by: Mark Kirschbaum on November 20th, 2014 | Comments Off
These days, there is no shortage of hatred to go around. Tragically, much of this hatred has erupted into tragic violence in Jerusalem this week, a brutal set of murders in a synagogue that most clearly illustrates the religious, and we may say, biblical nature of this conflict. It is noteworthy that this week’s Torah reading is one in which the growing animosity between Jacob and his brother Esav is described, a rift that the Talmud records as the source of eternal enmity between Jacob, that is, the Jewish people, and Esav, midrashically reified as Rome and thus European society. The reflexive assumption made before reading the texts, then, is Jacob=good, Esav=bad. However, that is a prejudice not entirely present in the text, as we shall see, a text which is extremely ambiguous with regards to who is or is not the hero of this episode. For after all, their father Isaac (Yitzchak), clearly intended to bless Esav, but only through the wily intervention of Jacob’s mother does Jacob hijack these blessings.
Despite the ambiguity in the narrative, the blessings that ultimately are bestowed upon Jacob are read in various ways as prophetic of later Jewish history, and as such are incorporated into the traditional prayers. The Midrash gives many readings of these blessings as pertaining to the Jewish future, but surely Yitzchak had a whole different idea of the blessing’s possibilities, geared as they were in original intent towards Esav. To put this in modern terms, there is a very wide gap here between authorial intent and reader response to these texts. I will present three exegetical approaches to this conundrum, which will be presented in order of progressive radicality in terms of the usual assumptions about this episode.
by: Robert Cohen on November 18th, 2014 | 1 Comment »
Credit: Creative Commons/ Kathleen Tyler Conklin
I want to talk about difficult conversations. Conversations that could put decades of valuable Christian/Jewish interfaith dialogue in jeopardy. It’s risky I know, but I think the stakes have become too high to shy away from it any longer.
Jewish communities receive lessons in Israel advocacy from our leadership, who seem to think the solution to Israel’s growing isolation can be resolved with nothing more than better presentation skills. Meanwhile, Christian communities are morally paralyzed by fear of causing offense to a people they spent so many centuries persecuting.
But it’s time to stop the Jewish moral denial and the Christian moral paralysis. With so much ethical common ground, why not both stand on it for a change and see what happens?
And who knows, through challenging the current no-go-area consensus on Israel, it could take us all to somewhere more dynamic, truthful and powerful in interfaith relations.
But with all that Israel advocacy training taking place in our synagogues, I feel like my Christian friends need some insider guidance on how to get this conversation going.
So what follows is the Micah’s Paradigm Shift Online Guide to Starting that Difficult Conversation on Israel with your Jewish neighbors, friends, colleagues, and local communities.
Feel free to adapt the following to your local circumstances and understanding.
by: Rebecca Shimoni Stoil on November 7th, 2014 | 1 Comment »
In this week’s elections, the majority of Jews once again voted for candidates advocating more progressive economic policies (higher taxes and more government support for the poor) – 69 percent according to one poll, 65 percent according to another.
Why did even wealthy and upper middle class Jews, whose own narrowly defined economic interests might better be served by tax cuts, lean progressive? Because the legacy of Jewish religious teachings, Jewish history, and Jewish culture all push Jews to side with the oppressed even at the expense of personal financial or other forms of sacrifice. Even the grandchildren of assimilated Jews carry with them the message of the Torah that we have a special obligation toha’ger (the stranger or “other”) and the Torah’s call to “love the stranger and remember that you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.”
I’ve acknowledged in my books Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation and Embracing Israel/Palestine that there is a counter-strand in the Jewish tradition – I call it “Settler Judaism.” These two strands often appear in tandem as though the editors of our holy books could not fully decide upon which of these two voices to confer legitimacy. It’s a dynamic apparent within most cultures throughout history. In the Jewish context, both strands alternate, and which gains legitimacy depends on many extrinsic factors. What’s remarkable is how strong the voice of caring for the “other” has remained given all the traumas of Jewish history and the pressures of a capitalist ethic pervading most aspects of contemporary capitalist society. It’s true that under conditions of perceived threat, many Jews find themselves unable to apply this message to the Palestinian people. But they nevertheless apply it to domestic politics in the U.S.
Here’s the note a friend sent me on Facebook late last night:
Arlene, now that the midterm results are in, how can the dreams/predictions that you make in your recent books The Wave and The Culture of Possibility come to fruition? How can Citizens United be overturned and democracy be given back to the people?
My dear friend, what a good question! I am sorry for the suffering it reveals, suffering that is widely shared this morning. I woke up with five possible answers jostling their ways out of my brain. I hope one or two of them may help.
1. I never make predictions, but I do write and speak about possibilities. As sad as many of the election results turned out to be, no single phenomenon (such as a seven-seat gain in a midterm election) forecloses possibility. Indeed, the very same information can be given two opposing meanings, depending on what else happens. We know that when a paradigm shifts – when an outdated worldview begins to be edged offstage by a new and more powerful understanding – those who benefit most from the old order tighten their grip. How many times in history have we seen such darkness before something new dawns?
A friend who works closely with elections told me last night that given which seats are up for re-election in 2016, it’s almost a certainty that Democrats will regain the Senate then. That’s his prediction (I don’t make them, remember?). But if two years down the road everyone who is crying this morning wakes up in a celebratory mood, will the nature of reality have shifted? Or just our ideas about it?
On Saturday night, I looked out upon a standing-room-only audience, people fidgeting and giddy, barely able to conceal the significance of what was about to occur. I was onstage at Harvard University electric and buzzing, flanked by three distinguished professors – Judith Butler, Steven Cohen and Shaul Magid – the four of us representing various streams of Zionist, post-Zionist, and anti-Zionist thought.
At first, I was awed by the company I had been asked to join, thinking, What on earth am I doing here? That thought was quickly replaced by another as the room erupted with boisterous cheers when a student organizer stepped to the microphone; this is a historic moment, a thought I Tweeted when the feeling came over me, and five days removed I still deeply believe.
So what occurred that was so historic? On Saturday night, a grassroots-led and student-driven movement called Open Hillel launched a three-day conference, determined to create what Jewish institutions have largely refused to permit: dynamic spaces where both Zionists and anti-Zionists can come together and discuss Israel as equals, and with equally valuable perspectives as respected members of the American Jewish community.
by: Donna Nevel and Elly Bulkin on October 13th, 2014 | 6 Comments »
While many of us have been concerned about, and appalled by the recent Islamophobic ads on NYC subways and buses and have responded to them in a number of different ways, we also recognize that Islamophobia extends far beyond those ads.
by: Howard Cooper on October 9th, 2014 | Comments Off
Inside of a sukkah, a temporary hut constructed during the festival of Sukkot. Credit: Creative Commons/Carly Lesser & Art Drauglis
Just as the lulav that we shake on Sukkot, the festival of rest amidst the desert wanderings, is made up of three different trees — palm, myrtle and willow — I want to share with you another group of three that I’m going to bind together and wave in your direction. And we’ll see if we can add in that exotic etrog element along the way.
Over the last few months I happen to have seen three films, each as different from the other as are the species that make up the lulav. Taken together, they add up to more than the sum of their parts.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu sits down for an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Credit: Creative Commons/IsraelinUSA
It has now become a full fledged campaign: stifling criticism of Israel by warning of a new wave of anti-Semitism that is seizing the planet. The latest entry comes from French philosopher, and life-long Israel defender, Bernard-Henry Levy in (naturally) the New Republic who screams that anti-semitism in 2014 is a “ticking time bomb” that, if not countered, will inevitably lead to Binyamin Netanyahu’s vision: the return of 1942.
Like all opinion pieces of this genre, Levy’s case is built on the idea that there is no causal relation between Israel’s actions and the outbursts against Jews that he describes.
In its essence, the argument goes like this: Anti-Semitism is not caused by anything. It is innate, a poison that lives in the hearts and minds of evil people, needing only a pretext for it to explode. Israel’s actions can’t cause anti-Semitism. They can only be a pretext for it.
by: Roni Finkelstein on October 8th, 2014 | Comments Off
Ruth Golmant believes in the process of creating art as a powerful tool for healing. The art therapist located in Stafford, Virginia lives with one husband, two children, two invisible disabilities, and her ever-evolving Jewish spirituality.
After studying art as an undergraduate at Mills College in Oakland, California, Golmant moved to Virginia to complete a degree in art therapy at George Washington University. Upon graduation she began working with patients in St. Elizabeth’s hospital’s acute trauma unit, where she realized the power of art amidst pain. She recalled:
by: Melissa Weininger on October 6th, 2014 | Comments Off
One of David Mitchell’s literary preoccupations is interconnectedness, the way that, as the theory goes, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings might change the course of history (or at least the weather). Or, say, the way that a trapped and depressed FAA contract worker might set a fire that cancels your surprise trip to Chicago to see your dad who’s recovering from a hip replacement (still not over it!). Mitchell makes connections, so when I’m reading him I see connections.
David Mitchell's novel, The Bone Clocks, focuses on central themes of Yom Kippur. Credit: Melissa Weininger
As I was reading The Bone Clocks, his new novel, in which one of the peripheral characters rides a Norton motorcycle, I happened to see a guy wearing a Norton T-shirt at the diner near my house as I ate brunch with my family. As I re-read the review of the book in the New York Times Book Review, I noticed that the review underneath it (yes, I still get a hard copy of the paper) referred to events that took place in January 1967, the year my husband was born. And the world shrinks a little bit, everything stitched together a little tighter.
Perhaps that’s why I was tempted to see so many of the themes of the season in this book, even though there’s nothing remotely Jewish about it (and organized religion generally comes in for a beating – more on that later). Reading during Rosh Hashanah and the beginning of the Yamim Noraim, the ten days between the New Year and Yom Kippur, the day of repentance, I felt like the novel had something to say about so many of the central themes of the holidays: memory, death, rebirth, mortality, choice and free will, and second chances. These are Mitchell’s touchstones, the big questions he goes back to again and again in all of his novels, but The Bone Clocks brings them together both abstractly – in the form of recurring characters and names, places and events, both within the world of this novel and across his oeuvre – and concretely, as a largish subplot (more later on why it seems like the main plot but isn’t) focuses on a group of immortal souls and their fight against those who would induce immortality by artificial and predatory means.