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Archive for the ‘Judaism’ Category



God(s), Same-Sex Marriage, and the Colossal Joke

Jul3

by: on July 3rd, 2015 | No Comments »

Wedding bands on top of a rainbow.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Robert Couse-Baker.

God/Gods’s Mixed Messages?

Since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled marriage for same-sex couples constitutional in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, most of the major religious denominations throughout the country have since issued statements in response to this historic and wide-ranging decision. As there are numerous religions and denominations within each, we find also numerous and very disparate responses along a continuum: from very progressive and supportive to extremely conservative and oppositional.

Anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of world history recognizes that many if not most conflicts between peoples and nations have centered on different (though not necessarily opposing) religious perspectives and viewpoints.

So I find the enormously contrasting responses to the Supreme Court not particularly surprising. But my primary question centers on this: “If all religious denominations truly believe they have been touched by, are privy to, and are following the will and word of the True (with a capital “T”) God(s), how can they come away with such varied and often contradictory perspectives?

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In-Between “Racialized” Category of European-Heritage Jews

Jun19

by: on June 19th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

An older Jewish gentleman.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Thomas Hawk

Sometimes I don’t know which side of the wall I’m on.
—Wladylaw Szpilman, The Pianist

On numerous occasions, I have attended the annual National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s “Creating Change” conference, bringing together grass-roots activists from throughout North America as well as other countries around the world. At one of the conferences in the early 1990s, I was a participant in a well-attended workshop titled “Activists of Color/White Activists Dialogue” facilitated by two highly-respected activists: a woman of color and a white Christian man.

When the workshop began, the woman outlined the agenda for the next one-and-one-half hours: the workshop would concentrate on the concepts of “race” and dialogue across racial divides, and include two separate panels of participant volunteers: one composed of four people of color, the other of four white people. Panel members were to each, in turn, answer four questions put to them by the facilitators, first the people of color panelists followed by the white people panelists. The questions were: 1. “What do you love about being your racial identity?” 2. “What has been difficult for you growing up this racial identity?” 3. “What do you never want to hear said again about or seen done to people of your racial identity group?,” and 4. “How can people of other racial groups support you and be your allies?”

As she explained the intended focus and agenda, great confusion came over me: Should I volunteer? Well, maybe, but I really can’t because I’m not sure if either of the categories on which the panels are organized include me. I know for certain that I am not eligible to volunteer for the “persons of color” panel. But, also, I feel as if I somehow don’t belong on the “white persons” panel either. Maybe I should just listen to the panelists, which I did.

But, what caused my bewilderment? What got in my way of self-defining as “white”? From where was this feeling of not-belonging on either panel, or my feeling of in-betweenness coming? Thinking back, I came to realize that it stems, I believe, from both personal and collective experience.

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Jewish Beliefs About GMOs

Jun11

by: Robyn Purchia on June 11th, 2015 | No Comments »

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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Reclaiming the Language of Jewish Identity

Jun5

by: Robert Cohen on June 5th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Sunrise over Mount Sinai.

Radical change in our attitude toward Palestinians isn't a boycott of Judaism. It is part of an eternal and universal Jewish heritage. Above, the sun rises over Mount Sinai. Credit: CreativeCommons / Richard White.

The following post was commissioned by Jews for Justice for Palestinians and published on its site on Sunday, May 24th as part of the JfJfP Signatories Blog series.

As time goes on I’m attracting more and more hostility. This is not entirely unwelcome.

Nothing tells you better that you have arrived on the scene than someone taking the trouble to insult you.

It’s taken me a few years of writing about Israel-Palestine to move beyond a welcoming and supportive readership of like-minded folk to something rather different.

But now it’s happened.

Recently I have been described as a “traitor”, a “Marxist”, “narcissistic”, and “shameful” because I have advocated for boycotts in support of Palestinian human rights.

One Twitter correspondent said my writing was attempting to “groom” a false conclusion, a verb we now use when describing the act of entrapping children with the intention of sexually abusing them. I’m quite sure this was the intended association.

But what is it my critics want me to be loyal to?

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Predicting the Future of Religion: A Thought Experiment

Jun4

by: Ed Simon on June 4th, 2015 | No Comments »

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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What Kids4Peace Can Teach Us About Peace

Jun4

by: Susan Bloch on June 4th, 2015 | 18 Comments »

An Israeli and Palestinian girl embracing each other.

At Kids4Peace, an interfaith community of Israeli, Palestinian, and North American youth and educators, the next generation of peacemakers is learning how nonviolent communication facilitates listening and understanding rather than judgement. Credit: Mandy Price.

“The Puget Sound is really a mess,” one of my grandchildren told me recently.

It’s so polluted. Did you know even the orcas are contaminated with toxic chemicals.”

Determined to build a better future, our kids want to find new ways to make themselves heard — in the classroom, by their parents, communities, and politicians. It’s easy for parents to think their kids are only interested in the latest football results, lose sleep over what to wear to graduation, and spend far too much time playing games on their phones. In reality youth are also texting and blogging about police brutality, melting icecaps, and how to end U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. They worry how we’ll ever get out of the mess.

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Birthwrong: Meet the Pranksters Celebrating the Jewish Diaspora

Jun3

by: Hannah Gold on June 3rd, 2015 | 2 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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Art Gallery Feature: The Journey of the Ethiopian Community Is Not Over Yet

May23

by: Galit Govezensky on May 23rd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Upon their arrival to the Promised Land, the Ethiopian community has experienced ongoing sorrow caused by discrimination. Above: Jerusalem Day, May 17th: Ethiopian Israelis protest the unprovoked beating of an Ethiopian soldier by police officers. Credit: Author.

To see more photographs by Galit Govezensky of the Ethiopian Israeli protests on Memorial Day, visit the Tikkun Daily Art Gallery.

It is highly symbolic that Memorial Day for the Ethiopian victims who died as they made the long, hazardous journey on foot through Sudan during the late ’70s and in the ’80s is combined with Jerusalem Day that is celebrated on the 28th of Iyar.

Today, there are over 120,000 members of the Beta Israel and the Falashmura community living in Israel. The Beta Israel immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return, mostly in secret mass airlifts known as Operation Moses (1984-1985) and Operation Solomon (1991).

A national ceremony was observed this week at the cemetery on Mount Herzl, which served to commemorate the Ethiopians who never finished the journey. Thousands of community members, including religious leaders (keisim), IDF soldiers, women and the elderly, gather annually to attend this event. Memorial Day for them is meant to honor those who perished along the way, during their exodus on foot through Sudan, on what later turned into “Operation Moses” — a mission in which thousands of members of the community fled oppression and life-threatening predicaments. Since the Ethiopian government banned Jews from leaving its borders to immigrate to Israel, they were able to rapidly depart from Sudan in a covert evacuation organized by the Israeli Defense Forces. To do this, they had to sell all their possessions and embark on a journey of hundreds of miles through Sudan on foot.In that journey, many were murdered and others died of thirst and starvation. It is estimated that 4,000 people, about one-fifth of those who undertook the journey through Sudan, lost their lives in their courageous attempt to fulfill their dream and to reach Israel.

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Flying Home from Home (Part 2)

May21

by: on May 21st, 2015 | 7 Comments »

My previous piece about Israel was posted here and included some of my personal experiences of present day Israel and my life as an exile and immigrant. In this part, I take a look at the complexities emerging from the particular national identity that has been forged before, during, and after the establishment of the state of Israel.

David Ben-Gurion (First Prime Minister of Israel) pronounces the Declaration of the State of Israel, May 14 1948

Hebrew has two words for nationalism. They are close to each other linguistically, and far from each other in connotation. One translates more accurately into chauvinism, in that it has distinctly negative connotations. The other, the “good” nationalism, is exalted. This time was the first since I left in 1983 that my visit coincided with the few days of the year where the national identity of a Jewish people fighting for its life against all odds becomes center stage in three separate holidays. Israel was created, after all, to be a Jewish state that serves as the sanctuary for all Jews in the world, a safe haven from the anti-Semitism that defined Jewish life, at least in Europe, for millennia.

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“Israel” Is the Name of a People Also

May19

by: Rabbi Arthur Waskow on May 19th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

We are living between two festivals that make two very different assertions of Jewish identity. One is “Yom Ha’Atzma’ut” (April 22-23); the other is Shavuot (May 23-25).

Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is usually translated as “Israeli Independence Day,” but it would be more accurate to call it “Day for Standing on One’s Own Feet, Day of Affirming One’s Own Essence” because etzem means “bone, skeleton, internal essential structure.”

angel and jacob

What does it mean for the people of Israel to be named "Yisrael" or "godwrestlers"? "Jacob Wrestling with the Angel" by Alexander Louis Leloir. Credit: Creative Commons.

Shavuot has been observed for about 2,000 years as the anniversary of the Revelation of Torah on Mount Sinai.

During these weeks, the most recent Israeli elections culminated in final agreement on a hair-thin governing coalition of 61 out of 120 seats in the Knesset. The resulting government is by far the most right-wing – politically, economically, and religiously – in Israel’s history.

Since the State of Israel claims to be “the Jewish State,” and since its actions certainly affect the world’s understanding of the Jewish people (and for many Jews, our understanding of our selves), it is hard for Jews anywhere to ignore the meaning of these recent changes. Since I have invested my life in drawing upon the past wisdom of the Jewish people, shaping its present, and transforming its future, I certainly cannot ignore these events.

In this I am hardly alone. There have been myriad analyses and essays about the elections and the new government. Almost all have focused on the political implications – for Israelis, for Palestine, for the Middle East, for the United States.

I feel drawn to think and feel in a different dimension. So what I have written below looks into the moral and spiritual meaning of the election in the light of Torah. From the standpoint of the Shavuot we are approaching, what is the meaning of the Yom ha’Atzma’ut we have recently passed? What is our own essence, what are the feet of our own on which we hope to stand?

So I raise these questions:

  • “What does it mean, deeply and fully, for the People, as well as the State, to be named “Yisrael,” “Godwrestlers”?
  • What have been the different effects of post-Holocaust-traumatic-stress on Israeli and American Jewry?
  • Why does the Torah repeat so many times the command, “Treat strangers with justice and love, for you were strangers in the Narrow Land”?
  • What are the relationships among love, admiration, and idolatry directed toward the State?

What actually happened in the recent elections and negotiations toward choosing a new government? The Israeli electorate – especially the majority of its Jewish majority – voted for a racist government. This government is racist toward the Palestinians whom Prime Minister Netanyahu (truthfully, at last) said he will never permit to govern themselves. And it is racist toward the Israeli citizens of Palestinian culture — whose desire to vote to change their lives — VOTE, not riot — he used as a justification for rousing a right-wing racist outpouring of voters for himself.

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