In her interview in the Fall 2012 issue of Tikkun magazine, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein predicted Obama’s betrayal of the interests of poor and working people (the “middle class”) which she now documents in her analysis of “the compromise” between Obama and the Republicans which was worked out as the alternative to “the fiscal cliff” two weeks ago: “The Real Obama Emerges Again.”
“Obama better than Romney?” In regard to the economic interests of the poor and working class, almost certainly. But for those spiritual progressives who voted for Obama (and our information leads us to believe that most did) the ethical question that emerges is: “knowing who he was after close to four years in office, and choosing to vote for him rather than a protest candidate (even in states where the election wasn’t close), what level of responsibility do we have for the programs he is now enacting when they hurt the poor and the most vulnerable in our society, when he continues to support drone killings around the world, when he refuses to push for a carbon tax or other measures appropriate to saving the planet, when he continues to support the jailing of people who use marijuana, when he continues…. (well, you can add your own here)?”
At the Philadelphia “Heschel/King Festival” last week, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s death (his Yarhzeit), I was asked to speak about what this man, now recognized as the most significant American Jewish theologian of the 20th century (and my mentor at the Jewish Theological Seminary) would have been advocating or what would he want from us were he alive today. Here’s much of what I said:
What Does Heschel Want from Us Today?
Abraham Joshua Heschel, z”l (Zeecrhono Lee’vracha — “may his memory be a blessing”), taught that
Judaism is spiritual effrontery….The most urgent task is to destroy the myth that accumulation of wealth and the achievement of comfort are the chief vocation of humanity. How can adjustment to society be an inspiration to our youth if that society persists in squandering the material resources of the world on luxuries in a world where more than a billion people go hungry every night? …[we must] insist that life involves not only the satisfaction of selfish needs, but also the satisfaction of a divine need for human justice and nobility.
(This excerpt is from the essay “existence and celebration” in the collection MGSA Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity).
Heschel insists on the centrality of a tikkun olam, a transformation of the world. He is not talking of the trivialized notion of Tikkun Olam that got adopted by the Reform Movement in Judaism and is now mostly about maneuvering for liberal legislation in Washington D.C. or about once a month inviting homeless people for a warm night in your synagogue, valuable as both of these activities really are. No, he is talking about fundamental global transformation.
Lawmakers from the Senate and House met in a closed-conference and released the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Conference Report Tuesday night, whereby conferees reinserted language in the bill that allows for the indefinite detention of Americans without charge or trial. The NDAA is unconstitutional and un-American.
Tell your representative to say NO to indefinite detention and vote NO on the NDAA!
To close the Guantánamo prison was a hallmark of the president’s 2008 campaign. Urge President Obama to VETO the 2013 NDAA and tell him that he campaigned on the promise of a renewed commitment to the rule of law, and by signing the defense bill, he will not be able to fulfill his commitment to closing the infamous detention center in Guantánamo once and for all.
Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., following a shooting there Friday. Credit: Newtown Bee.
Some thoughts and a prayer after the latest mass killings, this time of elementary school students:
Banning all guns is necessary but not sufficient in light of the increasing violence in our society. We need a fundamental transformation as well as banning guns. Otherwise, we will now revert to the normal debate between liberals wanting more gun control and conservatives saying that it’s not guns that kill but people. Both are right. So here is what we need to do:
1. A constitutional amendment to ban all guns, and to create special holding units for hunting rifles to be held in control of locally elected officials in every neighborhood who keep the rifles under lock and key except when given to hunters during a hunting season and to be returned immediately thereafter, with all necessary criminal controls and penalties for those who do not return them in a timely manner and those who continue to hold on to their guns privately. No private ownership of guns of any sort. Police must similarly be disarmed, and allowed only to use billy clubs and mace, except in emergencies in which a judge signs a warrant for the temporary use of lethal force against someone who is using lethal force. Lesser measures (background checks, banning only extreme assault weapons, etc.) are insufficient and will have only slight impact.
2. We must create a track of education in every school and every grade level that teaches nonviolence both as a philosophy of life and as a practical way to live one’s life. This track must also teach nonviolent communication skills. Moreover it must teach children and teenagers and college students:
All the usual suspects are cheering on their respective sides in the latest struggle between Israel and Palestine being fought out at the expense of some Israeli and more Palestinian civilian lives. I’ve been overwhelmed with sadness at the tragic loss of lives and harm to the bodies of Israelis and Palestinians, and outraged at all those who continue to justify their side and demean the other, implicitly cheering on the violence even as they officially deplore it! Enough is enough. Stop the violence immediately!
First step: the international community, led by the U.S., should impose an immediate cease-fire on all sides of the struggle, and should introduce an international peace force to restrain and if necessary arrest anyone involved in any side of this struggle who is acting to continue the violence. That force should be equally charged with arresting any military figures on the Israeli side or guerrilla forces on the Palestinian side that are attempting to engage in hostilities.
I hope you’ll read both of my post-election reflections, though they do have slightly different foci. On the home page of Huffington Post this Monday morning you’ll find my article “In Praise of the American People“,while on the home page for Truth-Out.org you’ll find a report of what liberals and progressives have been sharing with me in regard to their concerns that Obama will only be a “lesser evil president” unless we ourselves organize to become as effective a pressure on him and Congressional Democrats as the Tea Party was on Congressional Republicans in the past four years. Please check it out here.
Perhaps the most generous teaching of the God or Spiritual Reality of the Universe comes in the second paragraph of the Shma prayer (in Deuteronomy), where it tells us that if we do not create a world based on love, kindness, generosity, ethical and ecological sensitivity, social justice, and peace then the world itself will not work, and there will be an environmental catastrophe and humans and all other animals are in danger of perishing.
These are not the words of an angry patriarch threatening to do this to us, but rather a kind warning that the universe is sending us–a warning that tells us that the ethical and the physical are intrinsically bound together in such a way that when we build a society based on greed, selfishness, materialism, and endless consumption without regard to the consequences for the earth, disaster will follow.
Growing up, I thought this an extravagant and foolish claim tied to an authoritarian, patriarchal, and judgmental god in whom I could not believe; but as an adult I encountered environmental science and learned that it was all true. There are now a host of books that show the concrete steps that lead from ethical irresponsibility toward the earth and toward each other to the resulting environmental crisis (and we regularly review them in Tikkun magazine).
Hurricane Sandy is only the latest manifestation of this truth, and compared with what is coming, a relatively mild reminder. Bill McKibben, who often writes about these issues in Tikkun, recently discussed Hurricane Sandy and climate disaster with Amy Goodman and climate scientist Greg Jones. It’s very well worth your time to listen to it. Here’s an excerpt:
This was sent to Tikkun on email from Cath News and a column called “The Not-So-Social-Gospel.” It is a powerful reminder both of how far sections of the Christian world have strayed from the teachings of Jesus, and also a reminder of the tens of millions of Catholics who are deeply dedicated to social justice, peace, generosity and love (even though unfortunately they are stuck in a church whose leadership is more interested in demonizing gays and abortions and attacking American Nuns who take Jesus’ teachings seriously than in carrying on the progressive elements in Jesus’ gospel). It saddens us at Tikkun to see how twisted that Church leadership has become, just as we have been saddened by how twisted the Jewish leadership has become to give blind support to the oppressive policies of Israel toward Palestinians, and reminds us to once again invite all Christians who do feel connected to the social justice, peace and love oriented Jesus to join our INTERFAITH Network of Spiritual Progressives at www.spiritualprogressives.org so that we can work together to amplify these voices and provide comfort and support to those who are being “dissed” in their own religious communities for taking seriously the highest teachings of their God.
The Not-So-Social Gospel
August 24, 2012
The Lazy Paralytic
1. When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at his home. 2. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5. When Jesus saw this he grew angry, “Why did you wreck my roof? Do you have any idea how much that cost to install? Do you know how many tables and chairs I had to make in my carpentry shop to pay for that roof? The reeds alone cost five talents. I had them carted in from Bethany.” 6. The disciples had never seen Jesus so angry about his possessions. He continued, “This house is my life. And the roof is the best part.” The disciples fell silent. 7. “It’s bad enough that you trash my private property, now you want me to heal you?” said Jesus, “And did you not see the stone walls around this house?” “Yes,” said the man’s friends. “Are these not the stone walls common to the towns and villages of Galilee?” 8. “No,” Jesus answered. “This is a gated community. How did you get in?” The man’s friends grew silent. 9. Then Jesus turned and said to the paralytic, “Besides, can’t you take care of your own health problems? I’m sure that your family can care for you, or maybe the synagogue can help out.” 10. “No, Lord,” answered the man’s friends. “There is no one. His injuries are too severe. To whom else can we go?” 11. “Well, not me,” said Jesus. “What would happen if I provided access to free health care for everyone? That would mean that people would not only get lazy and entitled, but they would take advantage of the system. 12. Besides, look at me: I’m healthy. And you know why? Because I worked hard for my money, and took care of myself.” The paralyzed man then grew sad and he addressed Jesus. “But I did work, Lord,” said the paralytic. “Until an accident rendered me paralyzed.” “Yes,” said the man’s friends. “He worked very hard.” 13. “Well,” said Jesus, “That’s just part of life, isn’t it?” “Then what am I to do, Lord?” said the paralytic. “I don’t know. Why don’t you sell your mat?” 14. All in the crowd then grew sad. “Actually, you know what you can do?” said Jesus. “You can reimburse me for my roof. Or I’ll sue you.” And all were amazed. 15. “We have never seen anything like this,” said the crowd.
In the coming two months we welcome submissions (to me at RabbiLerner.email@example.com) about what and who spiritual progressives should be backing in the coming elections. Tikkun & NSP are precluded from taking stands, but not from allowing readers to take stands. Most of your submissions on this will be put up on our websites–tikkun.org or spiritualprogressives.org. Of course what we seek are reasoned arguments, not diatribes, and arguments that show why you think the spiritual progressives’ worldview could best be served by a given candidate or party. But you don’t have to think “inside the box.” For example, there are some spiritual progressives who argue that the country would have been better off with McCain in 2008, because: McCain would have been under immense pressure from a Democratic Congress to do what a Democratic Congress did not do because Obama was one of their own: a. to end the war in Iraq more quickly than Obama did b. to resist funding any escalation of the war in Afghanistan c. to close Guantanamo and end all forms of torture (a position he actually shared with liberals) d. to oppose way more vigorously the Supreme Court’s overturning his own piece of legislation (McCain-Feingold) that set limits on money in politics . In addition, there would have been no Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party in the spirit of the worst racism and intellectual vacuity we have yet seen in politics. I am not endorsing any of these arguments, but using them to show that when you think about the coming election and write about it in Tikkun, you do not have to be “realistic” in your thinking, just rational.
Below I’m sharing an article sent to us by Uri Avnery on Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand. Like every such article, we do not claim this to be an official Tikkun perspective, but rather an interesting take, in this case from the leader of the most intellectually coherent Israeli peace movement–Gush Shalom.
P.S. If you have any Jewish friends, ask them if they have any Jewish friends in the Bay Area, and if so, would they please tell their friends about Beyt Tikkun Synagogue Without Walls and our High Holy Day services dedicated this year to social justice issues–and led not only by me, but by Arthur Waskow and Phyllis Berman, two of the most famous and outstanding Jewish thinkers about spirituality and social justice. Plus Rae Abileah, a young woman who has been one of the national leaders of Code Pink who stood up to challenge Benjamin Netanyahu when he spoke at the U.S. Congress (she was pounced on and dragged out by right-wing Jews surrounding her). The details of our service and how to register for them is at http://www.beyttikkun.org/article.php/HHDMain
In this chilling article from Haaretz, Nir Hasson details a brutal attack by a gang of Jewish Israeli youth on three young Palestinians right near the center of Zion Square in Jerusalem. Several suspects have been arrested but the underlying racism in Israeli society that made this possible has not yet been addressed.
As Hasson reports one eyewitness’s account on Facebook,
“It’s late at night, and I can’t sleep. My eyes are full of tears for a good few hours now and my stomach is turning inside out with the question of the loss of humanity, the image of God in mankind, a loss that I am not willing to accept.”
Please take the time to read this article and weigh in on this hugely important topic.