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Archive for the ‘Rethinking Religion’ Category



Memoriam for Zalman, Mourning for Israel

Jul16

by: Lynn Feinerman on July 16th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

July 3rd, 2014, Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi left his body, dying after a long, deep, and rich life. I consider Reb Zalman a teacher of mine…a master able to impart knowledge of an authentic Jewish tradition and practice.

Reb Zalman escaped the Holocaust in Nazi Europe and joined the Chabad Lubavitch movement in the United States. The Lubavitcher Rebbe chose Zalman to become a shliach, a messenger and “pied piper” to the great number of unaffiliated young American Jews in my generation.

He was the perfect messenger, an open hearted, open minded man who dropped acid with Timothy Leary, prayed with all others who prayed, and eventually was recognized by the Muslim community as a Sheikh, in addition to being world renowned as a Jew. His sweet, laughing, knowing soul shares a light-filled gaze with the Dalai Lama, in one of my favorite photographs of him.

My sense of Zalman was that he didn’t hate – ever. He’d been there and seen the Holocaust, lost most of his own loved ones. He even requested to be buried with ashes from Auschwitz – the notorious Nazi concentration camp and crematorium – because most of his family never got a proper burial. But he never expressed hatred or desire for revenge. In fact, this great soul had fled the flames and strengthened in reverence for life, love, and forgiveness. May the memory of his blessing take us all there as well.

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Israel on the 17th of Tammuz: Confronting the Enemy Within

Jul16

by: on July 16th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

Yesterday the Jewish world observed the fast day known as Shiv’ah Asar Be’Tammuz, (the 17th of Tammuz), a communal day of quasi-mourning that commemorates among other things, the breaching of Jerusalem’s walls by the Roman army in 70 CE, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple.

Interestingly enough, the 17th of Tammuz – as well as the upcoming fast day of Tisha B’Av – is not so much a day of anger directed toward our enemies, as much as an occasion for soul searching over the ways our own behavior too often leads to our downfall. According to the Talmud (Yoma 9b), for instance, the fall of the First Temple was due to the idolatry while the destruction of the Second Temple was caused by sinat chinam – the “baseless hatred” of Jew against Jew.

I would submit that this year, the 17th of Tammuz has an all-too-tragic resonance, particularly given the internecine violence currently being waged on Israeli streets.


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Rescuing the Hebrew Covenant

Jul15

by: Robert Cohen on July 15th, 2014 | 9 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

For the last three years I’ve been writing monthly posts about Israel-Palestine from a UK Jewish perspective. At times like this, with the news from Gaza dominating world headlines, I feel an even greater responsibility to champion a Judaism that stands for more than a narrow nationalist ideology.

It took me about 25 years from the point of first engaging seriously with the subject as student in the 1980s to feeling confident enough to start saying anything in a public sphere. Like many other Jews, for years I felt increasingly uncomfortable with what was going on in Israel in the unchallengeable name of defense and security. I was the classic liberal Zionist, brought up on a diet of Jewish ethics and Western democratic values. It was an upbringing that left me in an ever increasing state of ‘angst’ over the actions of the Jewish State, a country that claimed to act in my name and in my interests. But whatever I was feeling, I avoided family discussions let alone public debate.

It was operation Cast Lead and the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2008/9 that began my journey from an Israeli supporting peacenik to a marginalized Diaspora Jew, questioning the entire Zionist project. After watching children dying from Israeli missiles and bombs, my silent Jewish angst felt like so much useless self-indulgence. It was a feeling I wanted to avoid next time things kicked off in Gaza. And I suspected there would be a next time.

A visit in 2011 to Israel (my third) and to the West Bank (my first) finally completed the emotional and intellectual journey. Talking to Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line taught me that something had gone very wrong with the Jewish dream of self-determination. Whatever the questions raised by two thousand years of ‘exile’, this could not be the answer. A Sparta state, increasingly racist in its culture of Jewish ethnic privilege, had not resolved any of the issues Herzl and the early Zionists had set out to address. Instead it had created a truck-load of new problems and left another people homeless and oppressed.

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Go to Hell! God’s Gracious Word to American Christians

Jul15

by: Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove on July 15th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

For every season, there is a message. “Do not be afraid.” “Let my people go.” “Take up your cross.” “I have a dream.”

In America today, I’ve come to believe, God’s Word for us is, “Go to hell.”

Unbeknownst to most Americans, our justice system changed radically in the late 20th century. Like most countries in the modern West, roughly one in a thousand Americans were in prison in the early 70s. Today, we incarcerate 1 in 107 Americans. Over 7 million adults are currently in jails, in prison, or on probation. More than 65 million US citizens now have a criminal record, while another 11 million undocumented people live outside the the law, subject to seizure and deportation.

Legal scholar William Stuntz has described the past 40 years as the “collapse of America’s criminal justice system.” Noting the ways “law and order” has landed more black men in prison today than were in slavery in 1850, Michelle Alexander calls it the “new Jim Crow.” Or, as Piper Kerman puts it, “orange is the new black.”

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Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: The Holy Cobbler with a Secret

Jul8

by: Shaul Magid on July 8th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

 

Credit: Creative Commons

The day Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi left this world I happened to be mostly in transit. I took two books with me for the day; David Macey’s biography of Frantz Fanon, and R. Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezritch’s Hasidic work Maggid Devarav le-Ya’akov. When I heard the sad news on the train, feeling quite alone, I did what any hasid would do when he heard of the death of his rebbe. I took out a Hasidic work and began learning. I found myself somewhere in the middle of Maggid Devarav le-Ya’akov. It did not really matter where. The simple act of learning Hasidut on that lonely day enabled me to believe that somehow I was participating in the separation of body and soul that the tradition teaches occurs during those first hours after someone’s death. Naïve, perhaps maybe even a little delusional, but it gave me solace nonetheless. At some point I came across a teaching that jumped off the page in the way it seemed to capture what Reb Zalman gave to the world. Below I offer a translation of that lesson and a few observations as my parting words to him and, more importantly, as words to those of us who now have the responsibility to carry his message to the post-Zalman era of Jewish Renewal, may it live a long and healthy life. I dedicate this to Eden Pearlstein, Chani Trugman, Shir Yaakov Feit, Adam Segulah Sher, and Basya Schechter, Paradigm Shifters, each and every one.

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Final report from Jerusalem

Jul8

by: Cherie Brown on July 8th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Dear all,

Credit: Creative Commons

It is Tuesday morning in Jerusalem and I fly home to DC early tomorrow (Wednesday) morning. It is hard to believe a month has passed.  I am sad to be leaving Israel, to be leaving all the people here I love, the views of the Old City from our apartment window, the sights and smells of the Shuk (the Marketplace), and all the beauty and the complexity of this wonderful, ancient place. At the same time, I am very much looking forward to coming home.

This last week has once again been a week of amazing contrasts. This past Tuesday night, we were on Jaffa road (where our apartment is).  We were just walking to dinner, when we got caught in an ugly, racist mob scene with hundreds of young, mostly Orthodox Jewish men, throwing rocks, pulling Arabs out of stores, shouting,  ”We want revenge” and “Kill Arabs,”  and waving banners proclaiming,  ”We are all Kahane”.  I have never been more pained– or more terrified.  What has happened to our people?

The horrible events of the past week, the discovery of the bodies of the three Israeli teenagers and the horrific revenge killing of the Palestinian teenager only added to the information I had been receiving all month from the tours to Hebron, the Jordan Valley, the South Hebron Hills, and the Negev.  All together, each event and each tour has given me a stark, realistic picture, not only of the horrors of life for Palestinians under the Occupation, but also, the depth of collusion, rigidities, and racism of the settler movement, the Israeli army, and the Israeli government — and it’s leadership.  The events of this past week only confirmed what I was already learning and witnessing on the ground all month.  

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Why Choosing to Believe in God can be a Rational Decision

Jul6

by: Catherine Lasser on July 6th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Evolutionary psychology provides evidence that choosing to believe in God can be a rational decision. Rationality can be defined as reasoning based on empirical evidence. The empirical evidence of evolutionary psychology demonstrates that there are three kinds of relationship: power, accountability and mutuality.

They are summarized in the chart below:

Relationship

Evolutionary

Value

Situation

Involves

Moral Implications

Power

(us-them)

(i.e. Richard Dawkins)

Survival of the fittest

Competitive

Self-Interest

and

Dominance

Human Rights

Empowerment

Accountability

(me-us)

(i.e. Joshua Greene, Robert Wright,

E.O. Wilson)

Individuals who cooperate with each other are more likely to survive

Cooperative

Rewards and Punishments

Greatest good for the greatest number of people

Mutuality

(I-Thou)

(i.e. John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth)

Parents and infants who bond with each other are more likely to have infants who survive

Love

Care for another

Equals

Care for self

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you


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Patriarchy, Religion, & the Supreme Court

Jul1

by: on July 1st, 2014 | No Comments »

The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients.”

- Justice Samuel Alito, in the majority opinion, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

Credit: Creative Commons

We can add “Justice” Samuel Alito, “Justice” Anthony Kennedy, “Justice” John Roberts, “Justice” Clarence Thomas, and last, but certainly not least, “Justice” Antonin Scalia to the oxymoron list since this Supreme Court decision amounted to anything but justice. The five men voting in the majority denied the rights of women, most particularly working-class women employees at “closely-held” (family owned with a limited number of shareholders) for-profit corporations, which actually includes most U.S. corporations, control over their reproductive freedoms generally extended to women at other companies.


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“Jews,” “Judeans” and the Gospel of John: a response to Adele Reinhartz

Jul1

by: on July 1st, 2014 | 5 Comments »

Gospel of John. Credit: Creative Commons

We all read texts, ancient and contemporary, from where we stand. I’ve been reading the Gospel of John for the past quarter century as someone raised Jewish who loves Jesus and his Way of peace. When I first encountered the Gospel’s apparent hostility to “the Jews,” I was shaken. As someone born within a decade of the Holocaust, I am and have always been deeply aware of how Christian hostility to “the Jews” has been exclusionary and murderous. I was taught by my mother from as long as I can remember to be proud of my Jewish heritage and not to betray it by “selling out” or trying “to pass” as my father did, changing the family name from “Horowitz” to “Howard” and having a nose job (as was the fashion at the time) to “look less Jewish.” I believe that my four decades following Jesus have made me more, not less, grateful for my heritage and the gifts of the Jews to the world.

So, this encounter with “the Jews” in John’s gospel has always been at the heart of my work, as a New Testament scholar and disciple. In my 1994 book, Becoming Children of God: John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship (Orbis), I argued that the Greek Ioudaioi in John’s gospel referred not to “Jews” but to “Judeans.” This usage reflects first geography (“Judeans” are people from “Judea,” just as “Galileans” are people from “Galilee”), but more importantly, ideology. Throughout John’s gospel, the Judeans are those, both among the elite and the ordinary people, who defended Jerusalem’s relationship with the Roman Empire, including the temple and its authority. The Johannine Jesus, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel before him, condemns not his kindred in general, but those who betray Abraham, Moses and the prophets by, in the words of the Gospel’s chief priests, proclaiming “we have no king but Caesar” (John 19.15). Jesus, in the prophetic tradition that persists to this day, sharply critiques his own people for collaborating with the oppressor.

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Sexism, Heterosexism, Racism, & Revelation

Jun25

by: on June 25th, 2014 | No Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) has connected a number of forms of oppression, most notably sexism, heterosexism, and racism.

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