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The Big, Orange Shofar


by: Mike Rothbaum on October 10th, 2016 | No Comments »

Donald Trump shouting with an orange face.

If Donald Trump’s campaign was hoping for strong support from American Jews, they are surely disappointed. Trump’s support among Jewish voters is at an historically low 19%. There is an active website with contributions from rabbis and Jewish leaders called jewsagainsttrump.com. The Jewish social justice organization Bend the Arc has shared a satirical video of Jewish grandparents threatening to haunt their offspring if they vote for Trump. Rabbis, normally fearful of running afoul of congregants and IRS regulations, are openly considering speaking against the man on the High Holidays.

For many Jews, the choice is obvious. Trump’s use of xenophobic language about Latinos plays to white America’s basest instincts. His record of slurs against women he finds unattractive is shameful; and his boasting about assaulting women he does find attractive even more so. He all but bragged at the first Presidential debate about his record of shady business ethics. His proposals for a “shutdown” of immigration from Muslim nations calls to mind the religious bigotry that has plagued Jewish communities over the centuries. And there is, of course, the stereotypical Jew-hatred Trump himself shared in a room of Jews, during a meeting with the Republican Jewish Coalition, in which he referred to Jews as deal “negotiators” and claimed we would not support him “because I don’t want your money.”

For Jews, of course, this isn’t just election time. It’s also the Yamim Noraim, the awesome days in which we are invited to confront our own failings and shortcomings. A key part of that process is the sounding of the shofar. The cry of the shofar is designed to wake us up from our ethical slumber, an alarm clock of the conscience.

So while it may make us feel good, or even smug, to say that we’re better than Mr. Trump, to do so would miss the point of this time of year. Our reaction to Trump’s candidacy, instead, is an invitation to look at our own actions, as individuals and in Jewish community. What if we saw him not just as a man who evokes hatred and fear, but as a walking talking wake-up call, a big orange shofar reminding us to get our own houses in order? Consider the following:

  • Racism and xenophobia. Most Jews are rightly outraged by Trump’s shocking comments about Mexicans, and his support of racist stop-and-frisk policing initiatives. But what is our record as Jews? Do we respect and honor the 1-in-5 Jews in our communities who are Jews of color? Do we actively support Jews of color taking leadership positions? Do Ashkenazi Jews say “we Jews” when we really mean “white Jews?” Do we ensure our publicity materials and school textbooks feature Jews of color? If we are employers and landlords, do we give fair consideration to people of color as employees and renters? Do we challenge a criminal justice system that unfairly and disproportionately targets people of color?
  • Sexism and misogyny. Trump’s comments about women are despicable. But they reflect a culture that too often judges women’s worth by their appearance. How do we challenge that culture? Do we pressure Jewish women to “look pretty” so they can “find a husband?” Do we challenge gender roles that shut women out of our most cherished Jewish rituals? Do we raise up young girls to be scholars? Do our congregations consider women as rabbinical candidates? Do we challenge congregants who say they could “never pray with a woman rabbi,” or who judge the women who do serve as rabbis on the basis of their hair and clothes?
  • Business Ethics. Trump made jaw-dropping comments boasting how it was “smart business” not to pay contractors and skirt his tax obligations. How do we fare on that score? Do we see paying workers and supporting the public good as the mitzvot that they are? Do we take seriously the volumes of Jewish learning regarding business ethics, or subordinate those teachings to “more important” mitzvot like kashrut and Shabbat observance? Do we see supporting civil society and keeping “honest scales” as the holy obligations that they are?
  • Islamophobia.  While we’re right to challenge Jew-hatred and ensure our safety and the safety of our children, do we do what we can to make sure that doesn’t slide into bigotry? Do we criticize Muslim Jew-hatred and give a pass to the Jew-hatred that comes from our Christian neighbors? Have we made the effort to meet the Muslims who live in our towns, go to our schools, work in our offices?
  • Jew-hatred. Trump’s snide remarks about Jewish “negotiators” were rightly condemned. But how many times have we heard the same language used within the walls of our own homes and communities? Do we make the easy joke about Jews being cheap? When we hear our kids make these kinds of jokes, do we challenge our children to love themselves and take pride in their remarkable heritage of learning, personal and social ethics, and tzedakah?

One last thought. Donald Trump is, sadly, not the only one to make regrettable comments during this election season. While it pales in comparison to Trump’s despicable record, it was nonetheless disappointing that Hillary Clinton labeled half of Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” Racism, homophobia, and xenophobia are, indeed, deplorable. But there is a difference between labeling actions deplorable, and writing off people as deplorable. To take Judaism seriously, and to take the process of teshuvah seriously, means to reject the idea that people are irredeemable.  To her credit, Clinton has since apologized for the statement.

“Free will is granted to all,” wrote the Rambam, the renowned medieval Jewish commentator. “There is no one who can prevent a person from doing good or bad,” he continued. We ourselves decide “whether to be learned or ignorant, compassionate or cruel, generous or miserly.”

As the new year dawns, and the election season mercifully comes to a close, may we commit to making ourselves and our communities learned, compassionate, and generous. And having done so, may we commit to bringing that same spirit to our neighbors, or towns, and — God willing — our whole world.

A slightly different version of this article was first published in The Blogs section on The Times of Israel and reprinted with their permission.


Rabbi Mike Rothbaum serves as Bay Area Co-Chair for Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, and lives withhis husband, Anthony Russell, in Oakland. He has been extensively involved with faith-based social justice organizations, and spoken widely at conferences and rallies, from Moishe House to the House of Representatives. His writing and speaking has been featured in Tikkun, the Huffington Post, KQED radio, CNN, and Zeek.


Come Celebrate High Holidays with Tikkun and Rabbi Michael Lerner in Berkeley this Octoberby Staci Askelrod

An Autopsy of the Bernie Sanders Campaign by Dan Brook

Reflections on Yom Kippur and Mideast Peaceby Ron Hirsch

Minorityphobia: A Letter to American Minorities


by: Nazir Harb Michel and Murali Balaji on October 10th, 2016 | No Comments »

Dear Fellow Minorities,

We are not writing this piece as individuals. We are not even writing this as Brown people in America or members of the Islamic or Hindu faiths. We’re not writing this as academics or researchers or activists.

Rather, we’re writing this as minorities to all our fellow minorities in America. But we also hope that those of you in the majority are paying attention because this concerns us all.

We Have To Stop The Circular Firing Squad of Inter-Minority Prejudice and Violence Right Now

As we are living through this nasty spike in anti-Muslim rhetoric and attacks, we need to keep in mind that the incidents are increasing, not decreasing, as we near the November elections. So far in 2016, there’s been an attack against Muslims in the U.S. every 13 hours. And it’s important that we realize as minorities that these attacks, which seem to target Muslim immigrants, aren’t shouldered by the American Muslim or Middle Eastern communities alone. They’re affecting other minorities too.


Jacob Neusner: In Memoriam


by: Shaul Magid on October 10th, 2016 | No Comments »

Jacob Neunser (1932-2016) died early shabbat morning of Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat between Rosh Ha-Shana and Yom Kippur.

The New York Times called him the most published individual in history. In his excellent book, Jacob Neusner: An American Jewish Iconoclast (NYU Press, 2016) Aaron Hughes suggests he is the greatest Jewish scholar of Judaism born in the United States. Whether either of these claims are true, and they are certainly reasonably so, he was surely one of the most towering figures in the study of Judaism in the past half century.


Overcoming High Holiday Hypocrisy


by: Gabi Kirk on October 7th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

During the High Holidays, Jews chant Ashamnu, the confession of our sins. We beat our chests and ask God for forgiveness, for we have been hypocritical, we have turned away from the truth, we have stolen, we have lied. We are responsible for our own wrongdoings, but collectively we are also responsible for the ills of our society. Many synagogues add specific contemporary sins to the traditional list – gun violence, global warming, poverty – but few synagogues, at this time of year or any other, admit the American Jewish institutional community’s role in upholding Israel’s military occupation, though we have had nearly 50 years to admit, atone, and change.

We have been hypocritical in supporting equality at home but injustice in Israel/Palestine. Growing up, I learned of Jews marching for civil rights for black communities in the American South, standing with Cesar Chavez and the Filipino and Chicano farm workers’ boycott, and working to end apartheid in South Africa. I was never told that Israel maintains a separate system of military law over millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, who are subject to separate courts and prisons with a nearly 100% conviction rate. When I learned how Israel “rescued” Ethiopian and Yemeni Jews, I was never told of the deep racial hierarchies present within Jewish Israeli society.


The King is the Field – Chabad Insights on the Divinity of Creation


by: David Seidenberg on September 29th, 2016 | No Comments »

During the High Holidays, we strive to fashion our heart to become a dwelling place for God in the physical, earthly realm – a dirah batachtonim. However, the earliest aggadic (storytelling) midrash, Genesis Rabbah (fourth or fifth century), taught that “the root/essence of God’s presence was in the lower creatures /`iqar Shekhinah batachtonim haytah.” (19:7)

If the Shekhinah, the indwelling presence of God, was essentially in all creatures, how did we arrive at the idea that the primary dwelling place of God was within the human heart? This is the journey I would like to share below.

According to Genesis Rabbah, even though the Shekhinah was interwoven with the physical world from the beginning, human sin drove the presence of God further and further away from the world. This alienation was “put into practice,” so to speak, in later midrashic texts. Midrash Y’lamdeinu, in opposition to Genesis Rabbah, taught in the sixth or seventh century that humanity was supposed to be the locus of God’s presence in this world, and that this is what it means for us to be “rulers batachtonim.” (Batey Midrashot 1, B’reishit 9) If Genesis Rabbah describes how sin generated the flight of Shekhinah from a world that was once full of God’s presence, Y’lamdeinu describes instead a world which was never the home of Shekhinah.


Come Celebrate High Holidays with Tikkun and Rabbi Michael Lerner in Berkeley this October


by: Staci Akselrod on September 15th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

A dictionary open to the definition of love. Source: Flickr (Il Mago di Oz).

Dear Reader,

Would you be interested in experiencing High Holiday services that combine a Judaism of Love and Justice with deep spirituality? Rabbi Michael Lerner, our spiritual leader, leads our community in a serious teshuvah process (which we understand as both inner transformation and societal transformation). He teaches that the prayers are only cheerleading for the process – the real work has to happen in our own lives in the ten days from Rosh HaShanah (which starts Sunday night, October 2) to the conclusion of Yom Kippur (on Wednesday, October 12th). This combination of services plus engagement in teshuvah is such an extraordinary experience that I’m willing to give you your money back if you attend all the services, do all elements of the teshuvah process that Rabbi Lerner lays out, and don’t feel that it was really amazing and transformative! And please tell your non-Jewish friends about this as well – you don’t have to be Jewish to get a huge amount of psychological and spiritual nourishment and even have a transformative experience by going through the process with us. True, some of the prayers are in Hebrew, but there’s enough English so that non-Jews who have come in the past have told us that the experience was just as powerful for them as it was for the Jews who participate.


Reflections on Yom Kippur and Mideast Peace


by: Ron Hirsch on September 8th, 2016 | 5 Comments »

Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, has traditionally been a time to prepare for teshuva (repentance, self and world transformation, returning to one’s highest self). In preparation, we will be providing a variety of “takes” on this process. We also invite those who do not have a spiritual home to consider attending Rabbi Lerner’s High Holiday services – info available atwww.beyttikkun.org/highholidays. And if you have a poem, prayer, or thought piece that you feel would benefit others in this process, send it to RabbiLerner.tikkun@gmail.com (he might use it at the Beyt Tikkun service or, space allowing, on our website).

Reflections on Yom Kippur and Mideast Peace

As Jews around the world observe Yom Kippur, at levels of ritual observance ranging from the Haridim at the Wailing Wall to a reform temple in the U.S. Midwest to those who do not go to synagogue but in some way observe the Day of Atonement, it is important for each individual, for Israel, and for the world that the observance go deeper than even the most fervent practice of ritual and belief.

For Yom Kippur to have its intended impact, each person must understand and experience the spiritual lessons and meaning of Yom Kippur. What are those lessons?


Understanding Unconditional Love and Forgiveness from The Gospel of Simon


by: Victor Narro on September 1st, 2016 | No Comments »

In my book Living Peace: Connecting Your Spirituality with Your Work for Justice (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014), I reveal how the life and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi shape my work for justice, teaching me the way of peace, love, humility, and service. I talk about how my Franciscan spirituality has been enriched by the teachings of spiritual leaders of other faiths, such as Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master, poet, scholar, and human rights activist.

John Smelcer’s new book, The Gospel of Simon (Leapfrog Press, 2016, also available in Spanish as El Evangelio de Simon), speaks of the concept of unconditional love and peace through action. The book is a powerful and vivid narrative account of an encounter two thousand years ago during a public spectacle where an itinerant Jewish preacher named Jesus was being brutally crucified and a man named Simon was being forced by a Roman soldier carrying out the crucifixion to help him carry the heavy cross through the crowded streets. Through Smelcer’s powerful storytelling narrative of that encounter and the relationship that developed between Jesus and Simon, this book is able to provide deep insights into the teachings of the Gospel, not so much from the approach of preaching, but as a story that provides us with invaluable lessons. This book is storytelling at its best, and it can apply to all faiths and spiritual teachings. The book’s simple and eloquent prose invites the reader to read it deeply with an open mind and heart.

For me as a social justice activist and scholar, what moved me the most is Smelcer’s emphasis, with much simplicity, on how our spirituality or faith can be a force for justice in the world. Faith is how we choose to live our lives, mindful that we dwell in the presence of a higher spiritual being – a higher good. It begins with the simple act of loving. Because there is a higher Goodness who loves you, you cannot have faith until you love yourself. Through a conversation between Jesus and Simon, this book teaches us that it is the inward expression of love that matters. You must look into your own heart. What you adorn your body with outwardly is of no consequence and does not prove love. The contents of your heart and your acts of kindness are all that matter. Compassion is the soul in action. Compassion triumphs because it is endless.


On Community and Conscience: Jewish Allyship and the Movement for Black Lives


by: Lena Shapiro on September 1st, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Managing Editor’s note: As we have noted many times, the articles posted on Tikkun Daily do not necessarily reflect the official positions or attitudes of Tikkun. You can read our official positions in the editorials of the print versionof Tikkun magazine (available by subscription atwww.tikkun.org/subscribe). We also encourage readers to visit the special section of www.tikkun.org called “Political Vision & Spiritual Wisdom” where Rabbi Michael Lerner includes many ofhis editorials, short articles, op-eds to which he wants to call readers’ attention (even if he disagrees with them), and action alerts.

Many people have approached me recently to ask how I feel about the use of the word “genocide” in reference to Israel in The Movement for Black Lives’ official platform, which feels weird, because I don’t think the platform is about me. I have genuinely appreciated the interesting, varied, and important conversations I have had about the platform, and its investment-divestment section in particular, but I know I am not the only one who feels frustrated watching the controversy over the word genocide become the dominant story about a transformative political document that lays out a policy approach for a vision of justice and equality.

A sentence from the "Invest/Divest" section of "A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice."

In response to the platform, some Jewish organizations have decided to distance themselves and withhold support from The Movement for Black Lives. This is not the first time that the Jewish community has conditioned its support for certain social justice causes on the exclusion of Palestinian rights. In a recentopinion piece, Northwestern University student Lauren Sonnenberg wrote that campus activism that links struggles for justice, security, and self-determination in America to similar struggles in Palestine does not make room for students like her. I have heard related sentiments from Jewish students on my own campus: that they are unwilling to participate in activism that recognizes the injustice of Israeli occupation, because they view it as an attack on their Jewish identity. It is not. The idea that social justice movements that support Palestinian human rights and dignity run contrary to Jewish values and interests is not just false: it is dangerous. Our participation in struggles for justice and security for all people cannot be suspended because it is part of our own community that is perpetrating and sustaining injustice.


Reader Response: Promoting the Well-Being of Israelis and Palestinians


by: Dr. Gerald H Katzman on August 17th, 2016 | Comments Off

[Editor's note: We welcome critiques of articles in Tikkun, and in this case, of one of the many books written by Tikkun editor Rabbi Michael Lerner. Rather than respond fully here, Rabbi Lerner will address some of the issues raised in our Spring 2017 issue of Tikkun, which will focus on the 50th anniversary of the Occupation of the West Bank.

Managing Editor's note: As we have noted many times on Tikkun Daily, the articles posted here do not necessarily reflect the official positions or attitudes of Tikkun. You can read our official positions in the editorials in the print versionof Tikkun magazine (available by subscription atwww.tikkun.org/subscribe).The post below is an example of the kind of discourse we rarely publish because it demeans a whole group of people, in this case the 1.5 billion adherents to Islam. The author states, "The religion of Islam must turn away from militancy. Just as Judaism and Christianity have matured and adopted the 'Left Hand of G-d' as the model for proper, praiseworthy human behavior, so must all branches of Islam." The notion that Christianity and Judaism have matured and adopted the approach advocated by Rabbi Lerner's book "The Left Hand of God" would be difficult to substantiate, particularly in light of the Jewish world's support for Israel's treatment of Palestinians and the Christian world's long history of violence (i.e. the crusades and the inquisition), sexism, racism, homophobia, opposition to birth control, and attempts to limit women's rights to control their own bodies. Additionally, the claim that Islam as whole is not equally "mature" is offensive and cannot be proven by referencing the small percentage of Muslims who support violence against other Muslims and non-Muslims. Frankly, all of these kinds of generalizations about any religion, national group, race, gender, etc., are likely to be false or unsupportable, and we normally ban such articles that contain them. It was only because this response specifically critiques our editor's work that we are printing it, because we want to be a model of openness to such critiques, particularly of our editorial leadership and our public stances, in contrast to most magazines and newspapers that rarely allow for this kind of vulnerability - though we would have been much happier to print a critique that didn't have offensive claims against other peoples and religious groups!]

I am happy to reply to Rabbi Michael Lerner’s request that I critique his book Embracing Israel/Palestine. The book clearly represents a well-thought-out and detailed account of factors leading to the present Israeli/Palestinian divide and proposals for solving the many issues that underlie the conflict. I do not pretend to have the detailed knowledge of the area that Rabbi Lerner possesses. However, I do have my own impressions from years of Jewish education, multiple visits to Israel, and pursuing my ‘hobby’ of understanding how children are taught to hate and how to prevent this reprehensible practice.