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!
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • 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.