Jewish history shows the consequences of tolerating police brutality

NEW YORK (JTA) — “Pray for the welfare of the state,” Rabbi Hanina writes, “for if it were not for the fear thereof, people would swallow each other alive.”

As cities around the nation burn with righteous indignation over yet another horrific incident of police brutality directed against a black man, Jewish leaders must reflect on our own long and ambiguous history with police as we grapple with our role in what is unfolding today. 

Historically, Jews have had an ambiguous relationship with the police. Their stabilizing role in society is essential for us, a vulnerable minority. But we also know what it is like to be the victims of law enforcement twisted by systemic hatred. 

As a minority, Jews generally strive for harmonious relations with the ruling authorities, as per Rabbi Hanina’s dictum, and may be inclined to overlook smaller abuses of power in the interest of social stability. Egregious offenses, however, may push many representative Jewish organizations to take a side — “in solidarity with people of color in this moment,” as the Jewish Community Relations Council of Washington recently put it

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