Code Pink Activist Rae Abileah addresses members of the Network of Spiritual Progressives at Beyt Tikkun High Holiday services Sept. 29, 2011

Shana tova!  I am so moved to be here in prayer with this vibrant, strong, brilliant community, and to be standing here on the bima in front of you all is something I could never have dreamed of. I feel I am in the company of friends, of family, speaking with you all, as I know that a central tenant of this community is a dedication to tikkun olam, to the practice of repairing and healing the world and ourselves.  The common ground we walk on is the commitment to creating a more just and joyous world.  And this morning I want to share my story with you – the abbreviated version – I promise!

Was Jeremiah a Failure?

Editor’s note: When as a teenager I became immersed in the writings of the Prophets, I was most excited by the Prophet Jeremiah. My parents, who thought I was making a big mistake to have decided to become a rabbi, told me that I really sounded more like a prophet, and that one could not combine a deep prophetic vision with being a congregational rabbi, because the congregation would fire anyone who would challenge their comfortable life-style. Moreover, they warned me that people would always be offended by the “truth-telling” and “confrontational attitude” of the prophets in general and Jeremiah in particular. But their biggest challenge was this: “What’s the use of being a prophet when the prophets were all such failures? They were scorned in their life-times, and their message was not really heard by those to whom it was spoken or written.

A Christian Response to Climate Change

Discerning Climate Change as Climate Injustice and Colonization of the Commons:
A Christian response

By George Zachariah

An alternative theological engagement with climate change begins with the discernment of the problem. Discernment involves the courage to critically evaluate the dominant diagnosis of the problem, and to re-problematize the problem from the perspectives of the victims of climate change. This discernment leads us to the critical task of introspection where we engage in a genuine soul search to understand why our faith communities are not motivated sufficiently to engage in eco-justice ministries. A constructive attempt to develop theological and biblical insights in the context of climate injustice begins from here. Exposing the “ideological benefits” the dominant reap from the mainstream discourses on climate change Jione Havea observes that “In fifty years time, if the projection is correct, many small island nation states will disappear under the rising sea level.

Is the Crisis of Capitalism Terminal?

Editor’s Note: Leonardo Boff is a noted South American liberation theologian. Is the Crisis of Capitalism Terminal? Leonardo Boff*

I believe the present crisis of capitalism is more than cyclical and structural. It is terminal. Are we seeing the end of the genius of capitalism, of always being able to adapt to any circumstance?

A Palestinian Calls For Loving: What Jesus Would Do Facing the Occupation

Sami Awad

Executive Director, Holy Land Trust, Bethlehem, Palestine

WWJD? A Non-Violent Conflict Resolution for Palestine

How could a person living under military occupation, experiencing first-hand suffering and humiliation, even think about loving the enemy, let alone urge family, friends and neighbors to do the same? This challenging message came from a young rabbi named Jesus in his “Sermon on the Mount.” Of course, Jesus could have suggested we make peace with our enemies or negotiate peace agreements or peacefully resolve conflict; those statements would have been as shocking to the suffering Jews of that time. Instead, he entreated them to go further: to “love” them.

Torah Commentary: Bamidbar (In the Desert)

Ambiguity and Mystery vs. Clarity & Display – Bamidbar 2011  by Rabbi Zalman Kastel

We crave clarity in an ambiguous world. In the early 90’s I struggled to decide on a vocation. Did I want to

join the Chabad movement’s team of “Shluchim” agents of the Rebbe to

try to bring Jews back to observance or undertake some other path? As

I sat at a tribute dinner to my grandfather Rabbi Joshua T. Kastel in

Boston shortly after he passed away and heard how much he was loved

and how he contributed as dean of the Lubavitch school there, I

decided that I did not need to decide because the decision had already

been made for me.

Torah ideas from Zalman Kastel

Degradation & Grime, Abundance & “Good Breeding” Bechukotai 2 2011

How do we respond when confronted with the impact of degradation on people? Political correctness seems to demand that because people are of a minority we must never speak about their faults, which can’t be right. On the other hand those of us who are privileged can be judgemental and patronising. I reflect on my reaction to a group of Indigenous people I saw in Todd Mall, in the centre of Alice Springs (Australia), the first time I met Indigenous people outside a “Westernised” situation. Their eyes were blank, they seemed completely zoned out, their clothes dirty and shabby, they appeared to be wandering around aimlessly.

Kedoshim–the Holiness Code in the Book of Leviticus

Crossposted from Hitzei Yehonatan. “You Shall be Holy, for I the Lord am Holy”

A commentary on the first sentence of the Torah portion that might literally be translated as Holies or Holy Ones. A friend of mine and loyal reader of these pages, Rabbi David Greenstein of Montclair New Jersey, was disconcerted by a remark I made a few weeks ago (Metzora, Supplement II) in which I stated that “Holiness is somehow connected in Jewish thought and in halakhic thought with separation, with making distinctions, drawing boundaries.”  He argued, citing Sha’arei Yosher by R. Shimon Shkopf (a major Lithuanian Talmudist of the late 19th and early 20th century, who developed a philosophy of the underlying principles of Jewish law), that the holiness demanded of us is not “to distance ourselves from permitted enjoyments… but that the purposeful goal of our lives [is that] all our service and toil should always be dedicated to the good of the collectivity, that we not avail ourselves of any act or movement, benefit or enjoyment unless it have some aspect that is for the benefit of  those other than ourselves.”

Whether intentionally or not, my friend raised the same question as is implied by a well-know midrash on the first verse of this week’s parasha, which warns against confusing Divine holiness and human holiness.  In Leviticus Rabbah 24.9 we read:

אמר ר’ שמעון בן לקיש…  “קדושים תהיו”.  יכול כמוני?  תלמוד לומר:  “כי קדוש אני ” – קדושתי למעלה מקדושתכם. The Torah states:  “You shall be holy [for I the Lord your God am holy]” (Lev 19:2).  Is it possible [that you be holy] like Myself?  Scripture states:  “For I am holy.”  My holiness is above your holiness. God is by His very nature utterly different from human beings or, as Rudolf Otto puts it, “Wholly Other”:  His holiness transcends the corporeal world, and He dwells in realms far beyond our comprehension, let alone our ability to participate therein.  Hence, when the Torah speaks of human beings, or specifically Jews, as being called upon to be holy, or even to emulate God’s holiness, it refers to something utterly different in nature than God’s holiness—and it is this which Rav Shkopf, and my friend, had in mind.  Our midrash does not provide any positive definition of what human holiness is, but suffices with stating the radical difference between Divine holiness and human holiness.  However, from the continuation of our parashah and the laws contained in the chapter that follows this general statement, one may infer that it means caring for one’s fellow man, behaving in an ethical manner, and creating an ethical society based, not only on decent behavior, but on loving and generous attitudes  towards others.  (Verses 5-8, which are concerned with ritual issues of consuming the flesh of a zevah offering within a certain period of time, are a kind of exception that proves this rule, and one might well ask what these verses are doing here—but that is a question for another time.)

An interesting insight into this idea is provided by Rav Yehudah Ashlag in one of the essays in his book Matan Torah (brought to my attention by another friend, Professor Emeritus Yehuda Gellman).  Ashlag speaks there of the purpose of human life generally and the reason for Creation, beginning with the statement that it is the very nature of God to give.  God needs nothing for Himself;  He is infinite and omnipotent, and is in any event incorporeal and without the needs of flesh and blood.  Hence, his nature is to give;  the Creation of the universe was, so to speak, an expression of His need to give, to have someone to love.

A Beautiful Story of a Conversion to Judaism

Please listen to it at

Leigh Marz began a yearlong process of converting to Judaism in 2004. In preparation for Leigh’s conversion ceremony her “Jew coach” (as Leigh calls him) asked her to share a written summary of her experience with guests. “A written paragraph or two should do it,” he suggested. What seemed a simple task became a brief obsession and led to the writing of Tales of Jew In Training. In preparation for the ritual, Leigh made each guest a handbound copy.

Reclaiming the Sacred in Food and Farming

Farming is fundamentally biological. The essence of agriculture begins with conversion of solar energy through the living process of photosynthesis. The food that sustains our lives comes from other living things. If life is sacred, then food and farming must be sacred as well. Throughout nearly all of human history, both food and farming were considered sacred.

Akiba…a Passover poem by Muriel Rukeyser

One of the great poems of the 20th century — surely the greatest American Jewish poem. It should be read during Passover (it begins with a celebration of the Exodus) and celebrates the Jewish tradition but reaches far beyond it to the whole of Humanity.

Passover Haggadah Supplement 2011

In this year of uprising in Egypt what does the Passover story have to say to us? What would liberation throughout the world mean? FOR YOUR SEDER, here is a Haggadah supplement — not a replacement. If you don’t normally do a Seder, you can use this supplement as the basis for an interfaith gathering in your home on April 18, the first night of Passover, or on any of the other nights of Passover until it ends on April 26. Many people read part or all of this at any Seder they attend, sometimes going around and having a different person read each paragraph.