Tikkun Olam: The Art of Nonviolent Civil Resistance


Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011

Tikkun Olam: The Art of Nonviolent Civil Resistance

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

Every generation comes to a crossroad. Tangled lengths of history tug at our heels; a mountain of stories hovers over us like a wedding canopy, or is it a tomb? In the middle of the path where the road divides, a sign is posted on the way. Two arrows point in opposite directions. One arrow points to the Path of the Book, the other to the Path of the Sword. Which path shall we choose? Our elders taught, "If the sword, then not the book. If the book, then not the sword." About this, Torah says: "Record this instruction. Resist the way of the sword with the way of the book."

Every day, I choose the path of nonviolence, that is, shmirat shalom, which I believe has the potential to make the greatest contribution to Jewish and global well-being. As it is written, "Who is the greatest hero? The one who turns an enemy into a friend." One doesn't accomplish the goal of turning an enemy into a friend by brutalizing one's enemy or one's neighbor, or by furthering the languages of fear and hate, or by using retribution and punishment to subdue the quest for freedom. Faith in militarism is on the rise in the Jewish community, and yet, violence, as Hannah Arendt reminded her generation, always leads to more violence.

Nor can one be engaged in constructive peace-building without alliances in solidarity with those who are suffering the direct impact of systematic violence, whether it is the violence of an unjust prison system or the weight of occupation. Those who enjoy economic, spiritual, and political privilege in a network of relationships cannot create a solution on their own. They must rely on the vision and efforts of those who suffer the pangs of systemic injustice to articulate the way forward. This insight is crucial to the work of healing and reconciliation.

Frederick Douglass wrote: "This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one, or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rabbi Michael Robinson z"l, and thousands of other practitioners of nonviolence have also taught us that waging peace inevitably leads to nonviolent direct action. When people struggling for human rights attempt to gain those rights through official channels and fail, activists will turn to boycotts, sit-ins, freedom rides, strikes, and other forms of direct action. It is this kind of pressure, and not moral persuasion or armed struggle, that leads those who hold power to change. When the status quo becomes too costly to maintain, those at the grassroots, and their allies, can hold out for their demands. Only then can the process of true reconciliation begin. During this phase of struggle and movement building, solidarity activists and allies must also shift their tactics. Knowing how to be a solidarity activist is one of the most important aspects of doing the work of tikkun olam.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is cofounder of the Community of Living Traditions, a multifaith residency devoted to nonviolence in study and action. She is also cofounder of the Shomer Shalom Institute for Jewish Nonviolence and the Muslim Jewish PeaceWalk, as well as a performing artist, author, and percussionist.

Her articles in Tikkun include "Refusing to be Enemies," May/June 2008; and "A Rabbi's Journey to Iran," September/October 2008.

Source Citation: Gottlieb, Lynn. 2011. Title. Tikkun 26(1): 42

tags: Nonviolent Activism, Vision for Israel/Palestine   
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