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Rabbi Michael Lerner
Rabbi Michael Lerner

Hamas Must Stop Attempting to Bomb Israel


by: on July 16th, 2014 | Comments Off

Hamas is “objectively even if not subjectively” the best friend of the Israeli settlers, right-wing Israeli extremists, and the Netanyahu government. Hamas leaders know very well that their bombs are not getting through Israel’s missile shield. There is no possible military advantage to continuing these futile attempts to rectify the imbalance in casualties between the 200 Palestinians already killed by Israeli attacks and the one Israeli killed by Hamas shells. But the extremists in Hamas, like the rogue band of criminals who murdered three Israeli youth, have succeeded in their goal: to create fear among Israelis that leads them to rally to those racists who wish to punish the entire Palestinian people for the actions of a few.  Such reactionaries wish to thereby “prove” to the Palestinian people that there is no possibility of peace with Israel and to discredit the strategy of the Palestinian Authority that has renounced violence for the past 8 years.

Still, the Palestinian Authority achieves little in the way of independence and dignity for all its efforts at negotiations with Netanyahu. Hamas’ actions, particularly its bombings of Israeli civilian targets, are as unethical and outrageous as the human rights violations carried out by Israel in its bombings of Gaza that have caused widespread death and injuries, even while Israel’s seven-year blockade of Gaza leaves the Gazans, most of whom have never endorsed Hamas’ policies, without the medical supplies necessary to heal the wounded.

The message to Hamas from Spiritual Progressives is this: Stop the attempts to bomb Israel.  These acts are immoral, ineffective, and counter-productive toward the only legitimate goal: peace and openhearted reconciliation among the people of the region.


End the Violence in Israel/Palestine: Cease Fire NOW!


by: on July 14th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Once again the violence of the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza and the violence of Hamas and other extremist groups in Gaza have combined to create a spiraling violence that serves the extremists on both sides who can point to the intended violence on the other side to justify their own. We call upon both sides to agree to an immediate cease fire from both sides.

In my book Embracing Israel/Palestine, I show how both sides have co-created this mess, and why it is futile, stupid, intellectually lacking in credibility, and ethically perverse to try to pin the blame on one side or the other, because both sides have been incredibly tone deaf to the suffering of the other side and the most negative possible interpretation of the other side’s intentions increasingly prevails in the public perceptions on each side of the intentions of the other. Of course at the moment there is no equivalence in power or violence. Israel has already killed over 150 Palestinians, and wounded hundreds; Gazans have not inflicted any deaths and few injuries on Israelis (which I’m glad about–I don’t want Israeli blood to flow any more than I want Palestinian blood to flow! My fervent prayer: STOP ALL THE VIOLENCE, END THE OCCUPATION AND CREATE A LASTING PEACE AND A RECONCILIATION OF THE HEART.  This reconciliation does not deny the vast inequality of power between Israel and Palestinians, and the corresponding responsibility of the more powerful force to take the first major steps toward a real peace, NOT a “peace process” which goes nowhere, but a true resolution of the conflict.


Israeli Vengeance Runs Wild—Violating Torah Law and International Law


by: on July 7th, 2014 | 11 Comments »

“Thou Shall NOT Take Vengeance” is a key law of Torah, but it is being ignored in Israel today both by the government and by significant parts of the people of the State of Israel (read Chemi Shalev’s article and Gideon Levi’s article).

We at Tikkun condemned the kidnapping of three Israeli teens several weeks ago, and we rejected the suggestion by some on the Left and some in the Palestinian world that this act had to be contextualized to the Occupation. Instead we insisted that acts of kidnapping and then subsequently of murder are ethically wrong and should not be minimized or morally excused on the grounds that just before those kidnappings Israeli occupying forces had killed several Palestinians in nearby Hebron.

Now we watch in horror as Israelis march through the streets of Jerusalem and many other cities calling for vengeance, as some Israelis kidnap and murder a Palestinian teen in East Jerusalem, as the Israeli Army blows up dozens of homes of “suspected terrorists” without the slightest attempt to give them an opportunity to defend themselves against this charge, and as the IDF bombs Gaza though there is no evidence that the Israeli teens were killed by order of anyone in Hamas.

A right wing protest after the funerals of the three kidnapped Jewish teens. Lerner writes,"Now we watch in horror as Israelis march through the streets of Jerusalem and many other cities calling for vengeance." Credit: Tali Mayer/ActiveStills

This, of course, is not fundamentally different from what the United States did after 9/11, or what China did after the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square or what many other countries do. But it is particularly vexing to ethically conscious Jews for the following reason: Israel claims to be “the Jewish state,” and yet its Occupation policies and the violence that flows from those policies have a devastating impact on the ethical claims of the Jewish people, defame God’s name, and leave a historical memory that for thousands of years will plague our people in the eyes of others and in the relationship that ethical Jews will have to our traditions.


On the Death of Zalman Schachter Shalomi, z’l: A Great Jewish Teacher and the Founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement


by: on July 3rd, 2014 | 12 Comments »

Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, and one of the most creative and impactful Jewish theologians of the last forty years, died today. I write with tears in my eyes and love in my heart for this incredible teacher, a source of inspiration for literally hundreds of thousands. I loved this man very very deeply for the past fifty one years that I knew him.

This is not a eulogy, but a personal statement of loss and an invitation to those who did know him to share stories about him with us at Tikkun which we can send out to the tens of thousands of people who read our communications. This is my form of grieving after I stopped crying at hearing this news today.

Zalman was born in Europe and barely escaped the Nazis when he was able to flee from France to the U.S. He became a Lubavitcher Hasid and Rabbi in Brooklyn, and was chosen by the rebbe along with his friend Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach to reach out to the generation of Jews coming of age on college campuses in the 1950 and 1960s. Zalman served as a campus Hillel rabbi, and there tapped into the emerging new consciousness that we subsequently called “the counter-culture.” His experience with LSD and other hallucinogens opened for him a deeper level of experience that fortified rather than undermined the spirituality that had always sung to his heart and which had been the inspiration for much of the Kabbalistic and Hasidic movements. Like his friend Shlomo Carlebach, Zalman’s teachings and his approach to prayer (davvening) excited young Jews whose experiences in the established synagogues of mainstream American Judaism were quickly alienating the whole generation from the spiritual deadness, materialism, and fearfulness (which often translated into a kind of idolatry of Israel as the only savior assimilated American Jews could believe in) that was at the time parading as “Judaism.”

I was first introduced to Zalman by my mentor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and am forever grateful for the relationship that we developed after that. As a counselor at Camp Ramah, I invited Zalman to teach my campers some of the ways to pray the “Shma” prayer – and these 13 year olds were mesmerized by Zalman’s ability to translate deep spiritual truths into a language they could understand, and then to embody his teachings in the way he actually led the davvening. So it was no surprise to me that after Heschel died, Zalman became the de facto leader (or perhaps co-leader with Shlomo Carlebach) for all those Jews seeking a spiritually alive Judaism.


Mourning for the Three Murdered Israeli Teens


by: on June 30th, 2014 | 9 Comments »

We at Tikkun are in mourning for the three teens murdered in the West Bank. We find this act painful and outrageous. There can be no excuse for this kind of act.

And we know that the revenge/retaliation acts of Israel will only bring about more acts of violence. The cycle will continue until Israel ends the Occupation and accepts a peace arrangement generous enough both in its particulars and in the spirit in which it is offered as to undermine the support for Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza and to empower the voices of Palestinian peacemakers.

Those terms are presented in my book Embracing Israel/Palestine (www.tikkun.org/EIP)and in the Winter 2014 issue of Tikkun magazine, and they require a deep change in approach from both Israel and Palestine (there are no pure victims or pure oppressors – but there are many people locked into fear and anger and hatred, and until that is healed and the cycle of violence actively opposed by people in both communities, the leaders and the haters will shape the realities people on all sides will continue to face).

We plead with the leadership of Israel to take the first steps because Israel is the more powerful force, not because we believe that Israel deserves all the blame for the current mess. Those first steps would be to embrace the strategy of generosity and caring for the other explicitly called for in the Torah over and over again.

Until that happens, we urge all Israelis and people from around the world to not endanger their children by bringing, sending or funding them to be in the West Bank, which is de facto a war zone. We fear that the hatred generated by Israel’s acts of retaliation will eventually blow back onto Israelis and world Jewry.

The choice is simple: endless war, violence, and suffering, or a new spirit of generosity, caring, and empathy for “the Other” – and with that an explicit willingness to admit and atone for the sins that each side has committed against the other. Both sides need to stop all their self-righteousness, break the cycle of violence, and reach out to the other side with unequivocal acts of atonement.

Below, we present two responses, one from regular Tikkun columnist Ury Avnery, chair of the Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom, the other from a Palestinian human rights activist whose perspective differs radically from ours but must also be considered because there will be no peace till both sides have their stories told.

Meanwhile, we remain in deep grief for the loss of lives on all sides, for the children and teens (and yes, their parents and grandparents and families and communities) on both sides who have been murdered, victims of terror, imprisoned unjustly, or otherwise fallen victim to this conflict which could have been ended many years ago. All the violence, all the hatred, so terribly and tragically unnecessary!


Readers’ Feedback: “Free the Kidnapped Israeli Teens”


by: on June 25th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

To understand these responses it is best to read or re-read my article “Free the Kidnapped Israeli Teens” from earlier this week.

The responses mostly fall into one of 3 categories:

a. They liked the article very much (so I’m not going to print a lot of those).

b. They were annoyed that I even mentioned the suffering of other kidnap victims around the world, and especially annoyed at my referencing tens of thousands of Palestinians who have been kidnapped (albeit supposedly “legally”) and incarcerated for weeks or months without trial or formal charges, some even tortured, and many of these were Palestinian teens arrested near their own homes.

c. They were annoyed that I didn’t emphasize the suffering and oppression of the Palestinian people.

I’m still curious about your reactions. If you haven’t sent me your response to my article, now it would be best to respond in part by responding to the letters we received below in this small but representative sample. I also invite you to read my recent book Embracing Israel/Palestine (order it for Kindle through Amazon, or hard copy at www.tikkun.org/EIP). Send your responses to me: RabbiLerner.Tikkun@gmail.com

Warm regards and Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Michael Lerner


July 4: Picnics to Honor Human and Environmental Rights


by: on June 25th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Let’s use July 4 to celebrate all those who have stood up for peace and non-violence, social and economic justice, environmental sanity, human rights, and a world of love and generosity!

We at the Network of Spiritual Progressives invite you to create a local picnic to honor all those in the past and all those in the current world (including YOU) who have taken steps to move the world toward a more loving and just, peaceful and non-violent, environmentally sustainable and generosity-filled reality. Not just the famous people, though we’ll also honor the MLK jrs and the freedom riders and the women who were in the vanguard of the 2nd wave of feminism and the brave glbtq people who fought against homophobia, but ALSO the people who took risks at a smaller level, in their personal lives, possibly alienating friends or family or risking their professional or job advancement, or in other ways that you can tell us. So bring your stories to this celebration.

Here in Berkeley where our office is, we are inviting anyone in Northern California who wants a different kind of energy on July 4 than that of “rockets were there, the bombs bursting in air,” to come to an NSP (Network of Spiritual Progressives) picnic starting at2 p.m.at Picnic Area No. 1 of the Live Oak Park, 1301 Shattuck ave, Berkeley (look for us–you’ll find us in a somewhat hidden area). At2:30we’ll have vegetarian pot-luck. At3:30we’ll start the program and Achi Ben Shalom will lead the music. Please bring songs, poetry, your own stories of how you’ve stood up for peace, justice and/or environmental sanity, and your musical instruments to sing along! We’d welcome your political organization, synagogue, church, mosque or ashram to cosponsor this event with us–let us know! Later that night you’ll be invited to celebrate the Sabbath with Rabbi Lerner at his home at7 p.m.–an energy that will offset the noise of fireworks, at least partially.


Free the Kidnapped Israeli Teens


by: on June 24th, 2014 | 16 Comments »

Kidnapping anyone, anytime is always a violation of a basic human right. But is even more outrageous when done to children or teens who are particularly vulnerable.

So it is with shock and outrage that we at Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives respond to the kidnapping of 3 Israeli teens who were returning from their study at a yeshiva in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

We demand the immediate release and safe return of those teens to their families!

We were shocked and outraged at the kidnapping of hundreds of Christian girls by Muslim fundamentalists in Africa, with the implied story that these girls would be raped (the functional equivalent of “forced marriages” along with forced conversions to Islam).

We are shocked and outraged when girls are kidnapped (or sold or persuaded by starving parents who see no other way to get money for their remaining starving children) into sexual slavery or forced marriages.

We are shocked and outraged when children or teenagers are forced into armies (whether through a supposedly “legitimate” draft process or through outright kidnapping) where they are forced to kill or be killed.


The ESRA Needs Your Support on Moveon.org!


by: on June 12th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Please take a second to sign the petition for the ESRA–Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the US Constitution! We are working with Moveon.org to get our campaign better known, but they’ll only help us if we can demonstrate real support for this approach. It is by far the most comprehensive strategy to save the life-support-system of Earth, and the only way that can withstand being declared unconstitutional by the current reactionary Supreme Court.

It takes less than a minute! Even if you already signed it on the Tikkun website, the Moveon.org people need to see that there are enough people behind it to give it their attention and support, so we need to ask you to sign it again. And then PLEASE SEND IT OUT TO EVERYONE ON YOUR EMAIL LISTS, FACEBOOK, TWITTER AND EVERY OTHER PLACE, FROM YOU, ASKING THEM TO SIGN THE PETITION AS IT APPEARS ON THE MOVEON PAGE:


Just to remind you, the ESRA:


Jews in America: Our Conflicted Heritage


by: on May 12th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Two young girls wearing banners that read "Abolish child slavery" in English and Yiddish. Credit: Creative Commons

On the one hand, Jews are deeply grateful that America provided us with a safe haven when so many other Christianity-dominated cultures had represented us as demon Christ-killers and created the preconditions for the rise of both secular and religious anti-Semitism. American Jews rejoiced in the promise of freedom and equality before the law, and played a major role in organizing, shaping, and leading social movements that could extend that promise to all of America’s citizens. The role of the United States in defeating Nazism at the expense of so many American lives remains an enduring source of pride even for the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those who fought in World War II, and an enduring source of appreciation for this amazing country. And the generosity of the American people toward Jews has made it possible for us to thrive and feel the kind of safety we haven’t felt for two thousand years of exile and diaspora.

On the other hand, Jewish well-being in America came not because this society didn’t seek scapegoats, but rather because it already had a scapegoat long before most Jews arrived on these shores – African Americans, Native Americans, and other targets (most recently, feminists, homosexuals, and “illegal” immigrants). While other immigrant groups from Europe found their safety in part by identifying with the dominant culture and becoming “white” (a social construct for all light-skinned people who bought into the existing systems of privilege and power), a significant section of the Jewish people in the past 150 years of presence in the United States chose instead to identify with the oppressed – most significantly with African Americans, but also with the poor (of which we were a significant part in the years 1880-1940), the oppressed, the homeless, and the hungry.