Resources & Media

Local rabbis back end to Bush-era tax cuts

New Jersey Jewish News
December 12, 2012
Elaine Durbach

About 240 American rabbis, including 15 from New Jersey, have signed a letter supporting the White House’s proposal to end Bush-era tax cuts for those making above $250,000 a year.

The letter, addressed to lawmakers, is part of an initiative by Bend the Arc Jewish Action, a social justice organization devoted to domestic policy issues.

The group’s director, Hadar Susskind, said that rabbis from all branches of Judaism have signed the letter but most are Reform or Conservative.

“Ending the tax cuts for those who need them the least will bring in hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade,” the letter reads. “Together with a careful examination of our government spending, one that is not based on once again taking the most from those who have least to spare, this money will enable the crafting of a moral budget, one that protects our social safety net, strengthens our public education system, and increases job growth.”

Rabbi Charles Kroloff, rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanu-El, the Reform synagogue in Westfield, signed the letter last week. The group was new to him but, he said, he respected Jewish Funds for Justice, which merged this past January with the Progressive Jewish Alliance to form Bend the Arc.

He noted that many wealthy people, starting with Warren Buffett and including people in his own community, support the proposal.

“I do see this is a Jewish theological issue,” he said. “We teach that the blessings of creation are gifts from God that we are loaned for a very limited time. We have an obligation to pass them on to the next generation — in a good way. I don’t see this as wealth redistribution; it’s about fairness and equity, and it is already understood that from those who are blessed with more wealth more is expected.

“We need to reform the tax code, starting with ending this tax cut for the wealthiest.”

Rabbi Joel Abraham of Temple Sholom, the Reform congregation in Scotch Plains, said he doesn’t believe legislators should act according to the beliefs of a religious group. He signed the letter, however, because as a constituent and a rabbi he felt a responsibility to let his views as a Jew be known.

“I’ve learned this lesson — that the voice of faith communities is often assumed to be on a particular side, and raising my voice as a rabbi can be a great help in conveying the fact that there are different opinions on an issue,” Abraham said.

Among the NJ rabbis signing the letter were Richard Hammerman of Caldwell, Brooks Susman of Freehold, Elliott Tepperman of Montclair, Donald Weber of Morganville, David Levy of Succasunna, and Ruth Gais of Summit.

Not all rabbis were on board with the letter.

“Making $250,000 in the New York-New Jersey area does not make one wealthy,” wrote Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg of Congregation Beth-El in Edison in a letter to NJJN (see related article). “As an observant Jew, I have no choice nor do the majority of young observant Jewish families who, even though they may make a combined salary of $250,000, are struggling…. Who are these rabbis to tell us that we have so much money that we can afford the luxury of higher taxes?”

Bend the Arc began lobbying on the tax-cuts issue in August, when it sent nine young activists on an eight-state journey, dubbed the “If I Were a Rich Man” tour, targeting the districts of Congress members who supported maintaining the Bush-era tax cuts.

Solution Area: