shows the benefits of an ‘open door’ policy. Sadly, that door wasn’t open wide enough in the 1930s.

Opinion will be divided on current policy. Nigel Farage isn’t advocating ‘no immigration at all’ and Nick Clegg wasn’t arguing for unrestricted immigration.

While there’s no specific Jewish teaching on the matter, are there pointers that might help us decide? Historical experience is a powerful one.

The Torah commands us ‘to love’: God, our neighbour and the stranger. And that latter is the most frequently-repeated rule in the Torah. As Jews we know the heart of the stranger. We’ve been there often enough. One of the tests of a decent society is how do we respond to, and treat those with whom we have no obvious ties other than our shared humanity. While a multicultural society has its tensions, the richness of experience found in it should be something all Jews would want to encourage.

And that would mean being more, not less, welcoming to immigrants.

Colin Eimer is rabbi at Sha’arei Tsedek, North London Reform Synagogue

28 PROG - HARRY GOLDSTEIN

Harry Goldstein of North London Reform Synagogue

  • Harry Goldstein says…

In or out? There’s no specifically Jewish point of view.

Personally, I’m a fence-sitter, depending on the kind of EU we get. But that’s a personal view, not a ‘Jewish’ one.

The issue has become bound up with that of immigration. But neither Clegg nor Farage demanded a blanket ban, nor supported a complete ‘open door’.

So the issue is how much and what kind. Good people can legitimately differ on this. Jewish ethics are reciprocal. Neither rights nor obligations are absolute. We must not shut out the world, but we are entitled to control our borders. I hope an important debate won’t be disfigured by accusations of racism.

For many of us, overwhelmingly middle class, open borders mean interesting ethnic restaurants and cheap cleaners. Our liberalism can sit all too comfortably with our self-interest.

For millions of our fellow citizens, however, struggling in low-paid jobs or on benefits, an influx from eastern Europe can look very different, bringing competition for the jobs they so desperately need. They deserve our empathy, too.

In the end, Jews will make up their minds as citizens like everyone else. And I will continue – for the time being at least – to dither.

• Harry Goldstein is a member of Sha’arei Tsedek, North London Reform Synagogue