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Rabbi Michael Lerner
Rabbi Michael Lerner

Nelson Mandela: A Jewish Perspective


by: on December 6th, 2013 | 7 Comments »

Jews love and loved Nelson Mandela. He inspired us with his insistence that the old regime of apartheid would crumble more quickly and fully when faced with revolutionary love and compassion than when faced with anger and violence.

Mandela also challenged us to think deeply about whether the current situation in Israel/Palestine reflects the ethic of compassion that is so central to Judaism.

Credit: Creative Commons/Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Some people on the Left reject Mandela’s strategy. “How can one be openhearted toward one’s oppressors?” they say. “Fostering compassion toward oppressors will undermine the revolutionary spirit needed to defeat the evil ones.”

Yet Mandela showed us the opposite – that one can generate more solidarity and more willingness to take risks in struggle when one can clearly present one’s own movement as morally superior to the actions of the oppressors. Mandela’s anti-apartheid movement claimed this moral superiority through being able to respond to the oppressors’ hatred with great love. When Che Guevara said, “A true revolutionary is motivated by great feelings of love,” he was alluding to this same truth. And this is what the Torah teaches when it instructs us to “love the stranger” (the “other”).


Celebrate Chanukah, the First National Liberation Struggle (You Don’t Have to be Jewish)


by: on November 22nd, 2013 | 3 Comments »

Chanukah celebrates the first recorded national liberation struggle-when the people of Judea rallied around a guerrilla war against the remnants of Alexander the Great’s empire, and the subsequent attempt by the Syrian (Seleucid) branch of that empire to impose Hellenistic culture and wipe out Judaism. The victory in 165 BCE is celebrated by lighting candles each night for eight nights, dancing, singing, playing with spinning dreidels, and in sine capitalist cultures the exchange of gifts.

If you happen to be in the San Francisco Bay Area on the third night of Chanukah, Friday November 29th, come celebrate with me and Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-without-walls, the Tikkun community and the Network of Spiritual Progressives.


How to Create a Tikkun/NSP (Network of Spiritual Progressives) Presence in YOUR Community


by: on November 21st, 2013 | Comments Off

Our goal: A change in consciousness. Nothing will change our world till we have popularized the following notions:

1. Our well being depends upon the well-being of everyone else on the planet and the well-being of the planet itself. So our goal is to create The Caring Society – Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth.

2. A New Bottom Line, so that our corporations, our economic policies, our political institutions, proposed legislation, government policies, our health care system, our legal system, our educational system all are considered “rational” or “productive” or “efficient” not only to the extent that they maximize money or power, but also to the extent that they maximize love and kindness, caring and generosity, ethical and ecological sensitivity, compassion and empathy, justice and peace, and enhance our capacity to go beyond a utilitarian approach to others and the world (“what’s in it for me?”) so that we can respond to all human beings as embodiments of the sacred and respond to the natural order around us with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of the universe.

3. The fundamental changes that have happened in society happen when people decide to stop being “realistic” ( because what is or is not realistic is almost always defined for us by the powerful) and instead use our creative energies to struggle for what is desirable and needed to maximize the future well-being of humanity and the planet Earth. So we don’t engage in causes, campaigns, political activities based on our assessment of how likely we are to win them, but rather on the basis of whether they are helping people define for themselves what kind of a world they really want to live in and give to their children and grandchildren. In short, our activities are judged by whether they open up possibilities for us to educate ourselves and each other about our vision of that which is worth struggling to achieve. Any activity that opens the minds of others to our way of thinking is valuable, whether or not we “win” or “lose” in more narrowly defined terms. So, don’t be realistic – put your life energies behind a new vision of a world based on our New Bottom Line.

It follows from this that there is no one correct way to spread the Tikkun/ Network of Spiritual Progressives worldview – there are many, many paths that can work.


My Response to Tom Rogan’s “How President Obama Can Achieve a Nuclear Deal with Iran”


by: on November 13th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

The Guardian’s recent article, “How President Obama can achieve a nuclear deal with Iran,” speaks about why a nuclear deal with Iran is urgently needed, and what Iran must give up. This Guardian piece is a little weak on what the United States and the Western powers must offer as part of the deal. When read by itself, it repeats the “tough-minded” and largely blind to emotional nuance approach that has made the West’s dealings with Iran so fruitless. Here’s what author Tom Rogan writes:

In the cause of peace, the clock is ticking.

Western Intelligence services have delayed a nuclear Iran. Still, the evidence on the ground is unmistakable. Iranian nuclear activities increasingly point to a weaponization agenda. Of most concern: Iran’s soon-to-be plutonium production facility at Arak. As David Albright and Christina Walrond of the Institute for Science and International Security note (pdf), claims of an inherently peaceful nuclear program cannot easily co-exist with a heavy water reactor. Correspondingly, in last weekend’s P5+1 negotiations, the French Foreign Minister suggested that allowing Arak to remain in operation would represent a “sucker’s deal”.

He’s right.


Rami Shapiro Responds to the Pew Report on American Jewry


by: on October 25th, 2013 | 6 Comments »


Credit: Pew Research Center.

The Pew Research Center’s recently published “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” a summary of its findings drawn from 70,000 screening interviews and 3,475 in-depth interviews with Jews in all fifty states. What is most striking to me (and to Arthur Waskow with whom I’ve been engaged in discussion about these results) is that the Pew survey seems oblivious to the spiritual hunger of American Jews, and hence does not ask a series of questions about this hunger. For example, the survey never asks respondents, “In what forms do you seek spiritual growth or spiritual experience?” which would have been a more important and revealing kind of question for the under-seventy crowd than questions about their religious observance.

Here are some of the conclusions published in the Pew Research Center report:

Jewish identity is changing in America, where one-in-five Jews (22%) now describe themselves as having no religion.

The percentage of U.S. adults who say they are Jewish when asked about their religion has declined by about half since the late 1950s and currently is a little less than 2%. Meanwhile, the number of Americans with direct Jewish ancestry or upbringing who consider themselves Jewish, yet describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion, appears to be rising and is now about 0.5% of the U.S. adult population.

The changing nature of Jewish identity stands out sharply when the survey’s results are analyzed by generation. Fully 93% of Jews in the aging Greatest Generation identify as Jewish on the basis of religion (called “Jews by religion” in this report); just 7% describe themselves as having no religion (“Jews of no religion”). By contrast, among Jews in the youngest generation of U.S. adults – the Millennials – 68% identify as Jews by religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture.


The Psychodynamics of the Tea Party’s Success in Closing the Government — and How to Beat It


by: on October 1st, 2013 | 4 Comments »

After many years as a psychotherapist studying the psychodynamics leading Americans to move to the Right, (before I became a rabbi and editor of Tikkun), I began to understand why a fringe and extremist group could be so successful in gathering support that would eventually lead to its ability to shut down the functioning of the government. If you read to the end of this letter, I promise you’ll get some new perspectives on what is happening right now in American politics.

tea party

Tea Party members protest in Washington. Credit: Creative Commons/theqspeaks.

I’m writing to you, as a reader of Tikkun Daily, because I need your help in getting a new perspective into the public arena so we can build an effective movement to counter the Tea Party before it is too late. I’ll lay that perspective out below.

That help can take two forms:

a. donating to Tikkun Magazine and/or our public education arm, the (interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming) Network of Spiritual Progressives;


b. joining our network and possibly even coming to the training we will be doing in January 2014 to prepare people for the struggle ahead to stop the plunge toward the Right before it becomes overtly fascistic both in style and content (read more about this at spiritualprogressives.org/training). If you read this letter through, it might hopefully contribute to understanding why the right-wing extremists are winning and what we could do (with your help) to change the picture dramatically.

Here’s what I learned about why right-wing extremists are on the ascendency:


Say No to the Prosecution of Whistle-Blowers after the Conviction of Bradley Manning


by: on July 31st, 2013 | 8 Comments »

Today, the sentencing phase of U.S. soldier Bradley Manning’s court-martial begins: Manning faces up to a maximum 136 years in prison. The sentencing follows Manning’s conviction yesterday by a military court (justice is to military court as generosity is to selfishness) on nineteen of twenty counts.

whistle blower

"Whistle Blower" by Ben Sanders. Credit: Ben Sanders/National Accountant Magazine, Australia.

Yet what Manning did was to reveal information that should have been available to all Americans in order for us to know the illegal acts of our government, including in one instance the videotape of American military personnel laughing as they shot down innocent civilians who were coming to take away the bodies of others that these same military men had just killed. Instead of prosecuting the military murderers, the Obama administration is prosecuting the courageous hero who at huge personal risk revealed this information to the rest of us.

This past Sunday the Network of Spiritual Progressives and Tikkun purchased a small ad in the New York Times calling upon President Obama to stop prosecuting whistle-blowers. It was paid for by donors to the ad. Now that Manning is facing sentencing, you might want to add your name, donate so we can send an even larger ad to other media, or at least just read the ad. You can do so at: tikkun.org/STOP


Trayvon Martin and Tisha B’av: A Jewish Response


by: on July 15th, 2013 | 9 Comments »

Protestors gathered in New York City yesterday in response to Zimmerman's acquittal for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Credit: Jay Stephens.

……………  The jury’s acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and murdered the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, was emblematic of the consistent racism and double standard used in the treatment of minority groups or those deemed “Other” in the U.S. and around the world. Where is there justice in a world in which so many people suffer oppression and in which those who choose to use violence as a way to address and deal with their hatred and fear often seem to triumph?

Jewish theology holds that there is a karmic order, so that evil actions will not always run the world. Justice and compassion are both essential to the survival of the planet. Unlike many religions that focus on individual sinners and imagine that they will be punished in some future not currently verifiable – for example in a heaven or hell after life, or in a reincarnation in some form that provides rewards or punishments for how one lives in this world, most of Jewish theology sees karma as playing out on a societal scale, and over the long run.

There may never be a this-world punishment for George Zimmerman. Murderers and other perpetrators of evil too often get rewarded instead of punished. James Comey, who played an important role in approving water-boarding and indefinite detention without trial when he served in the Bush Administration, was appointed last week by President Obama to head the FBI. The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress in denying NSA surveillance of American citizens, but it is Edward Snowden who is now seeking asylum for whistle-blowing and revealing the extent of that lie. Henry Kissinger who played a central role in prolonging the Vietnam war (causing thousands of deaths) still receives public acclaim. Those bankers and investment brokers who were responsible for the 2008 meltdown of the economy and the loss of homes for millions of Americans received rewards and huge bonuses instead of prison sentences. And corporate leaders who have been responsible for polluting our air, water and land around the planet remain firmly in power while environmentalists are scorned and their message largely ignored by the Obama Administration.

So where’s the justice?


Join a Climate Rally This Sunday


by: on February 15th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

The environmental crisis is the no. 1 spiritual challenge facing the human race in the 21st century.

Spiritual Progressives should provide leadership in this struggle. We understand the dimensions of the issue, understand that we cannot save the planet without defeating the globalization of materialism and selfishness which provides the engine for unlimited exploitation of the earth without regard to the future consequences, and understand that a serious environmental movement would not only be involved in the day-to-day challenging of the worst offenses (as will happen at the demonstrations this weekend) but would ALSO be seeking to change the fundamental underlying assumptions about what is rational, productive and efficient in our economy, politics, and daily life. That is what we do with our “New Bottom Line” which is at the center of our Spiritual Covenant with America, and with our proposed ESRA–the Environmental and Social Responsiblity Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

No wonder then, that the Network of Spiritual Progressives has joined with over one hundred other organizations to support the Forward on Climate Rallies this Sunday, not only in the big rally in D.C. but also in the many other rallies around the country. Below is a list of locations we just received. If you can, bring copies of the ESRA to the rally, and signs indicating that you are one of the many Spiritual Progressives involved in this struggle (because doing so will encourage other spiritual progressives to feel safe to come out of the closet despite the religiophobia many people report experiencing in some liberal, progressive and/or environmental circles–and it will help alert secular demonstrators that they have spiritual progressive allies in this struggle to save the earth).

Hope to see you there this Sunday at one of the many sites!


What a Spiritual Progressive Agenda Might Look Like


by: on January 29th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

inaugurationEli Zaretsky is one of many Tikkun Daily bloggers, and the blog posts on Tikkun Daily and articles on www.tikkun.org are all perspectives we value but do not necessarily agree with. For example, in Zaretsky’s recent blog post, “The Obama Presidency: An Assessment,” we think Zaretsky a bit more negative about Obama than we feel. On the other hand, Zaretsky reads as a good counter-balance to the wild claims of the New York Times on Jan. 22, 2013, which stated that Obama’s second inaugural speech presented a progressive worldview. What Obama did was to list a set of liberal issues, including the need for government to play a role, supporting fair treatment for immigrants, and including gay rights — causes that did not get the support they needed through most of his first four years till he started running for reelection.

There was no unifying theme or progressive vision, no critique of the role of corporations in pursuing self-interest at the expense of societal well-being, no challenge to the distorting role of big money in elections and a reiteration of the basic foreign policy that both Democrats and Republicans (but not progressives) have pursued for the past decades in which we (the United States) try to get our way and serve our economic and political agenda around the world without much sensitivity to the need, much less the human rights of others (in fact, Obama may well be remembered for having initiated an extensive use of drones and for signing on to a policy of legitimating lifetime imprisonment without trial of those suspected of being terrorists).