Dear friends, Sixty of you have already enjoyed direct conversations with me and with my book Dancing in God’s Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion, which has now been published. Twenty-five feels to me the limit for a really rich conversation. So I have scheduled a new series of three conversations, on Tuesday evenings October 13, 20, and 27 from 7 pm Eastern to 8:30. The three sessions are a unity. You can register at
I will meet with clergy, spiritual leaders, and other religiously involved and alert people from any and all communities. Now that the book actually exists and we have actual copies, I will send you the book ahead of time – free, and personally inscribed to you from me. Each session will be recorded and made available to registrants in case they need to miss a session.
The cost of the series is $72.
I am sharing with you some of the endorsements of the book :
“A wonderful book! Before the hierarchies and divisions of religions, there was the all-inclusive circle of spirituality. In Dancing in God’s Earthquake, Rabbi Arthur Waskow helps us trace our path back to our spiritual home.” –Gloria Steinem
“Rabbi Waskow calls each of us to reach down deep in our moral and religious traditions and have a grownup conversation about the response our present crisis requires. I'm glad to lift up this invitation for all to join the divine dance of love and justice.” –William J. Barber, II, President of Repairers of the Breach and Co-Chair of the Poor People's Campaign
“Like poetry on a cold day, this book warms the heart and mind both. A fierce look at religion, a willingness to question history, to see the connections between the world’s faiths, to suggest how we might move forward from today’s hard times.”—Ruth Messinger, American Jewish World Service
“We are in a moment of great crises and gathering travail, and so one thing we need to learn is how to steadily, joyfully, determinedly pass through these trials, not just intact, but in love with the world around us. There could be no better guide than Arthur Waskow.”—Bill McKibben, author, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out
“This is a delightful and refreshing book, full of wit, wisdom, and hope--all of which we so desperately need amid the perpetual upheaval and crisis of the world today. I'm deeply thankful for both Arthur and this book.”—Jim Wallis, Founder and President of Sojourners
“The Jewish people's most revolutionary theologian is at it again, trying to waken us out of our moral slumber, before it is too late. The ancient prophet said: ‘A lion roars? Who will not fear?’ Waskow is our roaring lion.” –Rabbi Arthur Green, Rector of Rabbinical School at Hebrew College, author, Judaism for the World "
"Rabbi Arthur Waskow brings his many years of activism, thought, and creativity to bear on the most important question of our time: how do we respond to cataclysmic change? How do we shift the patterns of the past rather than cling to them as they unravel? He re-tools the myths of the Bible to counter racism, sexism, homophobia, fascism, and denial of ecological truth, and concludes that religion today must regard these as sins and resist them by developing new stories and commandments. Waskow, who has made a career of fearless truth-telling, is not afraid to liberate the stories of the Bible from their context in an ancient hierarchical society and re-frame them for our own cataclysmic moment.-- Rabbi Jill Hammer, author of The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons
There are also a number of other endorsements that you will see in the book itself. They include Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Marge Piercy, Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, and other notables from the Christian and Muslim worlds. And I can tell you that these endorsements follow from people having insisted on reading the entire book before they wrote their comments.
I look forward to having a conversation with you about the book, and with the book about our lives. -- I see the book as a harvest of my whole life experience in religious commitment, spiritual delight, and social transformation. Many people look on a “harvest” as a product of past sowing and growing. But I see this book as what a harvest is really supposed to be – food for the future. Here is where to sign up:
With blessings of shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! -- Arthur
The Torah of Reparations for Slavery
Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein
[We are in the midst of an extraordinary event in American history: a multiracial nation-wide uprising against deeply dug-in racism. It started with rejection of the use of racist violence by some among police forces. That was a profoundly wise response, since our whole society has assigned the police the American monopoly on the legitimate use of violence inside our country. If they use that license in racist ways, the whole society is responsible to change course.
[This movement has broadened, to look at other aspects of institutionalized racism that have been the long long shadow of enslavement. One question that has arisen is whether some form of reparations is due from America to the Black community. For Jews, this question has special importance. For we and the Japanese-American community are the only segments of American society that have in fact received reparations -- Jews from Germany, for the almost unfathomable violence against the Jewish people in the Holocaust; and Japanese-Americans from the US government, for their imprisonment in detention camps and loss of property during World War II. So the Jewish community may have some special insight into the ethical issues involved in reparations.
[In addition, our deepest spiritual and religious roots – the biblical story of the Exodus – are intertwined with a story of reparations to the whole people for having been enslaved by Pharaoh, the embodiment of Mitzrayyim – the Hebrew word for Egypt, which means “the tight and narrow place.” So The Shalom Center will bring our members and readers a series of articles from various standpoints – religious, historical, and personal -- on the question of reparations. The following is the first in a series of such essays. It is a much-abbreviated version of Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein’s extraordinary 2018 article, “The Torah Case for Reparations,” which you can read in full at this link. The author prepared this shortened version especially for The Shalom Center. -- AW, ed.]
The Torah of Reparations for Slavery
Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein
In the last several years, cultural and political winds have moved the demand for reparations to Black Americans from the fringe into the mainstream of American politics. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s magisterial 2014 article, “The Case for Reparations”, deserves much of the credit for this shift. Slavery and its aftermath sit at the heart of the mythic consciousness of Judaism. Does Judaism have anything to contribute to a national consideration of reparations? I think it does.
We Took Reparations
Jews must support reparations in principle, because we took reparations for our slave labor, we were commanded by God to do so, and we were promised these reparations in the earliest Divine plan for our liberation. The Torah emphasizes that on the way out of Egypt, the Israelites emptied their Egyptian neighbors of their wealth (Exodus 12:35-36).
This taking of reparations was not castigated as dishonest plundering or sinful vindictiveness, nor even as an optional bonus, but was a required component of liberation, as God had explicitly commanded the day before (Exodus 11:2). Receiving reparations was a core component of the Exodus. God’s first promise to liberate the Israelite slaves, spoken to Moses at the burning bush, already explicitly included abundant reparations (Exodus 3:21-22). The taking of reparations is at the very heart of the slavery story, even promised to Abram as part and parcel of the Bible’s first premonition of slavery and redemption.
The first time the Torah’s core story — slavery and liberation — is revealed, the entire content of that liberation is the future departure from Egypt with reparations: “Know for sure that your seed shall be an alien in a land not their own, and shall serve them; and they shall abuse them -- four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with significant property” (Genesis 15:13-14). We recite this passage ritually in our Passover seders to this day, annually reviewing that God’s faithfulness is expressed through a promise kept over hundreds of years, and that that promise was reparations for slavery.
Are these Really Reparations?
The Rabbis of the Talmud understood the wealth taken by the Israelites as slavery reparations, as shown in a piquant story in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 91a) which imagines the Egyptians suing the Jews in the court of Alexander the Great to return the wealth they took on the way out of Egypt. A non-rabbi named Geviha ben Pesisa serves as defense attorney for the Jews and countersues: “I, too will bring you evidence only from the Torah, as is said, ‘And the Israelites’ residence, which they resided in Egypt was 430 years’ (Ex. 12:40): Give us payment for the labor of 600,000, whom you enslaved in Egypt for 430 years.”
The Egyptians offer no response and drop their case. Egypt had exploited the Israelites for hundreds of years, stealing their labor. Egypt owed the Israelites generations of reparations, but was not about to pay them willingly or to acknowledge the depth of its wrongdoing. According to the Talmud and even the Torah itself, not only were reparations just, but taking them by any means necessary, even deception, was just and commanded by God and should be intelligible to the international community.
The Rabbis place this (fictional) lawsuit during a Sabbatical year, when Jews are prohibited from farming. Observing the sabbatical year disrupts anyone’s domination over land and people. The land is released to grow wild and debts are relieved. Temporary economic straits, then, cannot plunge a person into structural poverty and servitude.
Just as the Torah contrasts Egyptian slavery with observance of the weekly sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:15), the prophet Jeremiah tells the people that God commanded the Sabbatical year laws “on the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Jeremiah 34:13). For the Rabbis, Egyptian spoils were reparations, were massive in quantity, yet still insufficient compensation, and contributed to an economy set up as a challenge to the exploitation of slavery.
The Torah’s Internalization of the Legal Implications
The Torah does not frame the Israelites’ taking of Egyptian reparations only as an important historical element to their past liberation, but as a core component of the Divine law moving forward. As the Torah prepares the Israelites for life in the Land of Israel as an independent nation, God warns them of the proper way to transition vulnerable and dependent indentured servants to freedom (Deuteronomy 15:12-15).
Landowners, having used their servants’ labor to generate not just income, but wealth, are commanded to endow freed servants with wealth that will enable them to escape the poverty that plunged them into servitude in the first place. This legal burden is a lesson of the redemption from Egyptian slavery. Our ancestors were rescued from slavery with reparations bountiful enough to build long-term financial security. Our free society is commanded to ensure the same for those plunged into economic subordination, so that temporary poor-ness never becomes structural poverty.
Reparations in Practice: The Resulting Spiritual Economy
Not only is the epic story of the exodus a story largely about reparations, but so is the desert aftermath, the highs and lows of the free nation’s religious life. God commands the people to contribute gold, silver, copper, and fine fabrics toward the construction of the Mishkan. The Torah states that it is the construction of the Mishkan, which enabled God to dwell among the Israelites in the desert (Exodus 25:8). From the perspective of Exodus, then, intimacy with God for the Israelites was enabled by reparations.
The spoils of Egypt also feature at the center of the other “religious” construction of Exodus, the Golden Calf. Though the Rabbis link the sin of the Golden Calf to the spoils of Egypt, they do not question the justice of those reparations, implying that not taking reparations would have been even worse than the sin of the Golden Calf (Talmud Bavli Berakhot 32a). The justice of reparations is so clear that if they are not disbursed in an organized way, plundered people are urged by God to take them anyway, and if the ensuing chaos produces calamity, so be it.
When people talk about reparations today, they mean targeted programs, overseen by governmental commissions. Various models have been proposed and implemented in different places; they should be studied, selected, and implemented. Refusal to do so is irreconcilable with the Torah tradition.
What are We Supposed to Do about it?
In this Congressional session, as in every one for over twenty-five years, a bill (H.R. 40) has been introduced to the U.S. Congress, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. As Jews, if we take our Torah tradition seriously, we should make it a core issue of Jewish American politics to demand that H.R. 40 be brought to the House floor and passed. We know that liberation from slavery without reparations is a woefully incomplete liberation.
To continue your learning at greater depth, read the full article, “The Torah Case for Reparations”, at this link.
Who should get to vote in an American election?
Especially an epochal election that will decide on life or death for tens of thousands of Americans living in the midst of a botched governmental response to a world pandemic; an epochal election that will decide whether American democracy survives or is subjugated by a fascist government; an epochal election that will decide the future of life on this planet?
Many of our politicians act as if this were just a matter of partisan politics. But our most ancient spiritual teachings insist that at such epochal moments, the whole society must take part.
Let us look briefly at three such moments: when the people of Israel, the Godwrestling folk, stood at Sinai to receive Revelation; when the people were just about to leave the wilderness and begin to live as shepherds and farmers in the land beyond the Jordan River; and when those who had been exiled to Babylon returned and were trying to establish a People with a Covenant.
And after looking at these teachings, I will share with you what we can do to uphold them is this epochal moment,
Deuteronomy 5: 1-3:
Moses called all of Israel together and said to them ... “YHWH [Yahhhh/ The Breath of Life] cut with us a covenant at Horeb [=Sinai, but with a name that means “knife”}. Not with our forebears did YHWH [Yahhhh/ The Breath of Life] cut this covenant , but with us, yes, us, those here today, all of us alive.”
Deuteronomy 29: 13-14:
Not with you, you-alone do I cut this covenant and this oath, but with the one that is here [at Sinai]/ Horeb], standing with us today, facing YHWH [Yahhhh/ The Breath of Life] our God, and also with the one who is not here with us today.
Deuteronomy 31: 10-11:
And Moses commanded them, saying, “At the end of seven years, at the appointed time of the year of release, on the pilgrimage festival of Sukkot, when all Israel comes to be seen facing YHWH [Yahhhh/ The Breath of Life] your God, at the place The One chooses, you are to proclaim this instruction in front of all Israel in their ears.
“Assemble the people, the men, the women, and the little ones, and your sojourner that is in your gates, in order that they may hearken, in order that they may learn and have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life] your God to carefully observe all the words of this instruction;
“So that even their children, who do not fully understand, may hearken and learn to have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life] your God all the days that you remain alive on the soil that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.”
Excerpts from Nehemiah 9 and 10
Chapter 9: 1 Now the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads.
4 On the stairs of the Levites they cried with a loud voice to YHWH [Yahhhh, the Breath of Life] their God..
32 “Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our rulers, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our forebears, and all your people.
36 “Behold, we are subjugated-people this day; in the land that you gave to our forebears to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are subjugated-people. 37 And its rich yield goes to the rulers whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.
38 “Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests.
Chapter 10: Those who sealed it were: Nehemiah the governor;9 the Levites;10 their associates; 14 the leaders of the people; 28 the rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, musicians, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand— 29 all these now join their fellow Israelites the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of YHWH [Yahhhh, the Breath of Life]..
The teaching is clear: We in the United States have turned Moses’ call to Assemble the people every seven years to hear and commit to Torah, into a commitment to gather the people every two years to choose our national leaders.
If some part of the government seizes the moment to exclude some people, so as to elevate its own power, it is violating not only the Constitution but the most basic spiritual truth: Especially when the whole people faces an epochal choice, the whole people must be present and involved.
How do we make this happen, in the USA, in 2020?
The “whole people,” it is now most clear in the midst of pandemic, need the US Postal Service and Vote-by-Mail if the whole people is to be involved. It is hardly surprising, if one of the epochal choices we face !s democracy vs. authoritarian rule, that authoritarians want to shatter that possibility. And they are doing what they can to break USPS, the most democratic and most beloved of all the Federal agencies. One built on connecting We the People.
I have tried to imagine some way We the People could create our own way out of this. I imagined “Democracy Bonds,” which the public would buy (as patriotic people bought “War Bonds” during World War II) to lend the Postal Workers Union – not USPS -- enough money to get them and us past the election. Then a new President and Congress could repay the bonds. Clever, a number of people said, but it would take six months to set up the arrangements. Too late.
Okay. Next best, try to make the Federal system, even authoritarians, support the democratic institution. At least to make utterly clear to all who need the mail, who is disrupting its delivery.
Two channels: Congress, and the Board of the USPS. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is mobilizing people TONIGHT to lean heavily on Congress. Click to www.rac.org/everyweek
Eve Ilsen warmly circulates a proposal from Varda B, below.
"Hello People -- In case you don't see any other way - PLEASE WRITE & CALL the 6 People who supervise the USPS Board -- See all contact info below, and SHARE this info!!
"Louis DeJoy, the Postmaster General and Trump appointee who is now dismantling the USPS on Trump's behalf, “serves at the pleasure of” and reports to the 6-member USPS Board of Governors. These six men have the power & duty to #StopDeJoy & prevent Election Day chaos.
Five of the 6 are Trump appointees, but the person contributing this info on Twitter, a retired Harvard lawyer, is clear that a relentless barrage of calls, emails, and other callings-out will absolutely get their attention. She says:
“I’ve represented Boards as a lawyer, and I know this kind of attention is not what they’ve signed up for. It’s disruptive to their day jobs, which is where they make their money.”
“None of the members wants to suffer reputational damage from overseeing the meltdown of USPS during a pandemic. They do NOT want to be in the spotlight, so SHINE IT BRIGHT!
“Board members HATE being contacted, HATE having their phone mailboxes fill up with messages, HATE being inundated with emails and letters. And, oh, they would HATE being picketed at work, if someone decided to start a demonstration.
“I plan to be polite but firm about my fury about the recent deterioration of USPS’s service, giving personal & family examples regarding medication & veterans services, & expressing my distrust of & dissatisfaction with the performance of PG DeJoy. In my experience, rudeness NEVER helps.
“Call & email each of the 6 USPS Board of Governors. We know how to do this. Be concerned, firm, polite.
“Tell them who & what you are (a retiree? Veteran? Clergy? Parent of a sick child who needs Rx medicine on time?), what you & family rely on the USPS for in this pandemic, how DeJoy’s changes are disrupting that & causing stress. Express worry about the threat to Vote-by-Mail."
Robert M Duncan, Chair
CEO, Inez Deposit Bank
John M, Barger
Attorney and Managing Director, NorthernCross Partners
San Marino, CA
Ron A. Bloom
Managing Partner, Brookfield Asset Management
Roman Martinez, IV
Private Investor. Board of Directors, Cigna
Palm Beach, FL
Donald L. Moak
Founder/CEO, The Moak Group
William D. Zollars
Private Investor. Board of Directors, Prologis, Cigna
Laguna Beach, CA/Leawood, KS
Ameyn selah! Right on, may it be so!
Blessings of chesed u’mishpat, steadfast love and vigorous justice -- Arthur
This past Wednesday afternoon, I found all my leg muscles very weak and my speech slurred. Seemed like it might be a stroke, so Phyllis with the help of wonderful friends hurried me into an ambulance to a hospital. The hospital found there was nothing at all wrong with my brain, but something was wacky with my liver. During the next 24 hours my liver calmed down. The medical hunch was that there had been a stone interrupting the internal processes of the liver, the stone passed, the processes worked right, and I felt fine. On Friday afternoon they sent me home.
It was a powerful lesson: In the Hierarchical picture of the world, my Brain is in charge. The liver is deeply subordinate. But that is just not so. In an Ecological picture of the world, the liver, kidneys, lungs, heart, belly – – including even the million microscopic creatures living in my belly that are not even me – – as well as my brain work together to keep me alive and making sense. If I were to act as if my liver were unimportant, a mere appendage, disaster. Domination, subjugation can kill me.
There was another powerful lesson. The official ethic of the hospital was honesty and transparency with patients. But over and over during those 40 hours, particular medical professionals withheld vital information from me. Their refrain: "We didn't want to scare you." My refrain: "I'm a grown-up. I want to know the truth." It was only because I pushed and challenged that I found out what was going on.
"Easier" for them to control the information, even if that meant I didn't get fed dinner and didn't get medicine pills I needed. It was only because I pushed and challenged -- made them uneasy -- that I found out what was going on.
In the great American social crisis we are living through, the official ethic of America is democracy and honesty in government. But the White House has chosen Domination, Subjugation, and a flood of lies to support them as the mode by which to lead America. It has viewed with contempt and oppressive behavior the liver and the kidneys and the lungs of American society. It has done that literally in the face of a virus that is saying, “Pay attention to all the organs!” And so Americans are dying by unnecessary tens of thousands.
More metaphorically, the Black community which has always been treated like an unimportant liver in the American social system has wakened not only itself but many other organs of the system who understand the Ecological rather than the Hierarchical way of keeping America healthy. So there has perhaps for the first time, or perhaps for the first time since the Civil War, been a multiracial uprising against racism.
The White House, in its obsessive commitment to Dominate and Subjugate, is trying to deal with at uprising by making an American police state. That may create chaos, but it will not create health and prosperity.
That obsession with Subjugation is the politics of Pharaoh. It ended up drowning Pharaoh himself in the Sea of Reeds, but it took tens of thousands of Egyptians with him. First in ecological upheavals we call the Plagues, finally in the death of the firstborns.
What can we do? Nonviolent action both inside and outside the system are necessary. The House of Representatives should be refusing to appropriate any money at all for the Department of Homeland Security without a physical withdrawal of all its police forces from American cities, and with legislative provisions to prevent what has happened in Portland and now in Seattle. Senators committed to democracy with a small “d” should be filibustering every so-called “must-pass” bill until no American city is under Pharaoh’s occupation. The ACLU should be going to court everywhere to restore and renew the right to vote freely and to demonstrate freely.
And I do not think that this kind of action will happen, or will matter without nonviolent direct action by the people. I emphasize nonviolent. Even where a particular building is itself a repository of Subjugative violence, it will make more sense in this situation to avoid attacking that building. We should be enforcing a nonviolent discipline in order to gather against Pharaoh’s violence. Closing the roads around such a building, closing the highways, creating a campaign for “denial of service” to computers in Department of Homeland Security and the White House – – all those will be necessary to protect us in our myriad vital organs of society from Pharaoh and from the Plagues that Pharaoh has brought upon us.
I want to come back to my own personal crisis of life and death. In October I will be 87 years old, and as one of those who is most vulnerable to terrible torment or death by the Coronavirus, I have been extraordinarily careful to protect myself and my immediate family.
In early October, what I think may be the most important work I’ve done since the Freedom Seder in 1969 will be published. It’s a book entitled Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. It’s an effort to reimagine Judaism, Christianity, and other religious communities as committed to an Ecological rather than Hierarchical vision of the world. I very much hope to be here, able to speak and to write and to teach what that book is saying.
Yet if between now and January 20, 2021, it is necessary to bring all my organs, all my body, into the struggle to prevent a police state under Pharaoh, then I will.
With blessings for each and all of us – – each human being and all life forms, free and unique organs to give life to the Loving and Beloved Community, the ONE –
In the ancient biblical tradition, what is a "plague"? Where does it come from? Is it anything like coronavirus? Is it anything like the wildfires that have so damaged California and Australia? Can these ancient stories teach us anything today?
Some of the great plagues of the Exodus are what we would call diseases, but not all. There is a cattle affliction that sounds something like mad cow disease. There is an affliction of all water in the land of Egypt, not only the Nile but even water in pots and pans. There is the death of all firstborns.
But there are also the invasions of frogs, of locusts, of lice or mosquitoes. These are ordinary animals in extraordinary numbers and places. But so are diseases. The Coronavirus is perfectly normal until it leaps a species. Carbon dioxide is perfectly normal – – even necessary – – until human corporations create so much of it by burning fossil fuels that it becomes extraordinary, planet-destroying. The Exodus move to a freely wandering, struggling, learning, growing journey in a Wilderness, seeking to become a loving and beloved community.
The Exodus is empowered by a series of Ten Plagues. In some understandings, they were brought on by a God Who is a sort of Super-Pharaoh in the sky, proving he is even more powerful and more cruel than the Pharaoh on the Egyptian throne, who claims to be a god. Pharaoh enslaves Israelites; God kills Egyptians.
This understanding that the Exodus is a contest between a king and a Super-King is underlined by the false biblical translation of YHWH as “LORD.” (The rabbinic tradition substituted “Adonai/ Lord” for “YHWH” but the Hebrew Bible does not.) It is more likely that YHWH with no vowels is simply a breath – Yyyyyhhhhhwwwwwhhhh: the Breath of life, sometimes the Wind of change, sometimes the Hurricane of destruction.
This Ruach (Hebrew for “breath, wind, spirit”) is what intertwines all life. We know now this is literally, physically, scientifically true: the Oxygen-CO2 interbreathing between animals and vegetation keeps all life alive. So YHWH is the bearer of consequence, not punishment or rewards. Try reading the whole Plague narrative substituting “Interbreath of life” instead of “LORD.” For me and others who have tried this, it changes the whole story.
From this vantage point, the concentrated power and the arrogance, cruelty, and stubbornness of a Pharaoh whose subjugation of human beings soon became subjugation of Earth. The cruelty that Pharaoh sows, all Egypt reaps.
Those plagues did not come from outside us. They came from our own society, from our own government, from our own way of living. "We" allowed a Pharaoh who turned Egyptian farmers into sharecroppers and an immigrant community into slaves.
And that's the case today. The coronavirus only becomes destructive and deadly because we don't leave space between ourselves and various other species. We don't leave space for bats who fly around perfectly well carrying that virus. We take up all the space there is, and we take up all the air there is with far too much CO2. We allow ourselves to become "sharecroppers" within the system that brings plagues upon us. And we become accustomed to the system of domination, so much that we think it is normal. It is not arrogance, it is not cruelty; it is normal.
Until Earth rebels, and what is normal becomes lethal. Some groups of us suffer more from the "diseases" than others, die more than others. More and more of us even begin to notice that the "overseers" who casually murdered Israelite slaves in the ancient story are not so different from the police today who use their legitimized authority to kill more Blacks. Then more and more of us realize that some of us are sharecroppers and some of us are enslaved.
Yet these plagues have an unexpected effect, in the ancient story and for us today. Though the ancient plagues were the horrifying results of Pharaoh’s cruelty, they became the instruments of liberation.
How could both truths be true? The Exodus story splits the targets of the plagues. For Egyptians, they were utterly destructive. For Israelites, who according to the story were physically and ecologically separated in their own region of Goshen, the plagues were liberating. Zoom becomes our Goshen. And if we stop to think, we know that Zoom is a class and racial privilege. The deeply poor do not get to live in Zoom.
Whether the separation was factually accurate or a part of a larger parable, it was a way of celebrating the emergence of a new kind of community -- committed to a new birth of freedom yet welcoming, as the story of Pharaoh’s daughter indicates, to “renegade refugees” even from the palace of privilege and power.
We, living in the midst of the Coronavirus Plague and the varied plagues of global scorching, do not have the luxury of regional separation. Our own “Goshen” is retreat into our own homes, scattered everywhere. Our own new plagues imposed by modern pharaohs are again horrifying and might-be liberating: Undrinkable water. Intrusive “forever plastics,” even inside human bodies. Droughts. Famines. Floods. Fires. Human beings becoming unable to see each other through the darkness of fear. Ultimately, the dangerously impending death of the next generation of the human species -- our own first- and second- and tenth-borns.
Our new Plagues might be sounding the death-knell of an old world order of Domination and Hierarchy. Or they might by making uprising for freedom so difficult to do in public and by destroying jobs and workplaces, reinforce the power of our pharaohs until all of us are conscripted into the chariot army that drowns in the Sea of misery, despair, and death.
Which future is our future depends on us. Can we suffer from the plagues and yet -- and therefore! -- act on them as birth-cries of a new worldview of ecological interwovenness: seeing our communities of life as conscious interconnected ecosystems of biology, culture, and society--rooted in love and flowering in life-affirming justice?
In the ancient story, on the very night when they must choose Exodus or Death, the Israelites must encircle the doorways of their houses with blood. To leave the Tight and Narrow Land, they must leave a household rimmed with blood. There is one bloody house that every human being exits: the womb, in every birth. Here a whole people is reborn.
And then, those Israelites who made that choice – not every descendant of Abraham and Sarah did, and some Egyptian-born, like Pharaoh’s daughter, joined that choice to be reborn –- met another birth-choice on the seventh day.
On that day they found themselves at the shores of the Sea of Reeds, a roaring, roiling ocean. Behind them they heard the drumming hoof-beats of Pharaoh’s horse-chariot army. It was coming to insist they turn back to familiar life: slavery, yes, and accustomed onions, garlic, chewy meat.
Which should they choose? The unknown? The Sea of drowning? A wilderness beckoning on the other shore -- still more unknown?
They chose another birth – the breaking of the waters.
Today the whole human species is standing between the Unknown Sea and the world of Customary Order – garlic, onions, and slavery.
Time to choose. We’ll write some more about choosing birth.
The Supreme Court majority decided yesterday that an employer who has religious or moral objections to birth control can refuse a health-insurance contract that covers it for his employees.
They did this in the name of "religious freedom."
But in fact they refused to recognize the religious freedom, the moral freedom, the conscientious freedom, the freedom of conscience, of thousands of workers. For the boss, it's money saved. For the workers, it's freedom lost. -- No, not lost. Stolen. A life lived by their own consciences in the most intimate parts of their lives -- stolen.
But they are only women. They have no moral agency, no right to consciences of their own, anyway, The bishops of the Roman Catholic Church and the heads of various "evangelical" denominations have a religious conscience. Even a boss who never goes to church but claims a "moral" objection has a conscience. But a woman who has decided to make her own choice whether or when to get pregnant has no moral choice, no conscience. No religious freedom. Please notice: This is not even about abortion, where it is possible to make a coherent ethical case at some point in a pregnancy that a viable fetus has rights. There is no fetus. No being that has rights.
Where does this come from? Two roots, like many practices: An intellectual formulation that meets the needs of some group for power over others. For the Catholic Church and some other forms of Christianity, a tortured interpretation of the Eden story plus power for a certain body of males. The interpretation in its best-shaped version came from Augustine -- I won't call him a "Saint." The "original" sin of Eden was not just "original" in the sense of "first." It was the corruption of our origins -- that they came from the pleasure of sex. And the invitation of an archetypal woman -- Eve. So pleasurable sex was sinful. But sex was necessary for the continuation of the human species. Sooooo -- prohibit all sex that was not for procreation. No birth control, no contraception. And since "Eve" had invited all this, men should rule. What a convenient theory to make "legitimate" the rule of men who claimed to be celibate (though they often lied).
It isn't what Eden was about. It was about refusing to have the self-restraint to leave even one tree uneaten -- to not gobble up the whole of material abundance. When that obligation to our Mother Earth was violated, two dangerous consequences: (1) The abundance vanished: Men had to work hard in the sweat of their faces because Earth gave forth only thorns and thistles. And (2) Hierarchy entered the human community: If Humanity thought it could rule over Earth, then men would rule over women.
The story was urging the human race to grow up enough to rise beyond both consequences. Humans should learn to invent tools that eased their own labor while nurturing Earth. Women and men should learn to be equal. Nobody thought the first consequence was a command -- no tools! But the second -- aah, no equality!
But not everybody accepted Augustine's tortured -- and torturing -- logic. Not even Catholic women. Every sociological study, every survey, shows that about 97% of Catholic women actually use the very forms of birth control that the male bishops of their church prohibit. In the Church's convenient acceptance of Augustine, each of the all-male bishops has a religious conscience. Women? A laughable idea.
Let me be clear -- this is just as reprehensible when it is male Orthodox rabbis or male imams or males who claim to be the "heads" of any religious community
And of course this has a class and race dimension too. Many women will have the money to buy contraception, even while they are robbed of conscience, But the poor won't. No freedom of religion for THEM. How can a poor Black woman have a conscience?
There will be only two ways to reverse this decision to enforce religious tyranny. Bodies on the line to vote, and bodies on the line to block and create in the same breath. When the Supreme Court dares again and again to Subjugate, not Liberate, when it denies those "inalienable rights," then get ready to "alter or abolish it." Get ready for a struggle to change the Supreme Court, not just the Senate and the White House. It is necessary but not enough for women to vote, if the Court insists on robbing them of conscience, of religion.
This is as much Subjugation, Tyranny, as police killing Blacks with impunity. As destroying health insurance. As yanking babies from their mothers' breasts at the Southern border. As imposing coal-plant dust and asthma epidemics on poor neighborhoods. As burning California and drowning Midwestern towns to multiply the profits of the Carbon Pharaohs. As pepper-gassing peaceful demonstrators to make space for photo-ops of holding a Bible upside-down.
We must unite to win our freedom, our bodies, our souls.
Shalom and salaam mean not only paz, peace, but wholeness. Namaste means "In you I see God." It is time for all of these. Fierce urgency of NOW. The vote and the body and the soul.
Your action is necessary. And right this moment, please help us help you to make these actions real by clicking on that "Contribute" banner in the left-hand margin of this page -- Arthur
[Dear friends of The Shalom Center, For about nine years I have been a member of the National Council of Elders. It is a consulting council of veteran activists who helped shape the great social-change movements of the mid-20th Century. Among its founders was my beloved friend Vincent Harding, of blessed memory.
[In the midst of the political convulsions of this past six months, we decided to issue several statements that draw upon our experience. One of them is about the current election campaign and various threats to the crucial right to vote. I was one of those most deeply involved in drafting this statement on Dangers to the Right to Vote.
[The Shalom Center is already involved in what we are calling “Share Sukkot: Green and Grow the Vote.” The Harvest Festival of Sukkot comes in every other year just a few weeks before a US national election. We have already prepared and are preparing more resources to make Sukkot in those years a time to express the eco /social justice and peacemaking values of Sukkot as a framework for greening and growing the vote. More information on Share Sukkot will follow. Today I am sharing the NCOE statement – AW, editor]
NATIONAL COUNCIL OF ELDERS
Immediate Release June 25, 2020
We call upon all Americans to exercise this fundamental and essential right to vote. We call upon all Americans to demand the right to vote by mail. We call on all Americans to make clear we will not allow any attempt to steal the election by any means.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Philadelphia PA; Frances Reid, Oakland, CA;
Mandy Carter, Durham, NC
The National Council of Elders (NCOE) Call: Prepare to Defend Our Voting Rights in 2020 Election
We, members of the National Council of Elders, were deeply involved in the great movements of the 1960s and ‘70s to advance American democracy, winning many important victories for freedom. One of the greatest of these victories was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was passed after the non-violent actions of Mississippi Freedom Summer and the Selma to Montgomery March, which were met with violent repression, killings and brutal beatings.
The right and responsibility to vote in a free and fair election is an essential aspect of democracy. Yet that right has been weakened by two crucial and badly decided 5-4 verdicts of the Supreme Court:
The 2010 Citizens United decision to abolish decades of election law preventing great wealth from buying US elections on the grounds, among others, that corporations were “Persons” entitled to “free speech.” [I would add, No corporation is “made in the Image of God.” Human beings are, and their right to shape the society they live in and the government that governs them is partly rooted in that sacred character. -- AW]
The 2013 decision to cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act, the requirement for preclearance to pass new voting laws for jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg brilliantly said, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."
As we prepare for the national election of 2020, the Supreme Court has again attacked the right to cast a vote by refusing to allow an expansion of voting by mail in Wisconsin in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless, the citizens of Wisconsin defended their right to vote by showing up at polling locations in huge numbers, despite the danger of sickness or death, similar to the courageous men and women of the South in 1964 and 1965.
We call upon all Americans to exercise this fundamental and essential right to vote. We call upon all Americans to demand the right to vote by mail. We call on all Americans to make clear we will not allow any attempt to steal the election by any means.
The president has threatened to use military force against the American people to halt the practice of free speech and free assembly. We are concerned about the danger that the current holders of power in the federal government may use anti-Constitutional force before or after the election on November 3 to maintain their power.
We call upon the American people to be alert to such danger and to meet it:
With a vast and vigorous turnout of voters, casting no doubt that pro-democracy forces have won the Presidency and both houses of Congress
With maintaining vigilance if the current president is voted out of power, until he is well gone in January
With preparation by resilient grass-roots groups to be ready to apply broad and deep civil resistance, should a usurpation of our democracy be thrust upon us.
Come hell or high fever, we must vote – and we shall!
National Council of Elders Members: Ms. Rachele Agoyo, Ms. Dorothy Aldridge, Rev. Dorsey Blake, Mr. Louis Brandon, Ms. Candie Carawan, Ms. Mandy Carter, Dr. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Rev. John Fife, Ms. Aljosie Aldrich Harding, Dr. Gloria Aneb House, Dr.Shea Howell, Dr. Dolores Huerta, Mr. Phil Hutchings, Ms. Joyce Hobson Johnson, Rev. Nelson Johnson, Mr. Frank Joyce, Rev. James Lawson, Rev. Phil Lawson, Dr. Catherine Meeks, Mr. Gus Newport, Ms. Suzanne Pharr, Ms. Lyn Pyle, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Ms. Frances Reid, Ms. Kathy Sanchez, Mr. Charles Sherrod, Ms. Shirley Sherrod, Dr. G. Zoharah Simmons, Friar Louis Vitale, OFM, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Mr. Hollis Watkins, Mr. Junius Williams, Mr. Bob Wing, Rev. Janet Wolf.
Deceased Founding Members: Dr. Grace Lee Boggs, Dr. Dorothy Cotton, Dr. Vincent Harding, Father Paul Mayer, Mr. Ron Scott.
Facebook contact: National Council of Elders@ncoe20century
On June 19, 1865, the US Army announced the emancipation of enslaved people to the public in Texas – the last of the Confederate states to be liberated from slavery
That day each year became known as Jubilee Day and later as Juneteenth, and became a day of celebration, education, community, and political vision first for the Blacks of Texas and then for Blacks throughout the United States. It has been recognized as a special day of celebration by 47 of the 50 states and by some major corporations. It has slowly become recognized and observed by some whites -- especially this year, in the great wave of multiracial Uprising against American racism. (For a history of the day, see “Juneteenth” in Wikipedia.)
Beginning seral years ago and increasing this year, several waays have energed of Jewishly underling the celebration of Juneteenth. I will review them here. They include sharing a Seder for Juneteeth; suggesting a Kavvanah (focus) for the Blacks killed by racism in reciting Mourners Kaddish on Juneteenth; and shaping a Kabbalat Shabbbat and Havdalah for the day. Each of these is noted below.
Beginning in 2018, some Jews Of Color have shaped a Seder for the day, drawing on the structure of the Passover Seder and using foods, songs, poetry, symbols, and other elements of Juneteenth celebrations. In 2018, a vigorously progressive Jewish group in New York City, Jews For Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), observed a Juneteenth Seder and then published its Haggadah at
As the author of the original Freedom Seder in 1969, the first Haggadah ever to welcome the Black struggle for freedom into the heart of the Passover Seder, I have been especially moved by this introduction of the form of the Seder into a Black holyday of freedom. And I have been warmed and excited by the notion that Blacks who are not Jewish and whites who are or who are not Jewish might find it a welcome way of affirming and working for the end of American racism. At the same time, I encourage caution in its use – not easily “appropriating” the symbols and practices of Black America.
So I decided to share one sliver of the Juneteenth Haggadah that felt to me especially relevant to the struggle to end racism, and especially both Jewish and universal in its drawing on Torah and on the post-history of the Holocaust to urge a serious discussion of “reparations” for slavery. Here it is:
THE SECOND CUP: Behold this cup of wine. Assata taught us: It is our duty to win. We drink to her, to our commitment to winning, and to our ancestors who invested in our winning and building power: Fannie Lou Hamer, Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, Ella Baker, Pedro Albizu Campos.
Raise glass. Say one of these blessings: P’ri hagafen, ito nishteh, “l’chayim!” The fruit of the vine, with it let us drink “to life!”
Bruchah at Yah, Shekhina, eloheinu malkat ha’olam bora p’ri hagafen. Blessed are you, Shekhinah, Queen of the universe, creator of the frui of the vine.
Baruch atah Yahhh (Adomai) Eloheinu ruach (melekh) ha’olam borei p’ri hagafen. Blessed are You God, Interbreathing Spirit (Sovereign) of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine.בְּרוכָּה אַתְּ יָהּ שְׁכִנָה אֱלֹתֵינוּ מַלְכַּת הָעוֹלָם בוֹּראַ פְּריִ הַגָּֽפֶן.בָּרוךְּ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ רוּחַ )מֶלֶךְ( הָעוֹלָם בוֹּרֵא פְּריִ הַגָּֽפֶן.
Love & Support: We must love and support each other, and for that love and support to have any meaning, it must be material as well as spiritual.
“The Torah says: And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock ... And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt...”
Black liberation is something that has been compromised again and again, through actions monstrous and tiny — the incompre-hensible violations we promise to never forget, and the endless diminutions we all decide to ignore.
White supremacy is centered in Christianity, but Jews with white skin privilege have been enacting it and actively benefiting from it for centuries. In the recent history of the United States, white Jews benefited from the G.I. Bill; moved to, and profited from, racially segregated housing; accepted and enabled massive disparities in education; and received loans, financial aid, salaries, and benefits denied to Black people.
White folx: even if you personally find the idea of white supremacy repulsive, even if you are afraid of antisemitic neo-Nazis and white nationalists — you still benefit from the culture of white supremacy we all live in.
And so tonight we are asking you to think about what it means to commit to reparation — to take a small but challenging step toward accountability and disinvestment from white privilege — a step that also leads toward a bolder, more moral, more vibrant future for Jews and for all people.
Rabbi Sharon Brous writes: “Most American Jews came to this country years after the abolition of slavery, but we have thrived under a national economic system that was built on stolen land and stolen labor, a foundational wrong that has yet to be rectified. As survivors of generational trauma and beneficiaries of reparations [from Germany, to Israel] granted after the Holocaust, Jews have a special obligation to help advance this conversation.”
In addition, Eric Greene, a member of the board of the Jewish Multiracial Network, has suggested preceding a recitation of the Mourners Kaddish with this kavvanah (‘focus’):
This Friday night Shabbat coincides with Juneteenth, the commemoration of the official ending of mass enslavement of African Americans. In observance of this important day, and in remembrance of the countless African Americans who have been victimized and killed by ongoing racism, we are lifting up the suggestion of Black Jewish journalist Robin Washington and we are asking our friends and allies in the Jewish community—Jews of Color and White Jews, Sephardic and Mizrachi and Ashkenazi, religious and secular, in private or on Zoom—to recite a Kaddish for Black Lives during this Shabbat.
We are providing the text of Jewish Multiracial Network’s “Black Lives Kaddish” below. Depending on your practice, you may choose to recite it along with the traditional Kaddish or, after candlelighting, join us in reciting Psalm 31 (traditionally recited as a plea for protection from those who would do us harm) on this special Juneteenth Shabbat. We ask that you share this ask with your networks, friends and contacts throughout the Jewish Community so we may all come together to give appropriate honor to those we have lost. May their memories be a blessing.
KADDISH KAVANNAH FOR BLACK LIVES
Creator of life, source of compassion. Your breath remains the source of our spirit, even as too many of us cry out that we cannot breathe. Lovingly created in your image, the color of our bodies has imperiled our lives.
Black lives are commodified yet devalued, imitated but feared, exhibited but not seen.
Black lives have been pursued by hatred, abandoned by indifference and betrayed by complacency.
Black lives have been lost to the violence of the vigilante, the cruelty of the marketplace and the silence of the comfortable.
We understand that Black lives are sacred, inherently valuable, and irreplaceable.
We know that to oppress the body of the human, is to break the heart of the divine.
We yearn for the day when the bent will stand straight.
We pray that the hearts of our country will soften to the pain endured for centuries.
We will do the work to bind up the wounds, to heal the shattered hearts, to break the yoke of oppression.
As the beauty of the heavens is revealed to us each day, may each day reveal to us the beauty of our common humanity. Amen.
I suggest that we add these readings to our Shabbat observance, either or both on Erev Shabbat (Friday evening, June 19) or Shabbat morning, fitting in with our attention to the nationwide gathering of the Poor People’s Campaign at 10 am and 6 pm Saturday and 6 pm Sunday at June2020.org
Blessings of shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste!-- Arthur
Michael Lerner wrote his newest book, Revolutionary Love (University of California Press), in 2019. There was already in the world and in his mind’s eye the brutality of the Trump Administration. There was only a hint of the possibility of a world pandemic resulting from the rampant disregard by human institutions – mostly the Hyperwealthy – for the habitat of other species. And though he notes with hope the existence of Black Lives Matter, a massive national Black-led multiracial Uprising against racism was not on the country’s, or Lerner’s, agenda.
What his book is mostly about is an imagined series of social changes that would make America, and the planet, a society focused on loving connectiveness -- not competition and subjugation – and the loving means of getting there.
Among his proposed loving alternatives is:
Who knew (I think not Lerner) that this would be on the front pages everywhere while his book was still new?
The book is peppered with such ideas. The question is how to make them do-able. Not every one of them is going to have behind it the force of an Uprising deep enough to make tens of thousands of people forget their fears of Death by Coronavirus and erupt onto the streets.
I do want to note one other proposal out of dozens, partly because It is a special concern of mine and because Lerner gives it five pages (pp. 233-238), not just one small paragraph. That is his examination of whether it would be possible to organize in our own society, so different from ancient Israel, the Sabbatical Year commanded in Leviticus 25.
For Torah, this is the crucial way of preventing both social disaster as economic inequality worsens and eco-disaster as Earth is treated with contempt. The Torah considers this program so central that it is said to come from Sinai, just like “Don’t make idols” and “Don’t murder.” – And so, in Lev. 26, is the recitation of specific disasters that will come if Earth is not allowed to rest every seventh year. Lerner thinks we could do this Great Sabbath in modern America. Wonder how? Read the book!
Lerner deals with almost every bristling “Impossible!” and “Unrealistic!” by challenging the “liberal” and “progressive” Lefts that express considerable contempt for “Love” as a transformative possibility. The Lefts’ reaction translates into contempt for religion, the one aspect of American society that still holds some love for Love. And into contempt for the “deplorables” who depend on religion as their last gasp of breath – and of Love at least in their local communities.
Lerner recalls the sense of frustrated and frayed connections between people, and the experience of many working-class Americans that their once-upon-a-time liberal allies see them as damaged and disreputable because they seem to be translating psychological and social fears into attacks on “the others.“
He hopes to bring together the old Left-outs -- Blacks, Indigenous Peoples, Muslims, Spanish-speakers, women, GLBTQIA communities, Jews – with the new Left-outs -- the “forgotten whites.” He looks to heal their split in part by their economic resentment against the ultra-rich 1/10 of 1%, but more by his appeal to their separate but shareable Love.
His book ends with what I would call despair masked as hope. As a last resort, Lerner imagines dividing the USA in two, using the new technology that could unite clusters across territory to separate the “Progressive States of America” from the “Conservative States of America.” His comments remind me of the despairing advice on the edge of the last Civil War: “Let the erring sisters [the Southern states] depart in peace.“
But most of all he is hopeful. He hopes that the steps he proposes of actually embodying “revolutionary love” and an ultimate “Love and Justice Party” will enable the creation of a transformed United States.