This week’s parashah is Parashat Kedoshim, known as the “Holiness Code.” In it, we are instructed to ourselves be holy, for God is holy. We’re not left, though, with just this vague command – the rest of the parashah contains many specific ways in which we can fulfill this important yet seemingly impossible demand. While some of the elements of this “Holiness Code” might seem fairly removed from our typical ideas of “holiness” (not wearing cloth from a mixture of two kinds of material, for example, or not eating the fruit of newly planted trees for the first four years), many of the mitzvot we read about in this parashah concern interpersonal relationships, and how we as a community look out for one another. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap the corner of your field…you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger,” we read. We are taught to judge our neighbors fairly, to pay laborers prompt wages, to not insult the deaf nor place stumbling blocks before the blind. In short, we are taught to treat others in our society – regardless of our relationship to them, regardless of who they are or what they do – with the utmost dignity and respect.
This is a lesson that certainly translates to our own society today. Twelve million Americans currently live in the shadows of our society as undocumented immigrants, and 4 million more are separated from families and loved ones due to delayed visas, prolonged waiting periods, and broken migration systems. While the issue of immigration certainly affects all facets of our society – from agricultural workers to high tech engineers, from Los Angelinos to New Yorkers, from children to the elderly – women have increasingly been feeling the effects of our broken immigration policies.
The majority of immigrants to the United States are female. Women are disproportionately affected by the huge backlogs in the family reunification system, and would be even more disproportionately disadvantaged if certain family visa categories are eliminated. Currently, only one quarter of all employment visas are given to women as principal holders – two thirds of immigrant women in the employment visa category enter as dependents on their spouse’s visa with no ability to work themselves. Ten million women speak limited English and need language and professional assistance from the federal government. Immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence feel as though they must stay silent in dangerous situations due to dependency on the sponsorship of an abusive spouse or employer, or fear that engaging with law enforcement could lead to deportation.
It is essential that any “comprehensive immigration reform” law is truly comprehensive – and that it addresses the concerns of all immigrants, including the millions of women who are at risk and living in fear. To that end, WRJ joined with other women and immigration activists to call on Congress to pass immigration reform that includes a roadmap to citizenship that recognizes the contribution of women and women’s work, keeps families together, promotes healthy families to strengthen communities, recognizes women’s work in future employment categories, ensures protections for women asylum seekers and survivors of violence and trafficking, and promotes immigrant integration.
Parashat Kedoshim teaches, “the stranger that sojourns with you shall be to you as a native, and you shall love him (or her) as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” We have an obligation, a command, to not simply protect but to identify with and love the stranger – the immigrant – in our society. This is how we can together achieve true holiness.