Transformative Judaism

Our world is in deep crisis, a planetary earthquake. Old stabilities -- economic, political, ecological, sexual, familial --  are shaking beneath our feet and in our bellies. What can Judaism do to create from this crisis a planetary community, rather than a global disaster?  What shape would a "transformative Judaism" have to take -- concerned not only with renewing the Jewish people but also with healing the world?   Rabbi Arthur Waskow provides a fascinating glimpse into the heart of these questions and appeals for new thought as well as new action. For an even fuller exploration of "transformative Judaism," click to his essay here.  Add your own comments after his essay!

3 Festivals: Eid Mubarak, Light-filled Hanukkah, Joyful Sharing Thxgvg Abundance

Three holy festivals are upon us: Eid al-Idha, the Festival of the Sacrifice; Thanksgiving, when we celebrate the abundance that could feed our planet joyfully; and Hanukkah, the festival of Light in time of darkness, Hope in time of despair, Rededication in a time of desecration.

On our Website and on YouTube we have just emplaced a delightful serious/ funny three-minute reminder of what Hanukkah is really about. Light the light in a time of darkness! Don't let the light go out! View this delicious video, called "The Hammer Song," by clicking here.

Hanukkah reminds us to conserve our energy sources and especially reduce our burning of oil, and to remember that oppressive power-holders like the Emperor Antiochus long ago and Big Oil today can collapse when the people gather to rededicate themselves to the Breath of Life.

During these very days,  the Muslim world is celebrating Eid al-Idha, the Feast of the Sacrifice.  It recalls the moment when our common Father Abraham heard the ultimate teaching of the Infinite: “Do not kill your son!”

Many of us look with horror or bafflement at Abraham's willingness to kill his child, bragging that we would never do such a thing. But when we send our youth to fight, die, and kill in an illegitimate and unworthy war, one that eats up our ability to feed our own poor and to build the schools, bridges, community clinics, art centers, that we need to nourish us– how is that different from child sacrifice?

As Abraham substituted the ram for his child, in memory of that moment Muslim families today purchase meat (usually lamb) and divide it in three parts: one-third for the immediate family, one-third for the extended family, one-third for the poor. As they share their food with the poor, so may we all join in acting on God’s command:

Stop the war;
Feed the poor!

The Quran teaches us that the One Who is infinite shaped humankind in many diverse cultures and communities so that we could learn from each other’s glorious gifts, not pour hatred, contempt, and violence upon each other.

May we all take this wisdom to heart as we learn deeply, each of us from our own tradition, the teachings of compassion –— and in this way learn to transcend those other teachings or practices of fear and hatred that may appear in all traditions to divide us against each other.

And such thoughts and feelings can lead us straight to Thanksgiving. As we celebrate the harvest this year, let us keep this truth in mind:

Hunger –- stark hunger –- is not only rampant around the world, it is growing in America. Certainly synagogues, churches, mosques, temples must try to feed the hungry –- but it will take a concerted effort by us all to end this disgusting blight upon our wealthy country.

Congress is regathering. We should be demanding that it renew long-term unemployment benefits at once, that it reduce taxes on the poor and the middle class but NOT pour still more money into the mouths of the super-rich – the 2% of our society who own 45% (and rising) of the wealth.

You can use our model letter to write your Congressmember, or you can revise the text as you see fit,  by clicking here. This Thanksgiving, we must celebrate abundance not only by eating of it but also by sharing it.  Tell Congress! You can use our model letter to write your Congressmember, or you can revise the text as you see fit,  by clicking here.

Turn the barren place to Eden: The Earth gives birth to the Human Race

In a generation when human intervention is deeply wounding the web of life on Earth and with it the patterns of human community and prosperity, we may see a new facet of the story of Eden, the Garden of Delight.

The story begins by pointing us toward the close relationship between the human race and the Earth:

"And YHWH [the Name of God that can only be pronounced by breathing with no vowels, thus "Yahhh, Breath of Life"] formed the adam [human earthling] from the adamah [humus-earth] and blew into his nostrils the breath of life; and the human-earthling became a living being." (Genesis 2: 7)

I have inserted these odd translations of adam and adamah in order to heighten in English the interrelationship that Torah -- indeed, the Hebrew language itself – teaches so simply. Indeed we do have in English the word "earthling" to mean "human being" and the word "humus" to mean a kind of earth, but each of them is a highly specialized word.

What "adam" and "adamah" teach is deeply different from what the word "environment" we use so often nowadays teaches. The "environment" is in the "environs" -- out there, separate from us. The very words "adam" and "adamah" are intertwined, and they should teach us not only about language but about the reality that language tries to word.

And as if the bare words might still not be enough to teach us, the Torah then explicitly says that we were deeply intertwined at the earthy birthing of the human race.

Muslim-rooted Center in Lower Manhattan: Is it Right? Is it Wise?

The Shalom Center was the first Jewish organization to affirm not only the Constitutional right of the Cordoba Initiative to create a community center, including prayer space, in Lower Manhattan -- but also its wisdom in doing so to lift a beacon of the best of Islam, devoted to peace and interfaith dialogue.

On August 1 -- the first post-Shabbat day after the Anti-Defamation League attacked plans for the cultural center -- we began seeking signatures for a statement supporting the Cordoba plans and rebuking the Anti-Defamation League. We did this to make clear a different and broader Jewish voice. We published the statement August 3, with dozens of signatures from leading rabbis and other Jewish leaders. (See later in this article for information on this statement.)

The Shalom Center organized a "housewarming vigil" on August 5, at the intended site of the cultural center at 51 Park Place, at which we presented its co-founder Daisy Khan with the traditional Jewish house-warming gifts: bread, salt, honey, and a candle.

We have also joined a newly formed coalition of community groups, New York Neighbors for American Values, to support Park 51.Click to its Website here.] We took part in and I spoke on behalf of the Shalom Center at a press conference New York Neighbors organized on August 25. More than 50 print, radio, and TV reporters were present.

As a result of the nationwide debate on the question, I have spoken at a number of such press conferences. At one, called by the Muslim American Society at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Tuesday, August 15, . I was one of a number of spokespersons from Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and interfaith groups. The press conference was attended by many print, radio, and TV journalists -- ranging from CNN to the largest daily newspaper in Tokyo -- who after the prepared statements asked many questions.

I gave three reasons for my support for the Park51 cultural center -- teachings by Rabbi Hillel, George Washington, and -- most important -- my own grandmother. When I was about seven years old (1940), she interrupted other Jewish women in line at the kosher butcher shop who were talking contemptuously about "the shvartzes" -- that is, Black people. She challenged them: "That's the way they talked about us in Europe. This is America, and we must not talk like that!"

My full statement follows, below, and beneath that, our original statement on this issue:

Jewish Vigil Supporting Muslim Center in Lower Manhattan

Photo of R. Waskow with "Dome/Wall/Rock" tallit

On August 5, The Shalom Center and other Jewish leaders from New York held a vigil at the site of the proposed Muslim cultural center and prayer space in Lower Manhattan, supporting the plan for Cordoba House/ Park51 there.

It was an extraordinary success, both in the moment and in media coverage. Prayer, song, and chants were interspersed with speeches for a gathering of about 50 people, well-covered by print and TV media. More than 180 newspapers have carried reports of the vigil, including full-page coverage in Metro and Newsday.

In addition, I was interviewed by CNN for "Rick's List," and invited to write an essay for CNN's on-line Op/Ed page. For the interview, see the video here.

For the "My Take" Op/Ed essay, click here.

At the vigil, affter a number of speakers from the Jewish community, Daisy Khan, co-founder of the Cordoba Initiative that is sponsoring and planning the cultural center, spoke with heartfelt thanks to those of us in the Jewish community who had been working in favor of Córdoba House and who had gathered on Park Place to welcome them.

Rabbi Ellen Lippman of Congregation Kolot Chayeinu in Brooklyn, co-chair of Rabbis for Human Rights/North America and one of the key organizers of the vigil, gave Daisy Kahn the traditional Jewish symbols of a housewarming: bread, salt, honey, and a candle.

We began with the chant, in Hebrew and English, that teaches: "Here I stand, and I take upon myself the commitment of the Creator: 'Love your neighbor as yourself, your neighbor as yourself. Hareini m'kabeyl alai et mitzvat Ha-Borei: V'ahavta l'rayecha kamocha, l'rayecha kamocha. ' "

When I rose to speak, I explained that when I rise to read from the Torah my name is "Abraham Isaac Ishmael Ocean." With that as my name, I find my own self torn apart and bloodied when there is bloodshed between the children of Sarah through Isaac and the children of Hagar through Ishmael -- between the different families of Abraham. And when the families of Hagar and Sarah come together in peace, only then can I feel my own self united and whole.

I was wearing a tallit. I explained that in every tallit, the tzitiziot on the four corners -- the fringes -- are a mixture of my cloth ad God's, the Universe's, air. They are threads of connection between my self and the world. It is not good fences make good neighbirs but good fringes make good neighbors. It is these frings that make the tallit sacred. And Cordoba House would be exactly such a fringe, rooted in Islam and reaching out to the rest of the world.

On my own tallit are embroidered the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall. And between them is embroidered a rock--the rock upon which in the Jewish tradition Abraham bound Isaac, the same rock upon which in Muslim tradition Mohammed--peace be upon him--began his mystical ascent to Heaven. This tallit of mine symbolizes the sacred companionship between Judaism and Islam, as does my name.

For years, I explained, I have worked with and alongside Imam Rauf and Daisy Khan for peace in the world and dialogue between our traditions. I am not alone in knowing who they are: the New York Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs have publicly affirmed that these leaders of the Córdoba initiative have for years worked with the Jewish community in fruitful ways.

So all the questions that have been raised about them:--those truly curious and those simply nasty--could have been answered simply by asking leaders of the Jewish community.

I said that it was all the more distressing that the Anti-Defamation League had ignored these close relationships in New York City and made a national tumult about the placement of a Muslim cultural Center in Lower Manhattan.

OYL! -- Corruption, the Spirit, the Earth, & Us

Photo of

This is not an oil "spill" we are facing in the Gulf, the way water might spill from a dish or oil from a tanker -- a finite amount in the first place, and then we clean up.

This is more like piercing, penetrating, raping the deep-hidden places in the body of Mother Earth, a mile beneath the surface of the ocean, with such ultraviolence that Her very guts are pouring out, drenching and poisoning us.

But we can take this disaster as a teaching toward a Turning in our lives and action.
To that end, we will present some concrete proposals for action at the end of this essay.

But let us begin by assessing the depths of our distress.

Every morning brings us fresh outrageous news about BP's and Big Oil's obscenities in the Gulf oil eruption -- and the fawning of paid-for governmental toadies:

Using sex, drugs, and money to bribe officials in the first place to overlook unsafety -- so that for years, the Materials Management Service has allowed dozens of wells to be drilled into the Gulf without requiring the Oil companies to get the permits they were legally obligated to get.

Giving BP a pass to drill without even checking environmental standards, though BP was already guilty of hundreds of safety violations in other places and of deaths from its mismanagement of oil wells.

Lying about how much oil is pouring into the Gulf.

Keeping independent scientists from measuring it themselves.

Getting US government approval for new permits and bypassing environmental-impact assessments even weeks after the president announced there would be a moratorium on new permits (in the light of the BP blow-out).

The article that follows looks at four aspects of this disaster, and how to deal with it: (1) spiritual failings; (2) corrupt politics; (3) making policy choices; and (4)prayerful political action.

1. Spiritual Failings

First and most basic, there is a spiritual teaching of all traditions that the US government and global corporations have been systematically violating.

The gulf disaster is an issue of power and the Spirit, not technology. It is rooted in a spiritual disease. One passage of the Hebrew Scriptures -- Leviticus 25 and 26 -- and millennia of human experience describe this as refusing to let the earth have its Sabbath rest.


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