Who We Are
We are a collection of Chaplains, Rabbis, Cantors, Kohanot/Hebrew Priestesses, advocates, activists, volunteers, loved ones of incarcerated people, and people with direct experience of incarceration. We are an all volunteer group who began meeting in 2021. We live and work across Turtle Island, in territories, cities, and rural settings of the US and Canada.
Matir Asurim: Jewish Care Network for Incarcerated People connects Jewish spiritual, cultural, and communal resources to people who have experienced incarceration.
Matir Asurim literally translates as “The One Who Frees Captives.” This phrase from Jewish liturgy refers to God’s power to act for freedom and/or humanity’s ability to manifest godliness through working for freedom.
We are striving toward a world free from oppression, where aspects of social identity like race, class, and gender no longer limit our safety, opportunities, and agency to live into the fullness of our sacred potential.
We are striving toward a world where individuals are mutually accountable to one another and where wrongdoing is addressed through reparative and transformative justice, guaranteeing the human dignity of all parties.
We are striving toward a world where all people are provided with the conditions for healing trauma and for teshuvah (repentance/restoration), surrounded by resources, guidance, and social support networks.
We are striving toward a world where nobody is isolated and everyone has opportunities to connect to something larger than ourselves—whether to community, culture, or spirituality. Within that world, we envision a Judaism that is radically welcoming and accessible to all seekers.
Incarceration does not keep our communities healthy and safe. Mass incarceration disproportionately impacts Black and Indigenous people, people of color, queer and trans people, immigrants, disabled people, and poor and working class people. To fight for a world where prisons are obsolete is to fight all systems of oppression.
Incarceration cuts individuals off from the social, cultural, spiritual, and educational supports they need and deserve as human beings. While people are incarcerated, those on the outside must ensure they are provided with opportunities to explore their religious traditions as part of the rights and dignities that befit their humanity.
We know that incarcerated people have incredible Torah to share and are essential members of our Jewish communities. All Jewish communities will be strengthened by creating more connections across prison walls. We believe that people who are directly impacted by mass incarceration are the visionaries and leaders of all anti-carceral work.
Guiding Jewish Concepts
- B’Tselem Elohim: All people are created in the image of God. We all carry a spark of divine goodness and creative potential.
- Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh & Kehilla: Collective responsibility & community
- Refua Shlema: Healing & wholeness
- Teshuvah: Repentance/restoration. We practice returning to our divine nature after erring.
- Talmud Torah: Lifelong learning from our tradition and from our experience
- K’vod ha’Briot: Honoring and tending to all of creation
- Tzedek & Rachamim: Justice and compassion. We strive to live these values internally as an organization and grow them in the world.
- Dan L’chaf Zechut: Giving people the benefit of doubt; viewing others in a gracious light
- Ve’ahavta Lareacha Kamocha: Loving your neighbor as yourself
- Tikkun Olam: Repairing the world
- Brit: Covenant. We are committed to practicing these principles daily. We also strive to honor the covenants and treaties made and broken with Indigenous Peoples, and acknowledge the role of colonization in prison systems.