Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

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.

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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 <>

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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".

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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.



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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.



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Ruth: the Torah of Transgressive Transformation

Shavuot: When Torah Comes from Earth More than from Heaven

 As we take up the Book of Ruth for its traditional reading on Shavuot (this year, from Saturday evening, May 19, through Sunday evening, May 21) we may note that it bears special significance for the role of women in our own generation, and for changes in the meaning of Torah when change happens in society at large.

The story of Ruth brings together with almost invisible threads three seemingly transgressive women of the Bible. The Hebrew Bible conventionally assigns women to the role of motherhood, and it likes to tell the stories of how women who are denied the opportunity of motherhood seek it with great urgency.  But in three stories of such women, the urge to be conventional empowers deeply unconventional change.

When the stories are first told, they seem to have no connection with each other. But then the Book of Ruth links the three stories by threads that are almost invisible -- but not quite. The gossamer threads of connection strengthen each separate story into an epic of ironic transformation.

These three women all draw on the biblical legal rule (“levirate law”) that if a husband dies without having fathered any children, his widow is entitled to marry and have children with his brother. If the brother refuses, he is subject to public contempt.

In the first of the three tales, after the explosive destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s daughters (who have escaped along with Lot) are convinced that all the men in the world are dead, and in order to have children they get their father drunk and have sex with him. The child that is born to one of them is named Moab (which could be understood to mean "from daddy"). He becomes the head of a tribe and the ancestor of Ruth the Moabite.

We will come back to Ruth. Meanwhile, long afterward, one of Joseph's brothers, Judah, marries one of his sons to a foreign woman, Tamar.  His son dies, with no children. In accordance with the law, Judah marries her to his second son. But he too dies, leaving no children. Under the law, she is entitled to marry a third brother. But Judah fears she is jinxing his offspring, and prevents a third marriage.

But Tamar knows that she is entitled to have children by some member of this family. She pretends to be a prostitute, seduces Judah himself to sleep with her, and has two children. Judah is on the verge of burning her at the stake for adultery, when she explains what she has done and he affirms that she is more righteous than he is. So she, like Lot’s daughter, has invoked a peculiar – even outrageous -- version of the levirate law.

One of Tamar’s children becomes the ancestor of a prosperous Israelite landholder, Boaz. Yes, the same Boaz who connects with Ruth the Moabite.  Ruth’s Israelite husband has died, leaving her childless.  When she accompanies her mother-in-law Naomi to Naomi’s home in the Land of Israel, she gleans in the fields owned by Boaz. He goes out of his way to warn the young men working in his fields not to harass her. She ventures onto the threshing floor where Boaz is sleeping, and breaks the rules of conventional behavior by “uncovering his feet.”  (“Feet” in the Hebrew Bible is often used as a euphemism for the genitals.)

Boaz, powerfully attracted to her, discovers that he is a distant cousin of her dead husband. He appeals to a far-fetched version of the levirate law about a childless widow, and marries her. She has one child.

So these three women, all outsiders to the Jewish people, have stretched the law beyond its normal understanding, in order to bring their children into the world. Then the story of Ruth goes out of its way to announce that Ruth's own children will become the ancestors of King David – – and they do. Since Jewish tradition insists that the descendants of David will give rise to the Messiah (and Christian tradition specifically mentions Ruth as an ancestor of Jesus), in both traditions these three transgressive women are said to make possible the peaceful transformation of the world.

 In this complex interwoven tale, there is a subterranean assertion of what the Psalmist says in open song: "The stone that the builders rejected will become the cornerstone of the Holy Temple." The women who are "supposed" to be subordinate have subversively turned history around.

Click here to hear Rabbi Shefa Gold chant:

Evven ma’asu habonim ha’y’tah l’rosh pinah

The Stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. (Psalm 118:22)

Notice that each separate story breaks the rules, and their culmination becomes a vision of Messianic time  -- which also “breaks the rules,” for ultimate good.  As if to say, live a raindrop here, a drizzle there –- and suddenly the rain becomes a river.

How did the biblical text evolve into this effort to go beyond itself? The thread that tied the separate stories together was the Book of Ruth.  And many modern scholars understand Ruth as a polemic in a major political/ spiritual debate. A debate about the boundaries of the Jewish people, and a debate about the role of women in those boundaries.

When the Jews who had been taken into Babylonian Captivity were permitted by the new Persian Empire to return to the Land of Israel and were handed power over those Jews who had never left, the returnees faced a question: Many of the men they met “back home” had married women who were not Jewish. Could this stand? Could the culture stand it?

The leaders decreed that all “foreign” women must be divorced. The Book of Ruth seems to have been an attack on this draconic policy. Its heroine was an outsider, and she became the forebear of King David. Should “foreign” women really be forbidden?

An actual struggle in the body politic led to an amendment in the sacred text. And then the sacred text remained a thorn, at least a puzzle, in the body politic. We see an interplay between sacred text that grows itself beyond itself, and communal change that reshapes old forms into new paradigms. 

Perhaps that is the deepest reason for us to read the Book of Ruth when we welcome Revelation of the Torah: a teaching that new Torah may come from earthiness, more than from heaven. "For not afar in Heaven is the Torah-connection but very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, to love the Breath of Life!"  (Deut 30: 11-16)

A lesson for today.  For Shavuot, and every day.


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Should We be Rewarding Torture?

Tomorrow, Wednesday, May 9, the Senate Intelligence Committee will take up Mr. Trump's nomination of Gina Haspel to head the CIA. 

Her qualifications for this job include having supervised a secret CIA site in Thailand at which prisoners were tortured, and having been responsible for arranging the illegal destruction of videotapes that showed actual torture interrogations.  The videotapes were destroyed to prevent Congressional and public review of how the CIA was actually behaving.

It is not surprising that Mr. Trump decided to reward her and make clear his support for torture by appointing her.

 I urge you to join with me in calling both your Senators to oppose her confirmation (or if you live in Washington DC and are not allowed to elect a Senator, calling the majority and minority leaders -- Senators McConnell and Schumer).   You can call 202-224-3121, explain what state you live in, and be plugged in to your Senators.

 The Shalom Center and I have a special concern to prevent the use of torture from again becoming part of US policy.

 In May 2004, reporter-extraordinary Seymour Hersh broke the story of the use of torture as an instrument of US policy, in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. (One generation earlier, he broke the story of the US Army’s massacre of Vietnamese civilians in the village of My Lai.)  

Soon after, The Shalom Center honored Hersh as a Prophetic Voice in our generation.

At the time, I was a member of the Board of Rabbis for Human Rights / North America (now Truah). RHR/ NA was two years old, and had till then addressed only human rights in Israel and Palestine. In the wake of the Abu Ghraib revelations, several of us urged that RHR/ NA take up issues of human rights in the US and in US policy. We persuaded the organization to take up the issue of torture.

And both The Shalom Center and RHR supported the creation of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

That work, as well as the efforts of more secular lawyers and citizens,  made it possible to elect in 2008 a President who reversed the permissions to use torture that had surfaced during the US War against Iraq. He did not, however, follow up by pursuing criminal charges against or even simply firing all those who permitted, encouraged, justified, and carried out torture – on essentially the grounds that bygones were bygones.

But bygones are never bygones if no bulwarks are erected against their return. And – here we are.

The quintessential Jewish argument against torture is that we are all created in the Image of God – and so God’s Own Self is twisted and shattered when someone is tortured. I would add that on every Yom Kippur,  we read the story of the torture and “execution” (read murder) of ten great Rabbis by the Roman Empire.

I hear this story as a warning: Empires torture. It is essential to their evolution.

 If you want to stop your own government’s use of torture once and for all, end its Imperial adventures. Make sure it does not go to war against Iran.(If Mr. Trump today cances the nuclear agreement  with Iran, the likelihood of war goes up fify-fold.) Make sre it stops the near-gemocidal Saudi war against Yemen, carried on with US support and partcipation. In the meantime, stop rewarding torturers.

 Please remember and act:  Call 202-224-3121, explain what state you live in, and ask to be plugged in to your two Senators. Then tell them: No reward for torturers. No Haspel in the CIA.




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All people of faith need to stand against torture and war, walking in the way of Dorothy Day, Cedar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Ella Baker and Abraham Joshua Heschel!

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Mr Pruitt: Turn, Turn, Turn!

[This is the letter to Mr. Scott Pruitt, head of what in the past could honestly be called the Environmantal Protection Agency, that I read at its front door on April 20, the Friday just before Earth Day. See the essay called "The days AFTER Earth Day" on our Home Page.--  AW]

Administrator Pruitt:

During the last few weeks, there have been a number of public criticisms of you that allege you have misused government resources and the taxpayers’ money for your own private purposes.

I know that you have denied any misbehavior of this kind. I hope that as all our religious traditions teach, you have looked profoundly inward to examine what you have and have not done. I hope that if you do in this process of soul-accounting find some important blemishes, you will take the steps of repentance – – what in Hebrew is called  “tshuvah,” which means turning one’s self more fully toward God and toward right behavior with our fellow human beings and all life

 It is still unclear to the American public whether your actions as Administrator have indeed been self-enriching, or legitimate uses of public money. What is much clearer in the public knowledge is that you have done a different kind of turning -- turning away from God and your sacred duty, not toward the mission and effectiveness of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Your misturning in this work is analogous to what critics have accused you of in regard to misusåe of public resources. Your actions have robbed our Mother Earth herself and the multitude of human communities she nourishes along with many other forms of life. You have taken many steps to multiply the wealth of Hyper-Wealthy carbon corporations that are burning the only Earth we have -- for profit!

In both Jewish and Christian traditions, we have recently celebrated Passover and the Last Supper, a Passover Seder, in which we name the plagues that Pharaoh brought upon his own land and his own people.

He did this out of arrogant pretensions that as himself an uncriticizable “god,” he could turn workers into slaves, and his hard-heartedness could turn drinking water into undrinkable blood, fertile fields into food for billions of locusts, a sunny sky into blasts of hailstone and lightning-bolts. 

You have tried to cancel regulations that protect our pure water and food from poisoning by rapacious corporations, our climate into disastrous wildfires, droughts, and floods. You have done your best – your worst -- to turn EPA into the Earth Poisoning Atrocity. 

I call upon you, in the Name of the God Who breathes all life, to turn yourself and your life once more toward that very God, away from imitating Pharaoh.  

 Blessings to you of truth, healing, and turning –

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The Shalom Center

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Eminent Lawyer Burns Self to Death to Protest Burning of Earth by Fossil Fuels

The NY Times and New York Daily News reported yesterday that David S. Buckel, a 60-year-old lawyer in good health who had a major hand in achieving the right for same-sex couples to marry, burned himself to death in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, to protest the burning of the Earth by fossil fuels. He sent several newspapers a suicide note:

 “I am David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide. I apologize to you for the mess.

“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather. Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result — my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”

 “Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death.

“Here is a hope that giving a life might bring some attention to the need for expanded actions, and help others give a voice to our home, and Earth is heard.”

The Daily News reported that Adam Aronson, a legal colleague of Buckel’s, said,“He put his heart and soul into everything he did in life. He obviously decided to put his heart and soul in the way he died…. There are other ways to fight for what you believe in. I wish this hadn't been the way that he had chosen to do it.”

David Buckel, Presente!


May his memory serve as he hoped, to stir others into fuller action. May his burning passion to heal our burning Earth indeed “help others give a voice to our home,” so that the outcry of our Earth is heard.

What “other ways” could there be to fight for what David Buckel and many of us seek to make real? --  an Earth restored to health; our children and grandchildren able to live amidst a climate as life-giving as the climate in which our parents and grandparents lived.

Some possibilities, in descending order of risk:

(1)  On February 18 of this year, the New York Times Magazine carried a thoughtful, fascinating article entitled “ ‘I’m Just More Afraid of Climate Change Than I Am of Prison’: How a group of five activists called the Valve Turners decided to fight global warming by doing whatever it takes.”

The article interviewed the “Valve Turners” who actually turned the shut-off valves for five oil pipelines that cross the Canadian-US boundary, including “the 2,700-mile-long Keystone Pipeline, which carries crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries on the Texas coast. Together, the pipelines carry nearly 70 percent of the crude oil imported to the United States from Canada.”   

The article described who they were, what they did, why, and what the consequences were for them --  different in the different states where they acted. All of them risked prison sentences, and some received them. Not all.

(2) Perhaps “next lower” on the risk scale: Last Tuesday, I took part in a rousing and powerful gathering in Washington DC of several hundred organizers from a broad coalition of national sponsors (including The Shalom Center) to renew, recreate, and expand the Poor Peoples Campaign that Dr. Martin Luther King was planning when he was murdered 50 years ago.  

One of the major goals of the new Poor Peoples Campaign is a wave of life-affirming nonviolent civil disobedience in state capitals all across the country and then in Washington. One of the crucial issues of the campaign will be ecological devastation. The civil disobedience envisioned is far less risky than what the Valve Turners did, but still involves putting bodies on the line.  Even less risky, some may choose to be present in support without risking arrest.

The new Poor Peoples Campaign sees itself as “A National Call for Moral Revival” on the growing edge of a deeply moral, ethical, and prayerful “fusion politics.”  It has already begun to unite  “tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.”

For 40 days, beginning on Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 13), the Poor People’s Campaign will launch a campaign of coordinated protests, including civil disobedience in 30 state capitals. On June 23, they will organize a mobilization in the nation’s capital, just as the 1968 campaign did only a couple of months after the assassination of Dr. King. <>

To learn more about the new Poor Peoples Campaign and if you choose,  sign up to take part, click here.   In the next days and weeks, the Shalom Report will share with you more information on what you can, if you choose, do to take part in your own state and then in Washington.   

3. Requiring a continuing investment of time and energy but no risk of  body or arrest:  organizing a neighborhood-based or congregation-based solar coop.

This effort has the special value that it can save a household money on electric bills, reduce the danger of asthma epidemics in neighborhoods by ending pollution from coal-burning power plants,  reduce the CO2 emissions that are endangering the world,  build real neighborliness in face-to-face work on something that is crucial to our children; and create a political base for continuing action to change government and corporate and labor union policy toward healing our climate crisis.  The most advanced work along these lines is being done by Solar United Neighbors

4. Finally, an effort that could take considerable time and energy for about ten weeks, and even in that limited time could have enormous value toward healing the Earth: Putting energy into the election campaign this fall.

The Shalom Center is planning a campaign to -- 

Share Sukkot:

Grow the Vote!

That is, giving an election-oriented flavor to “Sukkah parties” during the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot, a celebration of Earth’s abundance that involves gathering in open-air huts called “sukkot.”  

This coming fall, the festival begins Sunday evening,  September 23, and continues for a week –- five weeks before the election on November 6. Sukkah parties could – as Jewish tradition encourages -- invite as guests grass-roots leaders of what the tradition called “the seventy nations of the world.”  The hosts could be synagogues and other Jewish community organizations, multireligious and interfaith bodies, and individual households. With some preparation by the hosts, the guests could  learn both the sacred values of Earth and sharing that underlie Sukkot , and the sacred practices that empower the disempowered by easing their path to voting.

On  Share Sukkot: Grow the Vote! -- more later.

So this is a range of actions that we encourage our members and readers to explore. Without imitating David Buckel’s choice of death to warn us that the Earth is being burned and our children threatened, we can be moved by his action to take the danger far more seriously and to act with far greater commitment – with our lives, not our deaths.

 With blessings that we devote our lives more fully to bringing justice and healing to ourselves, each other, our children, and the Earth --  Arthur



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Thich Nhat Hanh on The Sacred Act of Self-Immolation

I have been very moved by David Buckel's act. Are you aware of this letter from Thich Nhat Hanh to Dr. Martin Luther King, explaining the burning of the monks in Vietnam? Please read, to get a deeper understanding of what David Buckel did.


Thanks! I did not know of this letter and will be glad to read it. Shalom, Arthur

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