NYC Rabbis Urge Mayor Adams To Rescind Initiative Directed At Unhoused NYkers

December 6, 2022

Jewish clergy from across New York City sent a letter today calling for Mayor Eric Adams to rescind his recent directive that will involuntarily detain New Yorkers who are perceived to be suffering from a mental health crisis.

The letter’s signers urge Adams to instead invest in social service programs like housing and mental health support. 

The letter is organized by Tirdof: New York Jewish Clergy for Justice as part of its inaugural Bayit campaign focused on supporting unhoused individuals. The partnership between T’ruah: A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ Community) unites Jewish clergy to organize with neighbors and allies for a New York City with freedom, opportunity, and dignity for all. 

The full letter is below and online:  

To: Mayor Eric Adams

CC: NYC City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams

Last week, Mayor Adams announced an aggressive increase in the city’s efforts to involuntarily detain New Yorkers who are perceived to be suffering from a mental health crisis, giving the NYPD significantly more scope and authority to detain people. Rather than directing those who need services to long-term opportunities for care and support, or allowing New Yorkers with psychiatric disabilities their right to exist in public space, we fear that this new policy would limit the rights of our families, friends and neighbors and expose them to further disruption and potentially traumatic or dangerous interactions with police.  A policy that relies on handcuffs and coercion will leave our city in greater pain. We, the undersigned Jewish clergy, call on the Mayor to rescind this directive and instead invest in genuine care and compassion, which means housing, services, and supports.

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We agree with Mayor Adams that we must find solutions to the crisis facing unhoused New Yorkers suffering from mental illness. Throughout the centuries, Jewish tradition has both acknowledged mental health as a human need, and exhorted us to assist those struggling to find treatment and solace not in isolation but within a communal context. The early 20th-century writings of Rav Kook acknowledge the essential need for mental health to be considered in concert with physical health, community belonging and relationships, and spiritual wellbeing. The 18th century teacher Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught us that emotional struggle is, in fact, inherent to the human experience. The Talmud itself exhorts us to tell others of our anxiety and distress, in order to experience relief. Removing individuals in psychiatric distress who are not a danger to themselves or others from their neighborhoods or public spaces serves not only to further isolate and stigmatize these New Yorkers, and it denies them the community contact that is necessary for each person to thrive.  We are distressed too by the introduction of this policy as part of the administration’s response to the crisis affecting so many in our city experiencing homelessness, and express deep concern at potential violence of additional police encounters proposed as a solution to a systemic lack of resources.

Jewish communities want to see deep investment in mental health prevention services and critical wrap-around support such as housing, peer-based support, affordable healthcare, and access to social services. We are alarmed by the 19% staffing vacancy rate at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the 17% vacancy rate at the Department of Social Services, making it impossible for these agencies to serve people. We are also dismayed at the prospect of further cuts to the city agencies that provide these critical services and we urge the Mayor to reverse his plans to reduce city subsidies to NYC Health and Hospitals and institute PEGs for most of our city agencies. We can only provide care and dignity to New Yorkers with true investment and a robust municipal workforce. 

Jewish tradition urges us to care for our neighbors, especially when they are in trouble and regardless of cost.  We learn from the 19th century Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh [Siman 184:8] that, “if you see that your neighbor is in trouble, and you are able to save him, or to hire others to save him, you are obliged to trouble yourself or to hire others to save him. If (s)he has the money to pay, you may ask her to repay the money you spent to save her. If she does not have the money, nevertheless, you may not shirk your duty because of this, and you must save her at your own expense. If you refuse to do so, you are guilty of transgressing the negative command, “Do not stand idly by when the blood of your neighbor [is in danger].” 

We do not want to be the people who stand by while our neighbor bleeds, or is in deep distress. We are deeply concerned that the Mayor is playing fast and loose with the legal rights of New Yorkers and is not dedicating the resources necessary to close the service gap in mental health services that leaves so many New Yorkers without adequate mental health care. The lives of people dealing with mental health crises won’t be improved by forcing them into treatment, especially if law enforcement is the primary vehicle for doing so. Unless the City of New York adequately invests in the long-term health and well-being of New Yorkers facing mental illness and our chronic lack of housing, our mental health crisis will continue.


  • Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann
  • Rabbi Jill Jacobs
  • Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie
  • Rabbi Jennie Rosenn
  • Rabbi Rachel Timoner
  • Rabbi Shelley Kovar Becker
  • Rabbi Atara Cohen
  • Rabbi Emily Cohen
  • Cantor Mira Davis
  • Rabbi Barat Ellman
  • Rabbi Susan L. Falk
  • Rabbi Paula L. Feldstein
  • Rabbi Irwin Goldenberg
  • Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg
  • Rabbi Lisa Grant
  • Rabbi Miriam Grossman
  • Rabbi Jill Hausman
  • Rabbi Margo Hughes-Robinson
  • Rabbi Rebecca Lynn Jaye
  • Rabbi Andrue Kahn
  • Rabbi Ellen Lippmann
  • Rabbi Rachel Maimin
  • Rabbi Marc J. Margolius
  • Rabbi Joel Mosbacher
  • Rabbi Hara Person
  • Rabbi William M. Plevan
  • Rabbi Max Reynolds
  • Rabbi Mira Rivera
  • Cantor Eric Schulmiller
  • Rabbi Mishael Shulman
  • Rabbi Abby Stein
  • Rabbi Burt Visotzky
  • Rabbi Nancy H. Wiener
  • Rabbinical & Cantorial Students:
  • Hadar Ahuvia
  • Madeleine Fortney
  • Adam Graubart
  • Avigayil Halpern
  • Gabriel Lehrman
  • Talia Kaplan
  • Andrew Mandel
  • Louisa Solomon

Tirdof: New York Jewish Clergy for Justice is a project of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ Community). 

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights mobilizes a network of more than 2,300 rabbis and cantors from all streams of Judaism that, together with the Jewish community, act on the Jewish imperative to respect and advance the human rights of all people. Grounded in Torah and our Jewish historical experience and guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we call upon Jews to assert Jewish values by raising our voices and taking concrete steps to protect and expand human rights in North America, Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Jews For Racial & Economic Justice Community: 

JFREJ Community fights to empower communities that face state violence, economic inequity, and structural oppression to govern the resources and systems that affect their lives. JFREJ Community is committed to building a vibrant Jewish left working for social justice in New York City. JFREJ Community’s sister organization, JFREJ Action, is the home for Jewish New Yorkers organizing with our neighbors and allies to transform New York from a playground for the wealthy few into a real democracy for all of us, free from all forms of racist violence.

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