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The Spirit of the Torah Land Law Renewed


by: David Giesen on April 20th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Construction cranes towering above a skyscraper being built.

A modern day version of the Jubilee land law must address land value justice rather than simply endorse redistribution. Above, construction cranes work on the Infinity Towers in San Francisco. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Hydrogen Iodide.

Please note: The following article is a response to Norman Solomon’s article in a series of web-only articles associated with Tikkun’s Winter 2015 issue: Jubilee and Debt Abolition.

The Jubilee land law of the Torah aimed to create and sustain a community of economically independent families free from social status differences. The society envisioned by the Torah was one where debt would never long plague any citizen, and a society in which full and equal standing as a free and dignified member was both the ideal and a possibility. The chief instrument in establishing such a remarkable community was the land law introduced in Chapter 25 of Leviticus. That law ensured that all Hebrews could make a livelihood directly from the soil. In short, at any time in history a family could turn its back on being employed and make a living on its own by direct application of labor to the land.

This essay aims to persuade you that the same intent of that land law is achievable today, with specific modern legislation. We can transform and heal society.


Strivers and Skivers? We’re All In This Together


by: Elena Blackmore on April 13th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Could society be rebuilt around understanding and compassion instead of shame? The effects would be revolutionary.

A black and white graphic that reads 'Shame on You' with a finger pointing at the reader.

Though it creates vicious cycles that stifle creativity, shame is piled onto those perceived as undeserving of social support programs while consumerist advertising bolsters a "not-enough" mentality. Credit: uldissprogis.com.

The binary rhetoric that currently surrounds the welfare state reflects a deep moral narrative with a crippling social impact. ‘Strivers’ and ‘skivers’ are two sides of the same coin. That coin is shame.

One side represents the deserving, and the other side the undeserving. Rachel Reeves, the UK Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary, recently said that: “We [the Labour Party] are not the party of people on benefits.” She faced some criticism for these words, but these are messages we hear daily, from government and opposition alike.

We’re here for hard-working families. We’re here for the taxpayer.

In this narrative, employment equals worth, while unemployment casts you into the world of the untouchables.

Economic policies are created around this notion of worth. Unemployment must be a choice — you’re shirking — so let’s coax you out of it. You don’t need benefits in your first week of unemployment since you should be looking for work. We’ll put sanctions on you if you’re unemployed for too long.

Shame on you for being unemployed.


And, STOP Calling Me a Non-Profit!


by: Jerry Ashton on April 11th, 2015 | No Comments »

If the very compelling speakers at a recent industry workshop for the AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) have their way, not-for-profits would find themselves equal to — if not superior to — the “for-profits” with whom they compete for resources.

The keynote speaker and author, Lynne Twist, offers up a positive re-naming for this industry — “Social Profit.” Equally persuasive was guest speaker, Harvard grad Jennifer Craig, who offered “For Purpose” as a better description.

Let’s think about this.

Exactly why are “non-profits” considered second-tier? Why should a “corporate” business card trump one that reads “non-profit?” Why are (relatively speaking) so fewer dollars directed to social good than to commerce and industry?


Transformation Lessons from Moses and Passover


by: on April 8th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

A black figure kneeling in front of illuminated stained glass.

Credit: WikimediaCommons / Richard Simon.

There are many ways to interpret the epic story of Moses hearing God’s voice at the Burning Bush. For this Passover season, I share one way that I understand this story and its meaning to our lives in the present time.

Moses, who grew up as a prince of Egypt, had witnessed violence and abuse of the Israelite slaves and was horrified by it – as any person who has not hardened his/her heart would understandably be. Out of rage, horror and grief, Moses reacted by killing an Egyptian who was abusing the slaves. He is then forced to flee the palace (his life of privilege, the only life he has known). Though he was able to create a new and somewhat comfortable life for himself married to the daughter of one of the chief priests of Midian, he could not forget what he had experienced in Egypt. So while tending the sheep of his father-in-law’s house, one lamb wanders off and he chases it as it wanders up a mountain (that tradition later identifies as Sinai). There he experiences most fully the burning message in his heart that simply refuses to burn out. Moses envisions it as a burning bush that is not consumed, and from that fire within he hears a voice that tells him he is to return to Egypt and demand that Pharaoh let his people go.


The Politics of Extinction: An Introduction to the Most Beautiful Animal You’ll Never See


by: William deBuys on March 19th, 2015 | No Comments »

Maybe baby steps will help, but the world needs a lot more than what either the United States or China is offering to combat the illegal traffic in wildlife, a nearly $20-billion-a-year business that adds up to a global war against nature. As the headlines tell us, the trade has pushed various rhinoceros species to the point of extinction and motivated poachers to kill more than 100,000 elephants since 2010.

Last month China announced that it would ban ivory imports for a year, while it “evaluates” the effectiveness of the ban in reducing internal demand for ivory carvings on the current slaughter of approximately 100 African elephants per day. The promise, however, rings hollow following a report in November (hotly denied by China) that Chinese diplomats used President Xi Jinping’s presidential plane to smuggle thousands of pounds of poached elephant tusks out of Tanzania.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has launched its own well-meaning but distinctly inadequate initiative to curb the trade. Even if you missed the roll-out of that policy, you probably know that current trends are leading us toward a planetary animal dystopia, a most un-Disneyesque world in which the great forests and savannas of the planet will bid farewell to the species earlier generations referred to as their “royalty.” No more King of the Jungle, while Dorothy’s “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” will truly be over the rainbow. And that’s just for starters.


Esther Was Vegan Too: On Purim, Let’s Renew Our Struggle to End Factory Farming


by: Katie Cantrell on March 3rd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

On March 4, there will be much drinking, dancing, and revelry to commemorate Queen Esther’s heroic action that saved the Jews of Ancient Persia from extermination at the hands of the villainous Haman. Esther is celebrated primarily for her bravery, while another intriguing trait is often overlooked: her veganism.


In honor of Esther's veganism, why not prepare vegan hamantaschen this Purim? Credit: theppk.com/IsaChandra.

According to legend, Esther maintained a vegan diet, while living in the palace of the King of Persia, to avoid violating the laws of Kashrut without revealing her Jewish identity. She dined primarily on a diet of seeds, nuts, and legumes and abstained from all animal products. Thus Esther could be regarded as the first Jewish vegan.

While she may have been the first, Esther was certainly not the last. The community of Jewish vegetarians and vegans is growing, both in the United States and around the world. Much like Esther, many Jews are choosing to subsist on a plant-based diet in order to observe their moral principles.

The history of Judaism and moral vegetarianism is a long one; in the 1400s, philosopher Rabbi Yosef Albo began a debate about whether G-d’s instructions to Adam implied that vegetarianism is a moral ideal:

Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing herb which is upon the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; it will be yours for food (Genesis 1:29).

The debate continues to this day, but increasingly Jews around the world are making dietary choices based more on modern reality than on biblical philosophy. The reality in the United States is that 99 percent of all animal products come from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), often referred to as factory farms.


Global Divestment Day: Undermining the System that Causes Climate Change


by: on February 13th, 2015 | Comments Off

Calling on the United Methodist Church to Divest from Fossil Fuels.


Check out the many divestment actions that are taking place around the world today–Global Divestment Day.

The movement to divest from fossil fuels undermines the system that is causing climate change. The worldwide system of unrestrained free-market capitalism, dominated by global corporations and fueled by money, is based on the view that market forces will sort everything out.

Those of us who are working to get our churches, synagogues, colleges, and other institutions to divest from fossil fuels are challenging this system by saying, “Money is not the highest value.” There are good financial reasons to divest from fossil fuels, but even if there weren’t, “If it’s wrong to wreck the planet, then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.” There are values in life that are more important than money.


‘Yes, we have no bananas’


by: Matt Canfield and Phil Bereano on February 13th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

The drive by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to introduce a genetically engineered ‘super banana’ into the Ugandan market can only be viewed as part of a powerful and coordinated effort to transform Africa’s agricultural systems to serve corporate and foreign interests.

Yes, we have no bananas

We have no bananas today.

Yes, we are very sorry to inform you

That we are entirely out of the fruit in question

The aforementioned vegetable

Bearing the cognomen ‘Banana’.

We might induce you to accept a substitute less desirable,

But that is not the policy at this internationally famous green grocery.

I should say not. No no no no no no no.

But we have no bananas today.

– as sung by Eddie Cantor, 1923


At the March for Real Climate Leadership with the Network of Spiritual Progressives and Beyt Tikkun


by: Meaghan Kachadoorian on February 13th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

People wearing yellow shirts holding their hands up at a protest.

The March for Real Climate Leadership drew thousands of people to downtown Oakland to support a ban on fracking in California. Credit: Meaghan Kachadoorian

On the weekend after the driest January in recorded history, the Network of Spiritual Progressives partnered with student, labor, and community organizations for the March for Real Climate Leadership. Thousands marched through Oakland to highlight California’s climate crisis and call on Governor Jerry Brown to ban fracking in California.

Before marching to the convergence place at Lake Merritt, indigenous groups came together in song and prayer, high school student groups demanded a habitable planet for their generation and generations to come, and an intergenerational commitment to a more equitable world filled the air at the Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of Oakland City Hall.


Earth’s Climate Circle and the Rising 400ppm Human Tangent


by: Kritee Kanko on February 11th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Can our spiritual paths help us to choose heroic and just transitions over global chaos?

A remote landscape of rocks and trees at twilight.

Above is the Garden of the Gods in Colorado, where the author and her husband reflect on the dire state of our Earth. The multi-faceted crisis that we face calls for both a tremendous sense of urgency and a limitless reserve of patience.Credit: Michael / Creative Commons.

Imtiaz was still speaking when Jean started sobbing. At first, gently; then, she really cried hard. What I felt unfolding in me that afternoon, was something I had not allowed to happen to myself for more than a decade of being an environmental scientist.

We were standing with Ilusha, our beloved musician friend from Brooklyn, along with his friend Jean at the foyer of the visitor center of “Garden of Gods.” In front of us were the panoramic paintings depicting a wide range of climatic conditions that had existed at that very spot over many millennia.