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Rabbi Michael Lerner
Rabbi Michael Lerner

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.


The Pope Might Save the Planet… if You Would Join an Interfaith Effort to Support His Direction!


by: on June 18th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

A portrait of Pope Francis.

Credit: Alberto Pizzoli via Getty Images.

The Pope issued a powerful letter to the world today, called Laudato Si, in which he called upon the people of the world as well as the members of the Catholic Church to make saving the planet from environmental destruction the major and urgent focus of our activity in the 21st century. And he highlighted how climate change will be particularly destructive to the poor. I want to share with you the following piece I wrote, which appeared on the front page of the Huffington Post today. If you prefer, you may read it there. Please never say “I didn’t know what to do in face of the environmental crisis,” because we at Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives are inviting you to become involved with us in some very specific steps you could take! Please read the article below!

Warm regards and blessings,

- Rabbi Michael Lerner

Pope Francis’ Laudato Si plea for environmental sanity and a serious recommitment to the Bible’s call for humanity to be stewards of this planet earth just might make a huge difference by puncturing through the emotional depression that keeps most of the people of the earth paralyzed in face of the growing crisis.

It is not that people don’t know about the environmental crisis that keeps us stuck in our current situation. It is rather that most people are unable to see any way out of the mess that global capitalism has created for us. Feeling hopeless about the possibility of the kinds of fundamental transformations needed to save the planet, much of humanity has chosen the ostrich strategy: deny the problem, and focus instead on getting as much as one can for oneself in the decades ahead as the planet whimpers under the increasing destructiveness of the capitalist imperative to growth without limits and accumulation of money, power or things as the only meaning to life. Yet it is this very growth and accumulation of things, produced at the expense of the earth, that guarantees earth-destruction if not of the planet than at least of its life-support-system that makes human life on it possible.


Media Alert: Jews Congratulate Pope Francis


by: on May 13th, 2015 | 7 Comments »

Jewish liberals and progressives reacted with enthusiasm to the announcement today that the Vatican will recognize the Palestinian State.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine: a Quarterly Jewish and Interfaith Critique of Politics, Culture and Society, the most prominent voice of liberal and progressive Jews and our non-Jewish spiritual progressive allies, released the following statement on May 13:

“Many liberal and progressive Jews congratulate the Vatican on the important step toward peace it took yesterday in announcing that it will recognize the State of Palestine.

“We have rejoiced in the many steps that Pope Francis has taken to take seriously the biblical injunction to pursue justice and to protect our global environment. Now he has entered a highly contested arena with the courage he has shown on other issues.


Baltimore Riots Against Police Violence –Tikkun and the Baptist Response


by: on April 29th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

We endorse the statement below from the Progressive National Baptist Convention. Police violence, particularly though not only against African Americans, requires immediate and forceful response at every level of our society. People should be protesting in the streets of our country wherever an ethical consciousness has not yet been snuffed out by cynicism, surplus powerlessness, indifference, or inability to focus due to mind-destroying absorption in the distractions that abound in cyberspace, the media, and the entertainments of contemporary American society.

At the very least, everyone should be writing to all of their elected officials from President Obama to the local city councils and state legislators asking for new laws that require an independent prosecutor in every city and for every state (to be chosen by a panel of civil rights, civil liberties, and human rights leaders and lawyers) to investigate every incident of alleged police violence and charged with the ability to directly bring to trial those for whom there is strong reason to believe that they violated the civil and/or human rights of those assaulted, , to penalize through pay reductions every police officer in the district


The Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution


by: on April 22nd, 2015 | 2 Comments »

It’s time to sweep aside all the illusions:

*That the national environmental organizations have a secret plan to save the environment but just haven’t told us yet

*That local acts of environmental sanity in a few dozen urban areas will make a dent on the global degradation of the life-support-system of the planet

*That “new technologies” will solve the problem

*That individual acts of recycling and “conscious consumerism” will change what is being produced

*That good guy corporate leaders will eventually turn around the massive impact that global corporations have been having in undermining Nature’s balance

*That political sanity will prevail if only we get a new president (remember when you thought that about Obama? Are you now thinking it will happen with Hillary?)

Illusion after illusion after illusion.

We are up against a global economic and political system that has only gotten worse and worse over the course of the 45 years since Earth Day 1970. Consciousness has grown, small battles have been won, and the people who worked so hard on both fronts deserve our commendation. But don’t deceive yourself: the situation of the planet has gotten worse and worse, and it will continue to do so until we have a movement capable of fundamentally changing our economic and political system.