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Archive for the ‘Politics & Society’ Category



The Mark of Cain. It’s Not What You Think It Is.

May19

by: Norman Allen on May 19th, 2015 | No Comments »

Stained glass Cain and Abel.

In condemning Dzhokar Tsarnaev to death, we would do well to remember Cain and Abel. Even after murdering his brother, Cain is shown unthinkable mercy and protection from God. Above, stained glass from the Genesis story in Fairford Parish Church, England. Credit: CreativeCommons / Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s death sentence, handed down on May 15, serves as the grand finale to a year of public discussion about capital punishment. The Supreme Court is considering the potential cruelty of lethal injections, and Kelly Renee Gissendaner lives under a stay of execution in Georgia, prompted by fears of another “botched execution,” like the one experienced by Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma last spring. It seems a good time to step back and revisit what the Bible’s authors have to say about that book’s first murderer, and the consequences of his actions.

I found the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, remembering from my Sunday School days that God punishes the murderer with the “Mark of Cain,” a sort of brand that ensures Cain will spend the rest of his days as an outcast. I quickly learned, though, that my memory — or my Sunday School teacher — had it totally wrong.

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“Israel” Is the Name of a People Also

May19

by: Rabbi Arthur Waskow on May 19th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

We are living between two festivals that make two very different assertions of Jewish identity. One is “Yom Ha’Atzma’ut” (April 22-23); the other is Shavuot (May 23-25).

Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is usually translated as “Israeli Independence Day,” but it would be more accurate to call it “Day for Standing on One’s Own Feet, Day of Affirming One’s Own Essence” because etzem means “bone, skeleton, internal essential structure.”

angel and jacob

What does it mean for the people of Israel to be named "Yisrael" or "godwrestlers"? "Jacob Wrestling with the Angel" by Alexander Louis Leloir. Credit: Creative Commons.

Shavuot has been observed for about 2,000 years as the anniversary of the Revelation of Torah on Mount Sinai.

During these weeks, the most recent Israeli elections culminated in final agreement on a hair-thin governing coalition of 61 out of 120 seats in the Knesset. The resulting government is by far the most right-wing – politically, economically, and religiously – in Israel’s history.

Since the State of Israel claims to be “the Jewish State,” and since its actions certainly affect the world’s understanding of the Jewish people (and for many Jews, our understanding of our selves), it is hard for Jews anywhere to ignore the meaning of these recent changes. Since I have invested my life in drawing upon the past wisdom of the Jewish people, shaping its present, and transforming its future, I certainly cannot ignore these events.

In this I am hardly alone. There have been myriad analyses and essays about the elections and the new government. Almost all have focused on the political implications – for Israelis, for Palestine, for the Middle East, for the United States.

I feel drawn to think and feel in a different dimension. So what I have written below looks into the moral and spiritual meaning of the election in the light of Torah. From the standpoint of the Shavuot we are approaching, what is the meaning of the Yom ha’Atzma’ut we have recently passed? What is our own essence, what are the feet of our own on which we hope to stand?

So I raise these questions:

  • “What does it mean, deeply and fully, for the People, as well as the State, to be named “Yisrael,” “Godwrestlers”?
  • What have been the different effects of post-Holocaust-traumatic-stress on Israeli and American Jewry?
  • Why does the Torah repeat so many times the command, “Treat strangers with justice and love, for you were strangers in the Narrow Land”?
  • What are the relationships among love, admiration, and idolatry directed toward the State?

What actually happened in the recent elections and negotiations toward choosing a new government? The Israeli electorate – especially the majority of its Jewish majority – voted for a racist government. This government is racist toward the Palestinians whom Prime Minister Netanyahu (truthfully, at last) said he will never permit to govern themselves. And it is racist toward the Israeli citizens of Palestinian culture — whose desire to vote to change their lives — VOTE, not riot — he used as a justification for rousing a right-wing racist outpouring of voters for himself.

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Worldwide Spiritual Resurrection Happening

May19

by: on May 19th, 2015 | No Comments »

A futuristic graphic of a human with energy fields around them.

The basic underlying force of the universe is a psychic energy field of universal love. Gravitational and electromagnetic fields, all other forces of nature, time and space, are merely conditions of state. Credit: Cameron Gray.

You can also read this from Rabbi Lerner on Tikkun.org.

As Teilhard de Chardin once correctly wrote: we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience — for right now the innate evolutionary forces of love and light are manifesting on the planet and they are demanding that we all participate and find our role in this rapidly evolving loving plan in action.

I am observing a strange and wonderful phenomenon in my ongoing work as a heart centered consultant, advisor and mentor –people are no longer resisting the pull of their soul and want to be part of a growing worldwide spiritual resurrection.

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Israeli Soldiers Reveal the Horrors of Gaza in ‘Breaking the Silence’ Report

May18

by: on May 18th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

A major in Israel’s infantry, who fought in the Northern Gaza Strip during Israel’s assault in the summer of 2014, talks of devastation. He talks of endless barrages, buildings collapsing, city streets being razed by bulldozers, entire neighborhoods erased.

Then he says, You want to hear a joke? You’re reading his words in a report, so you have no choice but to nod as he explains, This is a joke that was popular in the army during the war:

Why do Palestinians only sing the chorus? Because they have no verses left.

The punchline only makes sense if you know that in Hebrew, the word for houses (בתים) is the same word for verses.

The solider tells you this anonymously because he must. You don’t know his name – only that he is “01″ – nor do you know the names of the over 100 Israeli soldiers who recently gave testimony to Breaking the Silence, an organization which normally works with soldiers who wish to reveal the ugly truths of Israel’s occupation.

Now, in a report released this month entitled, “This is How We Fought in Gaza,” Israeli soldiers, their identities hidden, have given the world a window into what life fighting in Gaza often looked like.

The overriding theme is destruction. Pure, unrelenting destruction motivated by fear, by the justifiable desire to minimize military casualties at almost any cost.


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The Hypocrisy of “Pro-Life” and the GOP

May18

by: on May 18th, 2015 | No Comments »

“The Republican Party must continue to uphold the principle that every human being, born and unborn, young and old, healthy and disabled, has a fundamental, individual right to life.”

Republican National Committee for Life

A cartoon showing hypocratical Republican and Democratic positions.

Hypocrisy. Credit: CreativeCommons / Bearman2007.

Ever since the historic Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, in 1973, the National Republican Party Presidential Platform has consistently taken a so-called “pro-life” position. For example, its 2012 platform proclaims: “Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.”

Though the Republican Party might have an interest in bringing pregnancies to term in nearly all situations – even in instances of rape and incest, and regardless of the wishes of the women involved — even a cursory investigation of the Party’s stands and actions on the major issues of the day, proposed and in many cases acted upon by current Republican legislators and executives on the national, state, and local levels, gives us a picture of a Party that is anything but “pro-life” for the living. In actuality, the GOP conducts itself as a Party that stands for life until birth; then one is left to fend for oneself.

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Ethiopian Israelis Rise Up Against Discrimination and Injustice

May18

by: Rachel Kutcher on May 18th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Ethiopian Israelis gathering protesting outdoors.

Programs like Yahel Social Change are eradicating individual and systemic forms of discrimination experienced by the Ethiopian Israeli community. Above, protestors react to police brutality in Israel earlier this month. Credit: CreativeCommons / Lilach Daniel.

There seems to be a broad consensus that the protests over the last few weeks are not only about police violence, but rather that police violence against an Ethiopian Israeli soldier was simply the catalyst for protests against broader discrimination against and disparities experienced by the Ethiopian community. Indeed, during my time in Israel and the Yahel Social Change program, I have often become angry when learning about these disparities. While volunteering at Tebeka, a legal aid organization serving the Ethiopian community, I’ve been appalled by both individual and systemic forms of discrimination experienced by the community. I’ve been frustrated by the ways in which Israel’s absorption of the Ethiopian community failed to respect a strong Ethiopian Jewish culture, with strong leaders and community social systems. I’ve wanted to shake some sense in to the people who have claimed the primarily Ethiopian neighborhood in which I live and have been warmly embraced is “dangerous.” I believe the anger and frustration that is fueling the protests is well justified. Both the news media and a few of my Yahel peers have written about these social disparities and discrimination, and about the challenges in the Ethiopian aliyah to Israel, so I’d like to offer a complementary perspective.

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Field Office Annals, Part Two: Engagement, Vision, and Play

May18

by: on May 18th, 2015 | No Comments »

This is the second in a two-part series based on interviews with two founding Cultural Agents in the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (where I hold the title of Chief Policy Wonk).(To stay current on everything this great project is doing, enlist as a Citizen Artist: it’s fun and free.)

Jess Solomon in Washington, DC, and Dave Loewenstein in Lawrence, KS, are the first two USDAC Cultural Agents to open Field Offices, USDAC outposts that serve as focal points for local cultural organizing and connecting-points for participation in National Actions. (See part one of this series to learn why they started Field Offices and what they’ve been up to ever since.)

One of the USDAC’s foundational ideas is that the local and national feed and support each other. For example, through local Imaginings, communities generate visions of the futures they desire, and those help to shape policy and program ideas emerging from the National Cabinet. Those can then be tested at the community level, with local experiences making national policy stronger, and vice versa. In this model, policy is rooted in lived local knowledge, not abstract ideas or expert credentials.

Obviously, this works best with a strong local network. Imaginings are part of that, and so are National Actions like the People’s State of The Union, with thousands of community members across the nation taking part. The network of Field Offices is just starting to add a layer, with Dave and Jess showing the way. They’ve already learned a great deal about how to engage people, how to self-organize, and what not to do, and they are happy to share.

When we spoke last month, I asked them what drew people in their communities to the USDAC.


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Blesed are the Meek: A Tribute to B.B. King

May16

by: on May 16th, 2015 | No Comments »

B.B. King — the king of the blues — is dead. He made his transition from time to eternity on May 14, 2015 at age 89 leaving behind a legacy of artistic expression that helps us all to hear and feel and know the complexity of our humanity. His life was an interpretation of the wisdom Jesus the Christ taught: “blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”

We live in a world that mistakes meekness for weakness. We think humility is humiliation, and we count gentleness equal to cowardice. This is a deception. The Greek word that is translated as meek in several versions of the Bible – praus – also means humility and gentleness. To be meek is a kind of power, the power to endure, the power of patient striving, the power to bear the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to and then wait for our just due. The life of B.B. King shows us a man born into a context of grinding poverty and vicious racism, but he was also born into a family of faith. His mother took him to church as a child, and it was within his faith community and a community of family and friends where he found his sense of self-worth.

A preacher friend of his family came over to eat on Sunday afternoons and brought his guitar. The preacher taught young Riley B. King how to play. Later, as a young man, he joined a gospel singing group. During the week, he worked from can to can’t (from first light in the morning until dark.) On the weekends, he went into Indianola, Mississippi to sing for passersby to put money in the hat. During the day he played gospel. At night, he played the blues. The blues people gave him the most money.

He was told that at some point he would have to make a decision, that he could not play God’s music and the devil’s music. Time passed and one day while working as a tractor driver, he thought he had turned the tractor off, but it kept going and was damaged. He ran away to Memphis. While there he found a group of guitar players who gave him master’s classes in blues guitar. About six months later, he decided to go back to Mississippi and to work off the debt he owned to the farmer whose tractor he had damaged. He was proud that when he left Mississippi the second time to start his career in Memphis, he started correctly.

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Astronomy and Theism Are Not Incompatible

May16

by: Huma Munir on May 16th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

A telescope at sunset.

"Astronomy teaches us humility and compassion," writes Huma Munir. "Of all human virtues, humility is probably the most beautiful and important."

In 1990, spacecraft Voyager 1 took one last photo of the Earth from 6 billion kilometers away before drifting further into outer space. The Earth stood out no more than a tiny dot against the vast expanse of darkness in the space.

Inspired by the photo, famous astrophysicist and atheist, Carl Sagan, wrote a book titled Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. In it, he said studying astronomy can be a humbling and a character-building experience. Though Sagan did not believe in a higher power, his work has greatly inspired me to connect with God, and has led me on a journey of self-reformation.

In many senses, and contrary to popular belief, astronomy is helpful to religious believers.

Firstly, it teaches us that the world is limitless.

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Yom HaBilbul: A Meditation on Conviction and Confusion in the Holy Land

May15

by: Rabbi Michael Rothbaum on May 15th, 2015 | No Comments »

If you’re not in a rush
take a train
Israel’s trains
take their time through
the countryside

but

the country has a
rapid transit
of holidays
in the Spring
rushing by like a bullet


train

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