Paper on Labor Issues Falls Short in Conservative Vote

By Rebecca Spence

Published September 22, 2006, issue of September 22, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

A rabbinic opinion calling on Jewish business owners to pay their workers a living wage and hire union employees was stymied by the Conservative movement’s top lawmaking body after the opinion received fewer than the minimum number of votes needed for a paper to be approved.

At last week’s meeting of the Rabbinical Assembly’s 25-member Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the opinion, “Work, Workers and the Jewish Owner,” came up three votes shy of reaching the six-vote threshold required for adoption. But according to the paper’s author, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, it still stands a chance of being passed at a future plenum.

The fierce debate over Jacobs’s living wage opinion — and its recent defeat — opens a window onto the precarious place that labor issues have come to occupy on the Jewish community’s agenda in recent years. As American Jews have ascended the ranks to employers from employees, memories of earlier Jewish labor activism have faded into the background. Concerns by some members of the law committee that Jacobs’s pro-labor paper would create an undue hardship on Jewish business owners seem to reflect what some observers describe as the growing gap between American Jews and the union movement. Jacobs, a labor activist who is the education director of the left-wing group Jewish Funds for Justice, rebuffed the argument made by some on the law committee that paying workers a living wage could put Jewish-owned companies out of business. “We ask people to do all sorts of things that put them at an economic disadvantage,” Jacobs said. “That’s because we believe in Jewish law and we don’t believe that making money is the highest Jewish law,” she added.

According to Jacobs, 30, studies have shown that when American cities have adopted living wage ordinances, profits have, in fact, increased.

Rabbi Paul Plotkin, religious leader of Margate, Fla.’s Temple Beth Am, leveled the harshest criticism at Jacobs during a contentious discussion of her paper, which took place at last week’s law committee meeting. Plotkin, who chairs the subcommittee on kashrut, asserted that the paper fell short of even constituting a legal opinion.

“It would have been a lovely sermon, but I would never have translated the idealization of how it should be for workers into a halachic argument,” he said in an interview with the Forward.

The vote, which included an unusually large number of abstentions — 10 — and seven nays, could come up again during a March 2007 law committee meeting, Jacobs said. She added that she was buoyed by the fact that many who abstained did so based on minor gripes, not on a wholesale dismissal of her paper’s ideas.

“I’m hoping to be able to revise it in a way to answer some of their concerns,” Jacobs said.






Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.