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Shavuot and Criminal Justice Reform

Shavuot and Criminal Justice Reform

A prison cell

Shavuot marks the end of the counting of the Omer, the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. Many view the counting of the Omer as a spiritual and conscientious practice—but while the Reform Jewish community conscientiously counts through 49 days, we know that there are many who count days, weeks, and years as they serve time in the criminal justice system.

Today, the United States has the largest imprisoned population in the world by total number. Over-criminalization and mass incarceration have overwhelmingly affected people of color. Black men are disproportionately likely to be arrested, tried, and incarcerated for drug crimes, even though they are no more likely to use or sell illicit drugs than white men. One in every three black males born today is expected to serve time in prison during his lifetime, as compared to one in every 17 white men. Once released, prisoners face significant obstacles to re-enter society. Federal and state prisons often lack plentiful and well-organized re-entry programs in many federal and state prisons. Once someone leaves prison, they often find themselves discriminated against by employers who are afraid to hire formerly incarcerated people. Moreover, many federal, state, and local laws prevent those with felony convictions from accessing public housing, nutritional assistance, higher education grants and other programs that could help them rebuild their lives. With few economic opportunities, these individuals often return to criminal behavior, eventually landing back in prison and beginning the cycle again.

For this reason, the Reform Movement launched its campaign for Criminal Justice Reform as one of the three main pillars of the Urgency of Now Campaign.

This Shavuot also coincides with the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. As we complete the journey from Passover to Shavuot, we will heed Rev, William J. Barber II’s call to join together across lines of difference for 40 days of action that will bring us closer to lasting freedom.

For tools to discuss the criminal justice system during your Shavuot learning, see this source sheet, which features text and discussion questions about Shavuot and the criminal justice system. 

Rabbi Neil P.G. Hirsch serves Hevreh in Great Barrington, MA. He earned his bachelor degrees in art history and classics from Tufts University, and was ordained from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City in 2010. Prior to coming to Great Barrington, Rabbi Hirsch served as assistant and later associate rabbi at Temple Shalom in Newton, MA. He is married to Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch, an assistant director at the URJ Eisner Camp. They live in Great Barrington with their son, Lior.


Rabbi Neil P.G. Hirsch

Published: 5/11/2018

Categories: Social Justice, Advocacy
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