Reparations Background

This page contains a variety of sources about reparations from several perspectives, some Jewish and some more general, with annotations. Originally prepared in Fall 2020, with updates in June 2021 and December 2022.

RECONSTRUCTIONIST Day of Learning — adapted for asynchronous use (originally held August 8, 2021). Plus more resources from the Reconstructionist movement.

REFORM NEWS (from 2019, 2021): The Union for Reform Judaism issued a resolution on studying the issue. The resolution itself includes some background and references. The resolution then called for Reform congregations and members

  • to support HR40;
  • to “take active steps to redress the destructive effects of historic and ongoing systemic racism, including through education…”; and
  • to commit to “assessment and evaluation to strengthen our own institutions’ efforts to combat implicit and explicit bias and promote racial equity.”

There must be a report somewhere on what congregations and members have done in response in the ensuing year and half; I know some congregations are studying and moving forward — will share when found. Here is a “resurfaced conversation” from June 2021, in three parts, all available on YouTube.

General Background on Reparations

The Movement for Black Lives offers this toolkit. Includes definitions, case studies, organizing tips, and resources for more study.

“Reparations for state violence against communities of color” is one of the key points in the Advancement Project’s response to the Breonna Taylor case.

National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations, founded in 1987.

United Nations: Remedy and Reparation, “Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy…” adopted by the General Assembly in 2005.

Current-ish Legislation: DC and US

FEDERAL — “Reparations Study Bill” HR 40 was first introduced in 1989 by John Conyers (1929-2019; in the House from 1965-2017), and has been re-introduced in every Congress since. Hearings were held in 2007 and in 2019, as well as 2021; the first vote of the House Judiciary Committee on HR 40 took place in April 2021. (NOTE: DC residents have no voting representation in either House or Senate).

Most recent versions, 177th Congress: HR 40, “Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act,” and Senate version.

DISTRICT — B23-0968, “Reparations Task Force Establishment Act” was was introduced to the DC Council in October 2020 — it was introduced two months before the end of the Council session, when there was no opportunity for it to move at all.

Other Jurisdictions


State of California: “assembling a colloquium of scholars”

Providence RI: Executive order reparations

Burlington VT: Task force


Ashville NC: Reparations approved

Evanston IL: Marijuana sales used for funding

Chicago, IL: specific apology and payment for police torture of Black individuals

Jewish Sources

“Our Country Was Built on a Stolen Beam,” (2017) by Rabbi Sharon Brous. Focuses on Talmud discussion about what we do when a stolen beam is included in a larger building: Do we owe the beam back or the value? (B. Gittin 55a; See also SVARA below, 2020). Also includes some historical (Holocaust-based) analysis.

“The Torah Case for Reparations” (2018) by Aryeh Berstein. VERY long, attempts a “thorough assessment of reparations as a foundational concept in the core narrative and legal texts of Biblical and Rabbinic Judaism.” Includes the “stolen beam” teaching as well as Exodus-based teachings.

“How Teshuvah Can Inform Our Thinking on Slavery and Reparations” (2020) — short piece cites Sharon Brous’s sermon as well as the longer 2018 piece (both above)

Elul Extravaganza 2020, Svara: The Traditionally Radical Yeshiva. 2020 high holiday preparation taught from the Jewish text, B. Gittin 55a (see Brous sermon above) about the “stolen beam.” This packet is designed for careful study of Hebrew text, but page 11 here is English: “Movement for Black Lives: We Demand Repair”

“Teshuvah and Reparations” (2020) sermon from Rabbi Gilah Langner, plus “Al Chet for Our Racial History,” Kol Ami (VA) Congregation. Incorporates both the Exodus-based and Gittin 55a teachings mentioned above and some U.S. history.

“From Separation to Reparations” (2020), multi-week study session, co-taught by a Christian minister and a rabbi, plus a related high holiday panel discussion from Lab/Shul. Some recordings from the sessions are available to the public, along with related readings. Note: Materials are not anchored in Jewish sacred text and textual reasoning, as others listed here. Posting this here to acknowledge a variety of Jewish approaches. **IMPORTANT CONTENT NOTE: One of the few readings that addresses reparations directly in a Jewish context, labeled “for,” argues anecdotally based on one individual’s feelings about German reparations. The only other explicitly Jewish piece on reparations, labeled “against,” cites WSJ Opinion page as “fact”; frames Rep Ilhan Omar, via Fox News, as an enemy of the country; and cites backlash to a Black celebrity’s confused Tweet as substantive evidence that poverty in the U.S. is unrelated to race. (I had already left the class before these were discussed, so can only hope that these sources were used to illustrate dangerous tropes.)**

Judaism Beyond Zionism” (2021) from Rabbi Brant Rosen includes discussion of reparations and a related piece of new liturgy.

Additional Sources

Some Christian sources (temporary — while I seek Christian advice):

“A Christian Call for Reparations” by Kelly Brown Douglas

Ideas for Churches Studying the Need for Reparations,” from Baptist News Global

What does the Bible say about reparations?” — When We Understand the Text (video podcast)