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Monotheism as a Moral Issue, Part Three: Loyalty and the Limits of Equality

Mar29

by: George P. Fletcher on March 29th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Genesis 1:26.

AND GOD SAID, LET US MAKE ADAM IN OUR IMAGE, AFTER OUR LIKENESS

Part III: Loyalty and the Limits of Equality.

The principle of equality has become the template of philosophical debate since the early 1970′s. The debate has largely taken place at Harvard, but with an intriguing Zionist influence. It began with John Rawls’ paradigm-shattering book, A Theory of Justice (1971). Almost two centuries after the writing of Immanuel Kant, the same humanistic theory burst on the scene but with an economic twist, namely the non-ethical concept of incentive or self-interested action. As is often the case, the fusion of independent physical or mental elements can produce a sudden spurt of energy – in this case, of Kantian moral thought merged with an economic version of self-interest.

Rawls’ book changed the face of American moral and legal thinking. Yet it undoubtedly has its roots in Genesis 1:26, the creation of Adam in God’s image, and the evolution of that idea in the work of Immanuel Kant. Rawls assumes that the principles of justice* binding on all humanity* should be based on the choice rational* people would make behind a veil of ignorance. All three asterisk indicate problematic terms – justice, humanity, and rational choice.

First, the concept of justice represents a middle point between Kant’s theory of morality (1785) and his theory of law or Right (1797). The theory of morality is based on the ability of a human being to prescribe a universal law for himself and for humanity, as I have discussed in earlier posts. This law is generally called the categorical imperative or the principle of treating human beings as ends in themselves, and never as a means to an end.

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All Disasters Are Miracles

Mar21

by: Rabbi Eliahu Klein on March 21st, 2016 | No Comments »

(A work of fiction)

Fifteen inmates showed up for today’s Jewish services. Seven inmates were Jewish, seven were a mixture of African American and seven were Latino. I, Jewish Chaplain Weitz, talked about the history of the Jews as it relates to the miraculous and enigmatic Purim story.

“Has anybody ready the Book of Esther in the Bible?” I announced to the attendees in the prison chapel. There were no hands today; I began to introduce the history of King Nebuchadnezzar who destroyed the First Temple in Jerusalem. How tens of thousands of Jews were sent into exile and were forced to live in Babylon. And how the story of Purim took place right before the return of the Jews under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. McAllister, a black inmate, yelled out:

“Rabbi, with all due respect, this sounds like one more ancient story. I don’t want to hear another sob story. What’s the real meaning of the story Purim?”

I turned to him. “That’s a great question,” I said, “I believe it’s a narrative that shows how God manifests in many ways. In Biblical times people believed in miracles that broke the rules of nature. These revealed miracles manifested as clear as day; a miracle manifested and the rules of nature were broken.  There are other miracles, whereby one can’t tell that there was a miracle; however, one knows that a miracle did happen. This is called a concealed miracle. There is God revealed and God concealed.  God revealed is God revealing Himself as it were, to Moses on Mt. Sinai. God concealed is God during the Holocaust.”

As I was speaking I looked around the room and tried to gauge how my guys were taking all this in. I could tell something was missing. I could feel they weren’t getting what I was saying. There was silence. The dead silence of no understanding. The silence of dead souls yearning to be awakened.

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Monotheism as a Moral Issue, Part Two: God’s Image and Equality

Mar8

by: George P. Fletcher on March 8th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Julius Schnorr.

Note: This is part two of a four part series by George P. Fletcher.

Genesis 1:26

AND GOD SAID, LET US MAKE ADAM IN OUR IMAGE, AFTER OUR LIKENESS

Part II. God’s Image and Equality

This text has an unappreciated relationship to our commitment to human equality. In my class on Biblical Jurisprudence I usually begin by asking the students whether they agree that human equality is a premise of modern jurisprudence and if so, how they justify our commitment, A subsidiary question is whether if the law is so committed, can override the principle with an argument for affirmative action or some other social good.

Virtually all of the students begin with utilitarian arguments. The principle of equality allegedly maintains peace among different segments of society. This is a dubious claim. Wage inequality, which results from and sustains hierarchy, has reached disturbing proportions in the United States. No one seems disturbed by our continuing to prevent released felons from voting in many states (a factor, by the way, that enabled George W. Bush to win the 2000 election in Florida and the nation).

The only argument I have ever found to support our intuitive commitment to equality is the biblical premise. Abraham Lincoln revealed his commitment to the Bible when he interpreted the Declaration of Independence in the Gettysburg Address. There is no moral claim in any other legal system as powerful as: All Men are Created Equal. Of course, we understand this now to mean all persons (with many disputes about when personhood begins and ends). No other legal system even comes close to using this religious language. The typical European legal provision reads: All persons are equal before the law. As we know from the history of slavery, the law can not be distrusted as the ultimate arbiter of our values.

Anchoring human value in God’s image generates an argument for Lincoln’s commitment to equality. If God is the infinite value, and we are created in God’s image, then we must be equal. And you might say: well how does equality fare for atheists? Immanuel Kant secularized the argument in his Foundations of Morality by distinguishing human beings and things. Things have value, human beings are ‘beyond price’. Kant generated this argument by building on the insight that human beings have the capacity to universalize the premises of their actions into universal laws of nature.

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Monotheism as a Moral Issue

Feb24

by: George P. Fletcher on February 24th, 2016 | Comments Off

Source: r the Providence Lithograph Company

Part I. Domination Over Nature

And God said, let us make Adam in our image, after our likeness and they shall dominate the fish of the sea, and the fowl of the air, and the cattle and every moving thing on the Earth. – Genesis 1:26

In this installment, the first of four, I will concentrate on the moral imperative of monotheism; in the next, on the implication of this passage for the principle of equality; in the third, on the moral limitations on equality that inhere in the principle of loyalty; and finally, in the fourth, on the implications of God’s Image for the concept of reason, an innate human characteristic.

Monotheism is taken for granted in the Abrahamic faiths and indeed in many other religions, even though the commitment to a single God is inconsistent with the use of the plural to refer to God, not only in the beginning but in the second clause this passage. We do not receive a singular reference to God until the tetragrammaton (Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh) is introduced in Genesis 2.

True, we are not bound by the text as some American constitutional lawyers think they are committed to the words written down on parchment one hot summer in Philadelphia. It would seem inevitable that not only the language changes over time but the moral grid that we bring to interpretation changes as well. Therefore, it is entirely plausible to read this text through the grid of accepted monotheism.

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A challenge to JNF on Tu B’shvat Planting Trees in Israel

Jan25

by: Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb on January 25th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

JNF trees in the Negev Desert. Man-made dunes (here a liman) help keep in rainwater, creating an oasis. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) is offering a special deal for Tu B’Shevat on its website:  “Help celebrate TuBishvat by planting a tree in Israel…and you will be automatically entered to win a trip! Prizes include roundtrip airfare and two nights at the Carlton Hotel Tel Aviv for two.”

Meanwhile, since 1967, over 800,000 Palestinian olive trees have been destroyed by the state of Israel. In addition, tens of thousands of fruit trees, fields, wells and gardens have also been destroyed to make room for Jewish settlement. Having just received this year’s report from Palestinian farmer Daoud Nasser who’s family  suffered the Israeli Defense Force’s destruction of 1500 fruit bearing trees last year, I feel deeply disconnected to JNF’s rendering of its mission and its version of history.

The narrative on the JNF website resembles the United States’ narrative related to the historic site known as Colonial Williamsburg: an example of national distortions and lies that hide brutal histories.  Williamsburg was literally segregated throughout much of its history.  And, neither the genocidal histories of the massacre of Indigenous peoples, nor enslavement of Africans or their contributions to Colonial societies were anywhere evident.  Just as African American and Indigenous presence and contributions are erased in white America’s Disneyland like portrayals of the past at so-called historic sites, so, too are Palestinians completely erased from Israel’s historic narrative, as are Bedouins, and Mizrachi and African Jews.

The terrible dislocations, massacres and massive destruction of Palestinian and pre-1948 material culture and land has been swallowed up and regurgitated in ways that completely distort what actually happened, and is still happening. Jews on free trips to Israel, whether with birthright, or rabbinic school, or the JNF, will feel good about planting the obligatory tree, while pretending that Israel was a barren land before Jews got there and made the desert bloom.

They will be given to recite the biblical verse, “It is against Jewish halachic law to uproot fruit bearing trees”, give feel good talks about green Judaism, while completely ignoring a reality that contradicts these claims:  the ongoing destruction of Palestinian land, trees, fields, houses, wells, vineyards, and cultural institutions accompanied by Israeli killing fields in Gaza, the West Bank and other areas of Israel.  That is the reality which the JNF wants to bury in the ground.

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Pope Francis’s Encyclical and the Coming of Age of Creation Spirituality

Jul6

by: Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox on July 6th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

 

Aerial shot of melting glaciers.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Doc Searls.

Pope Francis’s recent encyclical boasts a title borrowed from the famous poem to Brother Sun and Sister Moon by his namesake, Francis of Assisi. “Laudato si’”, which translates as “Praise Be to You”, carries a message and a spirit that echoes much of the soul of St. Francis. Humans around the world are eager for some moral voices to stand up and be counted, so beset are we by multinational corporations and their lobbyists and their media moguls who, like secular popes, declare infallibly each day what is and is not news while they pad their corporate pockets with dark money raised by an avalanche of consumer goodies most of which feed the world unnecessary goodies. Surely this is one reason the Dalai Lama has the following he does. And it is the reason Pope Francis is being heard by more and more people around the world and why, borrowing from his idol, Pope John XXIII, he addressed this encyclical on climate change and ecology to all persons of the world, Christian or not, believers or not.

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The Pope Might Save the Planet… if You Would Join an Interfaith Effort to Support His Direction!

Jun18

by: on June 18th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

A portrait of Pope Francis.

Credit: Alberto Pizzoli via Getty Images.

The Pope issued a powerful letter to the world today, called Laudato Si, in which he called upon the people of the world as well as the members of the Catholic Church to make saving the planet from environmental destruction the major and urgent focus of our activity in the 21st century. And he highlighted how climate change will be particularly destructive to the poor. I want to share with you the following piece I wrote, which appeared on the front page of the Huffington Post today. If you prefer, you may read it there. Please never say “I didn’t know what to do in face of the environmental crisis,” because we at Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives are inviting you to become involved with us in some very specific steps you could take! Please read the article below!

Warm regards and blessings,

- Rabbi Michael Lerner

Pope Francis’ Laudato Si plea for environmental sanity and a serious recommitment to the Bible’s call for humanity to be stewards of this planet earth just might make a huge difference by puncturing through the emotional depression that keeps most of the people of the earth paralyzed in face of the growing crisis.

It is not that people don’t know about the environmental crisis that keeps us stuck in our current situation. It is rather that most people are unable to see any way out of the mess that global capitalism has created for us. Feeling hopeless about the possibility of the kinds of fundamental transformations needed to save the planet, much of humanity has chosen the ostrich strategy: deny the problem, and focus instead on getting as much as one can for oneself in the decades ahead as the planet whimpers under the increasing destructiveness of the capitalist imperative to growth without limits and accumulation of money, power or things as the only meaning to life. Yet it is this very growth and accumulation of things, produced at the expense of the earth, that guarantees earth-destruction if not of the planet than at least of its life-support-system that makes human life on it possible.

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Jewish Beliefs About GMOs

Jun11

by: Robyn Purchia on June 11th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

A beautiful green field of wheat.
Credit: Flickr / Miran Rijave.

Like most environmental issues, the growing supply of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food raises many concerns. Although GMO crops can feed more people, they also put people’s health at risk and degrade the environment. Small farmers can make more money growing and selling more crops, but buying GMO seeds gives corporations a lot of power over these small farmers. Along with these ethical concerns, religious groups must also wrestle with the theological issues GMOs raise.

When religion tries to apply ancient texts to modern technology there is rarely a clear answer. Application of Jewish laws and ethical traditions has burdened the GMO debate with numerous contradictions. In figuring out Jewish beliefs on GMOs we may be left with only one theological question: Can humans make God’s creation more perfect?

Jewish Law as it Applies to GMOs

Consistent with the principle that anything not expressly prohibited by God is permitted, Jewish law, or halacha, generally takes a permissive position on GMO food. But just because halacha doesn’t expressly prohibit GMO food, doesn’t mean it’s entirely silent on the issue.

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Predicting the Future of Religion: A Thought Experiment

Jun4

by: Ed Simon on June 4th, 2015 | Comments Off

A gloved hand holding a marble reflecting the inside of St. Peter's Basilica.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Heidi.

 

The following is reprinted with permission from Religion Dispatches. Follow RD on Facebook or Twitter for daily updates.

Last month’s news from Pew on the decline of institutional Christianity, with its trove of data on the “unaffiliated” and the decline of the mainstream, has stolen the stage from its previous report on the Future of World Religions — a study that concluded that while atheists, agnostics and the unchurched are on the rise in the U.S. their numbers are projected to decline globally. But while Pew’s prediction that Islam will overtake Christianity made headlines, the authors of the study were quick to remind us that their findings are not the direct results of polling but projections.

It would seem hard enough to project something as simple as population growth, but what of the mercurial nature of religious faith itself? It might well be impossible to predict the “turn of the soul” for one individual, let alone that of an entire community.

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Birthwrong: Meet the Pranksters Celebrating the Jewish Diaspora

Jun3

by: Hannah Gold on June 3rd, 2015 | 4 Comments »

A swastika with the "No" symbol across it.This piece was originally published on Transformation at openDemocracy.net.

Every summer, young Jewish people from around the world go on a free holiday to Israel. Run by a company called ‘Taglit-Birthright,’ the tours aim to “strengthen Jewish identity, Jewish communities and solidarity with Israel”.

The ten day trips are funded by the Israeli government and international donors, and have been criticized for promoting a biased view of Israel, ignoring the state’s complex history and ongoing human rights abuses. Several alternative tours now exist, offering trips to the West Bank and meetings with Palestinian activists.

In early 2015 another contender emerged: ‘Birthwrong‘. Organised by Jewdas, a bunch of radical left-wing pranksters, political commentators and party planners, Birthwrong is “a trip for anyone who’s sick of Israel’s stranglehold on Jewish culture… [a] fiesta of the oppressed, marginalized and ridiculously, obscenely hopeful.”

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