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The Proposed Farm Bill Is Unethical

Whether through unforeseen circumstances or the perpetual cycle of poverty, millions of Americans depend on the modest support of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to afford food for themselves and their families. While SNAP benefits do not cover every nutritional guideline, the program provides a mechanism for families to purchase enough food to keep children, the sick, and the elderly from dying. Sadly, the basic proposition that we must ensure that families have enough to eat is not universally agreed upon. During the last several weeks, Congress has been debating the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 —“The Farm Bill” — and the proposals for the bill so far have been disturbing.

Though House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) wants to present the bill as a common sense streamlining of the SNAP program, the reality is anything but. Instead, this bill would have devastating consequences for the poor and the vulnerable. Rather than lift hard-working families down on their luck, the bill attempts to redefine the mission of SNAP as a reward for finding work rather than as a necessity to keep millions of people alive. Such a reorientation is a violation of the moral mandate to treat all people with equal dignity. Where is justice when millions of people lose their lifeline to food access? Indeed, rather than address the stark reality of American food insecurity and the ever-increasing cost of living, the bill places enormous existential and detrimental stress on those who may not be able to find work or who fall victim to conditions beyond their control.

Let’s be clear: if the Farm Bill were to pass in its current form, it would be a sickening defilement of the ethical mandate to care for the poor and vulnerable. The bill goes against every Jewish principle of protecting the powerless. It says in the Talmud that, “When Rav Huna would eat a meal, he would open his door and say, ‘Whoever is in need, let that person come and eat.’” (BT Ta’anit 20b.) Likewise, Isaiah the Prophet exhorts us not to withhold basic necessities from those who lack them:

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily, your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Eternal shall be your rear guard. If you shall pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday… (Isaiah 58:7-8, 10-11).

No one deserves to go hungry. No one deserves to be abandoned by the leaders tasked to ensure equitable access to sustenance. We, the undersigned rabbinic members of Torat Chayim, call upon our government not to abandon the most vulnerable among us. If there is even one child who goes to bed crying because his or her stomach is empty, then our nation has failed. If even one senior citizen or disabled worker dies because they weren’t able to purchase basic foods, then our nation and our government has failed. The Jewish tradition is clear on this subject: “To one for whom bread is suitable, give bread; to the one who needs dough, give dough; to one for whom money is required, give money; to one for whom it is fitting to put the food in that one’s mouth, put it in” (Sifre on Parshat Re’eh).

Rabbi Yehoshua Engelman
Rabbi Dr. Reb Mimi Feigelson
Rabbi Dr. Mel Gottlieb

Rabbi Dr. Yitz Greenberg
Rabbi Donn Gross
Rabbi Tyson Herberger
Rabba Sara Hurwitz
Rabbi David Jaffe
Rabbi David Kalb
Rabbi Frederick L Klein
Rabbi Daniel Landes
Rabbi Hayim Leiter
Rabbi Yehoshua Looks
Rabbi Asher Lopatin
Rabbi Dr. Ariel Evan Mayse
Rabbi Dr. Yehudah Mirsky
Rabbi Mike Moskowitz
Rosh Kehilah Dina Najman
Rabbi Micha Odenheimer
Rabbi Dr. Shalom Schlagman
Rabbi Gabriel N. Kretzmer Seed

Rabbi Garth Silberstein
Rabbi Ami Silver
Rabbi Daniel Raphael Silverstein
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz

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