Tikkun Daily button

Archive for the ‘Judaism’ Category



Homophobia and Anti-Semitism in the Same Breath: The Politics of the Westboro Baptist Church

Sep16

by: on September 16th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Westboro Baptist Church

Students kiss in front of Westboro Baptist Church protestors at Oberlin College in Ohio. Credit: Creative Commons/Wikipedia

A few years ago toward the end of July when I was serving as Associate Professor in the School of Education at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, led by their “pastor,” Fred Phelps, mounted protest rallies in three sites in Iowa: Waukee’s Jewish Historical Society, the Iowa State University Campus in Ames, and at the Marshalltown Community Theater, which was performing the play “The Laramie Project” profiling the life and murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard.

Phelps (before his recent death) and his followers travel around the country protesting funerals of fallen soldiers (most of whom are apparently heterosexual). They claim that these deaths are God’s punishment against a country that tolerates homosexuality. Phelps is also notorious for his 1998 protest of the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a college student from the University of Wyoming in Laramie murdered in a brutal homophobic assault.

On their websites godhatesfags.com & jewskilledjesus.com, Phelps and company directed their Iowa protests against “…the Jews…[who] arrested, falsely accused, prosecuted and then sentenced [Jesus] to death…” and protested Iowa because “God hates Iowa” for being “the first to begin giving $ to little [homosexual] perverts for no other reason than they brag about being little perverts.”

I wrote an editorial critical of Phelps and his followers in our local newspaper. Apparently, Shirley Phelps-Roper, Phelps’s daughter, read my piece, and she wrote me an email message before arriving in our town:

 Hello Professor.

Glad to see we got your attention with our upcoming good fig hunt in Iowa. You approached the issue with a veil on your heart, blind eyes, a hard heart, stopped up ears, and full of guile – because that’s how you – and all the rest of the apostate, reprobate Jews – roll. God did that.  His righteous judgments are wonderful!

PS:  Shall we put you down as one of the naughty figs?  You are definitely not sounding or acting like a good fig. I’m just sayin’.

Shirley Phelps-Roper


Read more...

Behaving Like Jews

Sep3

by: Melissa Weininger on September 3rd, 2014 | 3 Comments »

I am going to behave like a Jew
and touch his face, and stare into his eyes,
and pull him off the road.
-Gerald Stern, “Behaving Like a Jew”

It’s been almost a month since a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown. In the wake of the shooting, residents of Ferguson concerned about police brutality and racism turned out in the streets to protest peacefully, and were met with tanks, riot gear, and tear gas. A small number of people were involved in either looting local businesses or throwing bottles and other small-scale weaponry, which was used to justify the police crackdown. Journalists, local politicians, and scores of people doing nothing but exercising a constitutionally protected right to free assembly were arrested and harassed.

During this period of unrest, my Facebook newsfeed was full of outrage and despair. But very little of that passion was directed at Ferguson. Instead, it was largely about Operation Protective Edge, in Gaza. Every day I was greeted with scores of articles defending Israel’s right to defend itself, justifying the scale of force in Gaza, and reporting on both rocket fire and tunnels dug by Hamas into Israeli territory. To be fair, however, I also saw numerous articles reporting on peace demonstrations, critiquing the scale of Israeli response to rocket fire, and mourning the loss of life on both sides.

Though this is merely anecdotal, it seems fairly representative of the institutional American Jewish response to events in Ferguson. While individual rabbis and Jewish leaders have called attention to and even protested against the violence in Missouri, and many articles, including those in Tikkun, have argued strongly for a Jewish ethical obligation to the Ferguson protestors, major, mainstream Jewish organizations have been largely silent. The Anti-Defamation League offers a lesson plan for talking about Ferguson with students on its website, but its only official statement is a denunciation of the presence of the New Black Panther Party at the Ferguson protests. Of the mainstream American Jewish religious movements, only the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism issued a press release regarding the violence in Ferguson.


Read more...

My Response to PA State Senator Daylin Leach, the ‘Progressive’, Promoting Israel’s Gaza War as Noble

Aug30

by: on August 30th, 2014 | 9 Comments »

On Thursday, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach, who represents Pennsylvania’s 17th District, penned an op-ed in Daily Kos in which he argued that it is a progressive imperative to support Israel’s assault of Gaza.

It was a mostly forgettable post filled with factual inaccuracies, problematic justifications for killing civilians, and dehumanizing stereotypes of Palestinians that received almost no attention both here and in progressive media in general. However, what makes the post significant is that it was written not just by an elected official, but a Democrat writing under the banners of both progressive politics and liberal Zionism.

For this reason, I’ve chosen to briefly disassemble it below as both a progressive and a two-state Jew.

Let’s begin, shall we? In the first two paragraphs, Leach establishes his progressive credentials, and notes he’s referred to as “The Liberal Lion of Pennsylvania” for his stances on the issues.

Then, after noting his preference to focus on human rights in the foreign policy arena and his general opposition to American wars (except for Afghanistan), he writes the following regarding his ‘progressive’ worldview:

To me, this general world view can lead to only one logical conclusion, which is the strong support of Israel in its current conflict with Hamas. There is one country in the Middle East which respects women’s rights, gay rights, the rights of political minorities, free speech and the right of dissent, and that is Israel. There is no other nation in the region which could, in any sense of the word, be considered progressive.


Read more...

Pope Francis’ Lesson: The Abrahamic religions need a spiritual summit meeting, not dialogue-by-press-statements

Aug28

by: on August 28th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Pope Francis

Credit: Creative Commons/Wikipedia

Pope Francis appeared to step into the quagmire in Iraq last week when he reportedly “endorsed the use of force” against ISIS. He was speaking a week after Obama authorized U.S attacks on ISIS military positions to stave off the threatened destruction of refugees in the Kurdish mountains. So was the “Pontiff of Peace” sprinkling holy water on airstrikes, perhaps even embarking on “the last crusade”?

No, in fact, the pope was doing nothing of the sort. His message was garbled through glib and superficial reporting, as Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig has shown in an excellent analysis in The Daily Beast of what the pope said and didn’t say.

However the pope’s statement – and subsequent misinterpretations – clearly show how urgently the leaders of the three Abrahamic religions need to start talking face to face rather than through press statements. The crisis in the Middle East goes far beyond the military and political conflict, horrific as it is. At a deeper level, the spiritual identity of all three religions is under assault from the militarization of language and glorification of conflict.

To respond to these spiritual temptations of power and dominance, there’s an urgent need for these religious leaders to declare a “spiritual emergency” and meet in a “spiritual summit” to speak clearly to their faithful, from their respective traditions and scriptures, in defense of their shared values and vision of faith as applied to the current circumstances.


Read more...

Forty Holocaust Survivors Condemn Gaza Assault and Call for Boycott of Israel in NYT Letter

Aug23

by: on August 23rd, 2014 | 22 Comments »

letter In a letter published today in The New York Times as an advertisement, 40 survivors of Nazi genocide and hundreds of their children are publicly deploring “the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza,” Israel’s ongoing occupation, and the troubling rise of systemic racism.

The letter, a response to an advertisement posted recently by Eli Wiesel, in which Palestinians were portrayed as championing “child sacrifice,” is the first of its kind to be signed by so many Holocaust survivors, who are making waves by calling for a full boycott of Israel – roundly viewed as anathema by Jewish institutions in both the United States and Europe. Below is the full text of their letter:

As Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide we unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine. We further condemn the United States for providing Israel with the funding to carry out the attack, and Western states more generally for using their diplomatic muscle to protect Israel from condemnation. Genocide begins with the silence of the world.

We are alarmed by the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society, which has reached a fever-pitch. In Israel, politicians and pundits in The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post have called openly for genocide of Palestinians and right-wing Israelis are adopting Neo-Nazi insignia.


Read more...

Israelis Living in America Who Oppose Gaza Violence Ask U.S. Jews to Reconsider ‘Pro-Israel’

Aug21

by: on August 21st, 2014 | 6 Comments »

A group of Israelis currently living in the United States, who oppose Israel’s military operations in Gaza and the blockade of Gaza, have recently formed a group called Israelis For a Sustainable Future. This group, with 128 members and growing daily, has written a searing letter to the American Jewish community.

The letter implores Jews in America to reexamine their uncritical support for Israel’s actions and to speak out against the occupation those actions serve. In short, it asks the Jewish community to step away from a binary, zero-sum perspective doing so much damage to both Israelis and Palestinians. At one point, they write, “We are reaching out to you because we want to re-examine what it means to be pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. We argue that these terms might be one and the same.”

Beautiful and honest, the letter in its entirety appears below.

An open letter to American Jews

We are a group of Israelis currently living in the US. We are reaching out to you because we oppose the actions of the Israeli government in operation “Protective Edge.”

This does not mean we don’t recognize the threat presented by Hamas to the Israeli people. We oppose firing of weapons into civilian population and the sacrifice of civilians by the regimes of both Hamas and the Israeli government. Calling to stop the bombing of Gaza does not mean we don’t realize the impossible conditions imposed on the residents of southern Israel. Nor does it mean we don’t demand security for them. But we also recognize that their plight is consistently ignored by the Israeli government until it becomes convenient for exploitation. We have seen three major military operations in less than six years. They repeat themselves because they don’t work. Yes, Hamas reserves are temporary depleted and the group is temporarily hindered. But this is not a moral price worth paying. Even if it were, killing thousands of civilians and displacing of hundreds of thousands doesn’t weaken Hamas in the long run. This bloodshed only feeds the one resource it can’t go without: hate. Only meaningful peace talks and an end to the ongoing occupation in the West Bank and in Gaza (a blockade is still occupation) will prevent both the next round of rockets into Israel and the next round of indiscriminate killings in Gaza.

We are reaching out to you because we want to re-examine what it means to be pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. We argue that these terms might be one and the same. We believe that supporting equal rights for both peoples is the only way to build a better Israel and a better Palestine and we want the American Jewish community to stand behind that message.


Read more...

Border Lessons: Jewish Resources for Resisting Nationalism

Aug18

by: Mandy Cohen on August 18th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Last month I was in Warsaw. I was on my way home to LA after two weeks traveling with a group of university students through places that Yiddish-speaking Jews once called Lita, Lithuania. Jews from this area are called Litvaks, Lithuanians, they have distinctive dialects of Yiddish, and a reputation as intellectuals, given that Lita was the home of the greatest yeshivas, houses of study, in Jewish Europe.

Today, cities and towns that once belonged to the same Russian province are now separated not only by national borders, but by the border of the EU, which feels like it has re-concentrated all of the displaced energy of the open borders within the Schengen zone. All of the stress of border crossing that has disappeared between, say, Poland and Germany, feels manifested on Poland’s eastern border with Belarus. In order to travel through the places that were part of the largest state in Europe in the sixteenth century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, we now travel between Belarus, Poland and Lithuania, moving between time zones, currencies, alphabets, languages, and the legacy of the Soviet Union and her satellite states.

Helix project

Exploring creativity in the places where writers and artists lived for centuries. Credit: Yiddishkayt

I am an instructor in The Helix Project, a program that offers students – Jewish and non-Jewish – an opportunity to learn about the rich intricacies, complexities, and variety of Jewish life in Europe in its 1000 year history, focusing on Yiddish culture, literature and daily life in the great blossoming of that culture beginning towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Necessarily we confront the Holocaust, as we face the reality of towns that were once 60-90 percent Jewish and are now 90-100 percent Polish, or Lithuanian, or Belarusian. But we try to contextualize the Holocaust by giving equal attention to the long history preceding it and the history that continues to be written.


Read more...

Tisha b’Av: This Year We Mourned the Calamity We Have Created

Aug13

by: Max Cohen on August 13th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Tisha b'Av New York IfNotNow

If Not Now, When? Tisha b'Av evening service in New York City last week Credit: Gili Getz

Tisha b’Av is a cursed day. It was on the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av that the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple in Jerusalem and exiled the Jewish People from the Land of Israel. Megillat Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, describes with the utmost poetic sorrow the destruction that occurred on that fateful Ninth of Av two and a half millennia ago. And so it is that every year on Tisha b’Av we read in Eicha of the destruction, remember it, and mourn it.

But there’s one catch that makes Tisha b’Av not a bad dream, but a recurring nightmare: we kept on experiencing total calamity on that exact date for thousands of years afterwards. On that date in history, the 9th of the Jewish month of Av: the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem and exiled us from Israel for a second time; the Jewish people were exiled from England, France, and Germany, all in separate years; the Spanish Inquisition began; the Final Solution was formally approved by the Nazi Party; the Warsaw Ghetto began to be liquidated; and too many other eerily timed tragedies to count…

So Tisha b’Av is a holiday about adding to the heap whatever calamity Jews have most recently experienced. The profound insight of Eicha, Lamentations, and the rabbis of the Talmud, is to understand our calamities by focusing not our attackers or their moral status, but on our own moral failures.


Read more...

Genocide in Iraq

Aug11

by: Anouar Majid on August 11th, 2014 | 8 Comments »

Editor’s Note: Anouar Majid’s critique of ISIS is also a critique of many in the Islamic world who are too quiet about the crimes being done in the name of Islam. For that reason, we at Tikkun have to consider his views, just as we ask the Jewish world to consider our views about many in the Jewish world who are too quiet about the Israeli use of violence in Gaza. What worries us is the degree to which Majid may be willing to abandon Islam entirely, something we are not willing to do in regard to Judaism.

 

Tangier, Morocco:

When the world awoke to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, some wondered why no one had taken the previous destruction of the 6th-century Buddha statutes in Bamiyan, Afghanistan seriously. Those attacks should have warranted a massive airstrike on the Taliban government and its supporters. Blowing up a part of our history in such a cavalier fashion amounted to a crime against humanity, but enlightened people shrugged their shoulders, chalked up such behavior to backward Muslim extremists and moved on. They should have known better. Who knows? Immediate military intervention could have spared us many years of strife and sorrow.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now known only as the Islamic State, did the same a couple of weeks ago when they detonated the tomb of the biblical and Qur’anic prophet Jonah in Mosul. It was one of their many attacks of pre- or non-Islamic monuments and even people. For the caliphate-crazed Wahhabi-inspired fanatics who trampled on the heritage of a city that was more than 6,000 years old when Islam was born, such monuments, as well as Christians or any group of people who are not like them, are desecrations that that have to be violently uprooted. It should, therefore, come as no surprise at all that ISIS is now waging a genocidal war against the Yazidis, a people whose religion has remained an enigma for centuries. Like many Muslims, ISIS considers the Yazidis as ungodly and must, therefore, be eliminated.


Read more...

Torah Commentary- Shabbat Nachamu: Hope means Justice in the Present

Aug7

by: on August 7th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Only for the sake of the hopeless ones have we been given hope. (Walter Benjamin, Schriften I)

The world today is ugly, one in which we can read of children dying as a result of political battles in too many places in the world, without shedding a tear, or worse, justifying this outcome as valid or expected. We must cry out for an end to this kind of suffering and cry out for an end to these horrors.

This Sabbath is known traditionally as Shabbat Nachamu, The Sabbath of comforting. The Isaiah 40 (well known outside the synagogue as the opening of Handel’s Messiah) is a prophecy of hope read at this point in the calendar, just after the commemoration of the horrors of war which twice led up to the destruction of the Temple and the creation of millions of refugees. As a result of these experiences, traditional Jewish culture is marked by an emphasis on hope, on a belief that injustice will be overcome, and that the “weary will be given strength”, as the end of this chapter in Isaiah proclaims.

Hope seems one of the more lofty spiritual aspirations of mankind, yet one of the least frequently defined. Schiller seems to have summed it up for the Romantic era as:

Im Herzen kuendet es laut sich an:

Zu was Besserm sind wir geboren!

The heart proclaims it loudly within

We were born for better things!

What these better things might be is not detailed, as yearning itself was enough of a goal in the Romantic era. Whatever hope may be, it was usually something earmarked for future generations. Imber’s Hebrew poem, “The Hope”, later adapted for use as the Israeli national anthem, is built around a similar theme: “As long as within the heart/ A Jewish soul yearns…our Hope is not lost.” This hope is defined as (in the current official version, somewhat different from the original text), “To be a free nation in our land/ The land of Zion-Jerusalem.”

While perhaps in Imber’s time, a harsh time for Jewish existence, a free land may have been adequate to define “the hope”, there are few who would currently feel that hope has been fulfilled only with land ownership, which itself has brought with it some serious challenges, not all of which can be said to have been reached. Certainly we have no less need for hope. So what is it that we hope for? Furthermore, must hope always be something aimed at the future? Is it possible that we can define hope in such a way that it reflects a process which can be actualized in the present, in the here and now? Can we afford to wait for the future when the present is so filled with death and suffering?

Read more...