God’s Word lays out clear principles
A refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
You won’t find the term “refugee” in the Bible. But the word “refuge” is certainly listed in Joshua 20:2-9, as it pertains to cities that were designated for people who killed in self-defense, or accidentally, to find protection from those who sought to avenge blood. Such people were indeed refugees, but the Bible calls them “strangers,” “sojourner” or “foreigners.”
For instance, the book of Ruth is about a widow from the tribe of Moab who chooses to accompany her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel and live there with her. In Ruth 2:10, we see her ask Boaz, in whose field she is gleaning, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me — a foreigner?” She understands her status as being outside the tribe of Israel.
“Sojourners” are people who are temporarily living in Israel or just traveling through the land.
If America is indeed a “Christian” nation, then our leaders must recognize that there are principles in God’s Word about how his people are to treat strangers, foreigners or refugees.
— Bob McClain, Living By Faith Ministry, Oxford
We are all created in God’s image
“We were once strangers in a strange land.” While this saying is particularly relevant during Passover, when we celebrate our quintessential story of freedom, it is equally important throughout the rest of the year.
“We were once strangers in a strange land” lies at the heart of what it means to be part of the Jewish people. As Jews, we know first-hand what it means to come to a new land, with dreams of brighter horizons, only to have to eke out modest livings, at best, for ourselves and our families. We know what it means to be subjected to a life of limited opportunities because of our religious beliefs.
It is no wonder, then, that the status and compassionate treatment of refugees is central to our Torah. Our sacred text provides compassionate instructions for how to treat “strangers”: to provide them with food and clothing, to pay them justly and to ensure they have equal legal rights.
How we welcome refugees is important not only because we have empathy and know what it means to be refugees, but also because we are commanded that every one of us is created in the image of God. Each of us — whether or not we know what it means to be a refugee first hand — simply by being born deserves to be treated with kindness and dignity, welcomed and given the same opportunities as natives.
-- Rabbi Lauren Cohn, Temple Beth El, Anniston