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Rabbi Michael Lerner
Rabbi Michael Lerner

Mazal Tov on Overcoming the Fearful & the War Mongers on the Iran Nuclear Deal


by: on September 17th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Thank you so very much for your help in making it possible for the the major powers of the world, the U.N. and most of the people of the world to confirm the deal with Iran which will prevent them from developing nuclear weapons for the next ten to fifteen years.

Your support for the Tikkun position, (a position we articulated in full page ads we bought in the NY Times, the Hill magazine read by most Congressional people and staffers), plus your willingness to share your reasons for supporting the nuclear deal, eventually became part of a powerful surge of voices that created the context critical to the ability of Democratic Senators to feel that they could reject the pressure from the right-wing of the Jewish world, represented by AIPAC, The Conference of Presidents of Major (sic) Jewish Organizations, the American Jewish Congress, and many local Jewish Federations and synagogues and instead embrace a deal which, while flawed in some ways, was far better than any achievable alternative. (See, sometimes us little guys can make a difference if we pool our energies and resources.)


It was sad for us to see the Reform movement in Judaism unable to take a stand on this issue–the movement that had once proudly proclaimed itself a voice for tikkun olam, but we can have compassion for the leadership that feared it might lose some of its support in being in favor of a deal that raised fears among many Jews who had been influenced by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s manipulation of PTSD flashbacks from the Holocaust. Yet this is the same reason why so many Jewish leaders and rabbis fail to take courageous stands countering Israel’s horrendous treatment of the Palestinian people, behavior in sharp violation of the Torah’s commands “Do Not Oppress the Stranger/the Other.” The excuse of fear of breaking your organization apart or losing some of their supporters starts to wear thin, don’t you think, as we approach the 50th year of Occupation (in 2017)? It would be great if American Jews could push for an end to the Occupation (not just for less abuses inside the Occupation) with a focus on demanding that it be ended by 2017. And, as in the campaign for the nuclear treaty, such a campaign would necessarily require powerful involvement of non-Jews and the next President of the U.S. so check to see if your candidate, whoever that might be, would join such a campaign (the terms of a peace treaty to end the Occupation are spelled out in detail in my book Embracing israel/Palestine which you can get on Kindle from Amazon.com or in print from www.tikkun.org/eip).


The Best Way to Deal with ISIS


by: on September 17th, 2015 | 14 Comments »

Editor’s note:  The two perspectives articulated by Uri Avnery and Rabbi Arthur Waskow below deserve to be well known and discussed. We at Tikkun have a slightly different approach: we believe that the hate-filled and barbarous approach of ISIS will continue to manifest in a world that is fundamentally unjust, creates huge amounts of suffering in daily life for at least 2 of the 7 billion people on the planet, and privileges military power over kindness in its expenditures of money and in the organization of nation states. We have long argued that what we need is to convince the Western powers to privilege generosity over domination, and to launch as a first step in this process a Global Marshall Plan to once and for all eliminate global poverty, hunger, homelessness, inadequate education and health care, repair the global environment, resettle refugees, and eliminate the unjust global trade arrangements (read our proposed version at www.tikkun.org/gmp).  Yet Uri Avnery and Arthur Waskow, both strong allies of Tikkun, have proposals which differ from our approach and from each other, though because they fit into the “realistic” dialogue of power politics both might be achieved sooner than our plan, though Arthur’s seems much closer to us precisely because it does not envision the direct use of force but only the power of the US to implement it.  In my view, it is more likely to get the US population behind a fundamental change in worldview called for by the Strategy of Generosity than to get a piecemeal acceptance of Iran as an ally in the Middle East reconciled to Israel, unless we were simultaneously challenging the notion that their security depends on power over enemies (the Strategy of Domination). But these are the kinds of debates that ought to be taking place in national elections in 2016, so you decide if any of the candidates are even approaching this level of discourse on foreign policy—and if not, what you could do to get them to address this kind of discussion. Rabbi Waskow and Uri Avnery present important ideas for your consideration.  –Rabbi Michael Lerner   rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com


Uri Avnery

September 12, 2015


                                                The Real Menace



I am not ashamed to admit it. I am afraid.


All Should Be Repenting for the Suffering of the Refugees


by: on September 9th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

This article appeared on the Huffington Post home page column this morning (Sept 9th), view the original here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-michael-lerner/we-all-should-be-repentin_b_8109612.html

As we watch millions of refugees struggling to survive, hundreds of thousands of them seeking refuge in a Europe which has by and large shut its doors to them, it is all too easy for those in the U.S. to piously implore the Europeans to do more. Or for the U.S. government to take in a few thousand of them.

Most Americans seem completely blind to the way that we have played a major role in creating the problem, and have a major responsibility to fix it. Instead, many Americans are rallying behind Donald Trump and other Republican politicians who are competing with each other on who can be more ruthless toward our own domestic refugees who came to the U.S. without official government sanction.

Few Americans realize that there was no major refugee problem until the 1990s. Here’s what happened since then to change the world:

1. The U.S. got involved in Middle East wars, eventually overthrowing Saddam Hussein and throwing out of government and the Iraqi army leadership everyone associated with Saddam’s Sunni Muslim allies. Those thus disempowered began a war with the U.S. occupying forces which the U.S. pursued with torture at Guantanamo and at many torture locations around the world and in Iraq. Millions of Iraqis fled their homes. Eventually Americans’ patience with that ongoing war led to the decision to leave the area.

Not surprisingly, many of those who had felt resentful at the U.S.–and resentful at the Shiite government that the US empowered and left behind in Iraq, and which continued to oppress Sunni Muslims–created the preconditions for popular acceptance of ISIS with its ruthless treatment of Iraqis and Syrians whom they deemed as enemies, making it unsafe for vast swaths of the Iraqi and Syrian populations.


A Letter of Apology


by: on August 13th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Dear Friends of Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives,

I apologize for the drawing that accompanies my editorial “War With Iran: The Disastrous Aim of Israel and the Republicans” in which I critique Netanyahu and his allies in Israel and in the American Jewish community, who are opposing the nuclear deal with Iran. The drawing depicts U.S. and Iranian diplomats negotiating at a table. Under the platform on which the negotiators sit, a figure representing Congress is sawing away and will likely soon succeed in defeating the attempt to find a peaceful way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. All fine and appropriate. But then in the hands of that figure representing Congress is a sack of money with a Jewish star on it. I can’t remember seeing that when I was shown a much smaller version of this drawing and approved it, but when I saw it next to my editorial I was shocked and deeply upset.

The implication of that drawing is that somehow it is Jewish money that is bribing the Congress to oppose the deal: a little figure on the side looking like a duck says, “The best Congress that money can buy,” which in the context of the money bag with a Jewish star seems to indicate that Jewish money is behind the whole problem. To me, this is reviving an ancient and distorted anti-Semitic trope that I detest: that Jews have all the money and that they use it for nefarious purposes.

In this very same issue ofTikkun, placed in one of the most highly visible places (inside the front cover), I wrote a statement saying, “Anti-Semitism is Always Wrong.” There, I explain why criticism of Israeli policies and policies of right-wing American Jews is appropriate, but it is inappropriate to blame the entire Jewish people for these ethical errors, and doing so is racist and unacceptable. So imagine my dismay when I saw this drawing – for me it evokes Nazi propaganda against Jews.


Jews Respond with Anger and Despair at Israeli Murders of Palestinian and Gay Victims


by: on August 7th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Editor’s Note:

Flickr: zeevveez

Faced with the horrendous crimes of an ultra-orthodox Jew stabbing participants in a gay pride demonstration in Israel, and the firebombing of Palestinian homes and resulting burning to death of an 18 month old Palestinian baby while others in the family are in critical condition and may not survive, many Israelis and American Jews denounced these horrendous acts. Netanyahu and his government ordered a few Israeli settlers arrested in “administrative detention,” the polite word to describe the practice which till now has been used against thousands of Palestinian civilians–arrest without formal charges, often held in detention for months or more without trial, and in the case of Palestinians often tortured. The Israeli settlers arrested did not face what most Palestinians “suspected” of terrorist acts usually suffer: the homes of the family of the suspect are immediately blown up by the occupying Israeli Army in the West Bank. That no such punishment was immediately meted out to the Israeli settler suspects was not surprising, but just another manifestation of the racist treatment Palestinians in the Occupied territory face (though of course we don’t support this tactic against settlers or Palestinians). As many Israeli human rights and peace advocates point out, the firebombing of Palestinian homes is just one of many variants of violence visited upon Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank, the goal being to make life so difficult that Palestinians will eventually be “ethnically cleansed” and Israel can make the West Bank a fully Jewish-majority part of Israel. I should hasten to add that most West Bank settlers do not participate in acts of violence, though they overwhelmingly vote for extremist right-wing political parties whose policies are racist and whose goals are not fundamentally dissimilar to those of their violent West Bank settler neighbors.

For us at Tikkun, all this has left us stunned, saddened, repenting for these horrific crimes on the part of our people, and all the more determined to insist on the need to end the Occupation and create an economically and politically viable Palestinian state, while purging our own peple of the hatred and racism that too many Israelis and their American Jewish allies have been willing to ignore, apologize for, or deny. On the other hand, the attack on homosexuals, equally outrageous and horrendous, does not flow from the policies of the State of Israel, which have been friendly to gays and lesbians in the past decade, but rather from the homophobic perspective of the ultra-orthodox community. Until those attitudes are purged from the orthodox world, gays and lesbians will face oppressive treatment in those communities. As I argued in my book Jewish Renewal, the anti-gay texts in the Torah can be reinterpreted in the same spirit that led the rabbis to redefine all the commands for animal sacrifices to be understood as really commands to pray (avodah zeh hu teffillah). Where there is a communal will there is a Hallakhic way, so just as Jewish religious law has evolved on many other issues, so it can follow the rulings of Conservative Movement in Judaism and make changes in their understanding of Torah on this issue–if the will to stamp out homophobia prevails, as it should.


Readers Respond to Our Conference Call with Obama


by: on August 6th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

On July 30th, the Tikkun and Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) community, along with a variety of other groups, was invited to a conference call with President Obama. During the call he spoke about the nuclear agreement reached with Iran and urged us to become active in supporting that deal in light of the ferocious opposition of the Republicans, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and many national American Jewish organizations. President Obama referenced the failure of peace-oriented people to stop the disastrous war in Iraq and urged us to become visibly engaged in supporting this agreement, which he said would prevent the only other possible alternative for those who want a denuclearized Iran, namely a war with Iran.

Of course, I had hoped that there would be a chance to engage directly with Obama, but he simply continued to do what he has done ever since we helped to elect him, namely talk tous but not with us. Still, many members of our Tikkun and NSP community tuned in for the talk and then sent their responses to me. Below is a representative sample of what I received in the ensuing hours.

- Rabbi Michael Lerner


Uri Avnery and Jeffrey Sachs on the Iranian Nuclear Deal


by: on July 23rd, 2015 | 9 Comments »

Editor’s note:

Avnery is sage in his analysis, but too much into big-power-politics thinking for comfort. As a result he underplays the role of ideology, and understates the evil deeds of the Iranian mullahs against their own people. Some people respond to the balance of power argument, then, by saying that Iran is more serious about ideology and hence might be willing to do a first strike on Israel even if that did lead to their own destruction. But here we agree more with Avnery–it is precisely because of their ideology that makes them want to remain the society that brings Islam to the world. To be the advocate for a growing Islam, rather than its grave-digger, a Muslim Iran has to avoid being wiped out by a second retaliatory strike by Israel should the Iranians use the nuclear weapons they will likely eventually acquire in ten or twenty years. It is only as a second retaliatory strike that the Iranians would need an atom bomb to use against Israel or the U.S., GOD FORBID, and that is not an unreasonable desire on their part, though we hope they never get such a weapon and we hope that neither Israel nor the U.S. ever engage in a first nuclear strike against Iran or any other country.

Best scenario is for a worldwide disarmament of all nuclear weapons with the same kind of strict guidelines this deal imposes on Iran (including disarming the US, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel, etc.). Short of achieving global nuclear disarmament, the most likely outcome in the next few decades is Mutual Assured Destruction, the strategy that kept the crazies who ran the U.S. and Communist Russia from using nuclear war against each other. In postponing the development of a nuclear weapon, the treaty now going before Congress deserves our support, because it might postpone an American/Israeli attack on Iran that would be even more disastrous than the Iraq war proved to be hopefully it will be the prelude to a new era in which the people of Iran can non-violently replace the mullahs with a more human-rights respecting regime that might even make peace with Israel once Israel ends its occupation of the West Bank and acts in a spirit of generosity toward the Palestinian people. But since Israel is unlikely in the coming years to do that, the best we can hope for is a balance of power, and this agreement is a hopeful move toward that end.

That will mean, sometime in the next twenty to thirty years, Iran will have a nuclear weapon that will keep Israel or the US from attacking it–a sad prospect, but probably the likely outcome whether or not there was a nuclear deal with Iran unless the US was really ready to invade Iran and fight a ground war that would be far less easy to win than the war with Iraq, and far more likely to spur global wars and domestic terrorism far more dangerous than the balance of power between Iran and Israel that Iran’s eventual nuclearization would produce. What a MAD world–yet this is what will likely happen unless the West really takes a whole new path toward generosity, peace, and nuclear disarmament.

- Rabbi Michael Lerner


Remember Gaza One Year Later


by: on July 8th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

A photograph of post-attack rubble.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Physicians for Human Rights - Israel.

As conflict continues to plague Israel/Palestine, as well as the rest of our world, we invite you to take a concrete step towards healing by joining the Network of Spiritual Progressives (email cat@spiritualprogressives.org for more information). Let us acknowledge the one-year anniversary of Israel’s attacks on Gaza by revisiting some of Rabbi Michael Lerner’s words, both those acknowledging the grief inspired by this (and all) conflict as well as those that inspire hope to heal the pain in our world.


Interdependence Day Celebration


by: on July 2nd, 2015 | 17 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons / epicfireworks.com/blog

[The article below gives advice on how anyone anywhere can transform the U.S. "Independence Day" celebrations July 4 into Interdependence Day, and why you should! Now, if you happen to be in the SF Bay area, or even anywhere in northern California on July 3rd, we can also invite you to Rabbi Michael Lerner's vegetarian pot-luck celebration this evening of Interdependence Day, followed for those who might be interested, in a Jewish Renewal style Shabbat celebration. You don't have to be Jewish to attend either of these or both, and the only cost to you is to bring a main course vegetarian dish to share.

It's at 951 Cragmont Ave, Berkeley, a few doors south of where Cragmont intersects Marin, one block east of where Marin intersects Spruce St. from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

We will have a vegetarian pot-luck and celebrate inter-dependence day by recognizing our interconnection will all beings and transcending narrow nationalist themes sometimes attached toJuly 4th, but also celebrating what is good and valuable in the USA. Since Shabbat starts so late in the summer, we'll eat first and celebrate interdependence.

Bring your favorite poems, songs, dances, and musical instruments that somehow connect to our emphasis on the interdependence of all of us with all other people on the planet, and our interdependence with the Earth. At 8:30 p.m.we will light Shabbat candles and do the Jewish Renewal Shabbat celebration.]

July 4th

Faced with July 4th celebrations that are focused on militarism, ultra-nationalism, and “bombs bursting in air,” many American families who do not share those values turn July 4th into another summer holiday focused on picnics, sports and fireworks while doing their best to avoid the dominant rhetoric and bombast.

We in the Network of Spiritual Progressives believe that this is a net loss. There is much worth celebrating in American history that deserves attention on July 4th, though it is rarely the focus of the public events.


The Path to Defeat Racism


by: Cat Zavis and Rabbi Michael Lerner on June 24th, 2015 | Comments Off

A young white girl holding hands with a young African American girl, the text reads "Racism is taught break the cycle".

Credit: CreativeCommons / jamieskinner00.

Racism is the demeaning of an entire group of people and refusal to see them as fully human in the way we see ourselves and those we deem to be “like” us. When we fail to see the humanity of the “other,” we ascribe to them ugly characteristics that somehow justify treating them with less honor and less generosity than we would others who are part of the groups we do see as fundamentally like us. From this place of separation we justify denying the “other” equal rights, benefits, and caring that all human beings deserve.

Racism in the United States has a long history. It was foundational to U.S. expansion throughout the North American continent, allowing white people to justify to themselves genocidal policies toward Native Americans, to allow slavery, and to incorporate into our Constitution a provision that would count African slaves as three-fifths of a human being so that Southern States would have higher representation in the Congress, though racists both North and South didn’t think of them as human beings at all.