"Another Side of Sinai" -- R's Hammer, Seidenberg, & Waskow

On the second night of Shavuot, from 7 pm to 9:45 pm Eastern time on Monday May 17, with a 15-minute break in the middle for free song, movement, and breathing, Rabbis Jill Hammer, David Seidenberg, and I will share conversations with you about two texts from “Another Side of Sinai."

You can register at


Please note: We have added contribution amounts to accommodate both low-income folks and those who wish to contribute more.

For the first adventure,  Rabbi Hammer – who co-founded Kohenet, the Institute for Hebrew Priestesses – and I will lead a participatory journey into a remarkable text called “The Thunder: Perfect Mind.” (For any of you who are just getting to know me, I’m one of the pioneers in creating “Eco-Judaism,” and the author most recently of Dancing in God's Earthquake : The Coming Transformation of Religion.) 

“The Thunder” is often called a Gnostic text from the library discovered at Nag Hamadi. But I think it is a Jewish text, for in it the Voice of Reality speaks, as in the Ten Teachings of the biblical Sinai, as “Anokhi  --“I.” But where in Torah “Anokhi” appears once, in “The Thunder” it appears more than 20 times, almost all as the Sacred Feminine in many paradoxical masks. What do we make of this?

 Then, after a pause to breathe easy, Rabbi David Seidenberg and I will explore the teachings of the Shabbat Shabbaton, the sabbatical year and Jubilee when Earth and Human Earthlings get to rest, and society gets to catch its breath and breathe in Justice, the sharing of abundance. 

Those teachings begin with “B’Har Sinai, On Mount Sinai.”  Rabbi Seidenberg is the author of Kabbalah and Ecology: God's Image in the More-Than-Human World. What can we actually make of this, in the midst of a planetary crisis?

The regular contribution for this double immersion in what came to us from “Another Side of Sinai” is $36.  We have added contribution amounts to accommodate both low-income folks and those who wish to contribute more. Space in the Zoom  virtual frame is limited, so please sign up now. You can register at


We will record the sessions, so if you register you can watch and hear even if you can’t be present on Monday the 17th. But we do hope you’ll be involved, not only a spectator.

All three of us look forward to this journey with you.

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

Days 5 & 6 of #Hanukkah8Days4Climate

[For resources by Faryn Borella and Rabbi Arthur Waskow on celebrating Hanukkah that can help us all to heal our wounded Earth, please see the Home Page of The Shalom Center at <theshalomcenter.org> Faryn Borella is a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Ira Silverman Memorial Intern at The Shalom Center. – AW, editor]

Day 5: Support the Green New Deal

Write and call (202-224-3121) your Congresspeople at the US Capitol or visit or call at their home offices during the week of Hanukkah and Christmas, asking for their support for the Green New Deal and the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act. See  https://www.sunrisemovement.org/gnd-for-public-housing.

“One day [the righteous man Choni]  was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree; he asked him, How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit? The man replied: Seventy years. He then further asked him: Are you certain that you will live another seventy years? The man replied: I found [ready grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted these for me so I too plant these for my children.” -Babylonian Talmud Ta’anit 23b

As the story of Choni teaches us, we as Jews are called upon to be accountable in creating a livable world for future generations. However, the lives that many of us have been living and the systems of capitalism that we have bought into have done the exact opposite--our lives have supported the creation of conditions that render the world uninhabitable for future generations. And for this, we are being held to account by the younger generations.

The Sunrise Movement has burst onto the scene, a movement led by and for the younger generation that calls upon the global community to stop climate collapse and build for them and the ensuing generations a liveable future. And a core element of the ask they are making is political support for The Green New Deal.

As the Sunrise Movement explains on their website:

We need a Green New Deal to fight the climate crisis at the scale that scientists say is necessary. It’s a plan that would transform our economy and society at the scale needed to stop the climate crisis. It’s our fighting chance to actually stop this crisis -- for some of us, the first we’ve seen in our whole lives.

“We don’t have illusions of passing this with Donald Trump in the White House. He’s made it clear he’d rather do favors for his fellow billionaires than stopping climate change and fighting for working people. In 2019, we’ll build support for the Green New Deal in every corner of the country and cement it as a litmus test for every politician seeking the Presidency. Then, in 2020, we will unite by the millions to defeat corrupt politicians and the fossil fuel billionaires who aid them, and we’ll elect a President and Congress who will make the Green New Deal law in 2021.”

Therefore, for the fifth day of Hanukkah, we are asking you to respond to the call by the younger generation to ask that the Green New Deal and the Green New Deal for Public Housing be a priority on the legislative and campaign agenda by writing letters to and/or calling your representatives and asking them for their vocal and unwavering support.

For more information on the Green New Deal and the asks of the Sunrise Movement, see the resources that they have collected here: https://www.sunrisemovement.org/green-new-deal

Day 6: Power down for Shabbat, just as our forebears did, by limiting use of gasoline, electronics, and electricity for 25 hours.

“Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of YHWH [Yaahhh/ HaShem/ Breathing Spirit of all life]  your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, or your beast, or the stranger who is within your gates. For in six days YHWH [Yaahhh/ HaShem/ Breathing Spirit of all life] made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore YHWH blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

"The seventh day is Shabbat-pausing for YHWH your God; you are not to do any work ,. . .   in order that your male and female servant may rest as one-like-yourself. You are to bear-in-mind that serf you were in the Tight and Narrow Land. But YHWH took you out from there with a strong hand and an arm-outstretched-to-sow-seed.  Therefore YHWH commands you to observe the day of Shabbat.” (Deut. 5: 13-15)

“To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence of external obligations, a day on which we stop worshipping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow men and the forces of nature. Is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for man's progress than the Sabbath?” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath)

On Shabbat, we are commanded to rest, for two different reasons given by two different ancient teachings:

One teaching says that this day of rest marks the truth that the very creation and continuity of the cosmos rests on the rhythm of Doing/ Making and Resting /Being.

The other sacred teaching is that through the Pause for Shabbat we make sure that no one is enslaved; for to be able to rest means to be free.  And this rest, God makes clear, is not only for us, but for all for whom we assume responsibility and for all whose labor benefits us.

Three thousand years later, Heschel adds many other implications of why Shabbat is crucial, including the celebration of peace among human beings and between Humanity and Earth.

In our day, the complex web of labor is hard to untangle, but one thing is clear -- in order to maintain the lifestyle that people have come to expect in this economy, there is no rest for some people, and there is no rest for Earth. No rest for people means that, as the Deuteronomy text teaches, that some are enslaved. And Earth is enslaved. But both people and Earth rebel against slavery. 


Among people, that rebellion takes the forms of both despair and resistance: nightmarish outbursts of addictions, suicides, fascism -- and uprisings of Spirit yearning for Shabbat and freedom, like the Sunrise movement. For Earth, it means plagues like the ones we remember that were brought  on by Pharaoh. 


Earth is constantly being mined for resources, and people are being asked to perpetually do that mining. Earth no longer gets a shabbat, even though the precedent for Shabbat is derived from Earth's very creation. Can we use shabbat as an opportunity to divest from consumption? - -to give Earth a brief respite from this labor, and to learn from this brief moment how to free Earth from slavery and release it from the rebellion of disastrous upheavals? And how to free ourselves -- all of us  -- from enslavement to addictive consuming, breathless overwork, and frightening disemployment? 

It has become common practice within Orthodox and Conservative Jewish communities to cease to use technology on Shabbat. And much of this is based on the types of labor that Jewish Law outlaws on Shabbat. It is outlawed to drive cars or turn on and off lightbulbs, for this requires ignition of a fire. It is outlawed to use electricity, for it potentially completes a circuit. It is outlawed to use computers or phones, for it breaks the prescription against writing.

However, there is something deeper to taking a shabbat from technology -- to opting out of the consumption of fossil fuels inherent in technological use. It gives us space to glimpse a world in which our very survival is not dependent upon these mechanisms to the extent that we believe they are. It allows us to see what is expedient vs. what is necessary. It gives us more choice as to how and when we consume -- how and when we utilize resources that Earth will never get back.

So for this Shabbat of Hanukkah, we invite you to try on the practice. Try limiting your use of technology for the day. Choose not to use your car, but rather walk, bike and stay local. Choose to not minimize your use of electricity, and perhaps have your home illuminated by candle-light. Choose not to use your phone and computer, but rather spend time face-to-face with loved ones or communing with the very Earth that undergirds the functioning of all of these things. And see how this practice transforms you.

The "I" Who Spoke at Sinai-- and Nag Hamadi

Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, which comes fifty days after the second day of Passover -- seven weeks of seven days, plus one day -- begins this year (2016) on the evening of Saturday, June 11.

What does it celebrate, what does it teach?

My own sense of its meaning has been deeply transformed by an ancient teaching from the Nag Hammadi library (which has been called a “Gnostic” collection). The story of how I got there is after this essay, where the color changes to maroon..

But first: In Biblical tradition, Shavuot celebrated the spring wheat harvest, as hundreds of thousands of Israelites brought sheaves of newly sprouted wheat and two loaves of leavened bread to the Temple in Jerusalem.

But as the Jewish community became more and more widely dispersed, and then when the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish community shattered by the Roman Empire, the ancient Rabbis realized they could no longer celebrate Shavuot this way. Indeed the food-offering connection with any piece of earth grew weaker.

To replace food and land, the Rabbis sought to make words of prayer, words of Torah, words of reinterpretive midrash into new ways of connecting with God. They sought to create a festival when all Israel in every generation could stand at Sinai to receive the words of Torah and speak new words of Torah, just as all Israel in every generation could use Passover to become again a band of runaway slaves, newborn from Egypt’s Tight and Narrow Space (Mitzrayyim).

So the Rabbis transformed the Torah’s agro-meaning of Shavuot into the festival of Revelation.

Who spoke at Sinai? Anokhi – a heightened form of the usual Hebrew word for “I,”  Ani.  When the Universe calls out to us, the “I” Who calls is Anokhi. Some say it was not only the first word at Sinai, but perhaps embodies in Itself the entire Revelation.

For if the Universe calls out “I” to us, everything else follows:

  • “Don’t waste My Name by forgetting that each breath you take is the ‘pronouncing’ of My Name,”
  • “Set aside time for you and for the Earth to rest and reflect,”
  • “Don’t murder a human or a species,”
  • “Don’t wallow in greed so as to covet,” and all the rest.

I, YHWH, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, Breath of Life and Hurricane of Change, Who brought you forth from the Tight and Narrow Place, the house of slavery….”

While the Rabbis were working out this transformation of Shavuot, an unknown writer in the Semitic language Coptic was giving a different valence to that great Anokhi.  The text, called “The Thunder: Perfect Mind,” was stored away in the Nag Hammadi collection of religious texts written during the first two centuries of the Common Era.  That library -- -- a collection of mostly Christian texts that the early Church refused to name as part of the sacred canon -- was unearthed by moderns only recently

 But “The Thunder” is not Christian, and its whole text is built around Anokhi Whose Divine Voice was/ is Feminine.

Its title, “The Thunder,” did not describe any specific part of  its content –- but the whole text feels like The Thunder that spoke at Sinai. 

Here are excerpts

MLK, Isaiah, and the Prophetic Voice within Us

This Saturday morning just past (Jan. 18, 2014), I was scheduled to lead Torah study in Mishkan Shalom, one of the three Philadelphia-neighborhood congregations that Phyllis and I belong to.  Actually, I don’t “lead” it so much as I “weave” it, choosing the specific passage we read and then encouraging the participants to explore their own thoughts and feelings about it. As a weaver might, I may connect some threads and suggest a related thought. The Word of Torah that emerges is not mine, but the community’s.

So the first question is, what passage will  we read?

We were to read the Torah portion (Exodus chapters 19 & 20) about the Voice at Mount Sinai, the Voice that comes as the whole mountain quakes and erupts in thunder and fire and smoke. The entire people is about to hear the Voice call out with Ten thundering Utterances, initiating the community into a collective prophetic mode.

 Jewish tradition matches the Torah passage of each week with reading a Prophetic passage that echoes it or challenges it.  This past Shabbat, that passage was about the moment when Isaiah, sitting in the Temple, feels the building shake and fill with smoke. He hears the Voice call him, initiating him to become what we call a Prophet. (Isaiah 6: 1-13).

 Since this past weekend has been and this morning still is devoted to Martin Luther King, I decided to bring in as well his own initiation into becoming a Prophet in our lives. I brought his first speech in Montgomery, Alabama, as a young pastor – a speech four days after Rosa Parks had been arrested for refusing to move from the seat she had taken in the “whites-only” section of a Montgomery bus. A speech to

Israel, Hillel, & Idolatry

Recent controversies within Hillel International, the “home” for many Jewish college students of diverse backgrounds and beliefs, have made public in a sharper way a profound spiritual issue confronting American Jews and their “official” organizations.

The spiritual issue: When does strong support from many American Jews for the State of Israel and its Jewish citizens as an emergency refuge, as a creative culture, as a defender of Jewish interests, as a member of the Jewish family, become idolatry of the State?

First, the background of the Hillel controversy; then, an examination of what idolatry is:

The controversy surfaced most publicly when Swarthmore College Hillel announced they would refuse to abide by rules handed down by “Hillel International” that would limit what Jewish organizations and speakers were allowed to speak there. Hillel International then threatened to disaffiliate Swarthmore Hillel.

The debate within Hillel began in 2011 when its official managers adopted a policy that prohibited having speakers or partnering with organizations that “deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state; delegitimize, demonize or apply double standards to Israel; support boycott, divestment and sanctions [BDS] efforts against Israel; or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”

Applying these rules, Harvard Hillel refused to allow a former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Avraham Burg, to speak at Hillel because co-sponsors of his speech included a group of pro-BDS students in the Palestinian Solidarity Committee along with J Street U and two Hillel-affiliated groups, Students for Israel and Progressive Jewish Alliance. -

Responding to this exclusion of Burg, first Harvard students and then a growing band of Jewish students across the country created “Open Hillel,” arguing for a policy of welcoming broad debate and inclusion of Jews of varied views and action about Israel as Hillel welcomes Jews of varied views and action about prayer, gender, sexuality, economic policy, political party, theology, and every other issue.

More recently, Hillel International announced it had become formal partners with AIPAC, an American lobbying group that almost always strongly supports Israeli-government policies when it meets with and encourages campaign contributions to Members of Congress.

Open Hillel raised strong concerns about the effect of Hillel’s privileging AIPAC in this way, as against other Jewish organizations that strongly differ with Israeli government policy. Open Hillel urged that instead, AIPAC continue to be treated as one voice among many in the voices Hillel encourages to speak in its venues..

Then Swarthmore Hillel proclaimed itself an “Open Hillel.”

Swarthmore Hillel’s refusal to knuckle under to Hillel International’s restrictions has put “Open Hillel” and the whole debate over what is “not allowable” to say in American Jewish life on the public agenda-- not only in the Forward & the JTA but also on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

For me, all this raises some basic questions of the Spirit.

What is idolatry? Worshipping any being – person, object, institution, community – as if it were Divine. “Carving it out” and “bowing down to it” as the Ten Commandments describe and forbid. (Exod. 20: 4). Not only “carving out” a physical object, a statue, but carving out from the One Great Flow of Life a piece that must not be criticized, not be questioned. A piece not only to be loved and honored for its usefulness and beauty, not only to be seen as a temporary aspect in service to that Unity  -- but treated as an Ultimate, Unchangeable good.

The Hillel International prohibitions make the State of Israel, and indeed only one version of it, into an idol.

 I understand the urge to do this. The Rabbis told a tale in which they searched and searched for the yetzer hara (the evil impulse) toward idolatry, hoping to destroy it. They finally found it — in the Holy of Holies!  We most easily make an idol of something that has a lot of sacredness in it.

What is the alternative to idolatry of Israel? Idolatry of any thing?

The alternative is celebration of the God Whose Name is "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, I Will Be Who I Will Be."  I am Becoming. Never stuck.

That was /is/ will be the God of the Burning Bush, Who called Moses to resist Pharaoh and calls us to resist all pharaohs. (Exod. 4)

Speaking Beyond Words: Wilderness, Sinai, Shavuot, Pentecost

We are approaching Shavuot, the Jewish Festival of Weeks, which begins at sundown on Tuesday, June 7.  Pentecost, the Christian holy day that is rooted in Shavuot, comes on Sunday, June 12.

In the biblical understanding, Shavuot was the festival for celebrating the completion of the spring wheat harvest, seven weeks (a week of weeks) plus one day – 50 days -- after Passover. 

In rabbinic Judaism, Shavuot was understood as the anniversary of the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai. 

In honor of that tradition, we have posted a remarkable brief video by Lawrence Bush, editor of Jewish Currents,  on our Home Page.

In the same tradition, we will make available copies of Freedom Journeys, the new book about the Exodus and Wilderness by Rabbi Phyllis Berman and me.  Click  to purchase it here, with a 20% discount, only until June 12.   

In Christian tradition, Shavuot was the time when a gathering of Jewish followers of Jesus were infused by the Ruach HaKodesh – the Holy Spirit or Breath --  and were enabled to speak and understand all the 70 languages of human civilization. 

If we understand the YHWH  Name of God as the Interbreathing of all life, then we understand how this Holy Breathing Spirit could make all languages understandable. 

For Christians this became the festival of "Pentecost,"  a word that comes from the Greek for  “50.”  This year it falls on Sunday, June 12,  fifty days after Easter.

Besides the Shavuos video, The Shalom Center suggests a number of resources for the celebration of  Shavuot and/or of Pentecost:

In Jewish tradition, the first night of Shavuot has become a time for learning together


Created by Lawrence Bush, editor of Jewish Currents, Shavuos links the festival that celebrates God's revelation of  the Torah at Sinai  with universal human rights and the oneness of Creation. A serious, whimsical, contemplative, eloquent presentation of basic truths that can bring us all together.

Tikkun Leil Shavu’ot from the Point of View of the Earth

Developed by Rain Zohav
[Zohav is a rabbinical student in the ALEPH smikha program. This plan for Shavuot was developed for the course in Eco-Judaism taught hy Rabbi Arthur Waskow in 2009.]

Idea: Use the attached document, “Ten Commandments From the Earth” as a starting point for discussing what people can do to protect and defend the environment.


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