HaAretz article on Iran agreement & The Shalom Center

By | Haaretz  Jul. 15, 2015 | 3:52 PM

No U.S. Jewish consensus on Iran deal - yet


NEW YORK – It was the summer of 1946 when the first anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima coincided with Tisha B’Av, the annual Jewish commemoration of Jerusalem’s destruction. Arthur Waskow was a boy of 12 editing his camp newspaper when he wrote, “it is totally clear that we have to put an end to war.”

Seven decades later nuclear disarmament remains one of Waskow’s primary concerns. So for Waskow, now a rabbi and director of the Shalom Center, a Philadelphia-based progressive Jewish think tank, the announcement of an agreement signed between Iran, the United States and European governments was a welcome development.

“This is a perfect case of what the Torah teaches: ‘when you besiege a city,’ which is what the sanctions are, ‘proclaim shalom to it and see if the city will meet your conditions for peace making.’ If they agree, you stop the siege and you’re at peace with the city,” Waskow told Haaretz, citing Deuteronomy.

The Shalom Center was born in 1983, in fact, to add a Jewish voice to the religious conversation about the nuclear arms race after American Catholic bishops published a pastoral letter on the subject.

Breaking News --Iran, Tisha B'Av, Hiroshima, &Temple Earth

Thus Summer, We Face Deep Decisions of  Spirit in Society 

Dear members and friends of The Shalom Center,

First  -- A last-minute addition to this letter: I have just this morning  (July 14) been on the phone with a reporter for Haaretz, the leading Israeli newspapaer, interviewing me about my response to the agreement just achieved between Iran and the world's great powers, including the US, for tough, intrusive, and inclusive inspections to make sure that the world knows as fact what Iran has long claimed: that it will not take possesion of nuclear weapons.

[See a copy of the article on our Website at, with photos, etc, on the Haaretz website at To see it on the Haaretz website,  you may have to register as a reader.]

In the interview,  I quoted the Torah (Deut 20:10-11) that says if you besiege a city (which is what the sanctions have been), proclaim SHALOM to it, and if it then agrees to decent terms that meet your conditions and fulfill your crucial needs, make sure it adheres to them and end the siege.

That is what this agreement does.

The Israeli and Saudi governments have denouncd the new agreement. They are profoundly mistaken. There will be attempts by some Members of Congress -- with support from a few "official" Jewish organizations -- to torpedo the agreement. They too are profoundly mistaken.

I understand how it is easy for the Israeli Jewish community, for whom the Holocaust is a constant nightmare in the constant present, to be consumed by fear when an increasingly right-wing government appeals to that fear to increase its own power (as PM. Netanyahu did just before the election). But neither Israel nor the world-wide Jewish people is powerless, a helpless victim, in this generation.

And the great majority of actual flesh-and-blood American Jews know this, and support the agreement with Iran.

Protection of the State of Israel from possible nuclear attack is one major concern of the American Jewish community. And most of the comunity knows that there are only two ways of making sure that Iran lives up to its stated intention not to possess nuclear weapons: to affirm the new agreement with its extraordinarily tough inspections, or to undertake a military attack on Iran.

Such an attack might win a momentary victory. But Iran's government  would then seek nuclear weaponry to deter future attacks. Only a continuing, probably permanent, occupation — constantly harassed by guerrilla warfare from a furious and united Iranian people — could prevent their government’s achieving a nuclear arsenal. Such a war would be far worse for the US, Israel, and the whole Middle East than the Iraq War was.”

Yet those who lied us into the Iraq war are pursuing the same disastrous path now. And this time the disaster would be even greater. A foreign-affairs disaster for the US, a domestic American disaster to meeting crucial civilan needs, disastrous deaths for soldiers and civilians in many nations, an ethical and moral disaster.

I urge all our members and readers to call and write your Members of Congress and Senators now, urging them to support the new agreement. I encourage us all to make clear the religious roots of our commitment, and the importance of this decision.

Below you will find

Electing Our Leaders Today: The Torah of our Choosing

You may set, yes, set over you some to hold office
Who are aware that the Breath of Life is
Uniting all, breathing into life all God’s Crea
You may not give power to those so ali
As not to feel that you are kin t

Indeed! --  the officials whom y
ou choose
must not multiply the horses of
a cavalry,
a standing army to invade other nations and oppre
ss your own;

Your choice must not retur
n the people
to living in a Tight and Narrow Place – th
at’s slavery!
For the Breath of Life ha
s said to you:
You must not return you
rself or others
to ignorance, to poverty, to subservienc
e, or despair-
all slavery!

The ones you choose must not become addicted to
sexual obsessions,
Or to taking bribes or fav
ors from the wealthy
For in these ways their hearts
will be turned aside
wisdom and compassion.
But it shall be when they sit in the h
alls and seats of power,
They are to clarify their understand
ing of Most Sacred Wisdom
And face the caring
public; share their vision
ways that could with honor
face the wis
dom of our wisest forebears,
prophets and holy teachers,
andso be worthy of our trust.

  Their un
derstanding of the Sacred Wisdom
is to remain beside them,
to read it and
rewrite it as each day, each dawn,
Brings new knowle
dge and new insight to our lives --
To make ce
rtain that the rulers whom we choose
Will remain s
teadfast in knowing that all Creation
, demands, our wonder and our healing,
so that their hearts not
rise in arrogance above their kinfo
all Earth and all her life-forms –
that they
t turn-aside from what connects us all.

Only in this way can we prolong our days
among all peoples
, all life-forms --
we and all our children!

[A midrashic interpretation of Deuteronomy 17: 14-20]

Haftarah for July 4: Declaration of Independence in Haftarah Chant

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Brief history by Rabbi Arthur Waskow; haftarah trope by Hazzan Jack Kessler

Attached is a copy of the US Declaration of Independence with Haftarah Trope marked, as created by Hazzan Jack Kessler and delineated by Rabbi Marcia Prager.

The graphic shows the first page of the text with Trope marks; available for download is the entire text. (Click on "attachment" at the end of this post).

Honoring the Declaration in this way has a pedigree in the havurah and Jewish-renewal movements, beginning in 1974.

Fort Hood and the Prophetic "IF"

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One reader wrote me to ask: " "What effect will the Ft. Hood shootings have on the American public's perception of Islam?" That question asks us to be foretellers, fortune tellers, to predict. But The Shalom Center has had the holy chutzpah to call ourselves a "prophetic voice," and that voice is about "forth-telling," not foretelling. About “If,” not “will.”

Limiting the Power of Kings

The Fourth of July, the Torah, and the Presidency

The Fourth of July is a holy day in the liturgical calendar of the American people, and a time of memory and hope for many people in many nations - not for American national reasons, but because it recalls a great modern document and action on behalf of human rights and the calling to account of an unaccountable, irresponsible ruler.

In Jewish custom, special Torah readings and Prophetic passages are set aside to be read and discussed on the Jewish festivals. In the customs of the movement for Jewish renewal, beginning with havurah (fellowship) retreats in the mid-1970s and continuing in the Kallot (gatherings) sponsored every other summer by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, it has become a joyful custom to honor this festival in a special way:

Elections, Kings, Wars, & Justice

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow

As the American people faces up to the challenges of the extraordinary Presidential and Congressional election of 2008, this week's Torah portion (Shoftim) offers some profound and precise standards for deciding what to do.

This election is only slightly extraordinary because a woman and a Black person are on the national tickets. Much more extraordinary are the profound issues of centralized power and democratic process that we face.

First off, the Torah portion asserts (Deut.16: 20), "Justice, justice shall you pursue. " Why "justice" twice? To remind us that "Just results can only be achieved by just means." Even the pursuit by any political party or candidate of goals they fervently affirm are "just" cannot be done by suppressing voter turnout or by assassinating the characters of their opponents.

The Bible Meets a Stand-up Comic

Dear Friends,

One of the most interesting studies of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) that I know is a book by Evan Eisenberg, The Ecology of Eden. It is a fusion of history, anthropology, ecology, and archeology with his own spiritual exploration.

It gives an ecological grounding to the spiritual struggle of the Western Semitic peoples in the face of the emergence of imperial monocrop agriculture in Sumeria. That spiritual struggle resulted, Eisenberg suggests, in the birth of Torah.

The Torah does not include Eco-Judaism; the Torah IS Eco-Judaism.

Eisenberg casts a sardoniceye not only on ancient empires, but also on those in seats of power today. (In this he echoes one book of the Bible: the Scroll of Esther, which is a funny and bitter critique of arrogance in power.) Below is his sardonic Torah commentary on Shofetim and on passages from Genesis, the Gospels of Matthew and John, and Ecclesiastes -- which he calls "THE KING GEORGE VERSION" of the Bible.

Kings, Wars, & Justice

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow *

The Torah portion that early asserts, "Justice, justice shall you pursue" (which means "Just ends by just means," said the rabbis) is deeply concerned with putting limits on political and military power. (Deut.16: 20)

The "perek hamelekh" (passage on the king; Deut 17: 14-20), puts constitutional limits on royal power: the king may pile up no horse-chariots for an aggressive war; no wealth out of payoffs for favors; no series of sexual conquests. He must not "send the people back into Mitzrayyim" – the Narrow Place of slavery -- to pay the costs of his army. He must drink in precisely the teachings that limit his powers and empower the poor, by both reading them and writing his own copy of them.


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