Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

Reading from the books that some would burn

In New York, speaking out for freedom and diversity might mean joining a vigil at 7:15 pm Friday evening September 10 at 51 Park Place [near the Park Place stop of the #2 or #3 subway], the location of the Muslim-rooted community/ cultural center that has been the object of both attack and warm support. That date/time has been chosen by the support group New York Neighbors for American Values. (See their website here. )

Some religious folk have urged that gatherings in synagogues, churches, and/ or public places on September 11 or 12 read together from the Quran, Torah and Talmud, the Christian Gospels, and other sacred texts.

Since many American Jewish and Christian households may not have a Quran at hand, we have selected just three passages that lend themselves to the message of peace, dialogue, and compassion.

"There shall be no coercion in matters of faith." (2:257 [Asad])

"Behold, we have created you all from a single male and female, and have made you into nations and tribes so that you might come to deeply know one another [not to hate and despise each other]. Truly, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of God. Behold, God is all-knowing, all aware." (49:13 [Asad])

"True piety does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or the west -- but truly pious is he who believes in God, and the Last Day; and the angels, and revelation, and the prophets; and spends his substance -- however much he himself may cherish -- it -- upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and [truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril: it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God." (2:177 [Asad])

These translations come from Muhammad Asad's The Message of the Qur'an: The Full Account of the Revealed Arabic Text Accompanied by Parallel Transliteration (publ by The Book Foundation, England, 2003). This edition includes many many notes citing authoritative Muslim scholars explaining the texts.

Some texts that seem much more violent also appear in the Quran. So do such texts in the Torah, the Gospels, the Upanishads, etc. But the great teachers of all our traditions have insisted that “all their paths are peace.” All teach that some version of “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the central wisdom.

Ah-meyn, ah-min, amen!

Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

9/11 and Rosh Hashanah: Reconciling Abraham's Families, Celebrating American Diversity

Dear friends,

Before I share with you some thoughts about the intersection this year of 9/11 and Rosh Hashanah, I want to remind you: I am one of four rabbis who will be leading Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur retreats at Elat Chayyim/ Isabella Freedman, the lovely spiritual center in Connecticut.

The Shalom Center co-sponsors those retreats, and our community is entitled to 20% reductions in the cost of room & board. Just enter SCRH10 as the discount code when you register here.

This year especially, I urge us to plan to include in Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur Torah readings the passage on reconciliation of the two families of Abraham -- Gen. 25: 7-11, when Ishmael & Isaac come together to bury their father and then after long estrangement decide to live together at Ishmael's wellspring. This reading could then open up a discussion of what it means about our intimate families and our larger family, in this generation when the children of Abraham through Hagar & Ishmael and the children of Abraham through Sarah and Isaac are so often at each other’s throats.

Here's why to do this especially this year:

This year, the ninth anniversary of 9/11 falls on Shabbat Shuvah, just after the second day of Rosh Hashanah. The day will be used for a demonstration in New York City denouncing Park51/ Cordoba House (the Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan) by several right-wing political figures, including Geert Wilders, an ultra-right-wing Dutch politician who is on trial there for anti-Muslim hate speech.

They will be trying to inflame hatred of all Islam, including the peace-seeking Sufis of Park51/ Cordoba House, as if all Muslims were responsible for the 9/11 mass murders.

It seems to me that one of the factors (not the only one) in the wave of opposition to Park51 from many conservative, Tea Party, and other right-wing politicians is the hope of using it as a wedge issue to split voting constituencies and communities that generally vote progressive. The obvious target here is the American Jewish community, and it behooves us to take great care not to let anti-Muslim bigotry sweep away the Jewish voting community.

Of course different Jews have many issues to consider, and many different perspectives from which to do so, in choosing whom to support in the November elections and beyond — our varied economic views, our varied outlooks on US foreign policy, our concern about terrorism, our concern for religious freedom and civil liberties. But hatred of Islam, as if all Muslims and their religion were our enemy, should not be one of them. And given the attempts to inflame Jews to feel this way, we need to take special care to oppose such abuses.

How then can we address this question, especially in the light of the confluence of 9/11 and Rosh Hashanah?

The traditional readings for Rosh Hashanah are two deeply disturbing tales: Abraham’s and Sarah’s expulsion of Hagar & Ishmael, almost to die in the wilderness, saved only by YHWH’s opening Hagar’s eyes to a well at the last possible moment; and Abraham’s readiness to offer Isaac as a burnt-offering, from which disaster both were saved at the last possible moment by YHWH’s opening Abraham’s eyes to a ram he then killed as the offering.

Both lives are saved, but Abraham's two families remain divided.

Muslim tradition has some important differences — not only does it say that the son almost offered up was Ishmael, but it has no tale of the breakup of Abraham’s family. Interestingly, Jewish midrash says that after Sarah’s death, the woman named Keturah whom (according to Torah) Abraham took to wife was actually Hagar.. In other words, the broken family was healed.

One might say that our two traditions are expressing two complementary though different truths: one about the spiritual effort involved in healing brokenness; the other, the spiritual effort involved in protecting wholeness.

AND -- not only the midrash but the Torah points toward reconciliation. In Genesis/ Breshit 25: 7-11, the Torah describes how upon Abraham’s death, his two sons (indeed the phrase connecting them, “his sons,” is used for the first time) come together to bury him. And then Isaac goes to live at the “Well of the Living One Who Sees Me,” the well YHWH revealed to Hagar & Ishmael.

It seems that the two estranged families are reconciled. Somehow the death of the man who was most dangerous to both his children, and the task of burial, broke down the barriers of many years of separation. This passage is about tshuvah and slichah -- "turning" or repentance, and foregiveness.

But we read this passage only in the regular cycle of Torah portions. We do not lift it up into our intense awareness as we do with the expulsion of Ishmael & the binding of Isaac, by reading these two stories on Rosh Hashanah as well as in the regular cycle.

So I have a proposal: That either on Rosh Hashanah or on Yom Kippur, we read these few verses from the Sefer Torah, Gen. 25: 7-11, with all the sacred blessings for reading Torah, and open up a discussion of what they mean about our intimate families and our larger family, in this generation when the children of Abraham through Hagar & Ishmael and the children of Abraham through Sarah and Isaac are so often at each other’s throats.

In some congregations, it might even be possible to invite a Muslim -- perhaps a Muslim Sufi like Imam Rauf, or any Muslim who has taken part in interfaith work, to share her/his insights into Jewish-Muslim reconciliation.

And perhaps we might read as Rosh Hashanah preparation the Beacon-published book The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, rooted in the varied tales of the Abrahamic family, co-authored by a Benedictine nun (Sr. Joan Chittister), a Sufi teacher (Murshid Saadi Shakur Chisti, also known as Neil Douglas Klotz), and me, with a couple of very important chapters by Rabbi Phyllis Berman.

Indeed, one essay by Phyllis, “Why Hagar Left,” is a very bold midrash on the true relationship of Hagar & Sarah.

This year, American society (including the American Jewish community) is in the midst of an intense argument, emotional far more than intellectual, over whether Islam and Muslims are a fully legitimate strand in the American rainbow-colored fabric.

At a time of unwinnable wars and economic disaster, there is great danger that fear of the little-known will turn to fury, as it did during the Great Depression when a wave of anti-Semitism swept across America. But our country did ultimately realize that the Jewish community could bring its own unique threads into American society. That realization took work to accomplish -- grass-roots education, inspiration, organizing.

It is important to do the same kind of grass-roots education, organizing, and inspiration, to achieve the same result in regard to Islam. If the High Holy Days are indeed to be Holy, that is one holy task we should be doing.

Jews are taught that precisely in the doorways that might seem to separate my home from the world, and in the "city gates" that might seem to separate two different cultures, we are to lift up the mezuzah that reminds us, "YHWH [the Breath of Life] is One."

This is a crucial moment to cross the thresholds that have divided our Abrahamic families, and to affirm that we celebrate the same Breath of Life.

Shalom, salaam, shantih, peace --

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director, The Shalom Center

Torah Portions: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

High Holy Days: Does the Earth really matter?

Rosh Hashanah is traditionally understood as the anniversary of the creation of Adam from Adamah --- the Hebrew that might most accurately, though clumsily, be translated into English as "Human Earthling" born  from "Earthy Humus." (The intertwining of these words is far closer to the truth of the relationship than the word "environment," which means something "out there" -- in the environs.) 
So, to traditional Torah readings for the day we might add Genesis 2: 7:  "And YHWH [the Name of God that can only be pronounced by breathing with no vowels, thus "Yahhh, Breath of Life"] formed the earthy-human from the humus-earth and blew into his nostrils the breath of life;  and the human-earthling became a living being."

Notice that in moving from earthiness to humanness, the human loses the "ah" – a breath-sound – at the end of Adamah, and takes on the more conscious independent breathing received from God.
 This replicates the process of birth in which at first the fetus has an unconscious gift of breath from Mother through the placenta; loses this breath as s/he is born; and regains a separate, more conscious breath by, usually, being gently tapped by an adult.  
 This reading would then lend itself to exploration of the relationship between "adam" and "adamah" today – especially since the story of Eden (which follows) is about alienation from the earth resulting from a greedy attempt by the human to gobble up all earth's abundance, without self-restraint.
 There is a way to echo and enhance this passage on Yom Kippur.

In some communities, on Yom Kippur there is a tradition of full prostration of all or many congregants during the Avodah service, imitating what the ancient Israelites did at the Temple while the High Priest breathed God's Name.  If this were done outside and allowed to last 18 minutes, it would reconnect  adam with adamah, the human-earthlings with the earth.  It could help us commit ourselves to redeem the relationship in our generation.
For the ceremony of Tashlich on Rosh Hashanah afternoon, Jews leave their synagogues to go to nearby lakes and rivers to cast small objects (traditionally bread crumbs) into the water.  Traditionally, they recite a passage: "You [God} shall cast [Tashlich} all their sins into the depth of the sea."
For centuries many rabbis opposed this custom for fear  that people would think this "magic"  would be enough to atone for their misdeeds, instead of correcting their action and making amends with their neighbors.

But the people insisted – perhaps because this was their one opportunity to get out in the open, among trees and streams, to celebrate the God Whose Torah is written not only on parchment but in grass and squirrels and fish and wind.
Today we know that there is no "away" to cast our misdeeds against the earth –-- "downstream" is just another part of our planet. And we know that organic matter like bread crumbs can disrupt the eco-balance of the river; so we might use pebbles instead.
Just as Hagar did not "cast" her son Ishmael away but tried to renew and transform his life, just as God did not "cast" Jonah away but sought to transform him – so we might say aloud that our "casting" is not to get rid of our misdeeds but to transform the energy in them toward good.
In later letters, we will unfold the Earthy aspects of Sukkot and Shabbat Noach  -- that story of a disastrous planetary Flood, followed by the Rainbow Sign of love and healing.
Don't forget to register for enjoying Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at Elat Chayyim/ Isabella Freedman with Phyllis, Shawn, Simcha, and me: Click here. 

 Shalom, salaam, peace – Arthur



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Days High & Holy, Days of Awe & Beauty: Join Us for Holy-Day Retreats at Elat Chayyim

At Elat Chayyim/ Isabella Freedman retreat center in the Berkshire hills in Falls Village, Connecticut, from Wednesday evening September 8 to Sunday noontime September 12 there will be a retreat for Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat Shuvah. From September 17 to 19, there will be a retreat for Yom Kippur.

Both retreats will be led by Rabbis Phyllis Berman, Arthur Waskow, & Shawn Zevit, and Simcha Zevit.

Rabbi Shawn and Simcha are remarkable singers and cantors, and will bring sweet, deep music into the hearts and souls of the community.

Rabbi Phyllis will lead meditative chanting services for Shabbat and several spiritual exercises for helping us achieve tshuvah ("turning" or repentance) and slichah (forgiveness).

I will lead Torah study in ways that open the heart and mind to the wonders of Creation and the possibilities of reconciliation between humanity and Earth, and among the different families of Abraham.

The Shalom Center is a co-sponsor of this retreat. So any of us who are connected with The Shalom Center will receive a 20% discount on the cost of room and board by entering a special code when registering.

This 20% discount comes on top of a 10% early-bird discount if you register by August 19.

Register by clicking here. or by calling 1800/398-2630, ext 4. On the next-to-last page of registration, type in the "discount code" as follows to receive the 20% Shalom Center discount: SCRH10.

What's more, each Shalom Center registrant beyond the first fifteen will bring to The Shalom Center a $50 donation from Isabella Freedman. A painless -- indeed a joyful! -- way to help support The Shalom Center's work for peace, justice, and healing.

Why "joyful"? Melodies old and new, ancient Torah and our own lives, will be brought together. For example -- drawing on the tradition that Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the human race from the earth through the breath of life, the first day will address how adam and adamah (human "earthling" and earth) can breathe in joy together.

The retreat grounds include a lake and woods of great beauty, an organic farm, comfortable rooms, and an attentive staff. Joy!

Both retreats will reflect a multi-denominational, egalitarian style, following the traditional structure of the liturgy, but also including meditation, chanting, and musical instruments.

Children are welcome. Yoga classes will be offered daily. Still more joy!

Register by clicking here. or by calling 1800/398-2630, ext 4. On the next-to-last page of registration, type in the "discount code" as follows to receive the 20% Shalom Center discount: SCRH10.

I look forward to seeing you there and together bringing in a true "shanah tovah" -- a year of transformation for the good.

Shalom, Arthur
Rabbi Arthur Waskow

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Report, Photos, & Video: Tisha B'Av & pro-Earth rally at US Capitol, July 20, 2010

A pro-Earth rally joins
In Tisha B'Av observance.
The Capitol Dome looms,
Activists challenge the Senate

About 200 people took part in a unique fusion of political rally,  multireligious prayer,  and Tisha B'Av observance at noon on July 20, 2010, on the grounds of the US Capitol --- bringing grief, hope, and action for healing Mother Earth, and demanding
"Get dirty fuels out of our air and water;
Get dirty money out of our politics."

Nick Alpers, program coordinator for The Shalom Center, videotaped this extraordinary event. The video -- which is amazing in itself, showing clearly the amalgam of spiritual, religious, and political energy -- can be seen on YouTube by clicking here. (You can receive notices of future Shalom Center YouTube videos by signing up there to become a subscriber.)

The Capitol dome loomed in the background as the rally chanted, sang, joined in prayer, meditated on the sounding of notes of warning, grief, and hope from the blowing of the shofar (ram's horn),  cheered a series of powerful speeches, and then sent three groups of activists to Senate offices.

The event began with Ted Glick, who had coordinated the planning, rousing everyone with a rundown of the climate crisis, the role of Big Oil in the Gulf disaster, and the role of Big Oil in blocking crucial climate action by the Senate, through enormous campaign contributions to some members.

Then I introduced the multireligious aspect by connecting the 2500-year Jewish history of mourning (on Tisha B'Av) the Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem --  with the need today, on this very Tisha B'Av,  for us all to mourn the ongoing ruination of what I called "the sacred Temple of all human communities and of all life-forms on our planet -- - the sacred Temple of the Earth herself."

The speeches focused especially on the destructive effects of over-burning fossil fuels on global climate; the corporate arrogance and governmental complicity that led to disaster in the Gulf; and the corrupting effect of Big Oil's power  on the democratic process through its huge financial contributions to the election campaigns of Senators and members of Congress.

Many participants dipped their hands in oil as signs read, "Congress has oily hands."

As part of the multireligious/secular amalgam, the Jewish segment of the program began with a blowing of shofarot by Rabbi David Shneyer (on the far left in the photo below), former president of Ohalah Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal and the rabbi of Congregation Am Kolel, and Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb (on the far right), a member of the Shalom Center board and the rabbi of Adat Shalom Congregation. The notes on the shofar were called by Rabbis Gerald Serotta, co-founder of Clergy Beyond Borders; ; and Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer of the Bethesda Jewish Congregation.

Then Tamara Cohen, who is the Barbara  Bick Memorial Fellow of The Shalom Center, and I chanted from "Eicha for the Earth" that Cohen had created  -- an outcry of  Lament, Hope, and Action for the healing of Mother Earth.

Many in the crowd joined in the chant, which used the wailing melody traditional for chanting the Book of Lamentations on Tisha B'Av. (For the text of "Eicha for the Earth" and other articles on the universal meaning of Tisha B'Av, )

Rabbi Shneyer led the rally in singing  Pete Seeger's song "Rainbow Race."

From Upper Senate Park, three groups of fifteen people each walked to the offices of several Senators who had taken extremely large donations from BP and other Big Oil companies. Our delegations urged these Senators to pledge to take no more donations from Big Oil, and pay the amounts they had already received to groups carrying out reconstruction and healing in the stricken Gulf.

The Shalom Center was responsible for planning and organizing the multi-religious presence and content, with prayers by Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and Muslim leaders. Activists from the Gulf Restoration Network, MoveOn, the Climate Crisis Coalition, Friends of the Earth, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Greenpeace, joined with members of The Shalom Center, Teva Learning Center, Congregation Am Kolel in the Washington area, Shomrei Adamah of Greater Washington, Kayyam Farm at the Pearlstone Center, Fabrangen, and Temple Rodef Shalom in northern Virginia, the Buddhist community of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, and Sojourners, a progressive Christian magazine, to make up a spirited action-oriented throng.

Media coverage of the event included CNN and ABC, National Public Radio, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and the Associated Press. JTA sent out an article on the event to practically all Jewish weeklies in the US.

With blessings of active hope and hopeful action for shalom, salaam, shantih -- peace!

Two books of Reb Arthur's on Eco-Judaism -- Down-to-Earth Judaism: Food, Money, Sex, & the Rest of Life and Torah of the Earth (2 vols, eco-Jewish thought from earliest Torah to our own generation) are available with discounts from “Shouk Shalom,” our on-line bookstore, by clicking here.


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Honor Earth, July 20 at US Capitol: Lament, Hope, Act to Heal Mother Earth

Get Dirty Fuels out of our Air & Water;
Get Dirty Money out of our Politics

At noon on Tuesday, July 20, there will be an interfaith gathering for lament, hope, and action on behalf of Mother Earth at Upper Senate Park on the Senate side of the United States Capitol in Washington.

Our basic demands: "Dirty Fuels Out of our Planet's Air & Water"; "Dirty Money Out of our Politics."

The date was chosen twice: a number of progressive and environmentalist organizations chose it because it is the third "monthiversary" of the Gulf oil blow-out, and in some providential or coincidental way, it is also Tisha B'Av, the traditional day for Jews to lament the Destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem 2000 and 2500 years ago -- and according to rabbinic teaching, the day when Mashiach (Messiah) was born. A moment when the wail of lament and the hopeful wailing of the newborn come together.

Today the sacred Temple of all peoples, all life-forms is the Earth itself.

The Shalom Center, working closely with Shomrei Adamah of Greater Washington, initiated the Jewish aspect of this effort, which has been endorsed and co-sponsored by Am Kolel and other Washington-area congregations and groups. The framework we will use (with modifications) for the vigil/ interfaith service/ action is a liturgy you can see on our Website here.

.Please let us know who and how many are coming from your community to Upper Senate Park by writing to us at, which is the email for Vinny Prell, staff coordinator for this effort. If you are planning to use or draw on this framework for your own event in your own region, either as a stand-alone event or integrated into your observance of Tisha B'Av, please let us know at

We will gather at a moment when the Senate will be struggling over whether or how to control the over-burning of fossil fuel that is bringing on climate crisis and endangering the web of life on Planet Earth.

We will mourn what is being destroyed and then move from grief to hope, from hope to action.

We will lament the disasters that we face, using the ancient wailing chant of Lamentations that Jews have used for millennia to mourn the destruction of the ancient temples in Jerusalem. cultures, all communities of faith and ethical commitment.

And then we will move from grief to hope. The very knowledge that disaster threatens our planet as a whole bears within it the seed of planetary community. We will sing the songs, chant the chants, recite together the Psalms that celebrate our great round home––the only home our human race can live in.

And we will call for action. We will face the Senate and call on them to take steps to heal our planet from the climate crisis we already live in -- and weave together the wonderfully varied, multicolored strands of human cultures and communities in this great effort that we can only do together.

We invite you to join in this interfaith affirmation––to pray not only with our voices but also with our arms and legs, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once taught could be real prayer.

During mid-July, the United States Senate will be struggling over whether to pass a bill to take the first baby steps toward capping emissions of heat trapping gases, toward ending our addiction to burning fossil fuels beyond what our planet can absorb, toward ending our subjugation to the drug lords of this addiction -- Big Oil, Big Coal.

The corporate drug lords will be bringing all the money and pressure that they can, to bear upon the Senate. So we need to bring the bodies, minds, hearts, spirits of the people.

We will join our voices to the grief voiced by the Earth in places like the Gulf Coast, amid the oil-soaked deaths of pelicans and the fisherfolk way of life; the West Virginia mountains, demolished in the search for coal; the Amazon forest, burned for a few years worth of producing hamburger; the glaciers melting amidst the shattered lives of polar bears, penguins, and the Inuit; the stricken fields of Central Africa, where drought has triggered starvation, civil war, and genocide.

Yet even these are only precursors to the deadly scorching of our entire planet.

May the Unity we sense in the world, the Unity we seek in the world, bring us together in sacred unity through all our sacred diversities of life-forms and communities.
For books on eco-Judaism and eco-spirituality by Rabbi Arthur Waskow: Godwrestling — Round 2; Down-to-Earth Judaism; and Torah of the Earth -- click here for "Shouk Shalom,” our on-line bookstore.


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Grief, Hope, Action: Tisha B'Av for the Earth

Photo of

"It's an infusion of oil and gas unlike anything else that has ever been seen anywhere, certainly in human history," said Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia, the expedition leader. [NY Times June 9, 2010.]

For two brief video teachings that move from lamentation to hope -- how to connect the ancient wisdom of Judaism to active change -- see YouTube here. and here.

What can we do to prevent this disaster in the Gulf from becoming a model of disaster for all Earth?

My heart is drawn to the day Jews mourn the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem -- and after a day of grief, according to the ancient rabbis, are able to welcome the first stirrings of the birthing of Messiah, on that same disastrous day.

The day is called Tisha B'Av: the ninth day of the midsummer month of Av. On that day, Jews have traditionally chanted in a special mournful melody the Book of Lamentations --- in Hebrew named Eicha, for its opening word: "How lonely ... sits the city, once full of life, now desolate."

I want to suggest drawing on ancient midrash and our own good sense to see Tisha B'Av this summer as a framework for grief, vision, and action in regard to our Earth. First we will cite the ancient midrash, and then [see blue passages below] suggest some kinds of actions we might take.

Ancient rabbinic midrash asks, "When was the first Eicha ?" and answers -- Ayyeka, "Where are you?" -- the question God put to the human beings after they ate of the tree in the Garden of Eden, Delight. (In Hebrew the two words have the same consonants; only the vowels are different.) The first exile is not only universal, it is the exile of adam, humankind, from adamah, the earth.

And what has occasioned this exile? Why does God cry out "Ayyeka" and then lament as God later lamented when the Temple was destroyed?

Think back on the teaching of Eden: God says to the human race: "Here there is overflowing abundance. Eat of it in joy! --- But you must also learn self-restraint. Do not gobble up all this abundance. The fruit of one tree you must not eat."

But they do, and their eating ruins the abundance. So they must work with the sweat pouring down their faces just to wring from the earth enough to eat, for it will give forth thorns and thistles.

So the ancient midrash is rooting the destruction of the Temple in the destruction of the Garden, in the ruining of Earth itself. This is the story of oil despoiling the Gulf today, of destroying West Virginia mountains in greed for coal, of burning the Amazon forest. From abundance to greed to desolation.

Moreover, the Temple is known as the microcosm of Creation. To quote from one passage of Hassidic interpretation:

  • "The rites performed within [the Temple] are both symbolic of and actualizations of the wider divine service that [hu]mankind performs in the world at large.
  • "To wit: Salt is a mineral, and through it the mineral kingdom was rectified. The wine and the oil [offered with the sacrifices] rectified the vegetable kingdom. The animals rectified the animal kingdom. The confession the animal's owner recited over the animal corresponds to the articulate kingdom [i.e., humankind]. The intention of the priest while he was offering the sacrifice corresponds to the soul within [humanity]. Through these five aspects of the sacrifice, the four "kingdoms" are elevated."

So not only is the Exile from Eden the prototype of Tisha B'Av, but the Holy Temple itself is but a microcosm of the earthy creation, intended to heal spiritual brokenness in the earth.

Shekhinah Herself -- the Divine Indwelling Presence embodied in the world, usually seen in the Jewish mystical tradition as the Feminine aspect of God, is embodied and symbolized in Earth. In our generation the web of life on Earth is in danger of destruction.

Our Earth is raped by Big Oil and Big Coal -- even the mile-deep ocean pierced, penetrated, by the drill seeking every last gallon of oil, even sacred mountains smashed in search of every last lump of coal.

Her shriek of pain calls on us to make clear and explicit a "new" aspect of Tisha B'Av: We must grieve the destruction we ourselves have wrought –"For our sins is this Holy Temple shattered." And the Rabbis' vision that on this day of disaster is Messiah born must be turned into action if we are to save our Mother.

The BP assault on the Gulf, and its results, echoes the story of Eden: Abundance, Greed, Disaster - and the need for visionary action. ("Hashivenu YHWH elecha, v'nashuva!-- Turn us to You, O Breath/ Wind/ Hurricane of life, and indeed we will return!)" as Eicha/ Lamentations ends.

The organic, archetypal framework for dealing with these disasters is there, in our tradition, and even before we faced planetary disaster our sages could make this deep connection. Surely it would benefit us all to bring that connection to the community at large, where it could not only make a new contribution to the healing of the earth, but also strengthen connection to Judaism ajd even to the spiritual life more broadly -- among many who do not now understand how these teachings bear upon their lives.

What could we do to make this real and active?

Three possible approaches:

1) If our congregations do in fact schedule observance of Tisha B'Av on the evening of July 19 and/or the day of July 20, we could -- along with the chanting of Eicha and kinot in memory of the Temple -- include some passages of these midrashic teachings (including those above); and some Kinot of outcries from and for the wounded earth.

We will be sending one such lament. And in our generation, perhaps the very form of kinot should expand to include this song and video, a lament from the Gulf Coast:

2) On the Sunday before Tisha B'Av, July 18, we might gather in a public place - perhaps near a Senator's home office, a BP office, etc. to pray, chant, and describe what we think are the necessary elements of change in public policy.

Have a brief religious service, including old or new prayers, psalms, etc., that praise the Creator of our sacred earth -- led by clergyfolk if possible, dressed in clerical garb. Chant in the waling melody of the Book of Lamentations. Blow the shofar, toll bells, chant from the Bible and Quran.

Recite aloud the names of coal miners recently killed in West Virginia, the oil-rig workers killed in the Gulf, and the species of birds, fish, animals endangered in the Gulf. Then set aside five minutes of utter silence.

Consider being dramatic --e.g., wearing gas masks or bandannas across the face, carrying signs with photographs of oil-soaked pelicans, saying "The Gulf Now - All Earth Tomorrow?" "Our Climate is God's Breath - Heal It Now! "Clean our Air!" or "Senator [Blank}: Will you Vote against Offshore Oil Wells?" or "Coal Kills."

End with a passage of ancient or modern sacred text that envisions a world of harmony, with songs of joy and dancing.

3) On Tisha B'Av itself, July 20, ask several friends and co-workers to join with you to visit your Senators' home offices. Call ahead to make an appointment to meet with the Senator or a policy staffer.

If possible, include a rabbi, minister, priest, imam , and/or earth scientist -- but go ahead even if they can't make it.

If you have permission from an organization to take a stance, make that clear; if not, say who you are as an individual and note your chief affiliation. Say politely but clearly and firmly how dangerous to us, our children, and our grandchildren are the CO2 emissions that are heating our planet.

Urge the Senator or his/her staffer to support the CLEAR Act sponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell (D - Washington) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the "cap and dividend" bill. It will set a year-by-year cap on CO2 emissions in the US, will draw our society away from carbon-based fuels by raising their cost through a Federal fee, and then will return more than the higher cost by a dividend to every American of about $1,000 a year.

(For more details on CLEAR, see our "Action" note at the bottom of our Home Page and its "Further info" continuation.)

If the Senator or staffer says we can't just shut down coal mining and oil burning, firmly but gently point out that we could start now to set regulations and ramp them up over the next decade as we create new green jobs. Point out that Congress can and should provide retraining and reemployment for coal miners and oil workers as well as capping national CO2 emissions.

Let us know at what you are planning and what you have done.

Again, let me remind you:
For two brief video teachings that move from lamentation to hope -- how to connect the ancient wisdom of Judaism to active change -- see YouTube here. and here.

With blessings that the sacred energy you bring to healing our children, our country, and our planet bring back to you the blessings of healing and shalom, salaam, peace --- Arthur

For your work on Global Scorching, you may find these books of mine useful: Godwrestling -- Round 2; Down-to-Earth Judaism; Torah of the Earth (2 vols, eco-Jewish thought from earliest Torah to our own generation). All are available from "Shouk Shalom," our on-line bookstore, here.


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Can the U.S. Now Act Boldly for M. E. Peace?

Dear friends,

Can the U.S. Now Act Boldly for Middle East Peace?

Our answer is --- Yes, IF the American people will support a bold policy.

And we have one to propose. Will you support it?

The U.S. government has the economic and diplomatic power to make peace happen -- but so far has refused to use it.

Now, in the wake of the deadly and disastrous attack on the high seas outside Gaza, a large part of the Israeli public is reexamining what had become almost a knee-jerk resort to military might as the sole guarantor of security.

And many Palestinians, including parts of Hamas, have said that under some conditions, a two-state peace as part of a regional peace agreement would be acceptable.

So perhaps the moment has come --- a lightning flash in a darkening sky --- to make peace possible.

But only if the US government concludes there is a political base at home to support bold US action.

It will take a concerted effort by a sizable number of American Jews, Christians, and Muslims to make this ethically and spiritually understood, and politically viable, among Americans.

Here is our proposal:

1. The US government announces it will put half its military aid to Israel in escrow. (Present aid amounts to at least three billion dollars a year.) The escrowed amount will be paid on the following conditions:

The money will be made available to pay the costs of resettling -- providing decent new homes and neighborhoods -- to the Israelis who are now living in Palestinian land beyond the 1967 borders (except those who are already living in the Old City of Jerusalem and those who choose to live under Palestinian law and sovereignty).

The money will be paid in this way:

One-fifth for resettlement when the Israeli blockade of civilian goods from entering Gaza is restricted to preventing only actual weapons from being imported into Gaza, and all other goods are allowed freely to enter and leave Gaza;

And the remaining four-fifths in stages to pay for the continuing costs of resettlement.

As the US is convinced that this process is indeed fully under way in good faith and commitment, full military aid could resume.

2. Simultaneously, the US offers aid to a nascent Palestine on condition that leaders from at least some of Hamas and Fatah --

join in a government of national unity

take vigorous steps to prevent attacks on Israel;

agree that almost all Palestinian refugees will have a right of return to the new Palestinian state (with a small number admitted to Israel); and

agree to take part in a regional peace conference with the goal of achieving peace among Israel, Palestine, and all Arab states within approximately the 1967 boundaries.

3. The US calls for a regional peace conference within four months of all Arab states, Israel, and the national unity government of a nascent Palestinian state, to achieve peace treaties and full security for all in the Middle East and greater safety for America.

In the spirit of the Torah's call for lovingkindness that transcends boundaries, this policy would transform the uses of American money from supporting violence and domination to building homes, protecting human beings, and affirming peace.

It also makes clear to everyone (through the half of US aid that continues without escrow) that US commitment to Israeli security remains strong.

It offers most Israelis the fulfillment of their dream of a safe and democratic Israel with a special relationship to the Jewish people. It actually makes available the money to meet US and world pressures to bring the settlers home.

It offers Palestinians the chance to end their suffering and to form a creative, peaceful, economically viable, and democratic Palestine.

It offers Americans greater safety as Arab rage at the US declines.

Can we get the US government to choose this path of policy?

Let's be frank: We at The Shalom Center cannot on our own mobilize enough support from large enough numbers of people --- to make this politically viable in the teeth of all the entrenched interests that will oppose it.

But we CAN nudge and noodge larger organizations the way a tugboat nudges and noodges an ocean liner to change course.


IF we can show that a sizable number of people are ready to support this policy.

You can endorse and support the above "Bold Action" proposal by clicking here.

Together, we might become the crucial stimulus for major change at a crucial moment.

Or we could let the Middle East and the world slip back into more war, more terrorism, more death, more rage, more hatred.

Up to us.

Shalom, salaam, peace -- Arthur


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Grief, Horror, Commitment to Act: Responding to Israeli Navy killings of civilians in ships on the high seas

This morning (Monday, Memorial Day, May 31, 2010), I awoke to news reports that the Israeli Navy had boarded and fired on ten small ships, bearing civilians from many countries, in international waters approaching the coast of Gaza, carrying humanitarian supplies for Palestinians who have been suffering an Israeli blockade of many (not all) civilian goods. [Tuesday, June 1: Please be sure to read the Follow-up Letter that we sent out this morning. It is posted in the "Comments" section at the end of this letter, reached by clicking on the "Read more"note.]

Some of the civilians aboard had been killed.

The Flotilla refused demands they dock at an Israeli port, because their journey was in part humanitarian in the narrow sense, and in part demanded that the blockade be ended and the Palestinians treated as a People worthy of respect and direct relationship, not mere mendicants hungry for a handout. That respect is what the Israeli government refused — and has refused for years.

This killing of international civilians in ships on the high seas must become a lightning flash illuminating the deepest dangers of leaving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unresolved. As much a lightning flash of world danger arising in the Middle East as the Oil Disaster in the Gulf has become a lightning-flash illuminating the world-wide need to control the power and greed of Big Oil.

Only we can make this lightning flash in the Mediterranean into growing illumination and enlightenment, not just a passing glare.

So we must make it that.

Close to the end of this letter, you will see (in several bold blue paragraphs) an action I urge you to take in memory of these dead and in determination to prevent more deaths. Please take the ten minutes to do this. Whatever else you are doing for Memorial Day, please see this time as devoted to its deepest meaning: remembering the dead of war and striving to prevent more deaths.

Present reports indicate that between nine and fifteen people aboard these ships seem to have been killed, and dozens wounded. The people aboard included citizens of fifty different nations -- Ireland, the US, Britain, Turkey, France, many others. Some were members of their country's parliament; others, physicians, nurses, political activists. One Nobel Peace laureate.

The Israeli navy claims that as they boarded the ships to force them to turn toward Ashdod, an Israeli port, some of the civilians aboard lifted sticks or grabbed at Israeli weapons to stop them -- and they fired in response. Maybe. Maybe not. In any case, the crisis goes far deeper than what happened in those last moments .

We at The Shalom Center have been trying to focus on the deadly danger that the Climate Crisis and the top-down, pyramidal, unresponsive, irresponsible power of Big Oil and Big Coal are thrusting upon our children and grandchildren, upon America (N.B. the Gulf Disaster), upon our planet. As Jews, we know from Pharaohs and the Plagues they bring upon us - and these are modern Pharaohs.

BUT even as the Gulf disaster worsened, -- last weekend I watched with dread the approach of a Mediterranean disaster. I watched the Israeli government's rigid response to the approach of the flotilla. The Netanyahu government has increasingly seen only violence as an adequate tool for security -- evicting Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, breaking up demonstrations by Israelis and others to defend those homes, preventing Noam Chomsky from speaking at a university in the West Bank. Even inciting "mere" violent words by obsessive supporters of Israeli government policy like Alan Dershowitz which themselves incited events like the attack on Rabbi Michael Lerner's home.

Out of my dread of a disaster --- and out of my fear that the Israeli government was bringing and would bring utter shame upon the Jewish people, was poisoning the bloodstream of Torah that every rabbi has a sacred obligation to defend -- I felt we need to act as the ships approached Gaza.

So I asked all our readers to write Israeli embassies and consulates in the US and Secretary of State Clinton to implore Israel to lift the blockade and let the ships land in Gaza.

Some of our readers and members did, and also wrote to thank me. Many are on much-needed restful long-weekend Memorial Day vacations and may never have even seen my letter. Some wrote berating me that since I don't live in Israel, I could not understand how Israelis feel and can't understand even that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. But as I wrote yesterday, the Haaretz newspaper - which does live in Israel -- wrote in an editorial that --

"Moreover, the suffering that Israel is causing 1.5 million people for this purpose is not only inhuman, but extremely detrimental to Israel's status around the world."

"… Israel argues that there is no hunger in Gaza and that vital products enter the Strip regularly. Israel even said it was prepared to deliver the boats' contents to the Gaza Strip, but via Ashdod Port and using the Israel Defense Forces, not the boats directly.

"If so, this indicates that Israel is not opposed to the aid itself, but to the demonstration of support for Gaza's people. However, this show of support could have been prevented from the outset had Israel lifted the pointless blockade and allowed Gazans to live normal lives."

(Let us be clear: The insistence of the flotilla on landing in Gaza, not Ashdod, shows that they were intent not only on bringing medical supplies and desperately needed home-building materials to persons in Gaza, but on making direct contact with the People of Gaza -- seeing them as a People entitled to dignity and recognition. That is what Jewish and universal ethics call for, and that is what the Israeli government refuses to allow.)

Bottom line of the Haaretz editorial:
"The government has to decide right away to resume indirect talks with Hamas, to be more flexible about releasing prisoners and to lift the siege on Gaza."

As the very existence of that editorial itself shows, there is much that is valuable and decent and sensible in Israeli society. But its present government, which tries to drape itself in Jewish history and Jewish religion, is a disgrace to the Jewish people, an abomination to human ethics, and a danger to the peace of the whole world -- including the United States.

That government will not change on its own. Although Hamas has in the last year shown some readiness to change, after the events of this weekend it will be much harder for Hamas to change on its own.

Only the United States government has the power and the potential for commitment both to Israel's safety and to Palestine's freedom to bring about the crucial changes.

As General David Petraeus warned even before this horrifying incident, the close alliance between the US and the Israeli government sparks anger throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds not only against Israel but also against the US. In the wake of the killings of this past weekend, this rage will almost certainly increase - perhaps explosively.

So the US government's obligation to keep the American people safe from explosive violence throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds should lead it to insist on a regional peace settlement that affirms the legitimacy of Israel; frees the Palestinians of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem to create their own state living peacefully alongside Israel; and achieves peace and full recognition for and among Israel, Palestine, and all Arab states.

What does the word "insist" mean? It means that the US must use its power, not just jawbone. In a proposal I wrote two months ago, I sketched out how US power could be used with commitment, caring, and compassion. To see it, and if you choose sign it and endorse it, click here.

And meanwhile, what should American Jews be doing? We should denounce in the clearest terms this violent attack by the Israeli government on ships at sea and human beings of fifty different nations. We should grieve the dead killed by this attack just as we grieve Israeli dead killed by terrorists. We should quote Haaretz. We should call for US action, not just speeches.

I have taken the liberty - the chutzpah -- to draft a letter that I invite you to modify in your own words and send several crucial leaders of the American Jewish community. I am listing those leaders and their emails for you to send them something like this letter. (You can simply clip and paste it into your own email, modify it as you like, and send to their addresses.)

(Please note that in the follow-up letter shown in the comments below, I suggest also writing Members of Congress, Senators, and President Obama with the same message: To see the "draft model text" we have supplied, please click here. )

I hope you will add to our “draft model text” your own words and thoughts.

What follows now is the version we suggest you send the five Jewish leaders named below.

Dear [insert title and name],

I am writing in great urgency to ask you to take the following steps in the wake of the Israeli government's horrifying attack upon the flotilla of ships bearing humanitarian supplies to Gaza:

1. Call for all Jewish and other communities to mourn the deaths aboard these ships, as we grieve the deaths of Israeli civilians killed by others' violence.

2. Denounce the violation of Jewish values and worldwide human ethics involved in these killings on the high seas.

3. Publicly affirm the call of Haaretz, in its editorial of May 28, 2010: "The government has to decide right away to resume indirect talks with Hamas, to be more flexible about releasing prisoners and to lift the siege on Gaza"

4. Call for immediately ending the Israeli blockade of all civilian items from entering Gaza, while continuing inspections to prevent weapons themselves from entering.

5. Call for the US government to use all its diplomatic influence and economic power to bring about a regional peace conference in which the governments of Israel and all Arab states, and a Palestinian government of national unity, achieve a regional peace settlement that protects Israel, frees a peaceful Palestine, and calms the region while ending the rage now felt by many Arabs against the US.

With blessings of shalom, [your name and if you like, title & organization],

Here are the Jewish addresses we recommend and urge you to write.
You can of course add others whom you know.

Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, at:

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, at:

Dr. Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, at:

Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, at:

Debra DeLee, executive director of Americans for Peace Now, at:

These letters will matter to those who receive them. Please take the time -- about two minutes each - to send them. Whatever else you are doing for Memorial Day, please see this time as devoted to its deepest meaning: remembering the dead of war and striving to prevent more deaths.

With blessings of shalom, salaam - Peace!



Photo of

The oil-well disaster on the Gulf Coast of the United States may seem utterly the product of modern technology. But there are many teachings in Torah about precisely the spiritual failings that give rise to such disasters. The Jewish community could now take those teachings far more seriously and act far more vigorously to prevent such disasters than it has so far.

Torah’s description of the earliest experience of the human race in the Garden of Eden affirms on the one hand that God has made overflowing bounty available to humanity in the earth’s abundance — and on the other, warns us not to gobble up all this abundance but to show self-restraint in what we eat. If we do gobble everything in sight, says the story, we lose the abundance: humanity must then toil with the sweat pouring down its face to wring barely enough to eat from an earth that grows mostly thorns and thistles.

Many other passages of tradition reinforce the lesson. Yet in our world today, the human race — led by giant corporations that try to wring every drop of abundance from the earth without any forethought for the future -- is bringing upon itself the disasters Torah warns against, through worship of the “afterthought gods (elohim acherim)" of greed and power.

The same voracious forces that sought to devour every drop of oil in the deepest levels of the Gulf have foiled strong Congressional action to reduce the voracious over-use of fossil fuels and with them, the emission of gases that heat the earth and bring on climate crisis -- drought, desertification, rising sea levels, the spread of tropical diseases into formerly temperate regions, the disruption of crops.

Only grass-roots energy can move Congress. So the Jewish community should unite in a campaign that calls out to ourselves and our leaders -- “GOD’S EARTH IS NOT FOR BURNING.”

The Jewish community should urge the President and Congress not only to prohibit any new oil-well drilling off our coasts, but also to shut down all offshore oil wells that have not received new safety certification by July 4, 2011, after rigorous safety tests, and all off-shore oil wells by July 4, 2020, and to abolish all Federal and state subsidies to all oil and coal producers. (Those dates are symbolic affirmations of the independence of the American people from domination and abuse by Big Oil.)

And the Jewish community should call for the swift passage of a climate / energy bill that --

(a) sets a strong cap on emissions of planet-heating gases (carbon dioxide and methane);

(b) permits EPA and the states to limit emissions further;

(c) charges a yearly rising fee for carbon credits to several hundred US companies that are primary producers of these gases, based on auctions of carbon credits with the US Government as owner/auctioneer;

(d) prevents the resale of these credits as financial derivatives to enrich Wall Street;

(e) returns 75% of the income from these fees in a yearly dividend of equal amounts to every legal resident of the United States; and

(f) appropriates the remaining 25% of the income from these fees, plus any additional money necessary to make up a total of one hundred billion dollars a year, to meet the following three needs in equal amounts:

the creation of green jobs, with special help to workers in regions and industries in the US that are especially damaged by the shift from old energy sources;

research, development, and emplacement of solar and wind energy;

and help to poverty-stricken nations both to meet the disasters already afflicting them as a result of climate change, and to follow a non-fossil path of economic development.

To put the necessary grass-roots power behind these demands, the Jewish community should carry some of our sacred moments into public space. For example, Tisha B'Av (this year July 19-20) should include public prayerful grieving for the ongoing destruction of the Holy Temple of our Earth itself, and action toward the birth of a new sustainable society.

And the Jewish community should – as it did in 2009 -- each year set aside the week when we read the Torah story of Noah, the Flood, the Ark, and the Rainbow –- (in 2010, Sunday, October 3, through Shabbat, October 9), as Climate Healing Week.

Bar/bat mitzvah preparation should include families' drawing on “Elijah’s Covenant between the Generations” (Malachi 3) in curricula and ceremonies to prevent the destruction of our earth.

If we let the Gulf Coast regional disaster awaken us, we can not only prevent it from becoming a global disaster; we can turn our knowledge to creating a joyful, sustainable future for our grandchildren.


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 


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