Biographical Notes on Rabbi Lerner
Rabbi Lerner, author of a national bestseller, The Left Hand of God: Taking Our Country Back from the Religious Right (Harper San Francisco, 2006) is not only rabbi of Beyt Tikkun but is also the editor of Tikkun.
Tikkun is one of the most respected intellectual/cultural magazines in the Jewish world, but also one of the most controversial because of its stand in favor of the rights of Palestinians, which on the one hand locates Lerner in the minds of many as the leader and most prominent spokesperson in the U.S. of Jewish supporters of the Israeli peace movement, and on the other hand, because of his stand critiquing the anti-religious and anti-spiritual biases of the secular Left, insisting that they need to address the spiritual hunger of Americans as equally important to their material needs (he calls this a hunger for “meaning” and says that for many Americans the desire to transcend the individualism and selfishness of the competitive marketplace and connect their lives to higher meaning is as important as any interest in money or things, and that one reason why people who might on purely economic grounds be supporting the liberal and progressive social change movements actually end up supporting the Right is that the Left doesn’t have a “politics of meaning”).
Rabbi Lerner’s book Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation (published by Putnam in 1994 in hardback, and by HarperCollins in paperback in 1995, was described by David Biale, the chair of Jewish Studies at University of California at Davis, as “A major contribution to modern Jewish thought, a contribution that is a challenge to intellectuals even as it is accessible to a broad general audience.” David Kraemer, professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary, said that this book is “a sophisticated and intellectually challenging reinterpretation of Jewish tradition. With a rigor that has rarely been equaled, Lerner shows what a liberal Jewish theology must be in the late 20th century. No one who cares about a committed ethical Judaism can afford to ignore this book.” Michael Paley, chaplain of Columbia University (at the time, and now director of Outreach for the UJA/Federation in New York) wrote that: “Michael Lerner is America’s preeminent liberal Jewish intellectual. Jewish Renewal is potentially one of the most important Jewish books of our times, an enduring contribution that could shape the Judaism of the twenty-first century.” And Susannah Heschel, chair of Jewish studies at Dartmouth, wrote: “At last, here is a book on Judaism that places feminist concerns at the center, not the margins, and that shows us the direction Jewish life and thought will take in the twenty-first century.” In reviewing Jewish Renewal in the journal Conservative Judaism, Rabbi Brad Artson (now dean of the University of Judaism rabbinical school) said the following: “One of the most fruitful and honest presentations of the challenge of Judaism that I can remember reading. Lerner’s theology of God is inspiration (a remarkable blend of innovative, traditional and passionate). Lerner’s approach to God is stunning, miraculous, and faith-renewing … Jewish Renewal integrates insights gleaned from modern physics and literary theory for one of the most insightful and inspiring contemplations I’ve ever seen … I can’t recall a book so chock-filled with fresh new Torah as this one…. If you read no other book this year, push yourself to read this one cover-to-cover … We are all in need of some healing wisdom. There is no better place to turn than this remarkably sensitive, complex, and deeply insightful book.”
One of the most significant comments about this book came from outside of the Jewish world, from Harvey Cox, professor of divinity at Harvard University. “As a Christian theologian, I rejoice in this vibrant and intelligent new voice of prophetic Judaism. It will appeal not only to those of Lerner’s own faith community, but to all people of faith and to many who have given up on any faith at all. This splendid and readable book will take its place in the great tradition of the works of Martin Buber and Abraham Joshua Heschel.”
Rabbi Lerner was a student and disciple of Abraham Joshua Heschel as a teenager, and it was Heschel’s vision that shaped Lerner’s understanding of Jewish life. As an undergraduate at Columbia, Lerner simultaneously took courses at the Jewish Theological Seminary and private tutorials with Heschel. It was under Heschel’s guidance that Lerner developed his understanding of the deep connection between Jewish mystical thought and the commitment to heal and transform the world (tikkun).
Lerner was elected president of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s national college organization, ATID from 1961-1962. He graduated Columbia in 1964 after studying one year at Bristol University in England. Lerner began his graduate school career in philosophy in 1964 at the University of California, Berkeley, and soon found himself involved in a leadership role in the student movements of the 1960s. His first political activity was to organize a demonstration against the government of West Germany, which at the time was considering legislation to give amnesty to Nazi leaders. In the course of organizing that demonstration he became known to other campus activists, and was invited to become a member of the Coordinating Committee of the Free Speech Movement. His first activity with them was to lead a Chanukah service inside Sproul Hall during the Free Speech Movement’s sit-in in 1964. In the next five years he was deeply involved in the anti-war movement at Berkeley, chairperson of the largest student organization (Students for a Democratic Society), and a frequently quoted spokesperson in the media for the New Left. He was at the same time teaching Judaism at local Hebrew schools (Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland and Ner Tamid in San Francisco).
Lerner’s academic work focused on ethical theory and social philosophy. His orals committee included Richard Lichtman, Michael Scriven, and Benson Mates from philosophy and also Phillip Selznick (from Sociology and Law) and Sheldon Wolin (from Political Science). His training included work in epistemology and philosophy of mind, as well as in my primary areas of ethics, political and social philosophy, the philosophy of law, and the philosophy of social science.
In 1968 Lerner was hired by the Department of Philosophy to teach Philosophy of Law at San Francisco State, but teaching was disrupted by a faculty strike for several months. Soon thereafter he accepted a position as Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Washington in Seattle. His commitment to ending the war led him to be involved in organizing an anti-war demonstration in Seattle which turned out to be the largest demonstration Seattle had ever seen—and when it was attacked by police, it turned into a riot. He was indicted by the Federal Government for “using the facilities of interstate commerce (the telephone) with the INTENT of inciting to riot” (he was never charged with actually inciting to riot, because he didn’t do that) and suddenly became a national leader of the anti-war movement. The trial of the Seattle Seven was a national sensation, and when the government’s case was falling apart (because it was revealed that the FBI agents who were infiltrating the anti-war organization were themselves the people who had precipitated the violence) the judge sent the defendants to prison for “contempt of court.” The contempt charge was overturned on appeal, and the main charges were eventually dropped (and the law declared unconstitutional). But in the meantime, Lerner was sent to Terminal Island Federal penitentiary where he served several months in prison, at which time J. Edgar Hoover described him as “one of the most dangerous criminals in America.”
That was quite a surprise to someone whose motivation had been to serve God and live according to the ethics of the Jewish people. In the entire period of the 60s he had never engaged in an act of violence and had been committed to a non-violent approach. Through his enduring friendship with A.J. Heschel, Lerner met and strategized with Martin Luther King, Jr.
Michael Lerner returned to Berkeley after his conviction had been overturned, and he completed a Ph.D. at Berkeley in 1972. He then accepted a position as assistant professor of philosophy at Trinity College in Hartford, where he taught ethics, political and social philosophy, philosophy of literature, philosophy of social science, Marx and Critical Theory (primarily the Frankfurt School), and a course in Jewish ethics.
Although he was voted the most popular professor at Trinity, he began to doubt that teaching philosophy was the most effective way he could be involved in healing society, so he left Trinity and returned to graduate school at the Wright Institute of Psychology (founded by Neville Sanford, a collaborator with Adorno and Horkheimer’s study of The Authoritarian Personality).
While doing work as a graduate student, he was simultaneously hired by the University of California to teach in an experimental undergraduate program. After two years doing that, he took a one-year visiting position on the Sociology faculty at Sonoma State College. Meanwhile, in 1976 he created an East Bay chavurah (small Jewish prayer group) and restarted his studies for the rabbinate, this time under the direction of a Hasidic rebbe, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, who had been introduced to him by Heschel. For the next nineteen years he pursued a course of study that intensified his knowledge of Jewish texts and Jewish mysticism, until he received rabbinic ordination in 1995 from a Beyt Din (a religious court) of 3 rabbis (each of whom had received orthodox rabbinic ordination, called smicha).
In 1977 he received a second Ph.D. in social/clinical psychology from the Wright Institute, and for the next two years worked as a therapist serving the underprivileged minority community of Richmond and white working class families from surrounding suburbia—at the Contra Costa County Mental Health facilities. At the same time, he worked with leaders of the Alameda and Contra Costa and San Francisco labor movement to create the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, a facility dedicated to dealing with the mental health issues of working people. In 1979, he became executive director of the Institute for Labor and Mental Health (ILMH) and was awarded a grant by the National Institute of Mental Health to provide training for middle-income working people around issues connected to stress at work and family life. And in 1982 he became Principal Investigator for a multimillion-dollar research project funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and focused on work and family life.
While continuing this role as Principal Investigator on the Research and as Executive Director of the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, he also took another position as Dean of the Graduate School of Psychology at the New College of California in San Francisco. From 1980 to 1985 he served as dean of that master’s degree program. He taught courses in ethics and psychology, social theory, and social transformation.
Lerner enjoyed teaching at New College—particularly the opportunity to work with so many third-world students, gay and lesbian students, and other segments of the population who had not been heavily represented in the courses he taught in the elite colleges where he had taught in the 1970s. He also enjoyed work in building and shaping the psychology program as dean of the program. But he was feeling a deeper desire to have his Jewish interests more fully integrated into his work life. At the same time, he was feeling more and more concern about what was happening in the Jewish world. He watched as Ariel Sharon in Israel succeeded in building an array of settlements in the West Bank and many American Jews seemed to support this activity and align themselves with Israeli policy even when it seemed so obviously counter to at least one strand in Jewish ethics. He went to Israel in 1984 with his son Akiba and spent most of the year studying at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and at various yeshivot, and became involved in the religious peace movement (Netivot Shalom). In 1986, together with his then wife Nan Fink, Lerner decided to start Tikkun magazine. Tikkun was created as “the voice of Jewish liberals and progressives” and as “the alternative to Commentary magazine and the voices of Jewish conservatism.” From the start, Tikkun was dedicated to Jewish ethics and to healing and repair of the world. But the Tikkun editors were not just interested in Jewish issues narrowly defined. Their commitment was also to challenge the liberal and progressive secular politics and to insist on the importance of speaking to the psychological, ethical and spiritual dimension of human needs, and to challenge a narrow vision of human needs that had previously shaped the liberal and progressive social change movements in the U.S.
Since 1986, Lerner’s major work has been as the editor of Tikkun magazine. Lerner has been a prolific author. His works have shown that Judaism has much to say about the central social, political, and ethical issues of our time. In his books Surplus Powerlessness (Humanities Press, 1991) and The Politics of Meaning (Addison Wesley, 1996) Lerner developed the ideas that emerged from his training both as a rabbi and as a psychotherapist and philosopher—and applied them to the central ethical issues facing our society.
His writings were highly praised. His ideas received national attention when Hillary Clinton adopted his notion of “the politics of meaning” and called for the country to respond to these ideas. Lerner was described by the Washington Post as “the guru of the White House,” and he became the subject of intense national debate. Feature articles appeared on him in The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, People magazine, US News and World Report, and the ups and downs of his relationship with the Clintons were reported in the Washington Post and Newsweek. The Clintons invited Lerner to the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993, but Lerner soon found that though the Clintons were using his words, they were actually following policies that were antithetical to his core ideas. While he was being denounced daily on Rush Limbaugh’s radio shows for being the central idea person in the Clinton White House, Lerner himself felt that the Clintons’ approach had abandoned any serious ethical/spiritual focus and was being shaped by their own fears and narrow political interests, rather than by the vision of a meaning-oriented politics.
Lerner turned his attention to healing the tensions between Blacks and Jews. In 1988 he began a deep friendship with Cornel West which eventually led to the creation of their book: Jews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin (Putnam, 1995, in hardback, and a revised version published in paperback by Penguin with the subtitle: A Dialogue on Race, Religion, and Culture in America). West and Lerner used the publication of the book as an opportunity to set up gatherings around the U.S. to bring together Jews and Blacks and talk about common concerns, the tensions that exist between these communities, and strategies for working together. Lerner and West don’t always agree. A front page New York Times photograph captures them in intense debate when Lerner picketed a meeting of the NAACP that had invited racist bigot Louis Farrakhan to speak, and West had attended the meeting. Yet Lerner and West continue to create public gatherings up to the present, and often appear together in public dialogues.
Lerner became very controversial among the denizens of the Jewish establishment and in the Jewish media because of the role he has taken in trying to build bridges of understanding between Jews and Palestinians. Much of this work began in 1988 when he created Beyt Midrash Le Shalom, the peace academy in Jerusalem that functioned to teach about the Jewish resources for peace in our Jewish tradition. Among the people on his faculty at this yearly summer gathering were Avi Ravitsky, Moshe Halbertal, Uri Simon, and Yishayahu Leibowitz. He managed to bring many East Jerusalem Palestinians to these gatherings and to begin a dialogue group between religious leaders in the Jewish and Islamic world.
Lerner’s concern about building peace between Israel and the Palestinians has not kept him from recognizing the persistence of anti-Semitism, both within some sections of the Palestinian world and even among some of those who have been allied with progressive social change movements in the U.S. In his book The Socialism of Fools: Anti-Semitism on the Left he described the ways that people in progressive social change movements have sometimes ignored the national liberation struggle of the Jewish people and have sometimes used criticism of Israel as a cover for anti-Semitic feelings.
In the fall of 2000, Lerner’s book Spirit Matters: Global Healing and the Wisdom of the Soul was published by Hampton Roads. Spirit Matters was described as visionary, prophetic, “a miracle,” and as the single best introduction to spiritual thinking. Ken Wilber said “Spirit Matters is a profound and compelling look at the presence, or more disturbing, the absence, of spirituality in our world, along with powerful suggestions and remedies. Fully engaging and highly readable, it is a passionate cry from the heart to a world tranquilized with trivia and adrift in drivel. Read it for your own soul, and for the soul of the world as well.” Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, said “Spirit Matters offers the clearest, most helpful and most passionate statement of the new spirituality that I know. Michael Lerner’s genuine compassion and his active engagement in our communal life shine through and give this important book its power. There are hundreds of books on spirituality you can safely avoid. Don’t overlook this one.” Larry Dossey, M.D., editor of the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, said “The twenty-first century will be spiritual or it will not be at all. Spirit Matters is a blueprint for the return of spirtual meaning to contemporary life. The importance of the message of this book cannot be overestimated. In a sweeping and compelling vision, Michael Lerner shows how spirituality can be not only felt but lived, transforming us and our world in the process. In areas such as healing, law and education, Lerner takes us step by step to show how spiritual meaning can actually be woven into the fabric of our society. This book is a cure for the curse of our age—the tendency to fragment our lives by divorcing intellect and spirit, reason and intuition. We cannot long survive the destructive force of this split, and Spirit Matters shows a way out.”
In the fall of 2001 Lerner’s collection of Best Contemporary Jewish Writing was published by John Wiley and Sons. Lerner was picked by Utne Reader as “one of America’s 100 most significant visionaries” and he is a frequent lecturer and “scholar in residence” at universities and synagogues around the U.S., Canada, and England.
In 2001 Rabbi Lerner was awarded a special PEN Award for his stance in breaking the censorship that effectively exists around Israel-Palestinian matters in the U.S. media. At the same time, he was subjected to death threats from Israeli and American Jewish rightists who denounced his stand (in Tikkun magazine), which calls for Israel to respect Palestinian human rights and end the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
In January of 2002 Lerner founded The Tikkun Community, an international interfaith organization dedicated to peace, justice, nonviolence, generosity, caring, love and compassion (read the Core Vision) which he chairs with Cornel West. Each year, The Tikkun Community brought hundreds of people to Washington, D.C. to a Teach-In to Congress on Middle East Peace.
In 2005 Rabbi Lerner received the Martin Luther King Jr./Mahatma Gandhi Peace Award from Morehouse College in Atlanta Georgia, largely for his role as a spokesperson for reconciliation and peace between Israel/Palestine, but also for his role as a leading opponent of the war in Iraq.
In 2004 The Tikkun Community chose another name, The Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), because it wanted to make clear that it was an interfaith venture not just for Jews (Tikkun magazine had also become interfaith, yet its strong history as a Jewish magazine continued). The NSP had Rabbi Michael Lerner as founding chair and founding co-chairs Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister and Princeton University Professor Cornel West.
In 2005 the NSP held a founding conference in Berkeley, California, and in 2006 another conference in Washington, D.C., each attended by over 1,200 people.
Rabbi Lerner, while still acknowledged as one of the most significant rabbis in America (so designated by Newsweek Magazine in 2007 and 2008) was also becoming known for his spiritual politics. In 2006, Rabbi Lerner published (through Harper San Francisco, an imprint of HarperCollins) The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right. This book become a national bestseller.
His latest book, Embracing Israel/Palestine, was published by North Atlantic Books in 2012. It was endorsed by former chair of the Israeli Knesset and interim President of the State of Israel Avrum Burg, by Palestinian nonviolence activist Sami Awad from Bethlehem, by the chair of the Progressive Caucus of the House of Representatives Hon. Keith Ellison and a host of others (see below—if you are introducing Rabbi Lerner at one of his speaking engagements, quote a few of those, please).
Over the years Lerner has been a guest on many national and international television shows, including Larry King Live, CNN News, Meet the Press, Bill Moyers Journal, and more.
Lerner resides in Berkeley, California and can be reached at Tikkun’s mail box: 2342 Shattuck Ave, #1200, Berkeley, CA 94704. Phone: 510-644 1200. The most reliable method to contact Rabbi Lerner is through email: RabbiLerner.Tikkun@gmail.com. Rabbi Lerner accepts paid speaking engagements around the world, and also leads “trainings” for professionals on how to bring a spiritual consciousness into their professional practice and thereby transform their professions; trainings for people interested in social change on how to be a “Transformative Activist” able to speak to the psychological and spiritual dimension of reality so badly needed in social change movements; and workshops and trainings on how to spiritually renew Judaism. He also speaks on a wide variety of topics at colleges, universities, synagogues, churches, mosques, and cultural and community organizations. To contact him for these, send a detailed letter to firstname.lastname@example.org describing what you have in mind, where, when, with what arrangement for pay and transportation from his home in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Endorsements for Embracing Israel/Palestine
Embracing Israel/Palestine is a terrific book by a pioneer of global transformation. Out of love for both Israelis and Palestinians as equal creations of God, Rabbi Lerner offers us the deepest way out of the bloody conflict. Not just a political agreement, not a simple “real estate” and power sharing transaction, Embracing Israel/Palestine draws from a deep psychological and political understanding of the dynamics of the Middle East. Lerner’s book is coming out of a loving heart and a powerful analytic mind. He offers us a strategy of trust that could heal and repair the mentalities of fear that limit the current perspectives that dominate our politics.
—Avrum Burg, former chair of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization, speaker of the Knesset, and interim president of Israel
Rabbi Michael Lerner is one of America’s most significant progressive intellectuals and political leaders, and Embracing Israel/Palestine is not only a great conceptual breakthrough in dealing with the Middle East but also demonstrates a methodology for how best to think about global and domestic U.S. politics. For many decades Muslims, around the world have been cheered by Rabbi Lerner’s challenge to the media’s demeaning of our religion and dismissal of the rights of Palestinians, just as they have been challenged by his insistence that they recognize the importance of truly and deeply accepting Israel’s right to exist in peace and security. I hope my colleagues on Capitol Hill, the cynical media, and leaders in Israel, Palestine, and throughout the world are pushed by ordinary readers to grapple with the brilliant path to peace and reconciliation put forward in this book. Rabbi Lerner’s commitment to nonviolence and a path of love and generosity should not be dismissed as utopian. My experience in the Congress leads me to believe, on the contrary, that it is precisely his way of thinking that is the only path that will give Israel, Palestine, and the United States the peace, security, and well-being all three deserve!
—Rep. Keith Ellison ( D-Minn.), the first elected Muslim to the U.S. Congress and chair of the seventy-member Progressive Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives
Rabbi Michael Lerner provides us with a brilliant and hopeful vision of how to transform the Middle East from a cauldron of violence to a vanguard of peace. I hope every American will read this book and apply its lessons to change how we deal with the Middle East. For several decades Lerner has been a remarkably courageous rabbi, defying the orthodoxies of some in his own community to insist that Biblical teachings require recognizing the equal value to God of both Israelis and Palestinians. Challenging the extremists on all sides, Lerner insists on the practical and ethical necessity to embrace both Israel and Palestine with compassion and love. Lerner presents us with a path to peace that will require our replacing the strategy of domination and war with what Lerner appropriately describes as the far more effective path to homeland security: the strategy of generosity and genuine caring for the well-being of everyone involved. This is practical and effective advice for the world. I hope every American will read this book and apply its lessons in change how we deal with the Middle East.
— Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States of America
Embracing Israel/Palestine is a must-read for those who care about peace in the Middle East. It is provocative, radical, persuasive, and, if given the attention it deserves, could make a major contribution to reconciliation. Please read this book!
—Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Rabbi Michael Lerner is one of the great prophetic figures of our time. He inherited this mantle from his teacher and my hero, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. This book should be the indispensable work on the delicate and difficult effort to keep track of the precious humanity of Jews and Palestinians in the epic struggles for security and justice.
—Cornel West, author of Race Matter and professor of African American studies and religion at Princeton University
Our sages tell us: words that come from the heart enter the heart. Michael Lerner’s Embracing Israel/Palestine is not only a passionate book that comes from the heart, it also demands of us to use our hearts. Lerner suggests that a politics of generosity, a politics that begins with careful and compassionate listening to the stories of both Israelis and Palestinians is the only way forward. The politics of greed and power that is once again on the rise in the United States can only be defeated by a politics that takes as its starting point the worth of all human beings. Lerner has sketched a path from here to there. Read the book. Take up the conversation. Change the world.
—Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, associate professor of rabbinic literature at American Jewish University and author of Rereading Talmud
Rabbi Michael Lerner is one of the very few Jewish leaders in the Diaspora who has consistently challenged slavish Jewish pandering to right-wing Israeli chauvinism and messianism, opposed the Occupation of the West Bank and the crimes of many Israeli settlers, supported Palestinian rights and justice for the Palestinian people, called for an end to religious coercion and separation of state and synagogue in Israel, yet has simultaneously retained a strong commitment to the safety and well-being of Israel and the Jewish people. He has been a fierce critic of those who move from legitimate criticism of Israeli policies to illegitimate anti-Semitism or attempts to destroy Israel. His voice needs to be heard by Israelis, Palestinians, and all those who seek peace for the Middle East.
—Uri Avnery, former member of the Knesset and current chair of the Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom
Michael Lerner has been a national leader of the social change movements in the United States for the past forty-five years. The practical wisdom derived from that experience plus his analytic skills honed as a psychotherapist, philosopher, and theologian combine in this book to give Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians a brilliant path to heal the Middle East. This book is at once a major intellectual achievement, a practical guide for peacemakers, and a perspective on politics and social change that everyone needs to read. Share it with your most partisan friends on every side of this issue and on every side of America’s political divisions, and watch how they begin to broaden and mellow their understanding of the world.
—Michael Nagler, founder of Peace Studies at U.C. Berkeley and chair of the Metta Center for Nonviolence
I’ve read dozens of books on the subject, but none has the potential this book has to inform wisely and fairly, mobilize good will effectively, and motivate action intelligently toward needed change. Rabbi Lerner’s generous Jewish vision warms my Christian heart, and his deep integration of spirituality, theology, political philosophy, and human kindness serves as a model I hope many will join me in following.
—Brian McLaren, Christian Evangelical Pastor and author of A New Kind of Christianity
Michael Lerner’s passionate call to the Jewish community to heal the wounds of Jewish historical trauma is an indispensable element of peacemaking.
—Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Embracing Israel/Palestine is the nuanced, historically-balanced, psychologically astute, and spiritually resonant accounting of Israel/Palestine that we have been waiting for. A must read for all who seek to deepen our understanding of, and our action around, Israel/Palestine.
—Holly Taya Shere, co-founder of Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute
Rabbi Lerner writes from a deep and passionate framework of social justice within the Jewish tradition. Yet he is deeply sensitive to the humanity and moral imperative to find a solution that speaks to the needs of both Israel and Palestine—indeed, they are inextricably linked.
—Aaron Back, director of Israel Social Justice Fund
Embracing Israel/Palestine is a masterpiece among the myriads of studies dedicated to the numerous human catastrophes of our times. No matter how many books you’ve read on this subject, Rabbi Lerner will give you a new and powerfully insightful perspective that could empower you to play a significant and hopefully effective role in healing this conflict—and in doing so beginning to heal the world.
—Zygmunt Bauman, author of Modernity and the Holocaust and Postmodernity and Its Discontents
Rabbi Lerner’s penetrating analysis both grasps the complexities that polarize Israel and Palestine and lays out a stunningly clear potential for peace. Lerner’s breathtaking insights challenge all of the assumptions of despair and cynicism and bring light and hope to one of the most difficult political conundrums of our time.
—Rabbi Dan Goldblatt
Michael Lerner takes a courageous, enlightening position in Embracing Israel/Palestine, not only in speaking as an American Jewish rabbi who cares about both countries, but in his conviction that only real attention to the suffering and historical traumas of both sides can bring about peace. The intellectual clarity and psychological sophistication of his presentation is matched by his passionate plea for the transformation of religion from a tool for political partisanship to a basis for genuine renewal of commitment to justice and recognition of all peoples. His argument breaks the conventional splitting between the pragmatic and the idealistic, making a convincing case that only respect for the needs of all peoples will bring about the will and the possibility of resolution.
—Jessica Benjamin, psychoanalyst and author of The Bonds of Love
Rabbi Lerner has been passionately advocating a new era of peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land utilizing the interfaith resources. We are confident that this spirit of mutual respect and cooperation can work in the Holy Land as well. There are enough resources in our scriptures, traditions, and history to make such solidarity legitimate. I hope that Muslims, Jews, and Christians will use Embracing Israel/Palestine as a jumping off point for discussing how our three faiths can work together to bring peace and justice to the Middle East.
—Sayyid M. Syeed, National Director at the Islamic Society of North America’s Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances
This book would change the world if there were enough people who would open their eyes and read it. Lerner uses Israel/Palestine as a prism to look at the world as a whole—rife with conflicts of many kinds, a number of which involve the United States. He comes to the wildly “utopian” conclusion that the solution to these conflicts can only come by following the Biblical injunctions to love the stranger. Far from being utopian or unrealistic, Lerner shows that this will be the only practical way to keep the alliance of nationalism and capitalism that rules the world today from destroying the fabric of natural and social life. I hope this book will be used widely in courses in political science and sociology in our universities, not only in courses about the Middle East.
—Rober Bellah, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley, author of Religion in Human Evolution, and co-author of Habits of the Heart
This important book will be difficult for many people to read, and those who will find it off-putting are the ones who most need to read it. Some will want to reject it because Rabbi Lerner works so hard to compassionately present the narratives and fears of both “sides.” How can he not take a “side”? Still others will seek to argue with one interpretation of a fact or another, or the omission that they deem critical, and will then be relieved that they can dismiss the entire book. These defensive strategies must be put aside, and this book must be read from cover to cover with an open mind, heart, and soul. If you dare to do so you may have a transformative experience.
—Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman, former director of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel for fifteen years
There are good books and there are needed books. This book is both. It is good because Michael Lerner gives an insightful account of the history and politics of struggles between Israelis and Palestinians. It is needed because he grasps the religious underpinnings of this conflict and his spiritually progressive perspectives offer hope for peace. What Rabbi Lerner has to say will be especially helpful for my fellow Evangelicals who must balance their justifiable love for Israel with a cry for justice for the Palestinian people.
—Tony Campolo, Evangelical pastor and professor of sociology at Eastern University