Through Grief to Joy: Healing Photos on Your Zooms

The next few weeks of Jewish life traditionally include the saddest and most joyful days of the year. A Philadelphia artist and spiritual adept, Anael Joblin, has offered to enhance the joy by providing joyful photographic “Zoom backgrounds “ in exchange for gifts  to The Shalom Center.

This photo is a smaller example of the work she does that you can receive as much larger “Zoom backgrounds.” This one captures the energetics of color and healing potential of dancing water! More about her gifts below.

We have just entered the period of grieving in the Jewish spiral of holy days – the Three Weeks before Tisha B’Av (observed on Sunday, August 6-7, because the actual ninth day of Av falls on Shabbat). They commemorate the weeks in 586 BCE when the imperial Babylonian Army besieged Jerusalem and triumphantly ended the siege on the ninth day of the midsummer month of Av by burning the Holy Temple at the heart of the city.

In recent years The Shalom Center has encouraged adding grief for the suffering of Temple Earth, the shared and sacred home not only of humanity but all the interbreathing web of life that nurtures us. This year we have experienced not only wildfires but waves of intense heat in Europe and North America that are killing people and shattering wildlife. Temple Earth continues burning, overheated by the burning of fossil fuels and the heat-trapping effects of CO2 and methane gas.

In the next few days, I will write more about the reframing and renewal of Tisha B’Av, about recovering the wisdom that the Temple in Jerusalem was always a microcosm of the macrocosmic Temple Earth – a microcosm where minerals (salt), vegetation (sheaves of grain), animal life (sheep, goats, doves), and human song (the psalms) were “brought near” to the One Breath of Life.

Unexpectedly, past Tisha B’Av we move toward the Full Moon of Av (Aug 11-12), which the Mishna compilation of early-rabbinic practice calls one of the most joyful days of the year.

Why? Because after the Temple had been rebuilt, 70 years after its burning, each year just six days after the burning had been re-membered through fasting and chants of lamentation, came Av’s Full Moon. The unmarried women of ancient Israel went out in the fields dressed all in white to choose their husbands. The people celebrated the spiritual height of erotic love – the fiery passion that is the very opposite of death and burning.

And our Sister Anael is offering her photos, brimming with the joy of Earth renewed in bursts of love.

The Full Moon is the 15th of the moonth – Yod-Hei in Jewish numerology, the very name of Yah, the Breath of Life. In all Four Worlds -- Physicality, Emotion, Intellect, and Spirit – we welcome Yah as present in full life. 4x15=60.

Anael writes:

 “So a donation of $60 (4x15) will bring you my thanks in 4 "energetic healing" photographs that make marvelous Zoom backgrounds and can help lift spirits and the Spirit. A donation of $144 will bring thanks of 12 photos.

“I believe that this energetic exchange will benefit each of us. Even please the neshama of my sister of blessed memory, Sherrie Harrison Waters, who took some of the photos.

“Some of you have sampled the pics on my zoom background and undoubtedly resonate with some more than others. I’ll be in touch after you donate, and you can choose. 

“Wouldn't it be amazing to have many of our Zoom backgrounds alive with color and the healing essence of the flower or subject of the pictures you choose?   This actually occurred in a small Zoom group I lead weekly.  And now we continue to enliven the Zoom screen with colorful happy background pictures.   It raised the vibrations of our ‘Zoomiverse.’ .

“Shalom with love, Anael Atara

Dear friends, To make this donation of $60 (in thanks for which you will receive 4 photo-backgrounds) or $144 (in thanks for which you will receive 12)  please click here any time from now till 5 pm on the day just before Y”H B’Av – Thursday, August 12:

We recommend giving now. As you give your gift, say the blessing “Blessed be You, Breathing Spirit of the World, Creative Energy, Who redeems sorrow into joy through the gift of healing.”

And whenever you give, remember to celebrate Thursday evening August 12 and Friday Aug 13 as Y”H B’Av (also known as Tu B’Av) in your own joyful way. Many many thanks! -- Arthur

Statement by National Council Of Elders

Selling Deadly Weapons: Pediatric Surgeons Speak Today, Ancient Rabbis Speak 2 Millennia Ago


[Who is a "prophet"? One who sees a deep evil in society, and speaks the truth about it to the powerful and even more important, to the disempowered -- those who have until that moment been deprived of the power to make change. Because the change that is needed never starts from those in power  -- whether the rulers of the Roman Epire, or the companies that get wealthy from selling assault rifles to anyone who wants. For those in power benefit from the way things are. Justice and change start from the people -- from us.


[Whether it is ancient rabbis confronting Rome and Babylon or modern surgeons weeping over mangled children and confronting those who sell murder for money --- when they speak they are prophetic voices. The surgeons have limited their analysis to the medical and practical; the ancient rabbis have affirmed the practical while looking deeper -- making clear that those, Jewish or not, who have turned away from the Breath of Life to gods of wealth and power cannot be trusted with the tools of killing. --- AW, editor]

Statement from the American Pediatric Surgical Association Board of Governors

As pediatric trauma surgeons, when a call goes out about an injured child, we are ready. We gather our teams and we plan, prepare and wait in our trauma bays for the victim to arrive. We have trained for this, practiced it, and, unfortunately, lived these resuscitations over and over and over in emergency rooms across the United States.

When the weapon used to perpetrate harm is an assault rifle, often the victim does not even make it alive to our doors. The injury inflicted by an assault rifle is so massive and widespread the victim dies at the scene.

In the massacre that happened in Uvalde, TX, the victims were 9 and 10 year old children, averaging about 60 pounds in weight. The damage and injuries that these children sustained were so extreme and widespread that their own parents could not recognize them. DNA samples from their parents were required to identify the children.

The American Pediatric Surgical Association (APSA) calls for a new federal Assault Weapons Ban on military-style firearms. During the decade of the previous ban, public mass shootings and deaths decreased.

Although these mass shootings are a small percentage of overall gun deaths each year, they have been used to perpetrate mass shootings of children and adults in public places that should be safe such as schools, grocery stores, theaters and churches.

These weapons have the capacity for rapid fire and large numbers of rounds between reloads which increases their lethality and the number of victims. They have been used in many locations including Newtown, San Bernadino, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, and most recently in Uvalde, each incident killing more than a dozen people.

APSA acknowledges the Second Amendment and the right to responsible gun ownership. However, assault weapons have no place in the civilian arena. Therefore, we call for a new federal Assault Weapons Ban. We support H.R.1808 / S.746, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2021.

We strongly urge Congress to move forward in adopting these bills and reinstating a ban on Assault Weapons. Too many children and adults have been killed in the hands of civilians using these weapons.

 As pediatric surgeons, we are committed to saving lives of children to allow them to live their lifetimes. We need the help of our legislators to remove ready access to these dangerous weapons that have been used, time and again, to commit mass murders in peaceful communities in our country.

Board of Governors

American Pediatric Surgical Association


Talmud Bavli, Avodah Zarah 15b:10 ff 

[Translation slightly adapted from Sefaria.--  AW, editor]

 And furthermore, it is taught in a baraita: One may not sell weapons to idolators [since those who worship idols, not the Breath of Life, cannot be expected to adhere to a moral law against killing ---AW]  or the auxiliary equipment of weapons, and one may not sharpen weapons for them.

 And one may not sell them stocks used for fastening the feet of prisoners, or iron neck chains [kolarin], or foot chains, or iron chains.

Apropos the baraita that discusses the prohibition against selling weapons, the Gemara relates that Rav Dimi bar Abba says: Just as it is prohibited to sell to an idolator it is prohibited to sell to an armed bandit who is a Jew. The Gemara clarifies: What are the circumstances of this prohibition? If the thief is suspected of killing, isn’t it obvious that it is prohibited? After all, he is the same as an idolator.

Providing a Jew who might kill with weapons is no different from giving a weapon to an idolator as in both cases one violates the prohibition: “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind.” [A command of Torah in Lev. 19: 14. Already understood by the Rabbis as applying not only literally, physically, but also to assisting someone who is blind to the moral law to stumble by violating it. --- AW]  

And if he is a bandit who does not kill, why not sell to him? The Gemara answers: Actually, Rav Dimi bar Abba is referring to a bandit who does not kill, and here we are dealing with a bandit who steals, as sometimes he makes use of his weapon to save himself when he is caught. Consequently, it is prohibited to sell him weapons in case he kills with them in self-defense.

Rav Adda bar Ahava says: One may not sell blocks [ashashiot] of iron to idolators from them. The Gemara asks: If so, then even hoes and axes should not be sold to them, as they too can be used to forge weapons.

Rav Zevid said in response: The ruling of Rav Adda bar Ahava was stated with regard to Indian iron, which is of a superior quality and used only for crafting weapons. The Gemara clarifies: And as for the fact that nowadays we do sell all weapons?  Rav Ashi said: We sell the weapons to the Persians, who protect us.


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.

It's Not Just Abortion: Do Women Have Freedom of Conscience?

In Memory of Eva Cowan Waskow

It's Not Just Abortion: Do Women Have Freedom of Conscience?

Or Are They Occasions of Sin?

Roman Catholic Bishops, the Supreme Court, & Women:

Is Religion Love or Compulsion?

[On September 15, 2021, an earlier version of this article below was published by Lilith, a lively and intelligent feminist Jewish magazine. A fuller critique of the Augustinian anti-sex and misogynist strand of Christian thought and its disastrous version of the Eden story is in my book Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion (Orbis Books, 2020).]

 I was taught, as an historian and again as a rabbi, always to be clear what in my own life was pointing me in one or another direction, to allow others a chance to weigh my thoughts in light of that framework – rather than pretending I can be “neutral” about any serious issue. 

My brother Howard, alav hashalom, and I were adults and Roe v. Wade had been decided before my mother’s mother told us the circumstances of my father’s mother’s death  -- Eva Cowan Waskow, may her name be remembered along with the names of many   thousands of women and others of unconventional sexuality or gender,whose names have been buried with them, who were victims of male supremacy and especially  of an anti-woman theology that I want to address in this essay.

Having birthed five sons and begun rearing them, my grandmother Eva became pregnant again. Evidently feeling it impossible to raise a sixth child (we don’t know exactly what her thoughts and feelings were), she found someone willing to do an illegal abortion. A botched abortion. She died as a result. Her death sent my father to an orphanage for years, and cast a shadow over his life.

[This photograph of Eva Cowan Waskow's grave was taken by my son, David Waskow,  her great-grandson, on a pilgrimage to her grave in Washington DC]

By the time I learned this, not only had Roe v. Wade greatly  lessened the stigma of abortion, but I had learned enough Jewish tradition to know that the Torah taught that an abortion, even if against the mother’s will, could result in civil damages at the discretion of a court, but was certainly not murder.

Only once the fetus had been born, its head had appeared outside the mother and it could take a breath on its own, was it deemed a human life. And if the fetus was a threat to the mother’s life (and some rule, her psychological health), it is not merely permissible but obligatory to kill the fetus to save the woman. That is exactly the opposite of official Catholic law.

 And then I learned that one of my crucial rabbinic teachers, Rabbi Max Ticktin, before Roe v. Wade had been part of a secret network of “the Janes” who had arranged for illegal but safe abortions by qualified doctors. For years he could not enter the State of Michigan because of a warrant for his arrest.

And then I learned that another of my major teachers, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, knew that his mother had arranged an abortion in order to make it possible for the family to flee Vienna when Nazi Germany annexed Austria in the Anschluss in 1938. Reb Zalman said the abortion had “given new birth, new life to the whole family.”

So everything in my own family history and the history of my teachers accorded with Jewish law that understood Torah put the life and welfare of women higher than that of an unborn fetus. Yet the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Christian movement, in both of which men make the decisions, ignored the clear biblical text (Exodus 21: 22-25) to come up with their description of abortion as murder.

 In fact, these two religious groupings have been able to organize enough political support from organizations that support other forms of subjugation (against Black and Latinx voters, GLBTQ communities, Muslims, immigrants, and Earth itself)  that the State of Texas has now legislated a system that turns everyone (not only Texas residents) into a potential paid informant like the Stasi network in Communist East Germany to imprison doctors and all others who assist in any way for an abortion later than about the sixth week of pregnancy? The Supreme Court, without a hearing or internal discussion, has three times refused to prevent the law from taking effect.

Why and how have these large religious bodies been able to mobilize such political power, and what should the rest of us – including many of their own members who disagree — do about it? 

 First of all, let’s be clear: Abortion is not the only issue, though the US press often reduces the public issue to abortion. The Conference of Catholic Bishops makes clear that what is at stake is much larger: “Shortly after Mr. Biden’s election in November, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, announced the unusual creation of a working group to address conflicts that could arise between his administration’s policies and church teaching,” the NYtimes reported.

“On Inauguration Day, Archbishop Gomez issued a statement criticizing Mr. Biden for policies “that would advance moral evils” especially “in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender” (emphasis mine).

So what is really at stake is a theology of sex, especially impressed on Christianity by the sex-obsessed Augustine of Hippo (I will not call him a saint) who died in the year 430 CE. What is this sin? 

Augustine powerfully affected many leaders of the Christianity of his time. They must have shared much of his tightened strum of sexual tension. Ever since, Christian thought –at least until the Protestant rebellion, and even in some Protestant churches –- has suggested that the mistake of Eden was sexual.

 According to this sexual hysteria, the sin has entered into all future humans because Adam and Eve passed it to their children through intercourse and procreation – like a permanent genetic defect carried not in the genes but by the very act of passing on the genes. Since then, most Christian dogma has seen pleasure in the sexual act as not only the bearer of Adam’s sin but the nature of the sin itself.

In this theology, Augustine’s “original” sin was original not only because it was the first, but because it was intimately involved in the origin of the human species and in the origin of every human being. It was and is indelibly imprinted in the human condition.  It was and is the “sin of all,” of the entire world. Since sex was necessary to keep the species alive, the dogma became that sex was acceptable if it led to procreation (though not as holy as "chastity" -- that is, abstention from sex.). So abortion, contraception, homosexuality, masturbation – all became sins. Hence Archbishop Gomez’ warning. It is especially interesting that this malinterpretation of the Eden story names the sin was Sex. Not the adolescent mistake of growing one's own identity by disobeying the parent. Not the Greed of wishing to gobble up the whole world. not leave even one Tree unsujugated. 

 Through the centuries, some Christian thought – today, a great deal of Christian thought — and most Jewish thought, has refused to believe that the sin of Eden (whatever it was), made sex or sexual desire or sexual pleasure in itself sinful, or that the mistake of Adam and Eve delivered that sin into all human souls and bodies.

My own understanding of the sin of Eden comes partly from the deep imprint still on me of 1968, of seeing Pharaoh in our own generation, and of the joyful alternative if we could only cross the Red Sea into the Promised Land, the milk-and-honey Garden. I am haunted by the Bomb and the Climate Crisis, and at the same time inspired by the vision of an ecologically delightful planet. And that brings me to look at the birth of humankind, and at this powerful mythic parable of our beginning.

 What should we do? We need to organize. 

1. Right away, in honor and emulation of Rabbi Ticktin and the other “Janes,” we should be organizing networks for “illegal” distribution of safe chemical means of inducing abortion, led by rabbis and other spiritual leaders, and prepare to support them financially, legally, and with nonviolent civil disobedience if the State of Texas (and other states that are exploring the same system) and its informers attack them.

2. In every synagogue and every church and religious order and department of theology where spiritual leaders teach, the Augustinian theology against sex and for the subordination of women should be stripped of its legitimacy and denounced for its destructive effects.

3. We need to lift up a theology of the Song of Songs as a vision of Eden for a grown-up humankind, not allegorized as meaning only love between God and the Jewish people or between Christ and the Church, but infusing love for God into love between human beings of all genders and sexualities, and of love between human earthlings and Earth.

 We are not used to mobilizing against the theology of any other tradition. Liberal and progressive religious traditions have customarily appealed to their own values and let others go their own way. But this is different. We are facing an attempt to impose a reactionary, retrogressive theology upon the whole American people. We need to name and oppose the pernicious anti-sex, anti-woman theology that distorts the Bible and perverts human society. This effort to impose an anti-woman, anti-sex theology is a national danger. 

We need to say that the real dangers to the human species are not women, not sex as a joyful union of Body and Spirit, but the H-Bomb, the burning of fossil fuels, the over-population that takes over all living-space for humankind and crowds other species to extinction. The obsession with subjugating women and punishing joyful, consensual sex distracts us from facing the powerful forces -- I call them the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs -- that are threatening Earth and Humanity. Bring more than Ten Plagues upon all Earth, out of Greed for still more money. That GREED is the real sin aginst the Holy Spirritt, the Interbreathing of animals and vegetation, of Oxyygen and CO2, that keeps all life alive. The build-up of far too much CO2 is choking Earth, choking Humankind.

It is important to note that despite the urgency of Pope Francis to speak against the Greed so dangerous it is destroying the web of life on Earth, the obsession of the American Catholic bishops with sexual sin plays into the hands of the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs whose addiction to the sin of Greed is forcing plagues upon all life-forms. It is also important to note that this theology oppresses not only women but those of  "unconventional" sexualities and genders. Even forbidding abortion may affect trans men who continue to have a uterus.

We need to look at the biblical passage that says, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill up the Earth, and subdue it,” and say ”DONE! Now what?”  

 And for me, the Song of Songs is the "now what." It is feminist, pro-sex, pro-love. pro-Earth, and ecological in its worldview, not hierarchical. It imagines Eden for a grown-up human race. It is heart and fountain of a Torah for the next epoch of Earth's history. 

From "Go Down Moses" to Liberating Earth

Dear  chevra, Last night we searched for chometz; this morning we burn it. We make a sacred flame, an inward flame like the Burning Bush, to consume not only the swollen yeast and sourness we eat, but swollen empire, swollen hatred, swollen violence, swollen armies, swollen Hyper-Wealth. Not only in our enemies but in ourselves.

 In 1969, I felt called to write an Haggadah that was embodied  in the first Freedom Seder on the first anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King. It celebrated the ongoing liberation struggle of Black America alongside the ancient liberation struggle of Israelites against Pharaoh. It seems to have been the first Haggadah ever  to address a liberation struggle other than a Jewish one. Among its passages from that long campaign was “Go Down Moses” as an outcry that used a Jewish motif to call for Black freedom.

This year, I found myself called again to write what became the Earth and justice Freedom-Seder. It begins with paying honor to the original “Go Down Moses,” and then adds new verses in a Universal outcry tuned especially to the climate crisis. It  challenges the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs who are bringing widespread plagues of fire, flood, & famine on many regions of Earth and plagues of cancer and asthma on targeted low-income neighborhoods,  especially of color.

^^ ^^^ ^^^

The new Earth & Justice Freedom-Seder begins with a section called “Old Vision & New Purpose” about “Go Down Moses.” Here  it is after the song itself. The original song calls us into the struggle against racism. The new verses call us into the  struggle against those who make billions from the burning of all Earth.

When Israel was in Egypt’s land, Let My people go;
Oppressed so hard they could not stand, Let My people go;
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh: Let My people go!
When they had reached the other shore, Let My people go============================================================;
They sang the song of freedom o’er, Let My people go.
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh: Let My people go!


New Pharaohs rise to scorch the Earth, Let all My peoples go;

Big Coal and Oil parch new birth,
Let all My peoples go;

Rise up, Peoples, Rise up in every land, Tell ALL Pharaohs:

Let My creation grow!


For the Breath of Life still offers hope, Let all My peoples go;

With sun and wind we well can cope –

Let all My peoples go;

Rise up, People, Rise up in every land, Tell ALL Pharaohs:

Let My creation grow!


Oh, set all Earth from bondage free, Let all My peoples go;

Let our Making pause to Be, Let air and water flow.
Rise Up, Peoples, rise UP in every land, Tell ALL Pharaohs:

Let My creation grow!

As we live here in America, We’ll set our people free!
Races, faiths, and genders all, from Sea to shining Sea!
Rise up, O People, Rise up all across our Land--
Tell new Pharaohs, your oppressions will not stand!


We begin the Seder with one of the great liberation songs connected with the ancient story of the liberation of ancient Israelites enslaved by an ancient Pharaoh. The song was variously known as “When Israel was in Egypt’s land/ Let My People Go!” and “Go Down Moses.” “Go Down Moses” itself drew on an old story for new closely related purposes. We are doing that again, and that itself is a crystal of what we do with this whole Earth and Justice Freedom-Seder. 

The story itself was repurposed in the song when it emerged from an enslaved Black community in the 1840s or 1850s in what had become the United States. It told the ancient story with a new intention: to challenge embedded racist oppression by a modern country with not only enslavement but a broader racism in its practice and its Constitution.

What's an Iftar-Seder, on Zoom?

Iftar Seder 2022 flyer

This year, the sacred Muslim "moonth" of Ramadan and the Jewish "first of moonths," Nisan, in which is Passover/ Pesach, are the same lunar moonth — not often possible. So a group of Muslim, Jewish, and multireligious organizations have come together to hold (on Zoom, and recorded) a FREE gathering that brings together the special evening meals of both traditions. 

The Meaning of This Month – Shabbat Ha’Chodesh

Next Shabbat will be Shabbat Ha’Chodesh, the Sabbath of The Month, the renewing of the moon that Torah sees as the first “moonth” of the year. The rabbis who worked out the liturgical calendar wanted to choose a Haftarah  -- a prophetic passage -- to signal the coming of a week they called Pesach and Chag HaMatzot.

 They found a passage by the Prophet Ezekiel that celebrated not only the New Moon but also the Festival of its fullness – a week focused on food when we would make a shepherds’ Pesach  offering of a newborn lamb and eat  Matzot, the farmers’ celebratory meal of just-sprouted, barley that we quickly bake into Unleavened Bread. A time of livelihoods renewed.

 Notice that Ezekiel was following the pastoral-agrarian rhythm, not the explosive festival of liberation. This double festival celebrates the growth of spring and of the earliest human foods defined by controlling fire: roast lamb and baked, unflavored, unleavened bread.

 “Pesach” was originally the dance of a newborn lamb, stumbling and skipping as it first learned to walk. Then ”Pesach”  became the dance of shepherds celebrating the spring emergence of new lambs by imitating the lambs; then it named the sacred offering of such spring-born lambs to YHWH / Yahhh, the Breath of Life, and finally the skipping-over dance of the God Who skipped over the blood-smeared doors of the Israelites who celebrated their new birth through a doorway of blood—their own new womb.

 Having set the tone for the “first month,” Ezekiel wanders off into specifying rules for how the people will behave on New Moons and Festivals in a new Temple that he imagines building, to replace the one the Babylonian Army burned. The most profound of these rules is, “Whoever enters the north gate of the Temple to celebrate Yahh, the Interbreath of Life, shall leave by the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate shall leave by the north gate. They shall not go back by the gate through which they came in.” (Ezekiel 46: 9). Once we enter a new spiritual experience, we must recognize that we leave as new persons.

Finally the Haftarah follows Ezekiel as he wanders away from New Moons, annual festivals, and the physical Temple altogether. He enters a different zone of sacred time -- dror, a word that is used in Leviticus 25, the most detailed teaching about the seventh year of Shabbat Shabbaton, when Earth, animals, and humans must be allowed to rest. Both dror and shmitah mean Release.


And here Ezekiel (and the rabbis who arranged for this passage at the end of the Haftarah to be part of it; they could have simply dropped it) –enters new “territory.” He examines how the Nasi, the king or powerful official, must use and not abuse his wealth. He may give gifts to his officials and supporters, but the gifts become his own again, or his children’s, when the dror – the seventh year, the Shabbat Shabbaton of the whole community, comes round again. And he may never rob the people of their holdings; only from his own personal holdings may he make gifts. (Ezekiel 46: 16-18)


This means that a certain degree of economic equality is part of the practice of shmitah/ dror. It means that a Nasi cannot build up a personal political following by bestowing gifts on his officials or his supporters, for the gifts are merely temporary. It means the Nasi may not punish the people or any group of them by impoverishing them, seizing their property.

And we might combine the two passages I have singled out as meaning that by whatever gateway we enter the sacred space-time of the shmitah year, we – the whole society --  must not go out again by the same gate. For we must become a new people, a new society. Together with our respect for all the life-forms of Planet Earth, we must affirm a new respect for all the human beings around us – and especially for their livelihoods and a measure of economic equality with each other.

 We can begin, we should begin, with the month of Passover, of new sustenance for shepherds and farmers and everyone else, of an Earth with no Pharaohs. Chodesh tov! – A new month of new good!


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