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173http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2013/12/RabbiLyonsBlog-12_20_2013
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 12_20_2013
12/19/2013 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
December 20, 2013

 

On Tuesday, December 17th, Rabbi Sam Karff and I drove together to Houston City Hall. There we gathered with interfaith clergy and citizens of Houston at a press conference. The subject was Payday Loans and Auto Title Loan centers that provide quick cash loans to people who can’t get credit anywhere else. You’ve read about the crisis: cash in exchange for car titles, exorbitant interest rates (upwards of 300%), and fees and interest that rarely reduce the principal amount. After the press conference, we gathered in City Council chambers to hear testimony on the subject from those in favor and those against Payday Loans and Auto Title Loans.

                The case for such loans is not easily made. Profits in free market shouldn’t preclude reasonable care for the citizens of a community where their livelihood is ripped from them along with their dignity and last hope. What’s more, the funds they ultimately seek from their houses of worship including synagogues and Jewish Family Service are often used to pay rent and utilities after they’ve paid the loan fees. It becomes a perpetual nightmare that we all pay for in the end.

                The case against such loans satisfies a broader and deeper set of interests because it bears up against our expectations for a free market as well as moral codes in all our respective faith traditions. I like a solution that meets the standards of more than one benchmark. Free markets are the hallmark of Texas business but so are the religious teachings often raised up by those who claim to live by them. But, just as free markets come with a price in the form of boundaries and regulations, so do religious teachings come with expectations that they are for all and not just for some.

                Interfaith clergy, including myself, Pastor Steve Wells of South Main Baptist Church, and Archbishop Fiorenza of the Galveston-Houston Diocese, testified before City Council for the proposal to limit and regulate Payday Loans and Auto Title Loans just as they have been regulated in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth. On Wednesday, we learned that City Council passed the ordinance to regulate predatory lending in Houston. Now, we can stand with other Texas cities and push the message to the state level where passage of a strong law will protect everyone from predatory lending practices no matter where they live in Texas.

                I’m proud of City Council members like Ellen Cohen, a Beth Israel member, who recognizes the importance of striving to achieve economic justice and moral correctness. I thank Mayor Parker, too, for her courage to advocate for these standards for our city and its citizens. We will not be the worse for it; rather, we will be the better for it. Our economic engine will thrive, our social agencies will help where authentic needs are unmet, and our hearts and souls will be nourished by reaching for a greater good. Judaism and Christianity might cite from different and respective sources, but our joint commitment to a sacred community finds us standing together not only before City Council but also and always before God.

                As we enter the last full week of 2013, may it bring you time to reflect on the year that is past, and consider the year that will be. May it be a time for family, renewal, joy and peace. Shabbat Shalom.

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