Magazine article Tikkun

Away with All Borders

Magazine article Tikkun

Away with All Borders

Article excerpt

The Immigration Mess

Immigration opens up a complicated set of ethical and spiritual questions, and it's time to confront them directly. Every country in the world uses oppressive and sometimes violent means to keep out those whom it does not want, and these actions are almost always based on both capitalist economic rationales ("there is not enough to go around, so don't let others share it") and racist feelings toward others ("they don't deserve what we deserve because they are less valuable or less truly human than we are"). There is also this phony argument: "My great-great-grandparents built up this country; therefore, I am entitled to it because I inherited their genes."

Our claim to own this part of the earth that we call "our country" because we currently live on it is fundamentally problematic. The notion of ownership of the earth and its products is a convenient fiction popularized in each generation by the latest set of victors in struggles for land that have been going on for at least the last 12,000 years. With this concept the winners justify their current power to exclude others from that land. This way of valorizing the ethos of "might makes right" has been going on for many thousands of years.

The notion that we "own" the land on which we live, foreign though this notion was to many indigenous cultures, seems so intuitive to people in modern, global, capitalist societies that it almost seems sacrilegious to question it. Yet that was precisely what the Torah and Jewish tradition set out to do over two thousand years ago.

A Spiritual Critique of Land Ownership

The Torah approaches the question of land ownership (Leviticus 25) by commanding that every seventh year be considered a Sabbatical year in which all work on the land is prohibited-no planting or harvesting. Anything that grows on that land is considered ownerless and hence available for the poor and the homeless to take. Those who have inherited land are expected during the Sabbatical year to live off of food that has been planted and harvested previously. Moreover, all debts are automatically canceled on the seventh year. The Torah goes on to ordain that at the end of the seventh cycle of seven years (or in other words, every fifty years), the last Sabbatical year will be followed by yet another year of no work-the Jubilee year, during which all land will be redistributed back to the original (essentially equal) distribution of the land among and within the twelve tribes.

Anticipating the resistance to this revolutionary notion that God can tell people what to do with what they've come to think of as "their land and their property," God tells the people, "The whole earth is Mine." The Torah recognizes that this is a revolutionary notion, so it invokes God's voice to make clear that humans don't have a right to property.

God, on the Torah account, goes on to teach us that human beings are "wayfarers" on the earth with the obligation to tend it, protect it, and share its produce with everyone-and without any right to possess it. So, no, just because you live on some land doesn't mean you have a right to it, even if some previous conqueror or inhabitant created some system that eventuated in you owning a piece of paper that claims you own it or have a right to it, or that the community in which you live validates that right.

Unfortunately, private ownership, the right to control the land and its inhabitants, is so deeply enshrined in the imperial ideologies that originated long before capitalism that even those who suffer most in this system of domination nevertheless have internalized its values. These imperial ideologies have now reached new heights of penetration into our consciousness through media and public "education" such that the vast majority of people believe in private property in ideas, land, and products. Holding this belief, they are not as outraged as they might reasonably be when the powerful "1 percent" manipulate the capitalist marketplace and corporate-controlled banks, insurance companies, media, and elected officials to create economic and property arrangements that end up materially hurting and disadvantaging the majority. …

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