From "Dancing in God's Earthquake": Limits on the Powers of a King

Dear friends, I promised that every Tuesday I would post a passage from my new book, Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion,  This passage seems extraordinarily fitting, on the morning of the most  important election in US history. It’s from Chapter 10, and it was written more than a year ago.

 The king is not to multiply the horses he would need for aggressive imperial warfare. He must not pile up money for himself as a side-benefit for his service to the People. He is not to multiply wives for himself, lest the sexual overload distract him from the public good. And he must sit before the priests who are part of the tribe of Levi, to read aloud from Torah these passages that limit his power and other passages that protect the poor.  (Deut. 17: 1-20)

 The Torah “Constitution” may have thought that the priests could not be overawed. But there is no suggestion of how their supervision of the king’s  recitation can become more than literally listening. Can they, do they, interrupt in public to say, “That last line you read about not equipping your army with chariots –- Have you obeyed it?”

 Our Supreme Court seems less independent from the git-go than the ancient priesthood, because it is appointed by the President whose authority it judges.  Does it defer to presidential power? Up to some limit, our experience shows that the Court draws on public confidence and its life-long terms of office to strike down presidential actions that go beyond the rules. But our experience also shows that beyond some “normal” limit, the more egregious the president is in breaking rules and limits on presidential power, the more likely he will be able to shape or overawe a Court so that it defers to him. 

There was a king, Solomon's son,  who told a group of protesting elders, "My father whipped you with whips. I will whip you with scorpions." There was a revolution against his illegitimate authority, and the kingdom was split in  two.

There’s a lot more in the chapter about the choice to have a king in the first place, about nonviolent resistance to tyrannical actions by the king, and about limits on his power to fight wars.

The book is my sketch of the do-able , transformable future. Gloria Steinem, Ruth Messinger, Rev. William Barber; Rabbis Art Green, Jonah Pesner, and Jill Hammer; Bill McKibben, Marge Piercy, and Rev. Jim Wallis have all read and praised it. You can order it from The Shalom Center or from Orbis Books. See  This book is the harvest of my whole life-experience – and like a harvest, intended not only to draw on the past but to feed the future.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste!   --  Arthur

Justice & Freedom Are LOVE, Spoken in Public: Can We Keep Them Nov 4?

Dear Friends, Yesterday’s NYTimes carried an article, based on confidential interviews with ten high officials of the Trump Administration, that warned of possible attacks on American democracy that could begin on Election Day itself.  The article is by Ron Suskind, an investigative journalist who has written about the presidency and national affairs for more than three decades. Following, our excerpts from the article. – Here is the full link:

and after the excerpts my comment about what to do in case.  --  AW, ed]

By Ron Suskind, NY Times, Oct 30, 2020

Key officials in several parts of the government told me how they thought the progression from the 3rd to the 4th might go down.

They are loath to give up too many precise details, but it’s not hard to speculate from what we already know. Disruption would most likely begin on Election Day morning somewhere on the East Coast, where polls open first. Miami and Philadelphia (already convulsed this week after another police shooting), in big swing states, would be likely locations. It could be anything, maybe violent, maybe not, started by anyone, or something planned and executed by any number of organizations, almost all of them on the right fringe, many adoring of Mr. Trump. The options are vast and test the imagination. Activists could stage protests at a few of the more crowded polling places and draw those in long lines into conflict.

A Proud Boys rally in Portland, Ore.Credit...Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi for The New York Times

Would that mean that Mr. Trump caused any such planned activities or improvisations? No, not directly. He’s in an ongoing conversation — one to many, in a twisted e pluribus unum — with a vast population, which is in turn in conversations — many to many — among themselves. People are receiving messages, interpreting them and deciding to act, or not. If, say, the Proud Boys attack a polling location, is it because they were spurred on by Mr. Trump’s “stand back and stand by” instructions? Is Mr. Trump telling his most fervent supporters specifically what to do? No. But security officials are terrified by the dynamics of this volatile conversation. It can move in so many directions and very quickly become dangerous, as we have already seen several times this year.

The local police are already on-guard in those cities and others around the country for all sorts of possible incidents at polling places, including the possibility of gunfire. If something goes wrong, the media will pick this up in early morning reports and it will spread quickly, increasing tension at polling places across the country, where the setup is ripe for conflict.

Conservative media could then say the election was being stolen, summoning others to activate, maybe violently. This is the place where cybersecurity experts are on the lookout for foreign actors to amplify polling location incidents many times over, with bots and algorithms and stories written overseas that slip into the U.S. digital diet. News of even a few incidents could summon a violent segment of Mr. Trump’s supporters into action, giving foreign actors even more to amplify and distribute, spreading what is, after all, news of mayhem to the wider concentric circles of Mr. Trump’s loyalists. Groups from the left may engage as well, most likely as a counterpoint to those on the right. Those groups are less structured, more like an “ideology or movement,” as Mr. Wray described them in his September testimony. But, as a senior official told me, the numbers on the left are vast.

Violence and conflict throughout that day at the polls would surely affect turnout, allowing Mr. Trump to claim that the in-person vote had been corrupted, if that suits his purposes. There’s no do-over for Election Day.

Under the 12th Amendment, which Mr. Trump has alluded to on several occasions, the inability to determine a clear winner in the presidential election brings the final decision to the House of Representatives. The current composition of the House, in which Republicans control more state delegations even though Democrats are in the majority, favors Trump. But the state count could flip to the Democrats with this election.

There are many scenarios that might unfold from here, nearly all of them entailing weeks or even months of conflict, and giving an advantage to the person who already runs the U.S. government.

There will likely be some reckoning of the in-person vote drawn from vote tallies and exit polls. If Joe Biden is way ahead in these projections, and they are accepted as sound, Mr. Trump may find himself having to claim fraud or suppression that amounts to too large a share of votes to seem reasonable. Inside the Biden campaign they are calling this “too big to rig.”

Races tend to tighten at the end, but the question is not so much the difference between the candidates’ vote totals, or projections of them, as it is what Mr. Trump can get his supporters to believe. Mr. Trump might fairly state, at this point, that he can get a significant slice of his base to believe anything.

But he could use all the help that he can summon to invalidate the in-person vote.

Senior intelligence officials are worried that a foreign power could finally manage a breach of the American voting architecture — or leave enough of a digital trail to be perceived to have breached it. There were enormous efforts to do so, largely but not exclusively by the Russians, in 2016, when election systems in every state were targeted. There is also concern that malware attacks could cripple state governments and their electronic voter registration data, something that could make swaths of voters unable to vote. A senior official told me that provisional ballots can then be passed out and “we keep all the receipts,” meaning that these votes would have a paper ballot trail that can be laboriously counted and rechecked. But a breach or an appearance of a breach, in any state’s machinery, would, in a chaotic flow of events, be a well-timed gift to Mr. Trump.

The lie easily outruns truth — and the best “disinformation,” goes a longtime C.I.A. rule, “is actually truthful.” It all blends together. “Then the president then substantiates it, gives it credence, gives it authority from the highest office,” says the senior government official. “Then his acolytes mass-blast it out. Then it becomes the narrative, and fact, and no rational, reasonable explanation to the contrary will move” his supporters “an inch.”

No matter how the votes split, there’s an expectation among officials that Mr. Trump will claim some kind of victory on Nov. 4, even if it’s a victory he claims was hijacked by fraud — just as he falsely claimed that Hillary Clinton’s three million-vote lead in the popular vote was the result of millions of votes from unauthorized immigrants. This could come in conjunction with statements, supported by carefully chosen “facts,” that the election was indeed “rigged,” as he’s long been warning.

If the streets then fill with outraged people, he can easily summon, or prompt, or encourage troublemakers among his loyalists to turn a peaceful crowd into a sea of mayhem. They might improvise on their own in sparking violence, presuming it pleases their leader.

If the crowds are sufficiently large and volatile, he can claim to be justified in responding with federal powers to bring order. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, have both said they are opposed to deploying armed forces on American soil.

The F.B.I., meanwhile, is bracing for huge challenges. “We are all-hands-on-deck for the foreseeable future,” the F.B.I. official I mentioned earlier told me. “We’ve been talking to our state and local counterparts and gearing up for the expectation that it’s going to be a significant law-enforcement challenge for probably weeks or months,” this official said. “It feels pretty terrifying.”

In the final few weeks of the campaign, and during Mr. Trump’s illness, he’s done two things that seem contradictory: seeking votes from anyone who might still be swayed and consolidating and activating his army of most ardent followers. They are loyal to him as a person, several officials pointed out, not as president. That army Trump can direct in the difficult days ahead and take with him, wherever he goes. He may activate it. He may bargain with it, depending on how the electoral chips fall. It’s his insurance policy.

The senior government official who discussed Mr. Trump’s amplifying of messages spoke with great clarity about these codes of loyalty. The official was raised in, and regularly visits, what is now a Trump stronghold.

Credit...Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

“They’re the reason he took off the damned mask when he got to the White House” from Walter Reed, the official said. “Those people eat that up, where any reasonable, rational person would be horrified. You are still actively shedding a deadly virus. You are lucky enough to have the best and brightest doctors, trial drugs, whatever. You get flown back to the White House, and you do a photo-op with a military salute to no one. You ask it to be refilmed, and you take off your mask, which, in my mind, has become a signal to his core base of supporters that are willing to put themselves at risk and danger to show loyalty to him.”

But across the government, another official — a senior intelligence official in a different department — argues that citizens may yet manage to rise to the challenge of this difficult election, in a time of division.

“The last line of defense in elections is the American voter,” he told me. “This is the most vulnerable phase,” now and the days immediately after Election Day, “where we’re so eager to have an outcome, that actors both foreign and domestic are going to exploit that interest, that thirst, that need for resolution to the drama.”

I asked him what he would say to American voters. “Look,” he said, softly, “just understand that you’re being manipulated. That’s politics, that’s foreign influence, they’re trying to manipulate you and drive you to a certain outcome.”

“Americans are, I think, hopefully, made of sterner stuff.”

###    ###

Comments by AW, ed:

If you are in a group of progressives who have chosen to be peacekeepers and protect voters at a polling place, first if possible come with a clear plastic face shield over a cloth mask and a bicycle helmet, a bottle of water, and a shared commitment to nonviolence. Try to stay six feet apart.

If  some rowdy right-wingers try to make trouble at your polling place, first, most important: stay nonviolent and encourage others to! There is lots of evidence that attempts at coups are much more likely to be defeated by nonviolence than violence.

Use chants and songs that inspire your friends and invite others to join, instead of demonizing them: For instance,  “Join us, brothers! Join us, sisters! Join us, all!” 

Sing the better-known verses of “America the Beautiful” and  this actual original verse (slightly altered to modernize language):

O beautiful for patriots’ dream

That sees beyond the years

Your complicated cities gleam,

Undimmed by human tears!

America! America! God mend your every flaw:

Confirm your good with brother-sisterhood,

Your liberty with law!”

“We are building up a new world“

Melody as in “We are climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” Words by Vincent Harding

We are building up a new world (3x)

Builders must be strong.


Courage brothers don’t be weary,

courage sisters don’t be weary

Courage people don’t be weary,

though the road be long.


Rise & shine & give God glory  (3x)

Lift every soul in song!


Olam chesed yibaneh. In a Jewish crowd you may want to sing this song by Rabbi Menachem Creditor --- or sing it chiefly in English to these words as shown at

Olam chesed yibaneh, dai dai yai, dai dai yai dai dai

I will build this world with love,

And you must build this world with love

And if we build this world with love

Then God will build this world with love


If violence continues, either withdraw singing or sit down singing, protecting your head, your face shield, and your mask. Try to stay six feet apart.

See also Election Defender Trainings at:

 Training 1: (en español) (passcode: @edefenders1)
 Training 2: (en español)
 Training 3: (en español)
 Training 4: (español)
 De-escalation Training 1:
 De-escalation Training 2:
 Sunday 25Oct Mass Training 1: (edited)

When Shabbat Is the 4th of July

This coming Shabbat is also the Fourth of July.

For Americans, that day embodies the deepest of our internal confusions. That day we celebrate the Declaration of Independence, affirming the equality of all "men" and the responsibility of government to meet the needs of the people – especially for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And we affirm the right of the people to alter or abolish any government that does not meet those needs and to substitute new government that does.

That Declaration was written mostly by Thomas Jefferson. Yet he owned hundreds of human beings, and enslaved them. When he wrote about slavery in his native state of Virginia, he wrote “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.” Yet he owned hundreds of human beings, and enslaved them.

The contradiction between his words and his actions has been repeated through all American history. When slavery was abolished at the cost of many lives, after a brief period when freedom flourished and racism staggered, slavery was replaced by KKK terrorism, lynchings, and Jim Crow. When protests gathered and people risked and lost their lives to make equality real, the Black community created new power bases and racism staggered. But Jim Crow was replaced by a system of “criminal injustice” that began at the point of a policeman’s gun and culminated in unjust bail, unjust courts, and mass incarceration. It was replaced by the massive wipeout of Black ownership and personal capital in the Great Recession of 2008 and the Coronavirus Depression of 2020.

What was the use of the Fourth of July and the Declaration of Independence in all that history? As Frederick Douglass said in an extraordinary speech on July 5, 1852, what was the Fourth of July to a slave? Yet Douglass worked his way through a long speech to say:

… Notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. "The arm of the Lord is not shortened," and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope.
While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference.
Notice that the Fourth of July still bears witness for him, IF. If it is connected to the “obvious tendencies” of the present.  That is a lesson to us. What can we draw on from the past, how do we make that vision take on bodies and action in the present – in ourselves, not elsewhere in the world?

Not only is Shabbat this year the Fourth of July, the Fourth of July is also Shabbat. How can we honor this confluence in a Shabbosdik way?

We can lift up for ourselves as Jews the commitment that goes back about 2500 years. There is an ancient ancestor of the Declaration of Independence. We should add it to the public Torah readings for this Shabbat:

 When you enter the land that YHWH / Yahhhh / Interbreathing Spirit of life your God is giving you, and you possess it and settle in it, should you say: I will set over me a king like all the nations that are around me-
You may set, yes, set over you a king that YHWH / Yahhhh / Interbreathing Spirit of life your God chooses; from among your brothers you may set over you a king, you may not place over you a foreign man who is not a brother-person to you.
Only: he is not to multiply horses for himself, and he is not to return the people to Mitzrayyim/ Narrowland [Egypt} in order to multiply horses, since YHWH the Breath of Life has said to you: You will never return that way again!
And he is not to multiply wives for himself, that his heart not be turned-aside, and silver or gold he is not to multiply for himself to excess.
But it shall be: when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he is to write himself a copy of this Instruction in a document, before the presence of Levitical priests.
It is to remain beside him, he is to read out of it all the days of his life, in order that he may learn to have-awe-for YHWH the Breath-of-Life his God, to be-careful concerning all the words of this Instruction and these laws, to observe them,
That his heart not be raised above his brothers, that he not turn-aside from what-is-commanded, to the right or to the left; in order that he may prolong (his) days over his kingdom, he and his sons, in the midst of Israel.
                              (Deuteronomy 17:14-20, in the Everett Fox translation of the Five Books of Moses [Schocken])

What does that warning mean --- your leader, your ruler, shall not return you to Narrowland to buy horses?  

Horse-chariots were the great and expensive weapon of the Imperial Army. (Its jet bombers carrying H-Bombs.) To build and equip that army meant turning the citizenry into slaves in order to pay the bill. But the Breath of Life had freed the Israelites, even when the horse-chariot Army pursued them to the edge of the Red Sea, and the Breath of Life forbade an Israelite king from returning the people to slavery to equip his quasi-Imperial Army. The passage was a more vivid version of what Martin Luther King said when he called militarism one of the deadly triplets afflicting American society.

We American Jews are not only heirs of the Torah. We are heirs of the Declaration, too. And facing society-wide racism, we must also face our own. We are not only “white.” Among us are Jews as Black as Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, as swarthy as Anwar Sadat, as colorful as Gandhi and Liu Xiaobo. We could treat the Declaration of Independence as a prophetic commentary, a Haftarah, on the Torah portion we have just read.

Hazan Jack Kessler has done the work of making the heart of the Declaration into a Haftarah. You can watch the exquisite way in which he brings his physical presence, his emotional and spiritual as well as intellectual focus into giving the Declaration new life in a very old form.

To see his “Declaration of Independence Haftarah” click to –

And then we urge that in the discussion we raise questions and create activist midrash about the meaning of the Torah and Haftarah today.  Within the Jewish community and beyond it. Is “community” one of the “inalienable rights"? Is there a right to a livable income, livable time to pause and learn, a livable planet? Are we obligated to risk “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” if we face a government that defaces the Declaration and the Torah?

###  ###
For further thought toward action on these approaches see --

Jack Kessler’s article about his work in Kerem Magazine: Creative Explorations in Judaism Final Issue: #1 “English Leyning: Bringing New Meaning to the Torah Service”

 And for a collection of speeches like Douglass’ about the original Declaration and new imagining of what a Declaration for our own day might be like, see

Arrested! While Blocking ICE in Philadelphia

This past Wednesday, my beloved fellow-rabbi and life-partner Phyllis Berman and I were arrested, along with two other people, while blocking the entrance to the ICE offices in Philadelphia. We were arrested by the Federal Dept of Homeland Security police, not the Philadelphia police -- and were each harged with two Federal offenses (with whopping fines if we don’t stand trial and the possibility of prison time if we do). 

My "Torah Talk" for Presidents Day Protest -- NOT DIctators Day

On Presidents Day I spoke to a crowd gathered at the City Hall of Philadelphia to protest the “Fake Emergency” proclaimed by Donald Trump to enable him to bypass Congress’ refusal to appropriate money to build a Wall and further militarize our Southern border. The protest was live-streamed, and the recording is at --

 My own speech begins exactly one hour into the recording -- !:00:00 --  and lasts till 1:12:00.

 Since various other sounds partially intrude, I have included, below, the text I used. I skipped a few parts of my text and ad-libbed occasionally beyond it. I hope you will take the time to see and listen live.

 With blessings to you and to us all of the strength and perseverance to stand tall for democracy, for justice and compassion, against all their enemies  --  Arthur

 [Photo by Rabbi Mordechai Liebling]

Why am I here today? [I ad-libbed some remarks about the Passover Seder as both a commemoration of ancient struggles against a tyrant, Pharaoh, and at its best an activist teaching and reaching toward future transformation: for example, what it means for The Shalom Center to be sponsoring a pre-Passover Seder in which Rev. William Barber of the Poor Peoples Campaign will be one of the leaders. I moved  from that holy time of challenging tyrants into ---]

And I am here today because this too is a holy day – a holy day in the American calendar. Today is Presidents Day. Not Dictators Day. Not King George III’s Day. This holy day is known as Presidents Day in honor originally of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and more recently to honor all the honorable Presidents of the United States. And when necessary, as it is today, to challenge a dishonorable President.

What does it mean to be a US President, not a king or a dictator? It means to live in and under the Constitution of the United States.  It means you swear an Oath to “preserve, protect, and defend  the Constitution of the United States.” Not even to defend the physical safety of the United States, but its moral and spiritual and political Truth -- the CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES. Imperfect, evolving – toward democracy, not away from it.

And that includes --

  “Article. I. Section. 8. ... No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law  --  by Congress.”

No President can take our tax money to use any way he feels like, for something that Congress refuses. This teaching – We the People have no Dictator, no King – goes deep not just into our Constitution but into the moral fabric that preceded it by about 2500 years.  Even when people chose kings, the Bible taught that even a king, especially a king, must have his powers limited.

Deuteronomy 17:14-19 

“If you say, “I will set over me a king like all the nations round about us,  you may set, yes, set over you a king – one that YHWH [Yahhh – the Breathing Spirit pf the World ] your God chooses.... 

Only: He is not to multiply cavalry [the jet bombers and H-bombs of that day] for himself, or make the people return to the Tight and Narrow Place [of slavery] in order to multiply his cavalry, since YHWH [Yahhh – the Breath of Life]  has said to you, ‘You will never return that way again!’

“And he is not to multiply sexual partners for himself, lest his heart be turned aside. And silver and gold he must not multiply for himself.  

“But it shall be when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself with his own hand, a copy of this Teaching in a scroll.  [He shall write it sitting] face to face with priests of the tribe of Levi. It is to remain beside him, and he is to read out of it every day of his life, so that he may learn to have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life]  his God and to be fully caring for all the words of this Teaching and these laws, to observe them, so that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”

I do not want to make the Bible into American law. God forbid!! Truly, God forbid! I do want to learn from that last line --- the moral and spiritual line about the danger that kings will lift their hearts above their community, not turn their hearts toward their community.  That warning is at the heart of all the political rules that aim toward democracy.  For us as well. 

 The only emergency Mr. Trump has proclaimed is his own desperate raw emotional and political need to subjugate everyone who will not bow down to him. He kidnaps children from their families, he brings wildfires and hurricanes and famines on all living beings. He is doing exactly what the Bible forbids: “that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”

[Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY]

In our country, We the People – the whole People  --  are the “priests of the tribe of Levi.” We ALL breathe the Breath of Life. We –- along with all the life-forms of our planet, the life-forms that this President is radically endangering. We demand that this President obey our Constitution.

And more!  Mr. Trump, we demand that you stop lifting up your heart in contempt and arrogance and cruelty above and against your people, all peoples, and all life; and turn your heart instead toward justice and compassion.

 Or ==  Mr. Trump, if you will not, cannot, turn your  heart to justice and compassion, if you cannot turn your heart to being worthy of this Presidents Day, leave. Leave the Presidency you are trying to make into a personal dictatorship.

You are not our King.  We have no King!  [Crowd joins in: “We have no King!  We have no King!  We have no King!’] And if Congress will not stop you, We the People must. We here, everywhere in America today, meeting at Noon in every time zone from Philadelphia to Hawaii, must stop you.  

Will stop you.

For we have no king!


TRUMP: Kings and Presidents, the Bible & the Constitution

Tomorrow (February 18) is Presidents Day. Not Dictators Day. Not King George III’s Day. The holy day is known as Presidents Day in honor originally of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and more recently to honor all the honorable Presidents of the United States. And when necessary, to challenge a dishonorable President.

Throughout the United States, at Noon local time tomorrow, Monday, February 18, there will be solemn rallies of protest against the so-called “National Emergency” just proclaimed by Mr. Trump.

You can find a rally near you by clicking here

and plugging in your zip code.

The Shalom Center has endorsed the national wave of protests, and I will be speaking at the one in Philadelphia. It will gather at NOON Monday at SOUTH SIDE of City Hall.   

We the People chose to bind our President by a Constitution. Here is what that means:


 Article. I. Section. 1. All legislative Powers herein granted

shall be vested in a Congress of the United States,

which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

  Article. I. Section. 8. ... No money shall be drawn from the Treasury,

but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law

 Article II. Section 1:  He [The President] shall ... take the following Oath or Affirmation: --

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute

the Office of President of the United States,

and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend

the Constitution of the United States.

This teaching – We the People have no Dictator, no King – goes deep not just into our Constitution but into the moral fabric that preceded it by about 2500 years.  Even when people chose kings, the Bible taught that even a king, especially a king, must have his powers limited.

Deuteronomy 17:14-19

When you enter the land that YHWH  [Yahhh, the Interbreathing spirit of all Life]  your God is giving you, and you possess it and settle in it, should you say, “I will set over me a king like all the nations around us,”  you may set, yes, set over you a king that YHWH [Yahhh] your God chooses....

“Only: He is not to multiply cavalry for himself or make the people return to the Tight and Narrow Place [of slavery] in order to multiply his cavalry, since YHWH [Yahhh] has said to you, “You will never return that way again!” And he is not to multiply wives for himself, lest his heart be turned aside. And silver and gold he must not multiply for himself.  

“But it shall be when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself a copy of this Teaching in a scroll, face to face with priests of the tribe of Levi. It is to remain beside him, and he is to read out of it every day of his life, so that he may learn to have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life]  his God and to be fully caring for all the words of this Teaching and these laws, to observe them, so that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”

            [Translation by Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses (Schocken Books, 1995), with a few  modifications by Rabbi Arthur Waskow]

That last line about the danger that kings will lift their hearts above their community, not turn their hearts toward their community, is at the heart of all the political rules.  For us as well.

Back to the "political": No previous invocation of a "national emergency" has purported to usurp the sole power of Congress, by “withdrawing from the Treasury” money that has NOT been drawn “in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”

Moreover, in the very proclamation of this “emergency,” Mr. Trump said, “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster. I just want to get it done faster, that’s all.”

 That's the very definition of a non-emergency –-- except to meet the raw emotional and political needs of the proclaimer to subjugate everyone who will not bow to him. He kidnaps children from their families, he brings wildfires and hurricanes and famines on all living beings. Doing exactly what the Bible forbade: “that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”

In our country, We the People – the whole People  --  are the “priests of the tribe of Levi.” We ALL  breathe the Breath of Life. We –- along with all the life-forms of our planet, the life-forms that this President is radically endangering. We demand that this President obey our Constitution.

We demand that he stop lifting up his heart in contempt and arrogance above and against his people, all peoples, and all life; and turn his heart instead toward justice and compassion. Or leave.

What does Torah teach about Judge Kavanaugh?

 Are you surprised to hear that President Trump and Judge Kavanaugh, his nominee for a lifetime post on the Supreme Court, might appear in a text that is about 2500 years old?

Read Deuteronomy Chapter 17: 14-20 --  a section often called Perek HaMelekh, “Passage on the King.”

The passage is worried about the possibility that an Israelite king might turn himself into a tyrant, like Pharaoh.

So it  starts out by setting limits on the power and behavior of a king, and then it tries to create a way of enforcing these limits. .

The king must not act haughtily toward the people – that is, with contempt.

The king may not multiply gold and silver for himself.

The king may not multiply wives/ women for himself.

The king may not multiply horses. (Horse chariots were the jet bombers of the day, weapons for an aggressive imperial army like that of Egypt’s Pharaoh). 

What’s more, the king may not send the people back into Mitzrayyim (the Tight and Narrow Place, which in Hebrew is the name of Egypt) to buy horses for himself. (That is, he may not oppress the people by imposing taxes or forced service so he can pay for an oppressive army).  

And the king must every day of his life read --  under supervision by the levitical priests --  the Torah passages that restricted his powers and protected the poor. 

 Under priestly supervisionahhh, that is what the Torah hoped would keep him under control. For the Kohanim, the priests, members of the Tribe of Levi, were utterly independent of the king. They had religious power to come close to God, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh -- the Interbreathing Spirit of the world. The Breath of Life.

They were not appointed by the king. They were not members of the king’s family. Not even of his tribe, since they were descendants of Levi, like Moses and Aaron and Miriam, and the kings were descendants of David, of the tribe of Benjamin.

 When the heirs of the Maccabees, the Hasmonean kings, broke this ancient Constitution by merging the priesthood and the kingship, they turned out to be terrible kings. Among other things, they sold out Israelite independence to a foreign power --  Rome.

Why does all this matter? So Torah seeks to limit the power of a king, as do the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. Why does this matter to us today?

Because it embodies wisdom that speaks through centuries and millennia  --  not just about a single generation’s crises, fears, desires. It is a wisdom that our culture today often, though not always, seeks to learn from  -- precisely because it embodies what has lasted.

Surely that wisdom, like the US Declaration and Constitution, was flawed. The Bible, for example,  assumes and often seems to endorse the subjugation of women. (In how the furthest reaches of the Bible see the great arc of the human future, not so; but that is another exploration.)  So did the original US framing documents, as well as the subjugation of Blacks.

Yet some wisdom even deeper has kept moving the adherents of both sets of framing Teachings to keep trying to move beyond those subjugations to a fuller sense of human dignity. What we call the “spirituality” of the Bible is a distillation of a wise relationship of a small tribe to all that is greater than itself – to the great round Earth, to the other cultures (“strangers”), to its own future, its great-grandchildren, to the over-arching Mystery of how we came into physical, biological, and cultural existence in the first place.

So it behooves us in our perilous present moment to recall that the Bible was and is worried about the concentration of power in a single human’s hands.

All right. Let us look with eyes wide open at our present.

We have an elected king who speaks of his own people – Blacks, Latinos,  the free and independent-minded press, Muslims, women with contempt (“haughtiness above his kinfolk”).  

Who speaks and sometimes acts toward women as mere objects of his own pleasure (“multiplying wives”).

Who has used his own power before and since becoming “king” to cheat workers and contractors, to make secret deals,  to hide his finances from the public (“multiplying gold and silver for himself”).

Who threatens other nations with ”fire and fury” and who seeks a trillion dollars to “modernize” a nuclear arsenal that can already destroy all life on Earth several times over, and who is planning to erase the bright line between nuclear and other weapons by producing “small” nuclear weapons for battlefield use (“multiplying horses for his army”).

And who now seeks to appoint to the Supreme Court – our nearest effort at inventing the independent check of the Levitical priesthood --  a man whose previous record indicates willingness to support the “king’s” hostility to women’s rights, to workers’ rights, to efforts to heal the Earth.

Whose previous record suggests support for such egregious misuses of kingly powers as the use of torture. A man who is opposed to even the limited possibility of subpoenaing the “king” to testify under oath.

All this while the “king” himself is already under very serious clouds of possible violations of the Constitution and the laws. And when his appointee, if confirmed, would probably be a crucial weigh-in for how this sacred body of the Court would vote.

So for all these reasons, I urge you, all members and readers of The Shalom Center, and all your friends, to call 1202-224-3121. To ask for your Senators and Congressmember.

What could they do? They could oppose with every nonviolent means the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh. They could, for example, use legitimate parliamentary rules to hold all Congressional decision-making in suspense  until the Senate Judiciary Committee tables the nomination. They could demand roll-call votes on “ordinary” business instead of giving unanimous consent. The future of our Constitution and our freedom is at stake; this is no time for “ordinary” measures.  

Demanding this kind of action is not just “politics.” It upholds what the Bible itself taught was and is a crucial part of the spiritual health of a community committed to human dignity.

Call 1202-224-3121.

With blessings of joyful action in this coming new year, this Time of Transformation,  for the sake of human dignity – Arthur

How Clergy & Congregations can Respond to the 2016 Election:

FACT: This election campaign raises some of the most profound spiritual issues in our history.

WORRY: Some clergy and some congregational lay leaders worry about what a tax-exempt group (501c3) can and can’t do, both legally and to preserve comradeship among the members.

FACT: only actual endorsement or opposition to a specific candidate or party is totally forbidden to a 501c3.  These are ten suggestions for legitimate actions. (For 3 to 10, click on the "Read More" line on the website):

  1. Getting out the vote in November will be very important, and is totally legal for synagogue, church, or mosque to sponsor. That could be strengthened by asking your congregation’s spiritual leader to give sermons – e.g. on Rosh Hashanah/ Yom Kippur  --  or earlier, depending on the registration deadlines in your own state  --  urging congregants to register, and to urge their children of voting age to register.
  2. To help make voter registration communal, not competitive, you might arrange a festive congregational potluck where the congregation provides, collects, and submits voter-registration forms, along with songs and food.

July 4, 2016: Independence Now! from Corporate Domination

13-star flag of American Revolution

 For many Americans, the 13-starred Flag of the American Revolution continues to  symbolize resistance to tyranny.. Below you will find a new “Declaration of Independence from Corporate Domination.” We recommend it for study and as several of its paragraphs say, for action – during the days before, on, and after the Fourth of July.  

We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men and women are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights: That among these are –

  • life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the sharing of Beloved Community throughout our planet;
  • a life-sustaining share of the Earth’s abundance;
  • honorable jobs with living wages and income, based on livable hours;
  • a rhythm of work and rest that frees time for family, neighborhood, citizenly service, and the spirit;
  • democratic elections and legislatures not controlled by wealth
  • peace among all peoples;
  • and responsible relationships embodying, healing, and upholding the sacred web of life upon this planet.

We affirm that governments, corporations, and other institutions are founded solely to secure these rights and uphold these responsibilities, deriving their just powers from the consent of those they govern and whose lives they shape.

We affirm that at the present time, the power of large corporations - especially those in banking, the military-industrial complex, health care, and fossil fuels – is dominating many branches and aspects of the American government and deeply damaging both American democracy and the American future.

We affirm that to redress these wrongs, it is incumbent upon the people to undertake nonviolent action through elections, lobbying, free speech and a free press, strikes, purchasing campaigns, sit-ins, teach-ins, rallies, and vigils;

And therefore we demand: 1.  Actual full employment with a living income for all on the basis of a 32-hour work week 2.  Universal health care on the model of Medicare for all 3.  Strong laws to prevent global climate disaster and swiftly move the US and world economies from fossil-fuel dependence to renewable energy; such laws to include capping greenhouse-gas emissions and placing a rising tax on the production and emission of carbon dioxide and methane, with the income to be divided among

Torah, World Politics, & Iran

How does the American Jewish community make a decision on an issue that is crucial to our own future and the fate of the world around us -- like the decision that faces us now about making sure that Iran adheres to its own claim that it does not intend to produce nuclear weapons?

 To bring a specifically Jewish wisdom to this process, we could draw on the deep, ancient, and evolving wisdom of Torah, reading it anew in the light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves today.

 The passage of Torah that leaps out as most relevant is Deuteronomy  20:10-11. It teaches that if and when we besiege a city (which is what the sanctions against Iran have been), we must proclaim SHALOM to it, and if it then agrees to decent terms that meet our conditions and fulfill our crucial needs, we must make sure it adheres to them and we must end the siege.

That is what the proposed agreement with Iran does.

It does this by requiring Iran to abandon all the physical objects and scientific processes that could lead to nuclear weapons, and to subject itself to unprecedented intrusive inspections to make sure it is adhering to that regimen. It makes sure that if Iran’s government were to change its mind, decide to go nuclear, and expel inspectors, the world would have at least a year to take action before Iran could make a nuclear weapon.

[See the point-by-point analysis of the agreement by clicking to   <>]


Yet we must test the Torah teaching against our present situation. In this case, what is an alternative approach that would make sure Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons?

The same Torah passage that counsels proclaiming Shalom to a besieged city and bending it to our own will sees that the alternative to agreement would be an utterly destructive war.

And in our present situation, that expectation seems correct.  If the Congress were to torpedo this agreement, the world-wide regimen of sanctions against Iran would almost certainly


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