Tikkun Daily button

Archive for the ‘Rethinking Religion’ Category



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

Aug17

by: Dr. Gerald H Katzman on August 17th, 2016 | No Comments »

[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.

Read more...

Pope Francis and the Changing Catholic Church

Aug10

by: Sarah Asch on August 10th, 2016 | No Comments »

Pope Francis saidin late July that he would never call terrorism “Islamic terrorism” since all religions contain fundamentalist groups. He made the comment in response to questions about a French priest who was targeted and killed in a terrorist attack.

His statement came on the heels of progressive remarks he made in June when he called for the Catholic Church to apologize to the LGBT community for centuries of discrimination. In his efforts to move the church towards a new era of cultural acceptance we should view Pope Francis with as much scrutiny as we would any politically savvy public figure. And whether or not you believe that the Pope is doing his best with a centuries-old system or that he is not moving fast enough on certain issues, we can all agree he is moving. Then the question becomes: how sustainable are these progressive movements after Pope Francis resigns or passes away? After all, Pope Francis changed the tenor of the church pretty quickly after his conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, stepped down at the age of 85. With that in mind, many wonder how far Francis, who is 79 years old, can move the church before he has to hand over the job to somebody else.


Read more...

The Need for a More Radical Solidarity in the Work for Justice based on Spirituality, Mindfulness, and Self-Care.

Jul19

by: Victor Narro on July 19th, 2016 | No Comments »

You are not obligated to complete the work,
but neither are you free to abandon it.

Do not be daunted
by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.

- Rabbi Tarfon in Pirke Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers)

For the past few years, I have ended my classes at UCLA with a reflection with my students about this excerpt from a poem by Rabbi Tarfon and its significance for them. Many of us who work for social justice often work on organizing campaigns with short timelines, with little resources, and moving on all pistons at a grueling 24-7 pace. This extreme pace can consume the important things in life that contribute to a person’s well-being. It’s a kind of martyr’s code that measures a person’s commitment to justice by their willingness to sacrifice personal time, health, and relationships.

Read more...

Lift It

Jul11

by: Rabbi Michael Rothbaum on July 11th, 2016 | No Comments »

If God is all-Powerful
Can he make a rock so large he himself
Cannot lift it
Cannot move it
Made up of the stone shavings of
The names
Carved out of the rock
Huddled in a pile
On the ground
The names so large
He himself cannot lift them
From the hearts
Of the bereaved
The empty spaces
Left in the rock
He himself couldn’t lift
There but not
There
The black blood that is
There but not
There

Read more...

More Blood Flowing, Will It Ever End?

Jul11

by: on July 11th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Two more black men shot dead by police, blood flowing from their bodies. As I think about Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and the blood flowing from their dying and dead bodies, I wonder if their souls are free from the societal stories about who black men are and the internalization of some of those stories. I think about the impact these stories have on the psychological, spiritual, physical, and social presence and existence of Black people in our society and how police and others react to them as a result of these stories.

Our society treats African Americans as though black bodies are less worthy or less valuable than white bodies; that black human beings are dangerous and threatening. I want to paint their bodies full of life, full of blood, but with different letters and societal stories inscribed on them. I want our societal stories to be ones of love, of acceptance, of worthiness, of value, of safety, of nonviolence, of beauty, of strength, of grace. Stories that in fact are the truth of who all of us are but on black bodies all we see are the negative images. I want these positive stories to shine brightly.

How might we get there? Spiritually, we need a mikvah – a bath of flowing, fresh water washing over each and every one of us that brings down the loving grace of the transformative energy of the universe to cleanse us. So each and every one of us can compassionately and gently, with love and strength, disrobe ourselves from these places of constriction, these stories that have become so embedded in our beings and in our culture that they become us instead of just stories. So that black bodies are finally free from the stories that they are dangerous and to be feared, from the hatred and prejudice that our society has imprinted on them so we can see their humanity rather than be obscured by our projections. And so that those of us who fail to see through these inscribed stories can wash ourselves clean of the stories imprinted upon us that impede our capacity to see the humanity of others.

What would happen then? Might black lives be freed from the legacies of prejudice, fear, and hatred that our society places upon them? Might police officers be freed from seeing black men as dangerous and threatening? Might we all be able to see the humanity in each other?

As I enter Shabbat with a heavy heart, I hold in my heart the memories of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, their family members and all who loved them, the Black women and men who are reminded once again of their own fragility in a country that is supposedly free, and of all the lives throughout the world who are killed and whose true stories we are unable to see. May we one day find a path to our true freedom where we see through the stories to the souls that live within each of us. Until that time, may we continue to do the work needed to fundamentally heal and transform our world.

Cat Zavis is the Executive Director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. She is also an attorney, mediator, and trainer in conflict resolution and empathic communication. She has co-led trainings with Rabbi Michael Lerner on integrating spirituality and activism and on communicating across differences on Israel and Palestine. You can reach Cat at cat@spiritualprogressives.org. To learn more about the Network of Spiritual Progressives, go to: www.spiritualprogressives.org.

Trending Now in Albany: Boycotts

Jul7

by: Zachary Aldridge on July 7th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

The man walked into the courtroom wearing a fine suit. He was handsome and poised. It was August 18, 1955 and the man, Pete Seeger, was testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee, asserting that he would not comply with the Committee and have his First Amendment rights stripped from him. We all know how this story ended; Seeger, who was one of scores of activists and artists who were blacklisted for alleged communist affiliations, was indicted for being in contempt of Congress in what is now recognized as one of the lowest and most fearful points in American democratic history.

Though the Red Scare has since been packed away in history textbooks, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has mandated something disturbingly similar: an executive order that forces state entities to divest from businesses and organizations linked to boycotts of Israel and the larger BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement. The order requires the creation and publication of a list of companies and institutions that support BDS, a tactic of intimidating pro-Palestinian voices and silencing critical discourse around Israel reminiscent of McCarthyism.

The BDS movement represents a call in 2005 from Palestinian civil society to pressure the State of Israel to end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands taken in 1967, recognizing the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens, and respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution #194.


Read more...

Night and Elie Wiesel’s Legacy of Transforming Youth Consciousness

Jul5

by: Ari Bloomekatz on July 5th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Source: Flickr (World Economic Forum).

Most of the discussions surrounding Elie Wiesel’s life and legacy seem to be focusing on him as a person, his dubious politics, what his life and survival has meant to Jews and the memory of theShoah, and, to put it simply, what his death means to adults – those old enough to remember his Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 or his efforts to dissuade President Reagan from visiting the Bitburg cemetery a year earlier.

But Wiesel’s legacy in the United States, and in many parts of the world, is not about adults. It’s about children, about teenagers, and, for the most part, his impact on non-Jewish youth everywhere. His legacy will beNight and the legions of American youth who read it.

Nightis how most non-Jewish youth in the U.S. learn about the real horrors of the Holocaust (along with perhaps Number the Stars andThe Diary of a Young Girl) and is one of the most important books in U.S. history not just for its role introducing Americans to the concentration camps, but in many ways also introducing them to Jews.

Night is required or suggested reading in many colleges, high schools, and some middle schools. I’m certain many of those I grew up with in Tennessee – where the first question everyone asked me after I moved there in middle school was “What church do you go to?” – would not have known much of anything about the Holocaust if it hadn’t been forNight.

While Wiesel’s politics have, at times, surely been suspect for progressives, we are forever changed as a society not merely for what he said, but what we’ve read. Wiesel the witness is amplified through Night into something bigger – we are all witnesses.

There have been efforts to banNightfrom schools in the past, and if we want to honor the best aspect of Wiesel’s legacy, we’ll make sure that never happens.

Like most young Jews, Night was not my introduction to the Holocaust and when my father took me to see a public conversation between Wiesel and Maya Angelou when I was young, I had no idea who he was. But I’m spiritually indebted to Wiesel because it was that conversation at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst that helped shape my own thoughts about miracles, the existence (or lack there of) of a God, and a transformative power of the universe.

I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but at one point Angelou the poet asked Wiesel the survivor if, after the horrors of the Holocaust, he still believed in miracles.

I love someone and they love me back, Wiesel said. Isn’t that a miracle?

I talk to someone and they understand me, Wiesel said. Isn’t that a miracle?

The idea of ordinary miracles, of a transformative power that’s not God or God-like but rooted in us as a people, has never been far from my mind after that day. And if we want to honor his legacy, we definitely should keep teaching Night in schools – and we should also understand what a miracle it is to read it.

Ari Bloomekatz is the managing editor of Tikkun magazine.

Jewish Law and Our Most Cherished Traditions Require Justice for Hassan Diab

Jul5

by: David Mivasair on July 5th, 2016 | 6 Comments »

Out of the 613 commandments our tradition identifies in the Torah, only two are expressed with the word tirdof -pursue it! One is “seek peace and pursue it. “The other famously is“tzedek, tzedek tirdof -justice, justice you shall pursue” in the Book of Leviticus.Our sages of old taught that in repeating the word “justice,” the Torah is telling us that we must pursue justice only through just means.

When acts of terror are committed and innocent people are tragically killed, to apprehend the perpetrators and assure they will never kill again is just.However, identifying and apprehending the perpetrators must be done only by just means.

This is why we must not remain silent as Canadian citizen and Ottawa professor Hassan Diab faces conviction in France for a gruesome crime for which no credible evidence against him has been presented.

Mr. Diab is accused of a crime of the most heinous sort: planting a bomb outside a Paris synagogue in 1980, which killed four people and seriously wounded scores of others. Such a crime demands justice for the victims, of course, as well as the family members of those innocent lives stolen on that fateful day.

But justice can only be served – as in any case, regardless of the degree of horror inflicted – if the evidence points clearly to the culprit. Should a man be convicted of a crime for which there is no credible evidence against him?

Read more...

The False Consciousness of Stewardship

Jun28

by: Eleanor Johnson on June 28th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

According to New York Magazine, citing data from NASA and Bloomberg, it’s been the hottest month in recorded history for a year now. In these temperatures, we’ve got big frozen things melting, low-lying places flooding, hurricanes swooping out of season, trash pools whirling in ever-widening gyres, and species quietly going extinct. The long-term impact of the heating up of the earth’s surface is not entirely clear, but what is clear is that something needs to change.

In all of this discomfiting warmth, I am primarily concerned about people, and I am of a mind to start pointing fingers. Not at big industry, emerging nations, or even the U.S. government. I want to point at people who read the Christian Bible superficially, thus engendering misunderstandings that become powerful and damaging political ideologies. More specifically, I want to point fingers at Christian environmentalists who, with the best of intentions, take on the mantle of environmental “stewardship,” which they derive from the Bible, but actually use that mantle to the detriment both of the earth and to accurate readings of the Bible itself.

I’m talking about the Biblical treatment of stewardship. Many Christians invoke the idea of stewardship as a justification for their environmental stances. In one interpretation of Christian stewardship, God gave the earth unto mankind, so that mankind could act as steward of that gift, using the earth’s resources to the greatest possible advantage. Now, of course, many Christian Environmentalists understand stewardship not as carte blanche to do what they will with the earth, but as an obligation to manage God’s gift responsibly. But all too often, the idea of stewardship is impressed into the service of demands to drill for oil in the arctic or dump massive amounts of waste into the seas because, well, there those places are, kind of big and empty and underused.

What I find fascinating about the discourse on stewardship is that it misses the point of the steward parable – often by wrongly conflating it with the Parable of the Talents. The actual stewardship parable, often called the Parable of the Unjust Steward, tells a story of a steward who is entrusted to manage his lord’s wealth responsibly. But the steward fails in his assigned task, wasting all of the lord’s goods, so that the lord demands an account of his expenditures and fires him from his job. Bad news: it looks like there are pretty dire consequences for mismanaging the lord’s goods. But things get more interesting. In response to getting busted, the unjust steward goes to people who were in debt to the lord, and he reduces their debts by half. Now things get really weird: the lord praises him for redistributing the lord’s wealth in this way, for being “unjust,” and for taking wealth from the lord himself.

Needless to say, this parable has historically been a source of consternation for Biblical commentators. But in the 1380s, a cleric named Thomas Wimbledon had a great insight into it. He delivered a public sermon on the Unjust Steward to a group of Londoners, which emphasized how the steward’s original squandering of the lord’s wealth would have consequences for the weakest, poorest, and most desperate in society, and how that neglect to take care of those in need was his primary crime. Thus, the steward’s redistribution of wealth at the end makes sense: it is direct atonement for the initial act of wasting and squandering.

Now, the circumstances of the 1380s were different; Wimbledon wasn’t protesting environmental squandering by nation-states and corporations. But his fundamental insight is deeply relevant to our current socio-political and environmental situation. The Parable of the Unjust Steward only makes sense if you understand it as a claim for the importance of economic justice, the redistribution of wealth, and the protection of the poor. That is what the Bible endorses as the mandate of a steward. So, if the industrialized nations — in fact, I’ll just say the U.S. – wants to orient its environmental policy around the idea of stewardship, it needs to do so with the awareness that stewardship is ultimately about the protection of other people. Poorer people. People down the ladder of socio-economic stability and security.

In our current geopolitical moment, then, anyone who wants to lay claim to stewardship of the “earth” should actually make an effort to foster economic and environmental justice that will include, for instance, the Global South — the area of the surface of the earth that suffers the most acutely from the ongoing effects of colonialism, structural inequality, and environmental decay. If you want to be a good steward, a good Christian using the earth’s resources well and responsibly, you have to do so with an eye not simply toward the material preservation of what you have been given — like coal, oil, gas, or water — but also toward the people who have less than you have and who are structurally positioned to have less access to what you have.

So, as the earth continues in its perhaps doomed course of warming up, I would like to make a plea that people who rely on the Bible to justify their political stances on the environment read a little more carefully, so as to recognize that, to Jesus, the goods of the earth that we are most meant to preserve are the welfares of its human denizens.

Eleanor Johnson is a professor at Columbia University.

Review: Why People Pray by Mordecai Schreiber

Jun27

by: Alice Ogden Bellis on June 27th, 2016 | Comments Off

Rabbi Mordecai Schreiber’s Why People Pray is a remarkable book. It is ecumenical and yet aware of a great deal of the history of both Jewish and Christian spirituality, as well as Muslim and Eastern approaches. Rabbi Schreiber is learned, but down to Earth. He is not afraid to tackle the difficult questions (e.g., is anybody listening?) nor to give, on the one hand, the honest answer that ultimately we do not know many of the answers, but on the other hand, his own convictions born out of a lifetime of serious searching. The thirty-five chapters are short, most just a few pages, but they are packed with insights for the pious and even the free-thinkers. He quotes sources as disparate as Huckleberry Finn and Thomas Merton, William Blake and the Muslim Al-Hadid, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, and Stevie Wonder and Karen Armstrong, as well as much scripture from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament and many traditional Jewish sources.

Born in Israel pre-1948 to secular Jews who had escaped the horrors of the Holocaust in time, Morry Schreiber found his way to religion on his own. Perhaps because of this, his approach to spirituality is fresh and open. He does not preach, but inspires and leads the reader gently to consider the value of prayer. The tone is conversational, and yet a great deal of wisdom from a life lived on three continents and that has traveled much of the globe is packed into this small volume.

The book is divided into three parts: What is prayer? What do people pray for? Prayer today. In the first chapter we learn about Rabbi Schreiber’s childhood and also his general approach to the subject, in which he says, more or less, that to live in a sense is to pray. The second chapter “Is Anyone Listening?” is one of the most important because the author’s honesty and openness is so clear. He admits that we do not know for sure, but he senses a divine presence in his life. Of course, he says it much more eloquently than that. He goes on to talk about the sources of prayer and then the essence of prayer, which he calls the “expression of our deepest emotions” (p.17). In this chapter the range of expression is seen, from the quiet of a traditional Quaker meeting to the exuberant African-American holiness worship service. An interesting chapter on prayer and magic explores the difference between magic in its negative connotations and at the same time explores the positive associations of the word magical in our understanding. Another interesting chapter deals with prayer and sacrifice and notes that after the Temple was destroyed, the rabbis used Hosea 14:3 as a way of transitioning from a religion of sacrifice to one of prayer:

Forgive all guilt

And accept what is good;

Instead of bulls we will pay

[The offering of] our lips[1]

In a chapter entitled “Creative and Static Prayer” the focus is on the need constantly to update written prayer materials so that they will reflect the current context. Nevertheless, some prayers are timeless and seem to be able to cross temporal boundaries better than others. Rabbi Schreiber gives a wonderful example of a fourteenth century Syrian Muslim prayer for peace which would be very appropriately prayed today. The next chapter is a reflection on the power of words, both their positive and their negative power, depending on how they are used. They were used rhetorically in very negative ways building up to the Holocaust, but they can also be used with great positive power. In the chapter called “Prayer, Work and Creativity” the concept of prayer is extended beyond words to the area of human work and especially creative work. The works of Van Gogh and Gauguin are briefly considered in this section.

In the section on prayer and meditation, Eastern spiritual traditions are brought into view, especially Buddhist practice. Rabbi Schreiber notes that in Judaism Kabbalistic traditions and in Christianity contemplation are also forms of meditation. He moves from meditation to life with people, in which he balances the individual nature of meditation with the communal aspects of prayer.

The next chapter is a reflection on praying to God as a father figure, where Rabbi Schreiber admits the problems inherent within Judaism and Christianity given the overwhelmingly masculine imagery in the Bible. He indicates that God is neither male nor female and that there is the Virgin Mary for Catholics, the Shekinah, the feminine divine presence for Jewish women, though this may be too abstract, and women biblical characters now included in the prayer book. What could also be said is that since God is neither male nor female, we can create new imagery for God that is gender neutral or that is binary: God as mother and father, since there is some female divine imagery in the Bible.

In the Kaddish and the Lord’s Prayer, Mordecai Schreiber not only shows the specific Jewish roots of the Christian Lord’s Prayer, but also tells a moving story about a group of Polish soldiers facing death who together recited the Lord’s Prayer, allowing them to go down in dignity. The next chapters deal with prayer and various attitudes/experiences: humility, triumphalism, suffering, repentance, afterlife. The final chapter in Part I deals with the efficacy of prayer. The bottom line is that there are no guarantees, but one should pray anyway.

In Part II about what people pray for, there are chapters on: Healing, prosperity, life cycle prayers, yearly cycle prayers, sabbath and prayer, prayer and peace of mind, prayer and war, and prayer and world peace. Part III on prayer today has several important chapters. “Prayer and the Holocaust” deals with the difficult issues of how to pray in the aftermath of the horrible genocide. The chapter on the “Detractors of Faith” deals with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins and reflects on how to respond to their attacks on religion. “Prayer for Freethinkers” is a chapter making the case that prayer is not just for the pious, God-intoning crowd; there is plenty of room in his mind for those who are uncomfortable using God-language. The last two chapters are “Prayer as a Way of Life” and “A New Language of Prayer” in which Rabbi Schreiber considers some of the areas in which we need new vocabulary, less sin oriented, more gender neutral, less tolerant of poverty, more eco-friendly.

Why People Pray provides ample material for a study group and includes many anecdotes that will be of use to those preparing sermons. It could be used with teenagers straight through to senior citizens. This is a rare book, delightful, and wise.


[1] Jewish Publication Society, Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1985), Ho 14:3.

Alice Ogden Bellis is the Professor of Hebrew Bible at Howard University School of Divinity.