Betrayal & Beyond: Hosea's Haftarah Journey into Love & Justice

From Humilation to Shalom 

 The Haftarah (reading from the Prophets) this coming Shabbat B'Midbar is from Chapter 2 of Hosea. It is perhaps the most agonized and agonizing shriek in the Bible, crested by one of the most lovely images of love, justice, and shalom.

 The Haftarah (reading from the Prophets) this coming Shabbat is from Chapter 2 of Hosea. It is perhaps the most agonized and agonizing shriek in the Bible, crested by one of the most lovely images of love, justice, and shalom.

It calls on us to transform our own worst nightmares of betrayal into faithfulness, a world where the bloody Bow of war has been broken from all Earth and transmuted to the beauty of the Rainbow glowing in the clouds, calling to memory and renewal the covenant that binds with God not only all Humanity but all life on Earth.

The story begins before the text of the Haftarah. Hosea hears God commanding him to marry a ‘wife of whoredom” who brings upon Hosea all the grief and despair that consume God, turning the Breath of Life into a sharp and bitter wind.

Why does the Voice insist on making Hosea’s life a bitterness? Because the People Israel has betrayed the teachings of the Holy One to walk in holiness.

So even Hosea’s children with Gomer must be named “Not Given Compassion” and ”Not My People.” For that is how deep will the break be between the Breath of Life and the People who have abandoned being Godwrestlers.

”For you are not my people and I/ Anokhi [the universal Liberator God who spoke at Sinai], will not be your God.”

Then, in the Haftarah itself, Hosea hears God threaten the utter abandonment of the people whoring after gods of greed and “ownership” and war. Wife Gomer is assailed as a stand-in for a whoring People Israel:

“She must turn away from the whorishness she breathes before her face, her adultery from between her breasts. For otherwise I will strip her naked and make her like a wilderness.”

 Then, Hosea hears, only in the midst of shame and destitution will Gomer – that is, the People Israel – find her false gods useless, pointless, and turn back to the true Breath of Life.

 And then the Haftarah turns to joy:

"On that day you will call me Ishi [my man, my spouse, my equal] and not Baali [my boss], for the names of the false-gods-Baalim/ Bosses shall nevermore be heard from your lips.

 “And on that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping-beings of the humus-earth. I will break bow, sword, and war from the world and will let them all lie down in safety.

 “And I will espouse you for me forever,. I will espouse  you with equal justice and with care for the downtrodden, with love and with compassion. I will espouse you to me with faithfulness and you shall fully, deeply, experience the Breath of Life.

 “And on that day I will respond to the sky, and the spheres of air will respond to Earth and Earth will respond with new grain, with olive-oil and wine. And I will say to “Not My People,” you are my people, and he will say, “My God!”

This vision of a loving future echoes the covenant that comes after the Flood -- tthe covenant that has three partners, not only two: God, Humanity, and all life on Earth. The sign and symbol of that covenenat was the RainBow (keshet). Hosea mentions the keshet, but not the RainBow: instead, the WarBow. His God, the God of all life, promises to break the WarBow from the life of Earth. Hosea hints that the Bow can appear as the RainBow in the clouds only if the WarBow is shattered from our midst.

Many in a generation of Feminist Jews have harshly criticized Hosea for his harsh use of a real woman as merely a symbol of the treachery of the whole people toward their highest values. There is a great deal of truth in the criticism, steeped as it is in an attempt to transcend the ancient, and continuing, attempt to demean and subjugate women as vessels of betrayal from the path of higher values.

Yet Hosea himself looks past that pattern of humiliation to one in which a human marriage and our very relationship with the sacred Ultimate can become equal, faithful, and loving.

Hosea calls us to that transformation in our intimate lives, in the society of women, men, and all  their varied sexualities and genders; the transformation that ends the war and violence, the bow and sword and bomb and gun, between peoples and within each people;  the transformation into a cultural and political ecology in which each person, each culture, each species fits into a greater ecosystem; the transformation of overlordship into a jigsaw puzzle in which our very differences invite us to fit together; the transformation in air and water and soil and animals and plants from subjugation -- into love and justice.

Can we learn this transformation from growing ever larger isles of love? We can. And if we won’t, Hosea and the Breath of Life insist on warning us, we will have to learn it from shame and destitution.

Who Owns Women's Bodies --- in Bible & Today?

[This essay is by Alicia Ostriker, a renowned poet who  has made a special mark by poetically creating midrash  -- biblical stories hidden in the white space of the parchment. She has twice won  the National Jewish Book Award for Poetry and was New York State's Poet Laureate for 2018-2021. -- AW, editor]

The Biblcal Jephthah's Daughter:

Who Owned Her Body?

Who Owns YOUR Daughter's Body?

By Alicia Ostriker

Who owns women’s bodies?  The age-old answer is that women are the property of fathers, brothers, husbands, who are entitled to buy and sell them, or even, as in “honor killings,” to kill them.   Here in America the idea that women can be proud owners and caretakers of themselves and their own bodies has been taking hold gradually—and with many setbacks, such as we see being played out in the issue of abortion presently before the Supreme Court.

Judaism has a lot to say about women’s bodies, and some of the stories preserved in Torah are truly shocking.   For me, one of the most painful and provocative texts in scripture is the story of Jephthah’s daughter in the Book of Judges (Judg. 11: 30-40).  The story is worth remembering because it is so stark—yet it leaves open a gate for healing.

In this story the Israelite warrior-general Jephthah vows to sacrifice whatever first meets him if he returns victorious from a forthcoming battle.  It turns out that the one meeting him then is his daughter, his only child, who comes forth to welcome him “with timbrels and with dances.” The daughter (like many female figures in Torah) is never named. Here is what happens next:

When he saw her he tore his clothes and said, Alas, my daughter, you have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me; for I have opened my mouth to YHWH [usually mistranslated "Lord"; Yahh, Breath of Life], and I cannot take back my vow.

And she said to him, My father, if you have opened your mouth to YHWH [Yahh, Breath of Life], do to me according to what has gone forth from your mouth, now that YHWH has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.  And she said to her father, let this thing be done for me, let me alone two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, I and my companions. 

And he said, Go….And at the end of two months she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had made.  And she had never known a man. 

The horror we feel reading this story today was apparently felt by many of our sages.  For there is rabbinic commentary aplenty about it, and most of it expresses deep distress.  Some of that distress takes the form of denial (the sages, like us, practice denial when something in Torah is unacceptable): it is claimed that Jephthah merely ‘offered’ his daughter by sending her to live in seclusion. Others take a stronger stand, condemning the vow as invalid.   Two fascinating midrashim may come close to our own response.

In one, the high priest Pinchah is blamed for not nullifying the vow and Jephthah is blamed for not begging nullification.  “Between the two of them that poor woman was lost to the world, and both were liable for her blood.  And the Spirit of Holiness – ruach hakodesh – screamed:  "Was it human lives that I asked you to sacrifice before me?”

In another midrash the daughter argues with her father like a veritable talmudist, without success. She then goes to the Sanhedrin, but again is rejected. “They arose and killed her.  And the Spirit of Holiness screamed, ‘Did I want human lives?’”  Not coincidentally, the ruach elohim is grammatically feminine.  Some have identified it with the figure of the Shekhinah herself.

In the light of this scream, which readers of Judges 11 may have felt in their own throats, which I have felt in mine, we need to turn to the mysterious coda to the story:  “And it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year” (Judg. 11:29-30). 

 [This is Gustav Dore's engraving of the first gathering of women to mourn the fate of  Jephthan's Daughter.]

The daughters of Israel used to go for four days each year to lament this nameless girl’s death.  What did this ceremony mean to them?  Why did this custom die out?  And if Jephtha’s never-named daughter is a Jewish Everywoman, why not revive or reconceive a communal lamentation  for her sacrifice? 

I write not as a scholar but as a poet and midrashist.  Some years ago  I composed a poem  based on Judges 11 to be used in a dance company’s performance at the Hebrew Union College in connection with an exhibit on family violence.  Then, imagining that the four-day commemoration of the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter might be revived and added to the Jewish calendar, I wrote an extended poem sequence to be performed at such a ceremony. 

The piece is called ‘Jephthah’s Daughter: A Lament.’  It is designed for a group of women who speak in chorus or antiphonally, in the imaginary location of a mountaintop.[i]  As a ritual, it enables performers and audience to ponder the meaning of this girl’s sacrifice to us today.  Here is an excerpt in the voice of the daughter herself:

(A single voice)


Yes I am dead

Yes I was a daughter of Israel

Yes I am nameless


Yes my father was a very great warrior

Yes the spirit of the Lord came upon him

Yes the Ammonites were delivered into his hand


Yes I ran after his love I praised I danced

Yes he had opened his mouth to the Lord

Yes he felt pain he blamed me


Yes I went with my companions on the mountains

Yes for two months I lamented my virginity

Yes I was a girl I wanted love


Yes I wanted a man to push into me

Yes like a long flash of light and babies to push out

Yes my companions kissed me and embraced me


Yes the men lay me on stone like a sheep

Yes I was naked like a sheep

Yes I cried God  God  Mama


Yes the angel of the Lord rescued my ancestor Isaac

Yes the Lord sent a messenger to stop the father’s hand

Yes he would save a boy but not save me….


                       Yes I am very long dead

                       Yes I am weeping

Yes what else do you want of me


But this bitter poem is not the end of it.  As with other ceremonies of mourning, the intention is to enable sorrow to turn to hope.  A refrain throughout the sequence is “Going forth in mourning/ returning in joy.” And at the close of “Jephthah’s Daughter: A Lament” the mountain chorus hears an offstage voice—the voice of the ruach hakodesh, or of the wind—urging those who mourn to become the intervening angel who will ultimately ‘stop the warrior’s hand.’  We all know what the warrior’s hand looks like in our time, and we all can take part in the long task of making it stop sacrificing the lives and freedoms of women.  I invite groups of women to read, share, and perform  my “Jephtha’s Daughter”  in whatever way they find  meaningful as they go forward in this struggle.

Alicia Ostriker



See ‘Jephthah’s Daughter: A Lament’, in On the Cutting Edge: the Study of Women in Biblical Worlds:  Essays in Honor of Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, ed. Jane Schaberg, Alice Bach, and Esther    Fuchs (New York and London: The continuum International Publishing Group) 2004.  See also the versions online on Jill Hammer’s Tel Shemesh website, and the version on the Ritual Well website: http://telshemesh.org/cheshvan/jephthahs_daughter_a_lament.html, and



[i] “Jephthah’s Daughter” was premiered by Avodah Dance Ensemble (Director

 and choreographer Joanne Tucker) at Hebrew Union College, in connection with

 an exhibit on Family Violence, in January 1998.

“Jephthah’s Daughter” (a different choreography) was performed as part of the

retrospective of the choreographer and dancer Ze’eva Cohen, at Danspace, New

 York City, April 1999.

“Jephthah’s Daughter: A Cantata” composed by Moshe Budmor.  Premiere

performance: College of New Jersey, spring 2002.  Performed at U. of Detroit,

Mercy College, October 2002.  Performed at West-park Presbyterian Church,

NYC, November 2002.


[Notes by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, editor: The "four-day" memorial mentioned in the Bible could be seen in our own generation as calling forth four stages of thought and feeling in the gatherings tthat Ostriker suggests: Gatherings to renew and strengthen women's control of their own bodies and futures, along with the advances toward freedom of other communities of varied sexualitry and gender identity:

(1) celebration of the great advances of women during the last 50 years;

(2) lament for Jephtha's daughter and for the backlash against women today, against their empowerment, against justice, and against the true Breath/Spirit of Life;

(3) public action  to demand, affirm, and make real the full equality of women and of all communities of varied sexuality and gender identity;

(4) rethinking shared with others  --  other oppressed, endangered, and struggling-for-justice communities -- to look at the whole pattern of oppression and subjugation that takes many forms: racism, religious bigotry, hatred of foreigners, militarism, economic deprivation, destruction of Earth. (This four-stage pattern is drawn  from Joanna Macy's "The Work that Reconnects.")] 

If you are interested in creating such a gathering, please write us at Office@theshalomcenter.org

McKibben, Waskow, & Macy -- Wise Elders Conversation


You are warmly invited to attend our upcoming program on March 28 at 7:30 pm Eastern Time, with luminary elders of the climate movement in conversation together.: 

 Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org and co-founder of Third Act, a gathering of activist Elders 60 years old and more, 

 Joanna Macy, founder  and lead teacher of The Work That Reconnects, 

and Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder and director of The Shalom Center, initiator of #ExodusAlliance

 REGISTER HERE (free):  bit.ly/ClimateElders

The conversation will be moderated by a younger climate leader -- bringing the hearts of elders and youth  to turn to each other. It will be hosted by Third Act, Exodus Alliance, and GreenFaith. This discussion will center the deep wisdom and prophetic perspectives of these generational leaders, as they share about past, present, and future of the climate movement and the world of justice and compassion they’ve dedicated their lives to growing. 

You won’t want to miss it.

Healing Ukraine: Communal Fast to Avert Calamity

Ceremonial Call for a Taanit Tzibbur al HaTzarah

Finding ourselves pressed down by the reality of war, we gather to support each other and to strengthen our courage. Regardless of our political views, we know that wars cause the death of innocents — mothers and children, fathers and grandparents. We know that the world is an interconnected whole, and that what we do to one part of it will in turn affect us, too.

The Rambam teaches that all fasts assist in the holy process of T'shuvah — turning ourselves toward the One. By turning away from filling our bellies, we more easily open our hearts to compassion, our minds to wisdom, and our hands to acts of peace. Today, we ask the question — what tshuvah, what turning, is it that we want to turn to, in light of this potential calamity of war? Near the end of the service, each person in the circle will be asked to share what they intend to turn to.

Bringing Out the Ark

Since ancient times, the Call to a Communal Fast has begun by bringing out the Ark into an open space and strewing wood-ashes on the Ark, on the foreheads of the secular and religious leaders of the community, and then everyone else. [Pause to do this, skipping anyone who prefers not to have the ashes. If the community has not brought an Ark outdoors, ashes may be strewn on the Torah cover or on a cloth surrounding it.]

The eldest member of the group speaks:

Today, as the Prophet Joel (2:13) teaches, "Karu l'vavchem v'al bigdeichem" — we gather to rend our hearts, not our garments as we do upon a death. We have not experienced a death, but in the darkened air there hovers the possibility of many deaths. By rending our hearts — tearing them more open — we hope to prevent the needless killing that could happen during war. Let us rend our hearts now, so that we will not need to rend our garments later. May our hearts and the hearts of our leaders soften so that we make life-affirming choices in these difficult times. As we learn (Jonah 3: 8-10), when Nineveh repented from the violence of their fists, God saw not their sackcloth and ashes — but instead "God saw their deeds, that they turned from their evil path."

Sounding the Shofar

We call ourselves to alarm by blowing the shofar in the sound of alarm; we call ourselves to compassion by blowing the shofar in its wailing and its sobs.


We remember the Power of the One to re-member us, to make us whole again.

"God remembered Noah and every living creature, and all the life-forms, all the animals that were with him in the ark; God brought a rushing-wind across the earth, and the waters abated." May we, living in a world beflooded by an overflow of violence, remember now our covenant for life.

Just as God heard our groaning under slavery in the Narrow Place, re-membering the covenant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah, so may we re-member our own part in that covenant.

Blessed are You, YHWH our God, Ruler [Breathing-spirit] of the world, who has made us holy through connectedness, and has connected us through the hearing of the shofar. Baruch attah YHWH elohenu melech [ruach] ha'olam asher kidshanu b'mitzvot vitzivanu lishmoa kol shofar.

First blowing of the shofar — Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, Tekiah.

Blessed are You, YHWH our God, Who re-members the covenant.

Shoferot/Shofar-Transformations Today, we blow the shofar to awaken ourselves and our leaders to the transformative possibilities of peace. For as we are taught, "All you who dwell upon the planet and live throughout the earth shall see when the banner is lifted on the mountain, shall hear the Shofar when it is sounded forth." (Isaiah 18:3).

Second blowing of the shofar — Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, Tekiah Gedolah

For You hear the sound of the shofar and You heed its call. There is none like You. Blessed are You, YHWH, who in compassion hears the shofar sounding of Your people.

Acrostic Prayer for Yom Kippur Katan

(the "little Yom Kippur" before the New Moon or on any communal fast)

(by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z'l)

You my God, my Helper

Ordering my life is not easy

My struggles are before You

Keep at my side as I strive

I am not as good as I wish to be

Put forth Your light and lead me

Please guide my steps on Your path

Up to the level I can live on

Raise my actions to my values

Kindness plant in my heart

Attention to the ways I am relating

To others who cross my path

And help me to live in balance

Neither in haste nor in sloth

And give me joy in Your service

Making bright the lives of my loved ones

Embracing the lot You give me —

Night and morning in Your service.

How may I come to You / If I did not heed Your word?

What You have made pure / I have polluted

What You have loved / I despised

What You have ordered / I have disrupted

What you have intended / I have opposed

Take my ways and turn them

So that I might make pure/ What I have polluted

That I may love / What You love

That I may order / What I have disrupted

That I might intend / What You intend

May I be renewed like the moon.

May I reflect Your light ever waxing.

Recitation of Psalms

from Psalm 120:

In my distress, I called to YHWH and I was answered.

God, rescue my soul/ breath from lips that lie, from a tongue that deceives…

Too long has my soul/ breath dwelt with those who hate peace.

I am peace, but when I speak, they are for war.

from Psalm 121:Song: Esai Einai

I lift up my eyes unto the mountains

From where, from where will my help come?

I lift up my eyes unto the mountains

From where, from where will my help come?

My help will come-come from the One,

Maker of the heavens and the earth.

My help will come-come from the One,

Maker of the heavens and the earth.

Esai Einai, el ha-harim

Mei-ai'yin, mei-ai'yin yavo ezri?

Esai Einai, el ha-harim

Mei-ai'yin, mei-ai'yin yavo ezri?

Ezri me-im Hashem oseh shamaiim v'aretz (x2).

from Psalm 130:

From the depths have I called You, O Eternal.

YHWH, hear my voice.

May your ears attend to the sound of my pleas.

For if you were to keep track of all misdeeds,

Oh God, who could breathe?

Yet with You comes forgiveness

That fills us with awe.

In You I place my hope,

With every breath I place my hope in You,

And for Your word I yearn.

My every breath awaits You,

More than watchmen wait for the dawn —

Yes, more than watchmen yearn for dawn.

You who wrestle God, take hope in YHWH!

For with the Source of Life is loving-kindness

And many forms of freedom —

For the Breath of Life will free us from all our unjust acts.

from Psalm 102:

You Who Hear prayers, hear my prayer now,

Let my outcry reach to You.

Do not hide your face from me on this day of distress.

Lend me Your ear.

On the very day I call out, answer me.

Reading from the Prophets —

Yeshayahu, Isaiah 56

What is the fast that I demand of you? —

What is a day that truly presses down your ego?

Is it bending down your head like a bulrush?

Sitting on sack-cloth and ashes?


This is the fast that I have chosen:

Break the handcuffs put on by wicked power;

Undo the yoke of heavy burden;

Let the oppressed go free.

Share your bread with the hungry;

Bring the homeless to your own house.

When you see the naked, clothe them;

Don't hide yourself; they are your flesh and blood!

And from a child of the Prophets, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, writing in 1943:

Emblazoned over the gates of the world in which we live is the escutcheon of the demons. The mark of Cain in the face of man has come to overshadow the likeness of God. Ashamed and dismayed, we ask: Who is responsible?

All may be guided by the words of the Baal Shem: If a man has beheld evil, he may know that it was shown to him in order that he learn his own guilt and repent; for what is shown to him is also within him.

Indeed, where were we when men learned to hate in the days of starvation? When raving madmen were sowing wrath in the hearts of the unemployed?

Let Fascism not serve as an alibi for our conscience. We have failed to fight for right, for justice, for goodness; as a result we must fight against wrong, against injustice, against evil. We have failed to offer sacrifices on the altar of peace; now we must offer sacrifices on the altar of war.

When greed, envy, and the reckless will to power, the serpents that were cherished in the bosom of our civilization, came to maturity, they broke out of their dens to fall upon the helpless nations.

The conscience of the world was destroyed by those who were wont to blame others rather than themselves.


What acts of ours will respond wholeheartedly to Isaiah's voicing of God's desire? What acts of ours will respond to Heschel's call that we become responsible?

Let each of us now look into the hearts we have torn open, and bring forth one action that we intend as an act of turning toward the One. — Each of us is welcome now to say what deed we intend to do in order to lessen violence, seek peace, and prevent war.

[Wait for words of commitment from members of the community.]

We call upon our community to undertake a communal fast and thoughtful action in the hope of averting the calamity of war, focused on the hours from dawn to dusk on _________ [insert date according to the Jewish and Western calendars].

Closing song (by Debbie Friedman; Zechariah 4: 6, read on Shabbat Hanukkah)

Not by might, and not by power,

but by Spirit alone

Shall we all live in peace.

The children sing, the children sing —

And their tears may fall

But we'll hear them call

And another song will rise (x3).

Not by might, and not by power,

but by Spirit alone

Shall we all live in peace.


The liturgy above was shaped by Rabbi Lee Moore, then Program Coordinator for The Shalom Center, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow, its director. They drew on a ceremonial Call for Taanit Tzibbur led by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z'l in 1990.

#ExodusAlliance vs. Climate Pharaohs: A Call to Action

#ExodusAlliance Call to Action (with initial signers at the end of the Call)

We are leaders and organizations of Faith communities committed to eco/social justice and healing—committed to act in the greatest planetary emergency ever experienced by Humankind. 

We will draw on the wisdom and practices of the Biblical and Quranic stories of the Exodus to heal Earth and Humanity fr.om the Plagues brought on by the stubbornness, arrogance, and cruelty of modern Corporate Carbon Pharaohs.

We plan to organize in many cities, groups of people for nonviolent action – public sermons and prayers, pilgrimages, vigils. Especially in the light of deadly deadlock that has paralyzed serious Federal Governmental action, we seek to erase the financial underpinnings of the Carbon Pharaohs. 

On the fourth, fifth, or sixth days of Passover – Tuesday through Thursday April 19 through 21 -- we intend to challenge Chase Bank in its many branches, and other such investors as Vanguard, for each is very high on the list of the world’s deadly investors in the Fossil Fuel Pharaohs.

#ExodusAlliance actions are happening as part of a global season of multifaith climate action called, “Sacred Season,” organized by GreenFaith, The Shalom Center, and many others. From March 19-May 6, faith communities from across the world will be mobilizing for a livable planet and just transition. Deeply rooted in the story of the ancient Israelite liberation from Pharaoh, #ExodusAlliance is one key "species" in the ecosystem of Sacred Season.

How do we plan to do this? 

  1. Beginning 52 years ago, Freedom Seders have drawn on liberatory passages from many traditions. We will bring an activist Street Freedom Seder to the doorsteps of Chase and other deadly investors, demanding they not only end all support for any aspect of the fossil-fuel industry but also turn their investments to grow the economy of Life.
  2. We will disseminate the new Street Earth Seder with such voices as Moses, Gandhi, Greta Thunberg, Martin Buber, Malcolm X, Rachel Carson, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Elin Schade, Wendell Berry, Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Pope Francis, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, Rev. William Barber II. It will include the Matzah “unleavened bread” we are taught was baked so quickly that it could not rise, in order to meet what Dr. Martin Luther King called “the fierce urgency of Now.” It will include the Palm fronds that for Christians recall the justice march of the first Palm Sunday.  Among its banners will be the Hamsa of Muslim symbolism. It will include the Bitter Herb of slavery and plagues, the life-affirming Greens of parsley and the delicious Charoset of a new society.
  3. We will gather and share information on how Chase Bank and others are financing the Plagues. In addition, some communities may choose to face clergy pension funds or similar funds that unthinkingly invest in planetary death. Houses of faith and their faith-filled members may want to transfer their accounts and credit cards from Chase. There may be other choices. We will use the slogan “Move Our Money; Protect Our Planet.”
  4. We will share with many different communities our own and their texts, prayers, meditations, stories, songs, practices, and art from ancient treasure-houses and current creativity.  And so we will connect with many festivals that celebrate Infusions of the Spirit in the past, with many actions to affirm the Spirit in the future.  

We affirm and support that people of diverse communities of faith, and some individual and organizational signers of this Call, while joining in the #ExodusAlliance actions, may also during the Sacred Season from March 19 to May 6, 2022 and beyond, carry out other nonviolent actions to heal Earth and Humanity from the climate crisis. 

In all this we pledge ourselves to begin but not to end with signatures of leaders and names of organizations. We intend to mobilize thousands of members of faith communities to take part in these nonviolent vigils and pilgrimages. 

And in all this we speak in the name of the many Names our varied communities give the sacred One Breath, One Spirit that unites all life upon our beloved Earth.

Signed --

Organizational Partners:

  • The Shalom Center
  • Hazon
  • Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) 
  • JYCM (Jewish Youth Climate Movement)
  • Dayenu
  • Jewish Earth Alliance
  • Third Act
  • GreenFaith
  • EQAT (Earth Quaker Action Team)
  • Neohasid.org
  • Tikkun
  • Network of Spiritual Progressives
  • Jewish Climate Action Network-- NYC
  • Jewish Climate Action Network -- Massachusetts

 Individual Signatories (organization listed for identification only, but pursuing possibility of organizational engagement):

  • Rabbi Katy Allen, Jewish Climate Action Network – Mass.
  • Pat Almonrode, Environmental Stewardship Committee, Metro NY Synod, ELCA
  • Rev. Dr. Jim Antal, Special Advisor on Climate Justice to UCC Minister and President
  • Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, Founder, Shomrei Adamah
  • Robert Brand, Senior Staff, The Shalom Center 
  • Nurete Brenner, Ph.D., Executive Director. Lake Erie Institute
  • Cherie Brown, CEO, National Coalition-Building Institute
  • Patrick Carolan, co-founder Global Catholic Climate Movement, former ED Franciscan Action Network.
  • Rabbi Nate DeGroot, National Organizer, The Shalom Center 
  • Eileen Flanagan, Interim Campaign Director, EQAT (Earth Quaker Action Team)
  • Dr. Mirele B. Goldsmith, Jewish Earth Alliance
  •  Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD, Co-founder, Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute
  • Bob Fulkerson, Lead National Organizer, Third Act
  • JYCM Leaders -- Madeline Canfield, Morgan Long, Liana Rothman – Jewish Youth Climate  Movement/ Hazon
  • Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, Executive Vice President, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
  • Rabb Michael Lerner
  • Adriane Leveen, Steerimg Committee Co-Chair, JCAN-NYC
  • Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, POWER Interfaith
  • Jakir Manela, Executive Director, Hazon
  • Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Executive Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
  • David Schreiber, Jewish Climate Action Network of MA
  • Rabbi David Seidenberg
  • Rabbi David Shneyer, Am Kolel
  • Rabbi Daniel Swartz, Executive Director, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL)
  • Rabbi Elliot Tepperman, President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
  • Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow, Executive Director, The Shalom Center 
  • Rabbi Elyse Wechterman, Executive Director, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
  • Rev. Jim Winkler, General Secretary, National Council of Churches USA
  • Cat Zavis, Network of Spiritual Progressives

To join these signers as supporter and participant in #ExodusAlliance,  please click here:



Do We Need to ReName God?

The Name of God inscribed as the Image of God on a human body, courtesy of Rabbi Marcia Prager
 Early in the Book of "Exodus," God goes through a change of Name.  Indeed,  in Jewish tradition the Book is not known as “Exodus" but as “Sefer Shemot –- the Book of Names.”
For the Eternal Holy One Who suffuses all the universe to change The Name is seismic. Cosmic.
It happens twice -- first at the Burning Bush, then again in Egypt. And the difference is important.
The first time, as Moses faces the unquenchably fiery Voice Who is sending him on a mission to end slavery under Pharaoh, he warns the Voice that the people will challenge him: “Sez who?”

Tu B’Shvat Seder: Planet, Poetry, and Power

Next Sunday evening, February 9, on the Full Moon of midwinter, we are taught to gather for the Seder of Tu B’Shvat, the ReBirthDay of trees and of the One Great Tree of Life. We eat four kinds of fruits and nuts, and drink four varicolored cups of wine (or grape juice).


[This graphic is “The Tree of Life Afire,”  by the Prophet Leonard Cohen.  Is this fiery Tree a Burning Bush, calling us to free ourselves and Earth from tyranny? Can the burning of our common home awaken us?]

One of the most wise, most powerful, most poetic, and most activist of all these Seders I have seen was created by students in a class at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. I invite, I urge, I implore you to read it and if you feel as drawn as I do, to use it, with whatever reshapings you desire, for your own Seder this coming Full Moon. Click here to access it:


Of the four sorts of fruit, only three sorts are touchable. The four start tough outside, like walnuts; increase in vulnerability to fruit like olives, soft outside but inwardly protected; then to fruit like figs, soft all the way through; and finally to the fourth sort, so ethereal that the fruit is not touchable,  not visible, at all.   Here are four brief teachings that I suggest you might introduce into the Four Worlds of the Seder, with time for conversation about each. And two brief teachings about the Four Cups of wine or grape juice that we drink in honor of the Four Worlds.

Asiyah (Physicality): This is the only sacred Jewish meal that does not require the death of any living creature. (In fact, one might understand the pattern of this meal as a command that for this meal, celebrating the ReBirth of the Divine Tree of Life, not only is killing not required, but NOT killing IS required.) Even eating the Pesach bitter herb requires uprooting a radish, killing it.  But nuts and fruit come in such profusion that eating them does not threaten the lives or continuity of trees. 

Yetzirah (Interconnection, relationship): This holy day was rooted in Temple times for tithing fruit: that is, bringing a tenth of one’s own fruit harvest to make sure the poor who don’t own fruit trees get nuts and fruit to eat The Kabbalists chose this day partly because, just as they said eating without a brocha --  a blessing  -- was robbery from YHWH [Yahhh, the Holy Interbreath of life], so eating without sharing through tzedakah —socially responsible sharing for the sake of justice -- is robbery from the poor and from YHWH.

 Briyyah (Intellect, Creativity): The custom has grown up to refer to this day, the 15th of Shvat,  as Tu B’Shvat – using the numbers “Tav + Vav, 9+6” rather than “Yod+Hei, 10+5.”  This custom grew up to avoid using “Yod-Hei” as the name for the day because it is one of the Names of God, as in “Hallelu-Yah.” But: A teaching from Rabbi Phyllis Berman:  -- We should on the Full Moon of each month, and especially on the full moons of Shvat and Av, fully welcome the Divine Presence inscribed on the fullness of the moon: Yah B’Av and Yah B’Shvat.

Atzilut (Spiritual Nearness to God, fusion with the Divine): Taught by Rabbi Naomi Mara Hyman: In 1997, dozens of rabbis and other Jews and people of other spiritual, religious, or ethical communities were gathered in a California redwood grove protected by the government. We were holding a Yah B’Shvat Seder, preparing to mount an act of civil-disobedience resistance to a corporation that was logging nearby ancient redwoods. Naomi – sitting at a table for the Seder – looked up at the redwoods all around us, hundreds of feet tall, the tallest living beings on Earth.

She said: “These trees, we call them ‘Eytzim,’ right?”--  “Right.” --  “The two poles that hold up each Sefer Torah, each Torah Scroll, we call them ‘Eytzim,’ right?” – “Right!” --  “If these eytzim (gesturing at the trees) were the eytzim of a Sefer Torah, how expansive, how ‘Torah d’gadlut,’ would that Sefer have to be  -- not only in physical size but in spiritual grandeur?”

(A pause. Then:) “And each of us would be the right size to be a Letter in that Torah!


[This painting is "The Tree of Life Weeping," by Rabbi Meirah Iliinsky. See her Website illuminatedverses.com  This artwork was originally done in grief for those murdered in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. It applies as well to the whole planetary Tree of Life that is now burning, choking, and weeping in pain. More specifically, see  http://www.versesilluminated.com/virtual-exhibit-ii/the-tree-of-life-is-weeping-giclee-art-print  There Rabbi Iliinsky. points out and explains the symbolism within the painting.]

Long pause.  “Right. And of course that is just what we are: letters in the great Torah of the planet, of the universe. We are the letters that can write a Torah that is filled with love and awe. And as is true in the parchment Scroll, no letter stands alone. Only together can we write a world of Torah.”

Four worlds, four Cups of Wine: the first all White; then White with a drop of Red; then half White, half Red; then Red with a drop of White. There are at least two ways to understand this progression. The first is that the colors hint at the dance of the seasons --  from White for winter through increasing redness as new vitality brings more color until the riot of colorful trees in autumn has within it a seed of white, about to go underground. A second understanding draws on the ancient Talmudic notion that fertility begins with mixtures of white semen and red blood, and that the whole process of the Seder evokes the birthing of new life. Both are about fruitfulness – the deepest desire of Tu B’Shvat.

And then there is the question, why wine altogether? Today many Jewish communities use grape juice as well or instead, but it is clear that for millennia, the tradition preferred wine. Why? The obvious answer is that unlike grape juice, wine has the power to change consciousness. Asking more deeply: Why is that?  Wine has fermented. That means it begins as sweet grape juice, turns sour, and then turns again – to a higher sweetness, capable of changing human consciousness.

The spiritual meaning -- rooted in the chemical reality but capable of teaching a truth beyond chemistry --  is that moving through sweetness to sourness offers the possibility of the next step – transformation into a more subtle, more entrancing, form of sweetness. Once we learn this, we can do it with grape juice, or water, or breathing. Once we know this, we may learn to treat neither sweetness nor sourness in our lives as a place to stop --  but as an invitation to transform ourselves.

To transform our selves to loving and healing each other and the mother of all fruitfulness, our Mother Earth and especially her trees. Acting, as Rabbi Langner wrote earlier this week, to feed our most poverty-stricken neighbors from the bounty of new-born trees, and to reforest Earth so that she and we can breathe again.

(See https://theshalomcenter.org/tu-bshvat-reforesting-earth-heal-both-poverty-climate.)

And once again, I encourage you to access, to modify, and to use the Seder at –


Blessings of seed, roots, trunk, foliage, fruit, seed  --  Arthur

Unique: Heschel on Heschel: LAST CALL

Dear friends, This is "last call" for The Shalom Center's Webinar in which Dr. Susannah Heschel will share and discuss an essay on "Dissent" by her father, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, z’tz’l. on Thursday evening December 16, close to his 49th yahrzeit (death-anniversary) from 7:30 to 9 pm Eastern Time.  Space is limited so we suggest you register now. We encourage you to share this letter with your friends, your whole congregation, etc. Many spiritual and intellectual seekers will be interested.

"Dissent" is a topic important for our time. Indeed, what is dissent? Is violence dissent? Is the creation and support of a whole new social form dissent? Is rejecting vaccination against a lethal disease dissent? Or is insisting on vaccination dissent?  When you register, you will receive a copy of the essay in its original typescript, with Rabbi Heschel's handwritten changes.

Rabbi Heschel was one of the leading theologians and philosophers of the twentieth century, teaching Christians and Jews new ways of understanding and approaching God. He was a close comrade of Dr. Martin Luther King in speaking and public action opposing racism and opposing the US War against Vietnam. He had a deep influence on the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church in radically revising the Church’s attitude toward Judaism, and became a friend of Father Dan Berrigan.

His daughter Susannah  is the Eli M. Black Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College.  She edited one of the earliest books on Jewish feminism, On Being a Jewish Feminist, and a monumental collection of her father’s most profound and provocative essays, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity

Most of her own scholarship has focused on the relations between Jewish and Protestant thought in Germany in the nineteenth and early  twentieth centuries. She has also carried out a continuing dialogue with Muslim scholars on feminism in Judaism and Islam.


There are three levels of tuition: a regular level, one for people of low income seekinng mutual aid, and a higher one for people who can help make mutual aid possible.

You can register by clicking here: Register Now


After registering, you will receive a link to the webinar closer to its date.

I look forward to seeing you there. Both Heschels are remarkable people: Don't miss the encounter!

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

Part II -- The Strange Career of Hanukkah Itself

We have looked at the pre-history of Light in Torah and its appearance before hanukkah began. To see that essay on the spirituality of Light, see the lead story on the left-hand column of  <theshalomcenter.org>. Now the prehistory becomes an introction. Now let us turn to the Festival of Lights-- Part II of this essay on the strange career of Hanukkah.

In the 25th of the lunar month Kislev “in the year 145 of the Greek era” (i.e., 167 BCE), the forces of Antiochus, king of the Hellenistic successor-state Syria, offered sacrifices on an altar that had been set up above the Jewish altar to YHWH in the Jerusalem Temple (I Macc.1:59). This offering climaxed a struggle between Hellenized and anti-Hellenist Jews, and began a series of bloody attacks on Jewish families that had circumcised their boy-children, part of a campaign to shatter biblical Judaism along with all the other indigenous religions of the Eastern Mediterranean region and replace them with a Hellenistic pattern.

Why did the new sacrifices and the anti-Judaism campaign explode then? The Maccabean record does not propose a reason. It is possible that the date was not accidental but fit into a religious focus on the darkest time of the year. For we do know that the date itself in the Jewish lunar moonth comes as the moon is disappearing from public view, and in the Northern Hemisphere the sun is close to solstice, its darkest time.

 And we do know that in parts of the region from ancient Israel to Iran, in Alexander the Great’s Hellenistic empire, a religion flourished that celebrated the sun=god Mithra, who was said to have been born on the 25th of the solstice month. So perhaps – we cannot be sure – the 25th of Kiislev had real religious signicanace to those who dedicated the Temple to  their own sun-god religion of light reborn in the solstice.

For three years, some Jews who supported biblical Israel's Temple Judaism waged a furious guerilla war against Antiochus’ Syrian-Greek empire and its many Jewish sympathizers. The guerilla bands won, and on the 25th of Kislev three years later they were able to rededicate the Temple to the God of biblical Israel.. According to II Maccabees 10: 1-11 -- 

 They proclaimed an eight-day festival to honor Sukkot and Shmini Atzeret, which they had been unable to observe during the war, with all its joyful waving of etrog fruit and palm branches. No mention of an eight-day miracle of olive oil or of lights lit as the moon and sun darkened and then reawakened. They decreed that the whole people should observe these eight days every year, with “hymns to the One who had so triumphantly achieved the purification of his own Temple.”

 But political disaster, the triumph of a new kind of Judaism led by rabbis, and a continuing popular religious celebration of Light transformed the eight-day festival.

 The Roman Empire –- far stronger than Antioches had ever been – destroyed the Temple in 70 CE, and shattered the Jewish population in the Land of Israel after defeating a rebellion in 135 CE led by Bar Kochba. A huge proportion of the Jews were banished and sold as slaves. The surviving rabbis were unwilling to celebrate the Maccabean rebels for fear that path would lead to another Bar Kochba disaster.  But they had a solstice-time festival to deal with. So the Talmudic record of their decisions begins, “Mah zot Hanukkah”  --  What is this Hanukkah?” as if they can barely remember. While recognizing but limiting celebration of the Macccabean victory, they set forth a story of a miracle: Olive oil that should have given light for only one day in the Temple Menorah but lasted for eight days.

 God’s miracle, not the Maccabees’ rebellion, justified lighting lamps for an eight-day festival. And the rabbis made Zechariah’s visions the prophetic teaching of the Shabbat of Hanukkah, climaxing in “Not by might and not by power but by My Breathing Spirit,’ says the Infinite Breath of Life.”

 And by doing this they also may have brought into Jewish practice a popular custom of lighting lamps as the dark of moon and sun gave way to new light as the New Moon rose and the sun grew stronger during the eight-day festival. A remnant of Mithra, grown Jewish? Perhaps.

Interestingly, a later version of Mithraism flourished in the City of Rome itself. It may have been because Mithraism and its god-birthday of December 25 was so popular that in the fourth century of the Christian era, Christian churches began to adopt the 25th of December as the birthday of Jesus, destined to become the Son of God.

 And so Hanukkah persisted through almost two millennia, until about 1900 CE. Then three factors disrupted the rabbinic synthesis.

 One was the breakdown of many ghetto walls in Western Europe and America. Those walls had kept Christians with their solar-calendar festival of December 25 separated from Jews with their lunar-solar calendar festival beginning 25 Kislev. As many ghetto walls dissol Jewish envy of Christmas emerged. The Christian custom of gift-giving for Christmas was given great power by the enormous growth of commercial consumerism, and Hanukkah as well became a beacon for buying.

 And the emergence and growth of political Zionism undercut the rabbinic caution about military solutions to Jewish disempowrment. The Maccabees became heroes, not questionable guides into possible disaster, and Zionist songs changed references to the spiritual  power of God to the politico-military power of the people armed. (For Rabbi David Seidenberg’s comments on the songs, see http://www.neohasid.org/resources/mi_yimalel/

 Now we face the possibility of another great change in Hanukkah.  Jewish youth alongside the youth of other communities are increasingly worried about the threat to their future through global scorching and the climate crisis. They are increasingly critical of the whole machinery of consumer commercialism and dependence on burning fossil fuels. Many are critical of what they see as Israeli militarism. So a different aspect of Hanukkah comes forward.

That aspect is seeing the legend of the eight days’ usefulness of one day’s olive oil as a call not to wait for God’s miracle but to take human action to conserve energy and turn to new sources of renewable energy to heal God’s Earth, not destroy it. Some also see Zechariah’s vision of the tiny cyber-forest of olive trees feeding oil directly into the tree-shaped Light-bearing Menorah as a call to covenant between sacred human action and other sacred life-forms.

 So perhaps Hanukkah begins to become a new practice for uniting physical activism, emotional empathy, ecological intellect, and awe-inspired Spirit –- the Four Worlds –- into One Breath that unites all life.


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