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Archive for the ‘Rethinking Religion’ Category



Is There Finally Hope for Challenging Orientalism in Hollywood?

Mar31

by: on March 31st, 2014 | 11 Comments »

Last week the world of American Muslim social media (if there is such a thing) was rocked by an unexpected victory. A proposed ABCFamily show provocatively entitled Alice in Arabia was cancelled after a protest by American Muslims. The reason: this tale of an American girl kidnapped by Saudi relatives and held, veiled against her will in Saudi Arabia was all too familiar as stereotypical orientalism. The question then becomes, with films and television shows preceding it rife with the racist prejudices of our American consciousness, why was Alice in Arabia different?


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How Jews Brought America to the Tipping Point on Marriage Equality: Lessons for the Next Social Justice Issues

Mar27

by: Amy Dean on March 27th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

In a few short years, same-sex marriage went from being an untouchable political hot potato to a broadly accepted civil right in eighteen states and the District of Columbia. Jews, and their social justice organizations, helped make that happen. In fact, this magazine was a prophetic voice of marriage equality, supporting same-sex unions in the early 1990s and helping to lay the groundwork for the current wave of victories.

Bend The Arc members participate in the SF Gay Pride Parade. Credit: Bend The Arc.

The story of Jews’ contributions has continuing political relevance. The campaign for marriage equality offers valuable lessons for how to break through public resistance on other issues that Jewish groups are now addressing, including economic justice initiatives like paid sick leave, rights for domestic workers, and raising the minimum wage.

A forward-thinking strategy, combined with local and regional organizing, could be key to helping Jewish activists win victories on other issues that may seem unwinnable today, either because of intransigence in Congress or because they don’t yet have popular support. For example, Congress is nowhere near passing the $15 minimum wage that has become the clarion call of several campaigns for workers’ rights. It may seem equally farfetched to imagine that all workers could earn and receive paid sick time, or paid family leave, or that domestic workers such as nannies and housekeepers could enjoy the same rights to livable wages and safe workplaces that workers in other industries receive.

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The Language of Love

Mar19

by: Allen B. Saxe on March 19th, 2014 | 16 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons/ abon

American culture needs to develop a new language to describe relationships of love and commitment. Husband and wife are too narrow. Partner too broad. Boyfriend and girlfriend focus on young unmarried people.

For gays and lesbians they have had to rely on the use of “partners” or if gay, “husband,” or if lesbian, “wife.” I feel these are temporary terms as we struggle to find more fitting terms.

This is not just an issue for same sex couples. It is also an issue for heterosexual couples in committed relationships that are not traditional marriages.

My sister-in-law Jacquie and Srulik are in a committed relationship. However they have not married in a religious ceremony or civil ceremony.

When my sister-in-law once referred to Srulik as her partner, she saw either puzzlement or astonishment in the reactions of others. Was Jacquie now a lesbian? To use husband and wife might confuse people who might respond, “So when was the wedding?” or “So why were we not invited to the wedding?” We need to do better.

“Partner” has never reflected the love and commitment that these relationships deserve.

I suggest that we turn to the Jewish tradition of Song of Songs.

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Moving Ahead on Mideast Peace with Land Purchases for Israel and Palestine

Mar19

by: on March 19th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

In one of his “Early Addresses” titled “Judaism and Mankind,” Martin Buber said:

Every man whose soul attains unity, who decides, within his own self, for the pure and against the impure, for the free and against the unfree, for the creative and against the uncreative, every man who drives the moneylenders out of his temple, participates in the great process of Judaism.

Though I’m Catholic, these words resonate with me and, like much of Martin Buber’s accessible discourse, serves as a reminder of the sheer idiocy of any form of supersessionism: the belief that Christian faith yields a holier heart and mind than what is contained in Judaism. Indeed, Martin Buber delivered those words over a hundred years ago, between 1909 and 1911; just this week, a glaring headline in the National Catholic Reporter read “Vatican office calls religious sisters, priests to live poorly, reject capitalism.”

Perhaps many of the holy rollers of my church, the Roman Catholic Church – the very ones whose high on the hog living is now the subject of Pope Francis’s reforms – would have done well to read some Martin Buber before making bank off the name of a poor first-century Jew who was killed at 33-years-old by Pontius Pilate. But isn’t a slow learning curve better than none at all?

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The Future of Jewish-Muslim Relations on College Campuses

Mar16

by: Imam Abdullah T. Antepli on March 16th, 2014 | No Comments »

I’m one of only 11 full-time Muslim chaplains on a U.S. university campus, serving at Duke University. It’s the only place I know where it’s kosher and halal to pray for “the Devils.” If one looks for an overarching identity where political, sectarian and religious differences disappear, look toward college basketball. Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are a piece of cake. But the Duke-UNC rivalry, there is no hope.

imam

Abdullah Antepli (right), Duke's first Muslim chaplain, talks with Ahmad Mikell (left) after a worship service held on campus. Credit: islamophobiatoday.com.

Unfortunately, the future of Judaism and Islam on American college campuses is not a sports rivalry where it’s trophies that are at stake. I see urgency around Jewish-Muslim relations in general, and in particular on college campuses in the United States.

I have great admiration for leaders like Pope John Paul II and John XXIII – these men moved mountains in repairing Christian-Jewish relations. Christian anti-Semitism took its theological strength from core teachings of Christianity. Unlike Christian anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism in the Muslim world isn’t rooted in Islamic theology and was never fed through core Islamic teachings.

But as anti-Semitism grows in the Muslim world, fueled by political problems in the Middle East, Muslim anti-Semitism is taking root as people turn to Muslim theology to try to find scripture and history that provides religious legitimacy for despicable hate messages.

I know, because I am one of the victims of that anti-Semitism. I’m often asked, “Why are you so obsessed with Jews? Why are you so tirelessly trying to improve Jewish-Muslim relations?”

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Torah Commentary: Purim- ‘New Dawn’ of Revolutionary Consciousness

Mar12

by: on March 12th, 2014 | No Comments »

1. Dawn of a New Age- The Book of Esther

I will admit that I’ve always had a certain hesitation when it came to Purim. It wasn’t that I was so influenced by Bible criticism or historical scholarship, it was my own sense that the Book of Esther, the focus of the holiday of Purim, read more like a novel than a book of prophecy. It is probably for this reason that if you ask many people which came first, Hanukka or Purim, they would say that Purim was later- there is something more modern about Purim and the Megilla than about the Hanukka story. The Hanukka story feels more biblical than does the Esther story for a number of reasons- it takes place in the land of Israel, there’s a Temple with sacrifices and ritual purity, but most of all, there’s a miracle at the core of the story, whereas with Purim, there is no miracle, it takes place in exile, the Jews are a persecuted minority, and a lot of political intrigue with all the attendant violence is involved. So, despite its being hundreds of years earlier, the Purim story feels more modern, more contemporary. More importantly, the book of Esther, the “megilla”, reads more like a novel than any other sacred Hebrew text, though it is included among the books of the “bible”. I would like to argue now that this novelistic quality, seemingly a detraction from the sanctity of the holiday, may be, in fact, literally, its redeeming quality.

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Israel’s U.S Jewish Cheering Section Is Over Age 70, Writes Ari Shavit

Mar8

by: on March 8th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Ari Shavit, the Israeli journalist, has been traveling the United States recently (promoting his book) and has discovered what those of us who live here already know: Israel is a cause for Jews over 70 (and not most of them either). Below that general cutoff, most Jews have strayed from the reservation. And that cutoff will slip even further back soon. In 2016, the first baby-boomers turn 70. At the point, Shavit will need to revise his age cutoff to 71, then 72, etc. The Woodstock/McGovern Jews/Viet war protestors are not that into Israel.

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5 Big Problems With Compassion-Baiting

Mar7

by: Katie Loncke on March 7th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Unfortunately, we spiritual-progressive types, including but not limited to dharma heads, seem to be particularly prone to something I call compassion-baiting.

General compassion-baiting sounds something like:

Try having more compassion. If you did, you’d see things my way.

And in social justice situations, specifically, compassion-baiting often sounds like:

You’re more upset / loud / angry about social harm than I, arbiter, deem appropriate. You must therefore be lacking in wisdom or compassion.

F**k that noise, for real.

Why so touchy, you ask? Let’s break it down: 5 major fails associated with compassion-baiting.

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Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and the American Jewish Community

Mar7

by: Donna Nevel on March 7th, 2014 | 40 Comments »

Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace

Many American Jewish organizations claim to be staunch supporters of civil and human rights as well as academic freedom. But when it comes to Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, they make an exception. In their relentless opposition to BDS, they leave even core principles behind.

The Palestinian-led call for BDS, which began in 2005 in response to ongoing Israeli government violations of basic principles of international law and human rights of the Palestinian people, is a call of conscience. It has strengthened markedly over the last few years among artists, students, unions, church groups, dockworkers, and others. Media coverage of endorsers of the boycott has gone mainstream and viral. Recent examples include Stephen Hawking’s refusal to go to Jerusalem for the Presidential Conference, the successful campaign surrounding Scarlett Johansson’s support for Soda Stream and its settlement operation, and the American Studies Association (ASA) resolution that endorsed boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Alongside BDS’s increasing strength have come increasingly virulent attacks on, and campaigns against it. These attacks tend to employ similar language and tactics – as if the groups are all cribbing from the same talking points – including tarring BDS supporters as “anti-Semitic” and “delegitimizers.”

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Torah Commentary: Perashat Vayikra- Who is Ritual For?

Mar6

by: on March 6th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

There is a lot of discussion these days in religious circles about “protecting halacha”, protecting the law, that if certain positions are taken by communities (usually issues related to the role of women, or modern scholarship these days), then “halacha” will be in “danger”.  I find this a curious new position. Is the role of Torah law to protect /elevate the people or is it some independent divine phenomenon that requires “protection”? Perhaps discussion of a more neutral set of Torah laws, those of sacrifice, neutral because they are no longer operative (itself an interesting development, and not without controversy at the time animal sacrifice was transmuted into prayer and other allegorical motifs). So how do we understand the purpose and function of the Temple rites and sacrifices?

My initial temptation was to play the phenomenologist, to compare our conceptions of sacrifice with those of other cultures, the use of language in Indian ritual, etc., but I was wary of the danger of explaining “away”, that is trying to give a good “excuse” for all this talk of korbanot, sacrifices. Rather than attempting to justify practices out of practice for two thousand years, and keeping in mind the suggestions of R. Kook that we may never sacrifice animals again, I would like to transform the question into one about the meaning of ritual in the human experience. So let us ask the central question of these questions, as does the Mei HaShiloach directly:

How can it be that if a person sins, he or she gets absolved from the sin by killing an animal?

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