Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

5 Offerings for a Deep & Powerful Yom Kippur

1)  The Shalom Center and I have joined with a group of San Francisco rabbis and other spiritual teachers to propose that on Yom Kippur congregations all across the country set aside 18 minutes to walk in vigil into their neighborhoods to renew and reawaken the American conscience of compassion, not cruelty; of justice, not subjugation. 

Each congregation can further define this event as they wish.  

One way of framing it would be to see it as a call for tshuvah --  “turning” in active repentance --  not only by individuals but also by our society as a whole. 


2) In some Yom Kippur services I have led in the past, we have pursued a deeply moving practice for the Avodah that renews the ancient practice at the Temple . We have  invited people outside.  Then they were invited to lie face-down on the grass, so that  they melted into the adamah (Earth) for 18 minutes, then to be reborn as adam (human earthlings). 

Given the broadening areas of North Ameruca that now host ticks carrying dangerous viruses or sllergens, I can ony suggest carrying out this practice with extreme care -- or not at all.

It is sad and ironic for me to say that it may not any longer be possible to undertake this spiritual journey safely.  For its purpose was to help us cnnect more fully with our Mother Earth, and the reason to demur is that we humans have already made the Earth more dangerous to us than it was, or than it needs to be.

The practice was rooted in the creation story of Genesis 2: 5-7. Those verses describe the birth of the human race in a way reminiscent of individual human birthings. In the Torah story, a clump of reddish earth loses the “— -ah” breathing sound of adamah from Mother Earth and then receives the Nishmat chayyim (“breath of life”) from the Holy One Who is YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of Life. 

This tells the mythic story of the birth of the human race by modeling it on an individual human birth — the fetus breathing thru the placenta till birth, losing that breath in being birthed, then (with help from  an “outside” act like a tap on the tush)  beginning to breathe on her/his own. 

This is a powerful reminder of the close relationship between Mother Earth & Human Earthling, and of the need to heal the Breath that sustains us both — to heal our CO2-saturated atmosphere that is scorching our planet, forcing upon us huge wildfires, unheard-of floods, torrents of constant rain, lethal droughts and famines, waves of desperate refugees, and the spread of what used to be tropical diseases. Can we learn the connecction without endangering our bodies?

Perhaps we can instead breathe quietly indoors while contemplating the Torah's teaching of what  it means to be children of Mother Earth, and how important it is to turn ourselves to breathe again in communion with our Mother. Perhaps we make the Avodah a time to go outdoors to pray with a near-by tree. To stand beside the tree and listen to the tree's prayers and bring them back to the community. 

3. On the two days of Rosh Hashanah, traditionally we read two painful stories: Abraham’s expelling his older son Ishmael and Ishmael’s mother Hagar from his family, and Abraham’s endangering the life of his younger son, Isaac — and according to many commentaries, bringing about the death of Isaac’s mother Sarah, in sorrow that her son Isaac might have died. 

These two stories cry out for turning and for healing. 

There is in fact in Torah a tale of how the two brothers reconcile with each other. They join to bury their father; then Isaac goes to live at the wellspring that is Ishmael’s home. 

We read this story in the regular rhythm of Shabbat Torah readings. But at The Shalom Center we think that the story should also be read on Yom Kippur, instead of leaving us stuck in the pain of the Rosh Hashanah stories. (The passage is
Genesis 25: 7-11.) 

It can remind us as individuals that it is always possible for us to turn away from anger and toward reconciliation. (Indeed, my brother Howard and I wrote a book, Becoming Brothers, about how we had turned from conflict to loving connection.) 

And especially in our generation, it can remind us that the great-great- great-grandchildren of Isaac — the Jewish people — and the great-great-great-grandchildren of Ishmael — the Arab peoples and Islam, with special attention to the Palestinians — need to turn toward compassion for
each other. 

After reading this passage from the Torah Scroll on Yom Kippur, wherever we gather for this holy day we could pause to explore our own fears and angers. 

One way we have drawn on this reading is to have members of the congregation pair off. One member of the pair becomes Isaac at the edge of Machpelah, having just buried Abraham. The other person becomes Ishmael. The two have a conversation. It might be about their descendants, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims. It might be personal, reflecting on the family dynamics of their dangerous father and caring mothers. They do not talk about Ishmael and Isaac; they become them. 

All these pairs are doing this simultaneously for 18 minutes. Then the congregation reconvenes and some might share what happened in their couple.  

We encourage you to raise in your own congregations the possibility of lifting up this Torah passage and a conversation on its meaning. 

 4) You can hear and see my slightly midrashic translation of the Isaiah Haftarah with music by Will Fudeman and Cantor Abbe Lyons, and with flashes
of extraordinary graphics-in-motion by the renowned artist Michael Bogdanow that carry its message.  See

You can also draw on the written text of the translation, which you can find at

5) Traditionally, we remember ten great rabbis murdered by the Roman Empire. For a new Martyrology/ Eleh Ezhereh/ These We Remember,
 in the video at, you can share some memories not in words alone but in the media of our generation — audio and video — of ten people who were killed during the last 50 years because they were affirming profound Jewish values. This powerful film was made by Larry Bush, editor of Jewish Currents. 

As part of the film, Rabbi Liz Bolton chants some haunting melodies that evoke the ancient and the modern stories. And we see the faces and hear the words of these courageous men and women of our own epoch: Schwerner. Goodman. Krause. Moffitt. Milk. Linder. Krichevsky. Rabin. Chain. Pearl. A minyan of modern martyrs. 

        With blessings for a true tshuvah for us all, each and all of us, as we live through Elul and into the Ten Days that culminate with Yom Kippur.

Site Placement: 

Torah Portions: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 


Toldot Yishmael

The suggestion to explore, at Yom Kippur, the reconciliation of Isaac and Ishmael, by reading the story of their coming together to bury Abraham, is powerful and important. But I wouldn't stop at Isaac's blessing. Either read as far as 25:12, "These are the generations of Ishmael...," or up through Ishmael's death at verse 17. Alternatively, stop at verse 10. But adding the verse about Isaac being blessed and not adding anything about Ishmael's future perpetuates the idea that only one lineage is of importance. Hard to reconcile from that perspective, I think.

Ishmael's future

Dear Virginia, I think you are right! Shalom, Arthur

on Beer Lahai Roi

Glad you liked my suggestion, Arthur. But I have since thought A LOT about what's going on at Beer Lahai Roi and now see, that even though the text doesn't explicitly talk about Ishmael in verse 25:10, he and his mother are a big part of the past, if not the future, of the place. Still think it's important to mention the lineage or Ishmael's future in some way, but also think I was maybe missing something earlier. Thanks for raising this, it's been very fruitful for me.

Add new comment

Healing Earth-- NOT "Losing Earth"

Image icon ppc_huge_crowd.png787.8 KB

Last Sunday, the New York Times gave climate activists and the Earth what seemed to be a wonderful gift. The entire issue of the New York Times Magazine was devoted to a single article entitled "Losing Earth." It reported on the decade between 1979 and 1989 when, it said, the climate crisis could have been averted because scientists and many politicians of diverse outlooks were ready to act to prevent the worsening of CO2 emissions.

But what the Times giveth, the Times taketh away. The article blamed the failure of that nascent climate-healing effort on the entire human race, which it said is so mired in the present urgency of many many issues that it is unable to think about the deeper future.

So the article has the effect of disempowering climate activism, by saying the human species can’t see far enough to make a difference and that we are already cooked – literally. Earth is already lost.

“Human short-sightedness” is in fact not the real problem, as I am in a position to know. And though we have lost a lot of precious time and many precious liveswe are not yet cooked beyond healing.

[This bird and many thousands of other life-forms, including eleven human beings,  were killed by the greed and irresponsibility of  a single powerful and hyperwealthy Big Oil corporation --  BP – in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. They were not killed by the “short-sightedness of the human race.”]

Why do I say that I am in a position to know that the article misses the point?

Because I was from 1978 to 1980 – the start of the decade mourned by the Times -- involved in the effort to pursue renewable energy in order to prevent "global warming" through the profligate burning of coal and oil.

I was working together with Leonard Rodberg, a physicist and a colleague of mine in the Public Resource Center (a center for progressive thought and action in Washington DC). We worked on a study and report to President Carter's Department of Energy on the possibilities of community-based generation and use of solar energy. We said that this would be important to do precisely because the continuing use of fossil fuels was beginning to endanger the planet by heating it to levels that would disturb the entire web of life.

So the Department of Energy gave us a grant to explore the social and technological possibility for this kind of community involvement in shifting to solar energy. We submitted a report that described what needed to be done.

The Department was excited and invited us to propose the next step --  a grant that would make it possible for us to actually undertake and oversee a pilot project in community-based solarization.

We submitted the proposal they invited, and they signed off on a contract to do it. Hallelu-YAH!

But then came the election of 1980. Ronald Reagan was the nominee to oppose President Carter. "The Department of Energy has a multibillion-dollar budget, in excess of $10 billion," Reagan said during an election debate with Carter. "It hasn't produced a quart of oil or a lump of coal or anything else in the line of energy."

Reagan won the election.

When the new administration took power in January 1981, we went to the new set of officials in the Department of Energy with our signed contract in hand and asked them how to proceed.

They laughed. They were not interested in replacing coal and oil with renewable sources of energy. We pointed out that the contract came from the US government, not from a particular administration. They laughed again. They were Big Coal, Big Oil. Why would they want to be replaced? To save the Earth and humanity from devastation? Hardly.

We consulted some friendly lawyers knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the federal government. They told us we could sue, and perhaps in three years a court would decide to enforce the contract. And perhaps not.

By 1986, the Reagan administration had gutted the research and development budgets for renewable energy and had eliminated tax breaks for the deployment of wind and solar technologies. And the Reagan administration capped its policy change with a symbolic change:  Where Carter had installed solar panels on the White House roof, Reagan dismantled them.

That is how we lost the impetus to heal the world. It was not a failing in the genetic makeup of the human race. It was not even a decision by the American body politick to choose oil and coal over sun and wind. The determining factor in the election was not solar energy but Carter’s failure to work out a peaceful settlement with the new Islamic Revolutionary government of Iran when it held as prisoners the diplomats and CIA officials who worked in the US Embassy in Baghdad. (Iran had demanded the US extradite the overthrown Shah of Iran to stand trial for crimes against the people. Carter refused. The Embassy take-over followed.)

 What actually made the difference to Mother Earth was the influence of Big Oil and Big Coal in Reagan’s mind and in the Reagan Administration. Money. Big money.

“The fault, dear fellow-citizens, was not in our stars or in our genes, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." We allowed ourselves to be treated as underlings by the Corporate Climate Pharaohs that have flooded our planet with scorching heat and our politics with cash.

And despite the NYT article, the earth is not yet lost. It is true that we have lost an entire generation of time while CO2 emissions have worsened and the Carbon Pharaohs have gotten even richer, even more able to buy scientists and politicians and the media.

It is true that the task of healing is even harder. That now we need to think about ways not only of getting to Zero Emissions but also of withdrawing a trillion tons of CO2 from the air where the Carbon Pharaohs have happily emplaced it, chortling all the way to the bank.

But we have learned some lessons that are important. Crucial.

We have learned that a small cabal of scientists and politicians, no matter how smart and well-placed they are, cannot outdo the Carbon Pharaohs. Not in the 1980s, not even in 2009 when Obama was President and tried to work “inside the Beltway” to get a climate-protection bill passed by Congress. It failed. Not even in the twilight years of his Administration, with the Clean Power regulatory initiative that he still was trying to carry out by fiat without rousing a movement to demand it. Within months, he was replaced in the White House with a rabidly anti-Earth, pro-Carbon, pro-subjugation President.

It is true that “Without a Vision, the People perish.” It is even more true that “Without the People, the Vision perishes.” We know now that it takes not even a climate-concerned President or presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican, to defeat the Carbon Pharaohs when Congress and the Executive Branch regulators are drenched with Carbon money in campaign contributions and lobbyist favors.

The difference is not between Republicans and Democrats. It is between a hyper-wealthy Corporate oligarchy and a movement that opposes subjugation not only of the Earth but of all insurgent energies. A movement in the streets, the courts, and the voting booths.

A multi-issue “fusion” movement based on a moral revival with a strong element of religious commitment -– as the Poor People’s campaign calls it and organizes it -- against subjugation, to heal the Earth and human civilization. A movement against subjugation of the Earth, of women, of Blacks and Muslims and Latinos, of the poor of all colors and locales, of the independent press, of children ripped from their parents’ arms while their parents are desperately seeking refuge from murderous violence.

A movement that can acknowledge that almost all of us are addicted to oil because the whole society has been structured that way by the Carbon Pharaohs, and also know that just as nicotine addicts could rise up and force the Drug Lords of Tobacco to  accept regulation, so can networks of Oiloholics Not-So-Anonymous  recognize our own imprisonment in choking clouds of CO2 –- and  end them.

When the New York Times is proclaiming in its loudest voice that the climate crisis is real but no longer a crisis with choices – we have already lost our planet –- how do we summon up the will to persist and heal her?

We need to know that it takes not only resistance to subjugation but affirmation of a joyful future, a Vision, to transform our economy and make the Carbon Pharaohs into simple citizens again. That vision must include a program for healing our climate, our planet, not just a plan for staving off utter catastrophe while region after region  burns like California, drowns like Bangla Desh and Florida.

And it will take the emergence of more people who at the grass roots can organically organize, resist, sing, dance, learn, cook, eat, register to vote, together. Not only the future but the present must be filled with joy. At the grass roots and in the grass-roofed Sukkah, the fragile hut to celebrate the Harvest of food, of wisdom, of caring for the Interbreathing that keeps all life alive.

We need to remember that our most creative transformations emerged out of struggles against the worst tyrannies. From resistance to the overweening despotic empires of Egypt and Babylonia came the flawed break-through we know as Torah. From resistance to the despotic Roman Empire came the flawed break-throughs we know as  Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. From resistance to the power elite of Mecca came the flawed break-through of Islam. And so on!

Those transformations sought not only a remaking of the political and economic systems of their time but also a profound sense that the Interbreathing Spirit of all life necessitated a profound reassessment of what is the good society. That in and with the Spirit, joy and self-restraint can join, and call forth energies that will outdo their opposite --  overpowering greed, the never satisfied drive for subjugation.

Those energies, that movement have already begun. Like the great break-throughs of old, it is emerging in response and resistance to the most blatant effort at subjugation in our own country right now.

It is already drawing on ecology, both as a science of the biological world and as an ecological attunement in understanding human societies; on the wisdom of indigenous peoples as encoded in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the powerful and attractive Native presence at Standing Rock; on the wisdom of nonviolent movements in the United States and other nations (especially in the 1960s); and on the best insights of democratic socialism.


The Shalom Center grows out of the belief that not only the Jewish past and present but also the religious communities of all sorts and flavors can make a fusion of the joyful present and the joyful future happen. That the sleepy, yawning giant of the Spirit can be awakened for our good.

Chadesh yamenu  k’kedem – Make new our days as they were long ago,” as the end of the Book of Lamentations calls on us to do after experiencing the worst of subjugations. Not to give us back “the good old days” but to fill our own days with newness, as they were when we humans saw far enough, deep enough, to change the world.

Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

1 Comment

Losing Earth

Your frustration with the Times piece is understandable. But you fail to grasp the major takeaway from it. It will take a gigantic shift in consciousness on the part of a critical mass of the earth’s inhabitants for us not to go down in flames. Demonizing politicians or oil oligarchs is pretty useless. The only useful approach is to delineate the path leading to a shift in consciousness, the necessary steps that are needed to conquer our cultural, economic and political addiction to fossil fuels. Your article unfortunately doesn’t add much light to this very real challenge.

Add new comment

ICE: Brutal and Brittle

Can We Melt it Down?

Let me invite you first to watch two different 3-minute videos of how The Shalom Center and I joined in the effort to heal the bodies and souls wounded by the Trumpist policy of ripping apart families at the US_Mexico border.  Then I will share with you the story of why we did this.

At you can see and hear the video of my briefly speaking to the police officers who were about to arrest us for blocking the entrance to the ICE office in Philadelphia..

 At <> you can see and hear my speaking in a vigil at the Berks County PA prison where fathers and children who had legally applied for asylum have been sent to rot their lives away.

 *** *** *** ***

The Shalom Center and I continue to see the climate crisis as the most profoundly important issue facing the human species. We believe that Jewish wisdom –-  especially in the Hebrew Bible, the spiritual teachings of an indigenous people – bears vital wisdom for healing Earth today. And we believe that the American religious communities are the sleepy, yawning giant that could – if awakened – transform US policy toward healing our badly wounded planet.

So why did we, and I, take a serious chunk of time during June and July away from working on the climate crisis --  time to address the brutal and sadistic child-kidnapping policy of the present US government?

Three reasons:

  • Because there was no time to lose to free those children from their trauma that worsened every day, every hour,  they were still ripped away from their families;
  • Because in my assessment the cruelty was a deliberate effort to dehumanize brown-skinned Spanish-speaking people – the  “Kristalnacht” step on a path that points toward genocide;
  • Because the same arrogant cruelty that was at the heart of this kidnapping was at the heart of subjugating Mother Earth and tormenting us all – first and worst the poor -- with droughts,  famines, fires, floods.  

So on June 27, half a dozen rabbis, including two from The Shalom Center, joined teachers, clergy, labor leaders, and others at a children’s prison on the US-Mexico border.  Children in cages. After all, these brown kids were not really human: Cages like the zoo. Why not?

We brought Spanish-language children’s books, teddy bears, ourselves  –- for us to share with the kids. “No visits,” said the guards.   “All right, will you guards deliver these?”  “No gifts,” said the guards.  For these “baby animals” -- mere animals in the Trumpist worldview, even though that could talk, weep, wail ---- there were to be no instruments of learning. Or of yearning. No teddy bears for comfort. Only cages.

The leaders of the trip decided against a sit-down right then and there. So we returned to Philadelphia, burning with sorrow and anger.

We helped bring together a pick-up team of veteran activists that challenged ICE – the increasingly brutal enforcers of Trumpist policy to deport immigrants and refugees, and along with the Border Patrol responsible to carry out orders to kidnap children from their families.

Why do I say “kidnap”?  Because we know now they did not bother to take information on the children’s identities. The plan was never to reunite them with their parents. Even under a court-ordered deadline, they “could not” reunify some of the families.

This kidnap was not a mistake, any more than Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, shattered synagogues, murdered and bloodied Jews in Nazi-controlled Germany in 1938 was a mistake. Kristallnacht  was the act and the signal to say that Jews were not human beings. In the same vein,  to kidnap kids and shatter families was such a violation of human feelings that it was intended to signal that Spanish-speaking brown-skinned people were not human.

If it had worked, anything could have happened from then on. Immigrants who for decades had been welcomed into the US armed forces could be summarily discharged for no reason. (That is actually happening.) They could be told that even formal naturalization as citizens could be reversed. (Proposals on the table, but not yet.)  Prison camps for thousands could be set up on military bases. (Already under way.)

But unlike Germans in 1938, millions of American resisted--  Anglos and Latinos, brown and white and black.

What is more, we are winning victories. Here in Philadelphia, some important victories

Back home, we met with our dedicated, joyful pick-up band of 60 nonviolent protesters. Two days later, on June 29, we blocked the ICE office in Philadelphia for two hours. Then six of us were arrested. All of us more than 70 years old. The police were polite.

 At you can see and hear the video of my brief speaking to the police officers who were about to arrest us.

A week later a larger band actually occupied the ICE offices. When they were dispersed, the police acted much rougher.  The occupation sit-in moved to City Hall, adding protests at the rough dispersal to protest of the city’s assistance to ICE.

What assistance? Access, till then unknown to most of the public, to Philadelphia’s data base of people arrested or arraigned for minor offenses – data that ICE then used to deport them.

The drumbeat of resistance grew. And finally, Philadelphia’s Mayor Kenney announced that the city will not renew its contract with ICE when it expires at the end of this August. That is an important victory for human decency. It happened only because dozens of us risked arrest, sat in, sat down --

The target broadened. In Berks County PA, only 70 miles from Philadelphia, is a former welfare center for family healing that has been turned into a prison for asylum-seeking fathers and kids.

At <> you can see and hear my speaking in a vigil at the Berks County PA prison for fathers and children who had legally applied for asylum. I was among five rabbis who were there among a large band of protesters to call for the refugee-family prison there to be turned into a family-support healing center, and for the imprisoned families to be released while their applications for asylum were assessed.

The Governor of Pennsylvania could end the imprisonment of refugees and immigrants in Berks County. So far, he has failed to do so.

 U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw, who issued the court order that all the kidnapped children be reunited with their parents by a date now past, could hold in contempt the high officials who failed to obey the order.  So far, he has failed to do so.

 The House of Representatives could impeach the key actors in this cruel parade of “high crimes and misdemeanors”: White House chief of staff John Kelly, close presidential aide Stephen Miller, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Attorney-General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. So far, the House has failed to explore this possibility. (The Constitution specifies that “all Civil Officers of the United States” can be impeached.  This includes White House assistants. See <>.  There may be a majority of the House that, while unwilling to impeach the President, might be willing to focus on the specific officials who carried out this cruelty.)

A swiftly growing network of activists and Congressmembers are calling for the “abolition” of ICE.  The campaign to do this goes to the heart of what US immigration and refugee policy should be.  There is a serious danger that as the orders ICE is given become more cruel, people with a strong bent toward cruel behavior are attracted to become ICE officers, and people who feel a much stronger tug toward compassion than toward cruelty leave in disgust. If this is already happening, abolishing ICE and starting over would make sense.

The demand to do that may help focus immigration activism and lead to broader change. But that demand really needs to be matched with proposals for a whole new system of compassionate immigration law.

Torah’s law of refugees and asylum is this (Deut, 23: 15-16):

You are not to hand over to their masters
A serf [slave or indentured servant] who has sought asylum with you
From their master.

"Let them dwell beside you,
Among you,
In the place that they choose
Within your gates
That seems good to them.

"Do not mistreat them!”

What if it were adopted by American society  -- not because  it is Torah but because it accords with our sense of justice and compassion?


Site Placement: 

Torah Portions: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Add new comment

Welcome Voting-Rights Heroes as Sacred Guests into our Sukkot

Can we make Sukkot an activist framework for Growing the Vote -- just five weeks before the November election?

We are offering you three forms of help to do this. One is -- posters of “ushpizin” --  sacred guests who are welcomed into the sukkah – – who have been heroes of work to guarantee voting rights to all Americans. A second is information on how most effectively to register new voters. The third: essays on how to apply the values of Sukkot to the crucial issues in this November’s election.

To access these ways pf Sharing Sukkot please click to <>.

 Here are two of the ushpizin posters:




I am adding a poster from 1984, the earliest days of The Shalom Center. President Reagan and the Andropov-Chernenko leadership of the Soviet Union were reheating the nuclear arms race in a frightening way.  The Shalom Center built a sukkah on Lafayette Park in Washington, DC, midway between the White House and the Soviet Embassy, and organized a rally there urging both superstates to move toward freezing and ending the nuclear arms race.


The physical sukkah as a fragile, vulnerable hut and the festival of Sukkot both affirm the importance of peace, rather than threats and acts of war. The traditional Jewish evening prayers ask God to “spread over all of us the sukkah of shalom.”  Why a sukkah rather than a fortress, a palace, even a house? Because shalom is more likely to be achieved when all the parties in a conflict recognize their vulnerability, rather than aggressively striving to dominate the other.  That is even more likely in a world of nuclear weapons.

And Jewish tradition teaches that the harvest festival of Sukkot celebrates an abundant harvest not only for the Jewish people but for all the "70 nations" of the world.

 So this aspect of the issues before us in the November election can be understood to affirm every effort to use diplomacy to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. From that perspective, the careful multinational diplomacy that achieved the end of Iran's nuclear-weapons program in exchange for the end of economic sanctions against Iran was a great triumph for peaceful sanity, and its cancellation was a tragedy.

 In other Shalom Reports on Share Sukkot --  Grow the Vote, we will take up other aspects of the meaning of Sukkot as the election approaches.

 Again, we welcome you to access these materials by clicking to


 With blessings for shalom, salaam, sohl (“peace” in Farsi, the language of Iran) paz, peace.

Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Add new comment

Is Helsinki the Hitler-Stalin Pact of our Own Day?

Two weeks ago, I wrote that the ripping of children away from their parents at the US border, and their consignment to child prison camps thousands of miles away, was a lightning flash revealing the cruelty and rank racism of Trumpism.

This week, the Helsinki press conference was a lightning-flash revealing the Trumpist efforts to create a world-wide Fascist International. The Trump-Putin alliance is today’s equivalent of the “Hitler-Stalin Pact.”  

These two attacks are intertwined. They are both attacks on the Spirit.  The anti-Spirit cruelty that tore babies from their parents is the same arrogance that seeks to shut up a critical press and send whistle-blowers and reporters to prison, the same cruelty that seeks to deny families health insurance and food stamps and raises tariffs that threaten the livelihood of farmers.

Not only do they spring from the same root, they strengthen each other. Perverting our elections makes it easier to outlaw all abortions. Giving enormous tax breaks to the hyperwealthy makes it easier for them to buy elections.  

Do not ask for whom the bell tolls: It tolls for thee.

One anti-Spirit despot and one would-be anti-Spirit fascist are giving aid to each other to strengthen their ability to exert despotic control over their own peoples and over nearby nations in Eastern Europe or Central America.

Trump’s attacks on the democratically elected conservative governments of Britain and Germany, his joyful support of British racists and German neo-fascists as well as of Putin make that clear. Add in his close alliance with Netanyahu, the Saudi Crown Prince, other increasingly successful fascist parties in democratic Europe, and actual fascist governments in Eastern Europe.

Are Putin and the Russian state “enemies” of the United States?

We are faced with the weird situation in which all US intelligence and law-enforcement agencies report that Russia, by making massive secret illegal efforts to control a US Presidential election, has acted precisely like what the Constitution calls an “enemy.”  But the President & Congress won’t define the situation that way because they benefit from it.

Putin is the enemy of the American people, but not the enemy of the step-by-step Trumpist putsch. He is its facilitator. 

And in Helsinki Mr. Trump did not just evade the question of Russian interference in US elections, but gave that enemy aid and comfort, adhering closely to it.  A lot more than two witnesses watched the whole action.

So does that mean the President of the United States committed treason in plain sight?    

As a scholar of US history, I have been unwilling to fling around the word “treason.” It is the only crime specifically defined in the Constitution:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”

The Constitution tries to prevent “treason” from slopping over into sedition and dissent, as British kings had the habit of doing. So I think we should be careful about the word.

And – being as careful as possible – I think what Trump did in Helsinki was treason. Not treason to the present government of the United States, but treason to the Constitution, to the American people, and the future of democracy in America.

What shall we do?

Much of the US Left wants to focus on the bread-and-butter questions stirring fear and anger in those who responded to their sense they have become the Forgotten Americans by voting for Trump. Perhaps they will change their minds.

Sensible enough.

But part of the US Left sees doing that as contradictory to focusing on the “Russia Question.”

In my view, a serious mistake.

Why? Because Trump’s various efforts at subjugation are profoundly interconnected. His contemptuous actions toward  Muslims, Blacks, Latinx, gays, women, refugees, labor unions, the poor, the farmers who voted for him,  the Earth, the free press, the FBI, AND the election system all pursue the same goal – a monopoly of power.

Trump is gambling for despotic power in the USA and is glad to have had and keep having Putin’s support toward that result. In exchange, he helps Putin by encouraging fascist parties and movements in France, Germany, and Britain, etc. 

I know that some progressives say, “The US tried & often succeeded in buying, faking,  colluding in other countries’ elections.” Therefore – evidently, therefore --   we can’t complain if somebody does it to us. I don’t agree.

Progressives since the US interventions against popular democratic movements in Greece, Iran, and Guatemala in the ‘40s / ‘50s have been opposing those interventions as destructive of democracy. Why would we shut up when another “Great Power” does the same  anti-democratic stuff?  Doesn’t that also hurt the US poor, Muslims, Latinx, etc etc etc --  and give Trump & his white supremacists more power? 

Some progressives – including some amazing leaders whom I enormously respect – are saying that elections should be protected on their own (from super-floods of money, from gerrymandering, from voter suppression), without focusing on Russia.

And they have urged new approaches to peacemaking with Russia. – They seem to be ignoring the malign impact of Russian intrusion in US and other elections on exactly the marginalized people they are worried about.  Pressure against Russian interference with elections is not the same as war.

Our demand should be for moving toward democracy in both countries, not accepting either’s imperial designs whether directed toward each other or Latin America or the European Union. We should be demanding that instead of pushing Europe to spend more on death  -- as Trump did -- , we and the Europeans should be pressing Trump & Putin to spend less on war and instead meet needs for schools, free colleges,  sewers, bridges, clean water, pure air. 

The pocketbook issues that move the poor and working poor most sharply and these “democracy” issues need to be connected over and over   -- not surgically separated.

They should be connected at not only the political but also the spiritual level.

There are only three remedies: impeachment, elections, and street resistance. The first clearly depends on the second and the second is intertwined with the third. They are all connected.  

The Shalom Center is undertaking to strengthen these connections with our campaign to Share Sukkot:  Grow the Vote.  More about that in the next few days.

Before I leave you for now, let me add:  Trump is trying to copper his bet on despotism by appointing to the Supreme Court a judge who has already said we should not “burden”  a President even with a criminal investigation, let alone a civil lawsuit or a subpoena.  This means the American people would not be able to insist the President be truthfully accountable. Destination: Despotism. What can we do? -- Look below the graphic!


I urge you: Call 1202-224-3121. Ask for your Senators, regardless of party. If you are living in DC and have no Senator, ask for Sen Collins of Maine and then Sen. Murkowski of Alaska. Urge them strongly to vote No,  Against on confirming Kavanagh.  Call back every day.  One day, mention the constitutional right to abortion. Another, the legal requirement to protect our Earth, not burn it. Another, the need to keep millions on health insurance. Each time, the need to insist the nominee answer specific questions.

 Do not ask for whom the bell tolls: It tolls for thee.

Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Add new comment

July 4: What Might America Declare Today?

July 4, 2018: Independence Now! from Corporate Domination and Governmental Despotism


 For many Americans, the 13-starred Flag of the American Revolution continues to  symbolize resistance to tyranny.. Below you will find a new “Declaration of Independence from Corporate Domination and Governmental Despotism.” We recommend it for study and as several of its paragraphs say, for action – during the days before, on, and after the Fourth of July.  

We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men and women are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights: That among these are –

  • Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the sharing of Beloved Community throughout our planet;
  • A life-sustaining share of the Earth’s abundance;
  • Honorable jobs with living wages and income, based on livable hours of work;
  • A rhythm of work and rest that frees time for family, neighborhood, citizenly service, and the spirit;
  • Democratic elections and legislatures not controlled by wealth
  • Peace among all peoples;
  • And responsible relationships embodying, healing, and upholding the sacred web of life upon this planet.

We affirm that governments, corporations, and other institutions are founded solely to secure these rights and uphold these responsibilities, deriving their just powers from the consent of those they govern and whose lives they shape.

We now face a political system contrary to these values, destructive of democracy, and dangerous to the liberty and prosperity of a free people. :

The President and Congress of the United States, have both been chosen by minorities of our people, in elections dominated by huge inflows pf money from hyperwealthy individuals and corporations; by exclusion of many voters of color, youth, and poverty; by the gerrymandering of  many Congressional districts; and by the deliberate covert intrusion of a foreign power.

The result is a President and Congress that –

Seek to destroy health care for millions of Americans;

Are destroying and frightening millions of families by deporting hard-working and law-abiding immigrants;

Are carrying on endless wars and risking new ones without a Declaration by Congress, against international and American law as embodied in the  binding treaty of the United Nations Charter, and to the detriment of American society.

Are acting to destroy all efforts to prevent climate disaster and the scorching of our planet;

Are reinforcing racism in police behavior, in mass incarceration, and in the unequal application of unjust laws;

Are inciting hatred and acts of violence against the Black, Muslim, Indigenous, and immigrant communities;

Are ending protections for pure food, water, and air;

Are pursing the deregulation of banks and other financial institutions, privileging their power and resorting the conditions that led to the disastrous Great Recession of 2008-2009.

Beneath all these specific acts, and encouraging them all, is the power of large corporations - especially those in banking, the military-industrial complex, health care, and fossil fuels – to dominate many branches and aspects of the American government and deeply damage both American democracy and the American future.

We affirm that to redress these wrongs, it is incumbent upon the people to undertake nonviolent action through elections, lobbying, free speech and a free press, strikes, purchasing campaigns, sit-ins, teach-ins, rallies, and vigils;

And therefore we demand:

I.  A Constitutional amendment defining as a right of all human beings the existence of a climate and web of life and viable species that is life-giving, and requiring Congress to pass laws to guarantee that right.

II.  A Constitutional amendment defining as rights analogous to those in the Bill of Rights the right of actual full employment with a living income for all on the basis of a 32-hour work week, the right of workers to organize unions,  and the right to  universal health care.

III.  A Constitutional amendment requiring that all large corporations that do any business in the United States be periodically and publicly reviewed in seven-year intervals concerning renewal of their charters  to do business, by a jury of citizens chosen from the normal panel for civil lawsuits, to ensure and enforce that they are meeting the needs and balancing the interests of their stockholders, workers, customers, the  environment, and society as a whole.

IV. A Constitutional Amendment providing that all persons born in the United States or naturalized as citizens and all persons resident in the United States for seven years or more be registered to vote at birth, naturalization, or upon seven years of residence, and shall be qualified to vote in all elections upon reaching the age of 18 

V. A Constitutional amendment to pay for all election campaigns solely by public contributions by the US or the states, and contributions from natural persons, i.e. actual human beings, under limits set by Congress. 

VI.  A Constitutional amendment providing that the Constitutional right to bear arms can be regulated by the governments of municipalities and states, in whatever ways seem wisest to them, so long as the manifest intent and effect of the regulation is to protect, not endanger, the health and safety of the public.

VII. Strong laws to prevent global climate disaster, to swiftly move the US and world economies from fossil-fuel dependence to renewable energy, and to restore and  renew a healthy, life-giving climate system for our children and grandchildren as it was for the generations of our parents and grandparents,  with a far greater attention to infusing eco-social justice for all into that relationship.

VIII. An end to all US military action, overseas military bases, and the use of violence against any person by the military or any other US agency that have not been specifically authorized by Act of Congress or by the issuance of a public arrest warrant by a Federal District Court after public pleadings.

IX. Restoration of full Congressional control over declaration or initiation of any war, as well as adherence to the United Nations Charter.  Reduction and redirection of US military spending to meet the needs of defense, not corporate subsidies; and the redirection of funds now wasted beyond those needs to meeting the urgent civilian needs of the American people and of poverty-stricken regions of the world.

X. Laws encouraging the creation of worker and consumer coops – businesses democratically controlled by their members on the principle of one member, one vote – especially at the grass-roots and neighborhood levels.

XI. Abolition of all surveillance and collection of any data and metadata concerning any communication from or to any citizen or resident of the United States, without the issuance of a search warrant specifically naming and describing the person to be surveilled and the data to be collected — such warrants to be issued by a regular US District Court and made public no later than 90 days after issuance.

And to the achievement of these goals, with the help of Divine Providence and through our covenant with each other, we pledge our commitment, our nonviolent action, and our sacred honor.  


[This Draft Declaration was written by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph. D., D.H. L (honoris causa), founder (1983) and director of The Shalom Center <>

 Creative .Commons Copyright 



Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 


Dear Arthur,

Dear Arthur, I read your magnificent document. Brilliant, as usual. Was there anywhere a statement regarding "equal pay" for WOMEN??

electoral college

Terrific! But I would add an amendment abolishing the outdated, antidemocratic electoral college.

kidnapping children !

We can't honestly celebrate our "socalled freedoms" when we have 2000 innocent children separated from their parents!

We hold these truths to be self-evident #5

I suggest : "Democratic elections and legislatures not (be) controlled by material wealth. Wealth in itself is - like Abundance - desirable, as it includes foremost "spiritual wealth".

Add new comment

Families Torn Apart: : A Lightning-Flash of Cruelty in Power

The Lightning Flash that Reveals our Hidden Cruelties and Lights our Way to Compassionate Action

 The American people have stood up! – against an encroaching tyranny that has been forced to take one tiny step not even back, but to one side. Indeed, it is even now moving ripped-away children without adequate ID. They may never be reunited with their famiies. Disgusting! The struggle for justice and compassion continues.

 Some immediate actions will still be needed. We will suggest these action proposals for the immediate next stage of struggle for a spiritually and ethically rooted immigration policy for the United States. AND --  we need to look more deeply into the ethics of “immigration” around the world as it morphs into great waves of refugees desperate for safety, on the one hand, and on the other hand into tidal waves of hypernationalist fear of losing a national culture and sense of identity.


The immediate and the deeper questions are connected. The deep moral collision over ripping children out of their families has been a lightning flash in the dark, lighting up the deeper issues beneath. But like a lightning flash, it may vanish before we can attune our eyes to see the deeper truths and questions.


We want to pursue those questions without losing sight of the most urgent needs exploding every day along the US, German, and many other borders. Reluctantly, we see the need to separate these immediate action needs from the deeper exploratory needs. For our action proposals, see <>. Below is a deeper  exploration of the dark behind the lightning flash. 


^^^^^^    ^^^^^^

Our Hidden Cruelties  & New-Found Kindnesses --  Now Visible

[Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I were the initial drafters of this Shalom Report petition about the crisis of US government action to tear apart families at the border. Rabbi Berman was the founder (1979) and director through 2016 of the Riverside Language Program, an intensive English-language  school for newly arrived immigrants and refugees.


It has been modified in consultation with its initial signers: Sahar Ahlsalani, co-president of the Fellowship of Reconciliation; Cherie Brown of the National Coalition-Building Institute; Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the American Jewish University; Rabbi Raachel Jurovics, president of Ohalah: Rabbinical Association for Jewish Renewal; Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, member of the Board of Truah;  Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Kolot Chayeinu/ Voices of Our Lives, member of the Board of Truah; Ruth Messinger of  American Jewish World Service; Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in St Louis; Rev. Nancy Taylor of Old South Church in Boston; Rev. Rick Ufford-Chace and Kiitty Ufford-Chhase of Stony Point Retreat Center; Rabbi Elyse Wechterman, executive director of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz of Uri L'Tzedek. --Rabbi Arthur Waskow, editor]

 In hundreds of vigils and millions of letters, phone calls, and emails, we have witnessed a deep level of moral outrage that has responded to the forcible splitting of families and traumatization of children by agencies of our Government.

Not only outrage but action as well has been bubbling over. Later in this essay we offer forms of action that would express compassion in the means we choose as well as the ends we seek. Only compassion can cure cruelty.

 A wide wave of religious folk stand in and with that outpouring. Specific sacred verses from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and other Scriptures speak to this moment.

One leading official of the United States Government has claimed that biblical calls to obey the law are paramount here.  We affirm that the Bible actually speaks the contrary.

Some officials are saying – even boasting -- that the policy was deliberately intended by its ruthlessness to deter families from coming to the United States, seeking asylum because of well-founded fears that their lives and the lives of their children are in immediate danger if they were to stay in Central American countries that have been overwhelmed by violence.

But the Bible sees the world through God’s commitment to justice and compassion: "You shall not hand over to their masters slaves [or, some translators say, “serfs”]  who have escaped from their masters to you. They may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which they choose within your gates, wherever it seems best to them. You shall not maltreat them.”   (Deuteronomy 23: 15-16)

Of course neither the biblical understanding of serfdom, indentured servitude, or slavery nor the experience of these refugees today, fleeing murder and rape and seeking asylum, is identical with the past of chattel slavery in the United States. Yet their experience bears elements of the same ruthless and violent subjugation. And this biblical verse is uncanny in its direct address of the crisis we face now, even more than other, broader teachings about love and justice for “foreigners.”

  And the “law” that Attorney-General Sessions cites to subjugate love and destroy our families is not law at all. It is a policy concocted by elements of the present US government that actually violates the law. It is intended to keep asylum-seekers from making their case as they are entitled to do both by US law and the binding law of the land, embedded in treaties the US has ratified. 

 It is about “laws” like these that the Bible speaks and Isaiah (10:2) cries out, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”

Out of exactly that Prophetic outlook, Jesus broke the law, nonviolently.  That’s why he was crucified. Does the fact that the Roman Empire crucified Jesus mean that it is legitimate for the United States Government to destroy the lives of children and parents? Or does it mean exactly the opposite?

There is a reason that one of the key moments in the story of Pharaoh is when he orders babies killed  (Exodus 1: 15-22 ). And in the Christian story, one of the key moments is when Herod orders children killed in the “Massacre of the Innocents.”  (Matthew 2: 16; imagined below). Those are the moments when a tyrant becomes monstrous.

Outrage at these actions comes from a very deep gut level. The “prime directive” for every species, including the human species, is to make sure the next generation thrives. The children! You can only rip children away from their families by dehumanizing the people you are facing. Down that path lies genocide.

The cruelty we are witnessing is being blatantly exposed as intrinsic to racism and militarism. All societies face the dangerous impulse to exalt only their own culture as fully human and treat others as sub-human. Indeed, for centuries, American policy has ripped the children of enslaved Africans, African-Americans, and Native Americans away from their families. 

 But the vision and hope of the Bible, the Quran, and other sacred wisdom is summed up in the Bible’s teaching,  “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:39)  and  the Quran’s teaching (49:13):  “O humankind, We have created you from a single pair of male and female [as one family], and appointed you diverse cultures and communities, that you may get to profoundly understand one another [not to despise one another].” 

Centuries of struggle between carrying out this ultimate religious wisdom and descending into dehumanizing “the Other” have been like a case of blood poisoning that at first is hidden and then breaks through into the bright red streak of inflammation that signals extreme danger. We have seen those red streaks before, and we see them now. 

 Does all this mean the opening of US borders to an unknown unbounded number of refugees, without limits or planning? No. There are solutions rooted in compassion, not subjugation. Here, for example, might be one approach:

 Our country sets a number of immigrants we are prepared to welcome each year, with refugees at highest priority. There are two necessities:

Domestically, a strong program to welcome them, with a year of free access to learning English, decent housing, food, and health care.

Internationally, a world-wide effort, with strong US support, to help countries that are now so devastated by violence and disaster as to force their people to flee the homes they love.

Would these twin efforts be expensive? At the start, yes. But the money to pay for them is now parked in the unimaginable luxurious wealth of the top 1/10 of 1% of American families. From this initial investment would come enormous dividends in shared prosperity.

And this project itself would open up other questions: What about “internal refugees,” haunted by violence in neighborhoods right here, denied jobs and real educations, their children ripped away by sending their parents into prisons made of cages and despair?

Indeed, this whole project opens up for us a series of nesting dolls not of children’s play but of cruelty, each hidden inside another till the explosion of cruelty we are now seeing comes out of hiding.  

Entering upon such changes will take a long social, moral, political struggle. So will any other way out of the nesting dolls of cruelty. If we were to let ourselves be guided by the holy wisdom of our traditions, we could do no other.

Meanwhile, we face the fierce urgency of now to act -- 

For the sake of parents terrorized by violence who come to the US  -– leaving beloved friends, jobs, homes, neighbors, hoping to work and to join inhe sake of traumatized children who, we now know, actually have their brain structures damaged by trauma. 

 For  sake of parents terrorized by violence who come to the US  -– leaving beloved friends, jobs, homes, neighbors, hoping to work and to join in community .

 For the sake of cleansing the honor, the decency, of the American people and our nation that is being besmirched by these actions. The flag that we hope bespeaks honor and decency is dirtied by the officials who plan and carry out these policies.

 It is urgent for the sake of our Covenant with the Holy One.

 REMINDER:  Please click to <> to support this statement as a petition. The text and the signatures will be sent to a Member of Congress to place in the Congressional Record.



Site Placement: 

Torah Portions: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Add new comment

Ripping Children from Parents: Torah vs. Trumpery

Last night I took part in the coming-together of about a thousand people, jamming both sides of the street for a city block at the local ICE office in Philadelphia.  (“ICE” = “Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”)

On barely 24 hours notice, all of them were protesting the actions of ICE to disrupt families on the southern US border, to traumatize distraught kids and parents.  I’ve been to dozens of vigils, rallies, and whatnot in Philadelphia, and there were hundreds of people at this one whom I had never met. There were two hours of home-made signs, chants, songs, tears, many many very short speeches by people who came up from the crowd. (This sign, "You've got ICE Where Your Hearts Should Be," was made and carried by Rabbi Phyllis Berman.)


People are outraged by what has been happening. It’s the highest level of outrage I’ve seen this whole 18 months. People can identify with what it’s like to have children ripped away from their families. 

And the outrage comes from a very deep gut level. The “prime directive” for every species, including the human species, is to make sure the next generation thrives. The children. You can only rip children away from their families by dehumanizing the people you are facing. Down that path lies genocide.

There is a reason that one of the key moments in the story of Pharaoh is when he orders babies killed. And in the Christian story, when Herod orders children killed. That is the moment when a tyrant becomes a monstrosity. 

--- All the atrocities we are facing, all the issues in tte "Fusion Politics" of the "Call for a Moral Revival" put forward by the Poor Peoples Campaign, come to a head in this moment.  The cruelty we are witnessing is being blatantly exposed as integral to racism & militarism. It is like a blood poisoning that at first is hidden and then breaks through into the bright red streak of inflammation that signals extreme danger.  And for the sake of traumatized children --  who,  we now know, actually have their brain structures damaged by trauma -- it is urgent to act.

Clear demands: 1) The immediate end of all separations of families and the immediate admission to probationary asylum of families from Honduras, El Salvador and other Central American countries that are under extreme pressure of  violence, while their cases are investigated; (2) Immediate impeachment and removal of the head  of ICE and the Secretary of Homeland Security

This is what a true morality looks like:


Effective politics, including fusion politics, is always about knowing where the cutting edge is in which our side of the slice is much bigger than the other side of it. I think this is it. The Trumpist behavior is absolutely consistent, and I think they have gone too far.

Yesterday an organizer asked me:

"What would you say to [ICE agents]  if you could talk to them directly. Not the bosses, but the line workers. What would you say to them?"

My answer: 

Do you have children? Grandchildren? How would you feel if they were ripped away from you or from your kids, if it’s grandchildren we are talking about,  and sent to a fenced-in jail? No contact with their parents, no information on what happened to them? Who is feeding the baby who was literally yanked off his or her mother’s breast, nursing? Who is changing diapers, holding them when they cry?  

Could you bear it if you were the target, not the enforcer? Can you bear it if you are the enforcer? Could you read Exodus I: 15-22  (about Pharaoh’s order to kill children, and how a couple of women resisted.) Could you read Matthew 2:16 (about Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents)? Could you read Deuteronomy 23: 15-16 (about welcoming runaway slaves to live wherever they want in the land)? What could you personally do to stop it? Could you talk with your co-workers? Could you get five or six of them, along with you, to simply stop doing it?

Attorney-General Sessions has just defended his actions by citing biblical passages that counsel obeying the law. But first of all, he and ICE have construed the law so as to prohibit asylum-seekers from making their case. He has invented the law that he then insists that refugees obey. Indeed, his behavior itself violates the law – the Treaty on Asylum and Refugees carved out after World War II and the experience of Jews who were denied asylum.  And there is no law requiring ICE to rip children from their families.  

For the Bible, laws imposed by an unjust and unaccountable government are not the standard for behavior.  Isaiah (10:2) cried out, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”

What is more, out of exactly that outlook, Jesus broke the law, nonviolently.  That’s why he was crucified. Does that mean it’s OK for the United States to destroy the lives of children and parents because Rome crucified Jesus? Or does it mean exactly the opposite?

Moreover, if Mr. Sessions wants to quote the Bible, let us quote him this:

"You shall not hand over to their masters slaves who have escaped from their masters to you. They may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which they choose within your gates, wherever it seems best to them; you shall not maltreat him.”   (Deuteronomy 23: 15-16)

We might call this to the attention of his down-home folks in Alabama and to his church in Washington DC  And in letters to our Members of Congress and Senators and to the editors of our newspapers. And to the workers at ICE offices all across America. We might – and we should.

For if the present government of the United States has chosen to become the Pharaohs of old and the Roman Caesars of old --  tyrants, murderers, and monsters --  then it is time for a Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority.

National organizers of the protests seem to be Families Belong Together

And we do not need to wait for a national plan to respond to Pharaohs and Caesars on our own. ICE exists everywhere.  And so do we.

Site Placement: 

Torah Portions: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 


Kidnapping children

This is kidnapping of children. And I think: what Rabbi Waskow mentioned about what he would say to ICE if he could? I think we should find a way to send cards, letters and if possible talk to people working for ICE and Border Patrol. Not as enemies. But human being to human being, as Dr. King or Gandhi would do. Maybe if we have kids get them to color pictures captioned "be kind to kids" Is there a way to do this? I think I am going to do it. Send them cards.

Add new comment

Torah Study, Eco-Science, & Activism

Ecological Devastation & the Poor Peoples Campaign

Several weeks ago, Truah: A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights decided to support the organizing efforts of the Poor Peoples Campaign by supplying Torah-study texts and questions for the six different focuses of the six different weeks of the 40-day PPC campaign. Truah asked several rabbis, including me, to provide these texts and studies.

The way this was to work: Each of us proposed some texts of Torah (in the broad sense: the Hebrew Scriptures and rabbinic commentaries) that dealt with the key Spirit--rooted areas of the PPC campaign: poverty; racism; militarism; ecological devastation and health; jobs, income, and housing; and “a fusion movement rising up in response to a false moral narrative.”

Along with the texts we chose,  we provided some questions to encourage and enrich exploration of these issues from a Torah perspective. We did not provide “correct answers”; the purpose was to encourage open exploration by a gathering of people.

The texts and questions for the six weeks were published at <>.  I encourage you-all to look at them and to draw on them for conversations in your own community (face-to-face or on-line.)   Below I will add my own section, which addresses  “Ecological Devastation”  -- the issue that the Poor Peoples Campaign is dealing with this week.

As you will find by exploring these biblical texts,  both ancient Torah and modern science predict climate chaos and ecological disaster, if we keep on overworking our Earth and denying her the rhythmic restfulness that the Breath of Life requires.  So I urge you to join in the Poor Peoples Campaign at your own state capitol this week, demanding action to prevent even worse disasters than the droughts, famines, floods, and wildfires that our modern Carbon Pharaohs are already imposing on us. Find your closest action by clicking here: <>

 I asked the Truah staff whether there might be a way to  invite people to respond with their own thoughts to any and all of these explorations of Torah, and to circulate their responses. The answer came back that Truah was not in a position to do this.

 So I am inviting you-all to do this. I invite you to read the Truah gathering of wisdom -- either on your own or in community --  and to respond with your own thought by clicking to the ”Comment” section for this report, on The Shalom Center ‘s website. So please click <>  to read the rabbis’  thoughts that Truah collected, and then click here <> to share your thoughts with each other and the public.

 Here is my own contribution to Truah’s effort:

 The biblical passages about Creation (in  Genesis) draw our attention to who we are as human “earthlings” and our relationship to the Earth. And later texts (especially in Exodus 16 and Leviticus 25-26) explore how we can fulfill that relationship so that future generations can prevent ecological disasters and live sustainably.

(Torah translations are slightly modified from Everett Fox’s The Five Books of Moses (Schocken); the passage from II Chronicles, from the New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh. For this section of Truah’s exploration of Torah, I chose the texts and the accompanying questions.)


A. Genesis 2:5

No bush of the field was yet on earth, no plant of the field had yet  sprung up, for YHWH [Yahhhh, Breath of Life], God, had not made it rain upon the earth, and there was no human/ adam to till the soil/ adamah.

AW: Isn’t this backward to our understanding of evolution and to Genesis 1, in which vegetation emerged before Homo Sapiens ? Why would this Torah passage say it was necessary for the human (adam) to be present for shrubs of the earth (adamah) to grow?

The Torah continues (Gen. 1: verses 6-7): “but a surge would well up from the ground and water all the face of the soil; and YHWH, God, formed the human [adam], of dust from the soil [adamah]. YHWH [Yahhhh, Breath of Life] blew into his nostrils the breath of life and the human became a living being.

AW: From the adamah (earth) comes forth adam (the human earthling). First this newborn loses the –ah, the Hebrew letter hei  that is the sound of breathing. Then the Creator Breath of Life (YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh Elohim) “blew into the newborn’s nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living, breathing person.” What do these two passages mean about relationship between adam and adamah?

What do they mean about the relationship between God and Breath? About the YHWH Name?

About the relationship between an individual human birth and the emergence of the human species? 


AW: Do these two parables have any connection with each other?

A. Eden

Genesis 2:15-17:  YHWH, God, took the human and set him in the garden of Eden [Delight}, to work it and to watch it. YHWH, God, commanded concerning the human, saying: From every (other) tree of the garden you may eat, yes, eat, but from the Tree of the Knowing of Good and Evil—you are not to eat from it, for on the day that you eat from it, you must die, yes, die.

 AW: Paraphrasing: “On this earth there is wonderful abundance. Eat of it in joy. But you must restrain yourselves just a little: Of this one tree, don’t eat.”  But the humans refuse to restrain themselves, and insist on leaving no part of the Garden uneaten.

 Genesis 3:17: To Adam [Human] God said: Because you have hearkened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying: You are not to eat from it! Damned be the soil on your account, with painstaking-labor shall you eat from it, all the days of your life. Thorn and sting-shrub let it spring up for you, when you (seek to) eat the plants of the field! By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread, until you return to the soil, for from it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust shall you return.

AW : By trying to gobble up all the abundancee, we have ruined it. Only by toiling every day of our lives with the sweat pouring down our faces will we find enough to eat from an earth that gives forth mostly thorns and thistles.”

B. Manna & Shabbat

Exodus 16:13b-18 (and continuing through verse 35)

...And at daybreak there was a layer of dew around the camp; and when the layer of dew went up, here, upon the surface of the wilderness, something fine, scaly, fine as hoar-frost upon the land. When the Children of Israel saw it they said each-man to his brother: Mahn hu/what is it? For they did not know what it was. Moshe said to them: It is the bread that YHWH has given you for eating. This is the word that YHWH has commanded: Glean from it, each-man according to what he can eat, an omer per capita, according to the number of your persons, each-man, for those in his tent, you are to take. The Children of Israel did thus, they gleaned, the-one-more and the-one-less, 18 but when they measured by the omer, no surplus had the-one-more, and the-one-less had no shortage; each-man had gleaned according to what he could eat.

AW :The Torah provides us this near-Edenic parable on the same theme, a story that points toward the healing of the disaster at the end of Eden. This is the parable of manna and Shabbat (Exodus 16). For in this story, as in Eden, the Great Provider showers adam again with almost free abundance. The only work the Israelites need to do is to walk forth every morning and gather the manna—a strange “vegetation” that is like coriander seed but far more nourishing.

No sweat, no toil, no thorns or thistles. Self-restraint is built in: Anyone who tries to gather more than enough to eat for a day finds that the extra rots and stinks. On the sixth day, enough manna falls to feed the people for another day, and it does not rot. It will meet their needs for the seventh day. On the seventh day, Shabbat, no manna falls. Self-restraint is again built in. But the two versions of self-restraint are quite different.

What was the self-restraint required in Eden? What was the self-restraint required in the wilderness when the Manna appeared? How do they differ?


A. Leviticus 25:1-4, 6, 10, 23.

YHWH spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land is to cease, a Sabbath-ceasing to YHWH. For six years you are to sow your field, for six years you are to prune your vineyard, then you are to gather in its produce, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of Sabbath-ceasing for the land, a Sabbath to YHWH: your field you are not to sow, your vineyard you are not to prune...Now the Sabbath-yield of the land (is) for you, for eating, for you, for your servant and or your handmaid, for your hired-hand and for your resident-settler who sojourn with you...

You are to hallow the year, the fiftieth year, proclaiming

freedom throughout the land and to all its inhabitants; it shall be Homebringing [Yovel or Jubilee] for you, you are to return, each-man to his holding, each-man to his clan you are to return... But the land is not to be sold in-harness, for the land is mine; for you are sojourners and resident-settlers with me...

AW: Can we apply these teachings in our day? How?

1. Excerpts from Leviticus 26:14–46, especially verses 34–35 and 43

14 But if you do not hearken to me, by not observing all these commandments... you I will scatter among the nations; I will unsheath the sword against you, so that your land becomes a desolation and your cities become a wasteland. Then the land will find-acceptance regarding its Sabbaths, all the days of desolation—when you are in

the land of your enemies—then the land will enjoy-cessation, and find-acceptance regarding its Sabbaths. All the days of desolation it will enjoy-cessation, since it did not enjoy-cessation during its Sabbaths when you were settled on it.

B2. II Chronicles 36: 20. Those who survived the sword he exiled to Babylon, and they became his and his sons’ servants till the rise of the Persian kingdom,  in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, until the land paid back its sabbaths; as long as it lay desolate it kept sabbath, till seventy years were completed.

AW: Through drought and famine, pestilence and plague, through an exile that today we would call a flood of refugees, our Mother Earth will indeed “rest” by failing to be fruitful. (N.B. Verse 23 of this chapter is the end of the entire Hebrew Bible.)

Are these disasters punishments? Consequences? How do we understand them? How do they compare with what modern climate scientists are predicting if we keep spewing CO2 and methane into our atmosphere?

I invite you to respond with your own thoughts by clicking to the ”Comment” section for this report on The Shalom Center ‘s website, to share your thoughts with each other and the public.

Site Placement: 

Torah Portions: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Add new comment

Trump Tries to Trump Philip Roth’s Worst Forebodings

One of Philip Roth’s least funny books, though it had a somewhat happy ending, was The Plot Against America (2004). In it Charles Lindbergh wins the Presidency against FDR in 1940 and, in cahoots with Hitler, slowly brings anti-Semitic pressures, pogrom, relocation camps, etc., to the United States. Not without American help, even from Jews –- as Roth shows varying versions of collaboration.

Roth was interviewed in The New Yorker about similarities between his novel and the election of Trump. Roth responded,

"It is easier to comprehend the election of an imaginary President like Charles Lindbergh than an actual President like Donald Trump. Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero ... Trump is just a con artist."[

But a con artist with a genius for cruelty and for being able to call forth the dormant impulse for cruelty that had lain quiet in many Americans who are frightened about the future.

It is hardly surprising, for instance, that a man who bragged about “grabbing women by the pussy” is now, by trying to close down Planned Parenthood,  sexually assaulting almost three million low-income American women a year. 

How? Precisely by attacking their sexual freedom – not only their right to choose abortion but their right to choose birth control and to have low-cost or free care for uterine cancer. He wants for him, not them, to control their genitals. What better response to the #MeToo women’s resistance than multiplying cruelty a million times?

And now, after threatening to destroy in nuclear “fire and fury” the millions of citizens of North Korea, and then toying with the notion of a summit meeting with its chief, he cancels the summit. (Who cares about such a war not only roasting and vaporizing Koreans of both North and South, but probably hundreds of thousands of Japanese, and many US soldiers and their wives and children? Most of them gooks anyway.)

 Why cancel the summit? Because, he says, the North Korean government has displayed “tremendous anger and open hostility in your most recent statement.”  What was this anger?  Statements condemning Vice-President Pence for threatening to turn North Korea into “Libya” if it did not accept American definitions of a deal.

What was, and is, the Libyan solution? First the US persuaded its dictator to give up the nuclear weapons he had claimed to be pursuing as a deterrent against attack by the US and its allies.  Then the US encouraged his overthrow, and his being killed. And then the US sat by while Libya was turned into a place of helter-skelter war of all against all. The nation was shattered, its people made desperate.

So one North Korean leader called Pence's remarks "unbridled and impudent."

Might one think that Pence’s threat showed “tremendous anger and open hostility”?  Of course not. When Trump and his buddies celebrate cruelty, they are making America great. When their opponents are infuriated, they deserve more threats of war, of fire and fury and utter destruction.

If you want to explore how cruelty plays out in politics and war, read a brilliant “simulation” by the New York Times on line, following the different likely/ possible pathways of a US war against North Korea. <>

Back to Philip Roth. Two of his early books --  Goodbye Columbus [Ohio] (1959)  and  Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), the latter published a few months before the Freedom Seder, satirized the stuffy, boring, complacent leaders of American Jewry in those days (and many still). They proved how accurate his satire was by going crazy in hostility.  

Tens of thousands of young Jews, me among them,  helplessly galumphed and guffawed at the masturbatory obsession of  young Portnoy, and then collapsed in laughter all over again as iconic Jewish scholars like Gershom Scholem wrote the novel was worse than the “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.”  

“Icon?” Another word for an idol.  To paraphrase Psalm 115 about idols, “They have gullets but guffaw not, larynxes but laugh not, phalluses but ------.”

For me, Roth’s novel Operation Shylock: A Confession (1993) was a brilliant satire on Zionism and its deformities, just as he had satirized the American Diaspora and its deformities. And the book is a satire on himself and his own deformities.

Visiting Israel, Roth the author hears about someone who is claiming to be Philip Roth and who calls for a “Diasporanist” movement. He wants the Israeli Jews to save themselves by returning to Europe, where the Europeans will great them in fervid joy: “At last, our Jews have come back to us!”

But this strange character is not just the butt of a joke. For Roth’s epigraph to the book quotes Torah (Gen. 32:24) on the night when Jacob, the Grabby Heel, became Yisrael, the Godwrestler. The epigraph  (in Hebrew text and typography, then in English) says,  “So Jacob was left alone … and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.”

Alone – yet a wrestle. Clearly with himself – who else?

And then the epigraph continues with Kierkegaard: “The whole content of my being shrieks in contradiction against itself.  Existence is surely a debate.”

So the two Philip Roths are the one Philip Roth, affirming that his self is in self-contradiction.  His Jewishness exists in a debate within himself –- all in the service not of  ruining Judaism but of purifying it from its dross in satirical fire. How better to do that than with a novel that by quoting and transcending Torah names itself a midrash?  – affirming Torah by contradicting Torah, contradicting Torah by affirming Torah.

The internal contradictions go deeper. Roth claimed – sometimes – that the book was, as its subtitle says, not fiction but a “confession.” But then he told a reporter .

“As you know, at the end of the book a  Mossad operative made me realize it was in my interest to say this book was fiction. And I became quite convinced that it was in my interest to do that. So I added the note to the reader as I was asked to do. I'm just a good Mossadnik.”

 In the [novel? confession?], the writer Philip Roth is detained [kidnapped?] by the Mossad, the Israeli CIA  He writes that he wrote a chapter about his detention. But, he writes, the Mossad convinced [threatened?] him till he agreed to drop the chapter and then, on the very last page of the book, to write:

“This book is a work of fiction … Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. This confession is false.”

What?! “This confession is false.”  Which confession? The whole book or this statement at the end? One can see and hear the prisoner standing at the show trial muttering in ultimate defiance, “This confession is false.”  Defying the Mossad. Defying God. Defying “reality.”

“Existence is surely a debate.”

In Hebrew, the word “existence” is “Havayah,” the four-letter name of God, YHWH, backwards. Philip Roth was a true “Yisrael,”  a true Godwrestler -– wrestling with the very innards of whatever for him was or wasn’t God.

One of his last books, all of them written about the encroachments and diminishments brought on by impending death, was Nemesis. He was born just six months before me, and I read those books about him / me weeping and laughing.

But Roth’s real Nemesis was Trump, is Trump. No laughter, no contradictions, no wrestling, there. Pure Grab, pure egomania, pure violence, pure cruelty. And war. And death.



Site Placement: 

Torah Portions: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Add new comment

Subscribe to Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts