January 29, 2021
Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,
At a crucial moment of leadership transition in the history of ancient Israel, the Israelites were about to cross the Jordan River without Moses at their head. As Moses passed on the mantle of authority to Joshua, he enjoined his successor and the assembled community, “Be strong and resolute” (Deuteronomy 31:8). The challenges before the people were multiple and daunting, but Moses urged them not to be afraid or dismayed. His powerful words, which are repeated three times in Deuteronomy 31 (vv. 6, 7, 23), contain a bracing message for the new administration and new Congress as you confront multiple crises facing our divided nation.
Be strong and resolute! Act boldly and decisively to bring the pandemic under control. Do not be afraid to issue a federal mask mandate grounded in the scientific evidence for such an order. Take on as a federal responsibility the production and distribution of adequate PPE [personal protective equipment] for all persons and institutions that so desperately need it. See to the efficient, transparent, and equitable dissemination of the vaccine, prioritizing the needs of those most vulnerable to COVID-19.
…now is the time to channel Moses’ words and set a transformative agenda with boldness and resolution.
Be strong and resolute in addressing the profound social inequities revealed by the pandemic. Ensure that all Americans have access to decent and affordable healthcare. Pass HR40, which would establish a commission to study and develop reparations proposals so that the country can begin to address the entrenched nature of racial injustice and the prerequisites for systemic change. Acknowledge the ways jails and prisons have been ravaged by the virus and the needs of incarcerated people have been ignored. Respond by passing The People’s Justice Guarantee (HR702) which lays out a new vision of criminal justice.
Be strong and resolute in confronting the climate crisis and its relationship to the pandemic. Generously fund scientific efforts to understand the connection between human health and the health of the environment and wildlife populations. Introduce and support legislation to keep oil in the ground and to move toward a sustainable energy future. Commit to surpassing the goals agreed to in the Paris Climate Agreement.
With these and so many other profound challenges facing the nation, now is the time to channel Moses’ words and set a transformative agenda with boldness and resolution.
Professor Emerita of Religious Studies
Reprinted with permission of the author from Values and Voices.
Judith Plaskow, Professor Emerita of Religious Studies at Manhattan College, is a Jewish feminist theologian who has been teaching, writing, and speaking about Jewish feminism, feminist studies in religion, and sexuality for almost fifty years. She is author of the Jewish feminist classic, Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective, and The Coming of Lilith: Essays on Feminism, Judaism, and Sexual Ethics 1972-2003. Her latest book is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology (Fortress Press, 2016), co-authored with Carol P. Christ.