Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

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.


Site Placement: 

Torah Portions: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Add new comment

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.




Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

1 Comment


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!

Add new comment

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

Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Add new comment

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



Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 


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

Add new comment

At Gaza-Israel Border: Can We Cross the Sea toward Peace?

Friday April 6 is this year the seventh day of Passover. In Jewish tradition that day commemorates the crossing of the Red Sea by the band of runaway Israelite slaves, escaping and resisting Pharaoh,  for the sake of their own freedom. That was when Pharaoh’s army and his power dissolved into the Sea, blown away by YHWH/ Yahhhh, the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, become a Hurricane of Transformation.

That Friday is also scheduled to be the day of another large gathering of Palestinians at the border between Gaza and Israel. We do not know what the day will bring: perhaps more bloodshed, perhaps on both sides of the border respect and adherence to a nonviolent discipline in response to the horror of the deaths last Friday.

We do know this: Many Jews, and many others, in America and Israel,  stand in tears before God and Torah and other sacred wisdom, deeply saddened by the unnecessary deaths of at least sixteen Palestinians and injuries to close to 800 others among the thousands of Palestinians protesting last week as part of a “March of Return” along the Israel/Gaza border.

 Many who were horrified by the deaths are grateful that there were no deaths or serious injuries to Israeli soldiers or civilians. And precisely this fact casts great doubt on the legitimacy of using live ammunition to shoot into the assemblage, when it seems clear there was no direct danger to Israeli lives. Only such a strong and immediate danger could have justified the lethal violence ordered ahead of time by the present Israeli government.

These people strongly support the right to non-violent protest, whether here in North America or in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, as a fundamental right of civilians. We support the vast majority of the Gazan protesters who chose a deliberately nonviolent form of protest, and condemn the fact that some resorted to throwing stones, burning tires, and Molotov cocktails at soldiers, and a few tried to breach the border fence.

The root cause of the protest and of the frightened response by the present Israeli government is the continuing blockade of Gaza by the Israeli government. That blockade is an illegitimate use of collective punishment for the people of Gaza for having voted for or accepted the election by majority vote for Hamas to govern the region.

The blockade is a continuing aspect of the over-all military occupation and forcibly imposed settlements by the Israeli government of Palestinian communities beyond the Green Line – the only places where a peaceful independent Palestine could come into being alongside Israel.

The denial to the Palestinian people of self-determination in those areas is a denial of human rights. That includes the blockade of civilian goods from entering or leaving Gaza so as to impoverish its people as a part of that illegitimate denial.

In regard to what may have been the illegitimate use of lethal force against an almost entirely nonviolent demonstration, we call for these actions:

First, the creation of an international investigating commission  that includes Israelis and Palestinians, to examine the decision-making in the present Israeli government and in some Palestinian groups that ordered or encouraged the use of violence in the situation on the cusp of Passover last Friday..

Second, we urge individual Israeli soldiers to assess whether orders to use lethal violence in this or similar situations may require their refusal to obey such orders if they are illegal.  And we urge all Palestinians in Gaza and beyond to use their power and influence to deny support to any Palestinian groups that urge or allow the use of violence in this or similar situations.

 The Israeli group called “B’Tzelem,”  ”In the Image” – that is, “In God’s Image are all human beings created” – has already taken ads in major Israeli newspapers to call on Israeli soldiers to refuse manifestly illegal orders to fire when their lives are not endangered.

See <>

We recall the teaching of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) that when King Saul ordered his own royal bodyguard to kill Israelite priests who had fed the guerrilla underground led by David, the bodyguards refused – even though the guerilla band was a clear and present threat to Saul’s legitimate government.  (I Sam. 22:6-17).

The message is clear: Human life is so precious that even in military situations, one must take every precaution to avoid killing, even of an enemy or of one perceived as endangering the government. All the more must lethal force be rejected when no such danger exists.

In alignment with the ancient Tabbis and our deepest Jewish values, we call on Israel to find ways to respond to the demonstrations planned for tomorrow and the next few weeks in ways that will not escalate the situation or lead to injury or death; to  cooperate with an international investigation of the decisions that led to live fire being used on demonstrators; and to refrain from revising the rules of engagement to permit the expanded use of live fire.

To many it may seem that only in the long term can a peace agreement end the on-again, off-again violence on the Gaza border, which endangers residents of Gaza, along with Israelis living near the border, and the soldiers sent to protect this border.

But this delay is itself lethal.   We urge the present government of Israel and the Israeli people, and the present leaders and the whole community of Palestinians as a whole, to begin now immediate negotiations for a just peace between Israel and a new Palestine.

And we urge that American Jews,  Christians, Muslims, and others of ethical commitment, press the US government to press both peoples and their leaders to move forward now on the road to peace.  

And we urge leaders of all peoples to begin at once to play an active role in ending the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The closure of the borders with Israel and Egypt severely limits the import of needed goods as well as the exports necessary to allow for economic growth. The people of Gaza have limited access to electricity, clean water, and medical support.

The Hamas government, no doubt, shares significant blame for the situation in Gaza, as a result of their repression, corruption, and continued violent rejection of the existence of Israel. So does Egypt, which has largely closed its border with Gaza. So does the present government of the United States, which has just drastically cut its long-standing financial allotment to meeting the urgent needs of the people of Gaza.

But the government of Israel, which continues to control Gaza’s borders, air space, and population registry even after the official disengagement, maintains major responsibility for the humanitarian crisis there. We encourage Israelis to deploy all their creativity of the start-up nation to end this crisis, refrain from escalating violence at the border, and work toward a two-state peace that will keep both Israelis and Palestinians safe and free.

As the traditional Passover Telling says, “In every generation,  every human being is obligated to look upon herself, himself,  as if we go forth from slavery to freedom,  not our ancestors only.

God forbid – God forbade!  -- that on this Passover the present government of Israel should choose to act like Pharaoh.

May the Seventh Day be instead the day that both peoples take the first courageous steps into the Sea, not red with blood, into the freedom for them both that only peace can bring.

Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Add new comment

The Prophet Martin: A New Haftarah

 A new genre of Haftarot has been stirring, initiated and taught by Hazzan (Cantor) Jack Kessler of Ohalah and the ALEPH Ordination Program of Rabbis, Cantors, and other Jewish spiritual leaders in the movement for Jewish renewal.

Traditionally, the Haftarot are passages from the ancent Hebrew Prophets, chanted in a traditional melody (nusach). What is new is the  creation of chantable haftarot, using the traditional nusach, made up of English-language passages spoken or written by some prophetic figures who are not Jewish.

The newest creative effort in this direction is by Cantor Abbe Lyons of Ithaca, NY,   As the 50th yohrzeit of Dr. King (April 4, 2018), was approaching, she decided to  shape a new Haftarah  from passages of his prophetic “Beyond Vietnam” speech,  given at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4,  1967 –- exactly one year before he was killed.

 As we consider how to use this new haftarah, we might recall the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. On March 25, 1968, he introduced Dr. King to speak to the Rabbinical Assembly. Rabbi Heschel said, 

“Where in America do we hear a voice like the voice of the prophets of Israel? Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the United States of America. …The whole future of America will depend upon the impact and influence of Dr. King.” 

Ten days later, Dr. King was killed — giving a deeply ironic cast to the last sentence in Rabbi Heschel’s introduction. 

Fifty years later, we could turn that history in a new direction. Fulfilling Heschel's words by using the traditional Jewish forms to fully recognize King as a Prophet could contribute to America's doing tshuvah for the long history of racism, violence, and other forms of subjugation.

We invite you to choose the Shabbat just after April 4 to introduce this new haftarah into your sacred service, in addition to the haftarah for the eighth day of Pesach. . 

I worked with Cantor Lyons to choose passages from the "Beyond Vietnam" speech.  She  has set its English words to the traditional Haftarah melodies. This new Haftarah takes seven minutes to chant. You can access Cantor Lyons' chant at --


and her Text for the Haftarah, with the musical trope marks,  at --


What has made this a new genre, not just a single experiment, is that  Cantor Kessler has done this with other prophetic passages. One is the Declaration of Independence, to be chanted on the Fourth of July or a nearby Shabbat. It has been coupled with the reading of the Torah portion  sometimes called Perek HaMelekh, defining the limits on the power of an Israelite king. That passage may indeed be seen as the oldest political and spiriitual forebear of the Declaration.  It appears in D'varim (Deut) 17:14-21.

Hazzan Kessler has also created a haftarah from an amalgam of passages from a number of  Dr. King's speeches, for chanting on Martin Luther King Birthday Shabbat.

See it at <>

A "kissing cousin" to this form has been developed by Kohenet Shoshana Bricklin of Congregation Mishkan Shalom in Philadelphia. She has created several haftarot that intertwine passages from several different  prophetic voices, also in English and also set to haftarah nusach.

This effort to intermingle the powerful forms of Jewish tradition with the wisdom of prophetic voices beyond the Jewish community was what  the original Freedom Seder of 1969  did, and what the new "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder," woven by The Shalom Center and already being used in various communities around the country, aims to do. I welcome your comments on the implications of this new approach .

Blessings for a sweet, kosher, and liberating Pesach!--  Arthur

Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

1 Comment

MLK as prophet

I don't admire this designation for one important reason. The profoundly significant thing about the Civil Rights movement was that it was a people's movement. MLK caught the tail-of-this-tiger and was a great orator and had charisma. He did some leading but he did a lot of following. His deification or prophet-ification deeply obscures this more important fact. Most media-driven public discourage ignores this fact. I wish January 15 was a Civil Rights Movement holiday rather than his. And this making him a prophet goes along with this.

Add new comment

Next Steps for The Shalom Center: Beyond Passover & MLK+50

We are swiftly approaching the confluence of three moments of profound spiritual intensity: Passover, Christian Holy Week, and the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King.

All three are about resistance to oppression—Pharaoh, the Roman Empire, and the “triplets” Dr. King named as dangerous to America: racism, militarism, materialism. And in each case, the oppressed not only resisted tyranny, but also worked to create a new kind of spiritual community.  

For April 4, 1969, the first anniversary of Dr. King’s death, I wrote a Freedom Seder that like all Seders was deeply rooted in the past and unlike them, spoke powerfully to the future.

The Shalom Center has put in almost two years of work preparing for this 50-year moment, drawing on the spiritual power of those festivals and of “MLK+50.”

And now here we are! Many of you have supported our work with your activism, creativity, and money.  I want to thank you, and to let you know what your contributions have already brought about, including what we are doing in the next few weeks.  And I also want to share what we are planning beyond this season and ask you to help make it happen. Please contribute here

<>, and whether you do or not, please read on.

The struggle for freedom has moved forward for at least 3,000 years. Three eras, three examples:


The Exodus itself (a general strike against oppression)


The Seder led by Rabbi Akiba, as resistance to the

Roman Empire stirred about 130 CE


And the multiracial, multireligious Freedom Seder in 1969 CE.


Now what? The Shalom Center has created and widely distributed a new “MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder,” drawing on Dr. King’s wisdom as it connects with the struggles and wisdoms of today. 

In late March and early April, we will carry out an extraordinary line-up of events  that are rooted in the “MLK+50” Seder. They range from public forums on the Freedom Seders, old and new, at the Center for Jewish History and the National Museum of American Jewish History, to my speaking and leading the concluding prayer for the interfaith prayer service sponsored by the National Council of Churches on April 4 at the National Mall in Washingon DC as many thousands gather to honor Dr. King through action for "Truth and Racial Justice."

Our work will not end then. We are already looking forward to the next steps to resist the modern Pharaohs of Carbon, Pharma, and Wall Street, and their incitement of racist, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-free-press, and anti-Earth energies as a way to increase their own power and their hyper-wealth.

There are two main themes we see for our work going forward:

Healing and Renewing our Climate

One is to deepen our work on the climate crisis. It is increasingly clear that even halting all CO2 and methane emissions will leave so much of them still in the atmosphere as to bring about multiple catastrophes for human civilization.

So -- many scientists are now exploring how to reverse the carbonization of our atmosphere and oceans, to achieve a climate as healthy and life-giving for our children and grandchildren as it was for our parents and grandparents. As Proverbs 29:18 says, “With no Vision, the People Perish.”  The Shalom Center will work with scientists to develop a vision of how to renew that world, not just to barely survive great disasters.

Second, it is clear that our present government is so addicted to increasing the wealth and power of the modern Pharaohs—including the Carbon Pharaohs that are hell-bent on burning the Earth to multiply their wealth —that we must put some energy into resisting their attack on democracy.

This fall, we will celebrate the Jewish Harvest festival of Sukkot with a campaign to

Share Sukkot; Grow the Vote!

Many groups will be working to get out the vote. What we can provide is the spiritual interweaving of that effort with the deep values of Sukkot – inclusiveness of all communities, openness to the Earth and to each other, joy in gathering to Harvest the fruits of our labor and Grow the Vote, rather than treating it as onerous toil.

Your support is crucial to our being able to get these two campaigns going and growing. Please sow the seeds now to harvest in the fall. Please click on the maroon "Contribute" button on the left-hand maargin of this page, to send us your (tax-deductible) contribution.

Thank you!  And blessings to you of shalom, salaam, paz, peace—Arthur





Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Add new comment

627 votes, 17 minutes, 1,000,000+ kids

These numbers – 627, 17, 1,000,000+– ring out how people who have been inspired to organize themselves can begin to change the world. And they represent two currents of change under way in the USA, one electoral and one in the streets. Both currents are crucial, if we are to save ourselves, our democracy, and the Earth that mothers us.

 I want to share with you my thoughts about these numbers. First, what happened this week and how “inside-the-system” and “outside-the-system” efforts for change connect with each other.  Second, the “deep history” of top-down subjugation and uprising new community.

 I. This past week saw two remarkable and quite different expressions of Resistance. On Tuesday, a candidate for Congress who is a progressive on economic issues and a centrist on social issues defeated a pro-Trumpery right-winger by 627 votes.   The Trumpist ploy failed -- the ploy of enriching the UltraWealthy and the Corporate Pharaohs, impoverishing the middle class, and subjugating the poor by inciting racist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-free-press, anti-woman energies in the country in order to win support from struggling workers, farmers, and rural businessfolk.

This week, in one more Congressional District, that ploy failed.  Even pouring unheard-of millions into the pro-Hyperwealth campaign –- money to prime the pump so that hugely more money would come out the other end of the policy pump – even that failed.

 This is important. To build any bulwark against floods of would-be anti-democratic, anti-Earth policy for the years ahead, at least one house of Congress needs to be in bold defense of The People, Yes.

I think those who dismiss Tuesday’s election as a merely symbolic victory are mistaken: Members of the House of Representatives who were slavering at the chance to damage and destroy Social Security and Medicare are far less likely to do it, as of today, than they were on Monday.  Why? Because the danger of being defeated is all too clear. (On other issues, like Wall Street & the Dreamers, they don’t feel endangered. Yet.) If the right-winger had won, even by a sliver, those right-wing Congressmembers would have been likely to say, “See? Floods of money can pull me through even if it’s just by a hair.”

 Electoral victories are necessary, but they are not enough. Energies that are rooted “outside” electoral politics are crucial to making change happen. Even in this electoral case, it took labor-union organizers spending thousands of hours knocking on thousands of doors in Pennsylvania to energize those 641 more voters than the Corporate Pharaohs with all their millions could turn out.

 That’s the power of 641. What is the power of 17?   All across America yesterday, high-school students left their classes for 17 minutes, in grief for the 17 students and teachers murdered in Parkland, Florida, and in angry determination to make a difference about guns. Many left school for much longer – t least 1,000,000 of them across the country. Maybe many more: Who can count a demonstration that takes off from thousands of school buildings?

 It has taken smart, creative, and gutsy high-school students to break through the fog of despair and apathy about gun violence. I am proud to report that all four of my high-school-age grandchildren took part in (indeed, helped organize) walk-outs where they are.  “Five generations of activists,” my father would have joyfully said, starting with his father the “shoshalist” Amalgamated Clothing Workers organizer.

The multifaceted Resistance didn’t start yesterday. Looking back a year, It took 3,000,000 women on the streets -- now there’s a number! – to awaken candidates for office, the #MeToo movement, and much more. It took tens of thousands of people streaming into airports to break the back of the Trumpist ban on Muslim immigrants and refugees.

 And we have seen great strides of Resistance to anti- immigrant and anti-Black racism. Not yet anywhere near enough.

 The Shalom Center has put most of our energy into protection of the Earth. In that arena it has been harder and slower to build an effective opposition to Trumpery. I will be writing separately about how to deal with that.

 II. I think we are in the midst of one of the great swings of history, when there is a great shift toward tighter control and subjugation from the top, and in response a great effort to create a new, richer, broader, fuller community at the grass roots. (Or maybe the power-grab for tight control is sparked by  growing, sprouting communal grass-roots energy. Or both.) That is a deeper reason for synergy, not hostility or competition, between “in-the-system” and “out-of-the-system” activism.

 Think about the “big past.” Squeezed between two ravenous Empires, Egypt and Babylonia, some of the Western Semitic tribes responded by creating the Godwrestling People, Shabbat, and Torah. A new kind of community.

Millennia later, subjugated by the Roman Empire, that same community found what we call “Biblical Judaism” collapsing. They responded by creating two new forms of spiritual community – Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.  Half a millennium later, rigid authoritarianism and oppression in Mecca led to a new prophecy and the spread of Islam.

And now, Techno-Imperial Modernity is destroying all the old forms of society, economies, cultures: Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Nationalist, Communist, Liberal-Democratic.

More and more of the youth cannot abide these old forms. They do respond to moments of unofficial or marginal spiritual depth, like the Occupy movement and the Standing Rock encounter.  “Interfaith” and “transnational” and “intersectional” efforts would have been defined and punished as heresy by almost all the older religious, political, and national communities just 150 years ago. Now they are flourishing. No way to know in advance what form this energy will take.

Our Resistance in this hour is part of one of the great Upwellings in human history, like the emergence of the great religions. The only question is whether we can carry the day into a new kind of Beloved Community before Imperial Modernity can shatter all our civilizations and the Earth beyond renewal.


Site Placement: 


1 Comment

The Rise of Movements of Substantial Spiritual Depth

Dear Rabbi Waskow, "Energies that are rooted “outside” electoral politics are crucial to making change happen." Thank you for that heartening statement. I am a new subscriber who lives near the Lummi Nation in Bellingham, Washington. What I found most powerful about the Standing Rock Movement was the spiritual depth and spirit of nonviolence demonstrated by the indigenous peoples who gathered at Standing Rock from all the U.S. and Canada. From this article: "The elders told us constantly, “You’re here to pray.” Pray? This used to be such a loaded word for me as someone who grew up and became disillusioned with the idea of asking an old white guy in the sky to wave his magic wand and give me what I want. But that’s not the kind of prayer the elders were talking about. Of course, the Sioux pray petitionary prayers, but they’re not one-sided demands or requests. Those prayers come from a deep understanding of relationship with Mother Earth and offerings are made to Her as appeals are made. Body, mind, and heart must be prepared beforehand." What also comes to mind is that the Coast Salish community of tribes in Northwest Washington experienced a tragic school shooting in October 2014 where the shooter was a young Tulalip man. He killed four of his friends with a handgun and then killed himself. From this article: “Sing your songs loud and pray hard for the Fryberg family, Tulalip Tribe, Marysville community and all those who knew Jaylen,” Chief Seattle Club program manager Caleb Dunlap wrote on Facebook. “This will have a huge effect on the lives of many. If you are sad, mad, confused or experiencing any other forms of grief, turn to your songs, medicines, prayers, elders [and] loved ones.” With gratitude for the rise of movements of substantial spiritual depth, Amanda Muir

Add new comment

New "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder"

Friends and comrades in the struggle for spiritually-rooted justice, peace, and healing of our wounded planet   -–

This year, April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, comes just a few days after Easter and is itself the fourth night of Passover.  We honor these festivals and draw on them to renew and re-invigorate  Dr. King's wisdom, linked to the struggles and wisdom of our own generation.

We are doing that with the “MLK + 50 Interfaith Freedom Seder.”

You can read and print out the PDF file of the "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder" by clicking on the title of this article and then on the link that says "pdf," just below the bold "Attachment" line that appears. This brief note gives an overview of our intention.

The MLK + 50 Interfaith Freedom Seder

Woven by The Shalom Center

To Reawaken and Renew

The Prophetic Wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During Holy Week and Passover in this 50th Year

The new Seder stands in a great tradition. On April 4, 1969, the first anniversary of Dr. King’s death, about 800 people – Jews and Christians, Black and white -– gathered in a Black church in Washington DC to celebrate the original Freedom Seder in his honor and for the sake of strengthening the work he had begun. The next year, a Freedom Seder held at Cornell Universty actually liberated Father Dan Berrigan for several hours of freedom from his underground resistance to arrest by the FBI.

The Freedom Seder was unique and unprecedented because it wove the ongoing and still unfinished story of the struggle for Black liberation in America together with the ancient story of Israelite liberation from slavery to Pharaoh. It was published, radio’d, and televised nationally.

Exactly one year before Dr. King was killed, on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City, in his speech “Beyond Vietnam,” he warned that the “triplets” of racism, materialism, and militarism were endangering America. He called for a “radical revolution of values.”

The "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder" is shaped by devoting three of the traditional Four Cups of the Seder to opposing and transcending one of those triplets, and devoting the fourth cup to opposing and transcending their "quadruplet" --  Sexism & the Subjugation of women.

And we devote the traditional Cup of Elijah as a Fifth Cup of commitment to activism toward creating the Beloved Community that Dr. King envisioned. 

You can read and print out the PDF file of the "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder" by clicking on the title of this article and then on the link that says "pdf," just below the bold "Attachment" line that appears 

We look forward to hearing your plans to use the Seder. Please share them by writing <>

Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Add new comment

April of Resist: MLK+50, Holy Week, & Passover

This coming spring, three powerful Prophetic moments will arise in American society. We need to – and we can! -- bring them  together to face the threat of despotic leaders ready to poison justice, peace, our democracy, and Mother Earth herself.

All three of these moments of the Spirit Rising have their roots in powerful grass-roots movements against despotic power:  against Imperial Pharaoh, against Imperial Rome, against an Imperial US Government that Dr. Martin  Luther King insisted had become “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

  • The Christian Holy Week will begin on March 25 with Palm Sunday, ending on April 1 with Easter.
  • Passover will begin with the First Seder on Friday evening, March 30, and continue through April 7.
  • And the deepest questions of American society – – past, present, and future – – will clang together on April 4, the 50th anniversary of the murder of Dr. King in Memphis, Tennessee.

Exactly one year before he was killed, on April 4, 1967, Dr. King had spoken with deep concern about the American future – – not only condemning the US War Against Vietnam, but also warning that the deadly "triplets" of racism, materialism, and militarism were corrupting and endangering our country.

[Dr King at Riverside Church in NYC for his most prophetic speech, "Beyond Vietnam," with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel & historian Henry Steele Commager at his side.]

Why did King use the word “triplets” rather than “trio” or simply “three”? Triplets have one distinctive characteristic: they share a large amount of their DNA. What DNA do these triplets share? Subjugation. Exploitation. Contempt for “the other.”  Increasing their own unaccountable, irresponsible power by trampling others in the mud.

Half a century later, have we weakened these “triplets” in our midst? Our President waves the bloody flag of racism, threatens to annihilate in nuclear “fire and fury” millions of helpless human beings controlled by a despotic leader, and plans to spend a trillion dollars “modernizing” nuclear weapons that can already empty our planet of all life. 

And three aspects of materialism are far worse than fifty years ago:  gross economic inequality, grinding poverty for more people, and destruction of the Earth that is our common home.  All these aspects of the third triplet bear down upon us from the power, greed, and cruelty of Hyper Wealthy corporations. Modern Pharaohs, modern Caesars.

And we have realized that we need to name beyond King’s triplets another form of oppression: sexist contempt and hostility toward women. So now we must face deadly quadruplets. 

Can we draw on Dr. King’s prophetic wisdom and the spiritual power of Passover and Holy Week  to heal us from these woundings and move toward what King called the Beloved Community?

One year after King’s death, on April 4, 1969, the third night of Passover, in the basement of a Black church in Washington DC, about  800 of us  --- Jews and Christians, Black and many shades of “white” --   joined in an unprecedented "Freedom Seder." 

What made it unprecedented was that for the first time, the "Telling" of the ancient story of Exodus from slavery under Pharaoh was intertwined with other tales of liberation –-- especially the ongoing, unfinished story of the Black community’s struggle for liberation in America.

I wrote the text of that Telling, and a group called “Jews for Urban Justice,” far outside the established Jewish organizational structure, organized the actual celebratory Seder.  The night was filled with eloquence, song, laughter, comraderie,  tears..

The Telling was published by Ramparts magazine. The actual Seder was broadcast live by WBAI radio in New York City, and major excerpts were broadcast on television by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The Seder itself, and what it inspired, pointed toward the “Beloved Community” and the “moral revolution of values” that King envisioned. Tens of thousands of Jews and Christians across America responded with joyful recognition. And not imitation but emulation: a flowering of Seders that were feminist, antiwar, ecologically responsive. The Freedom Seder turned out to free Passover itself, opening it to new energies and visions. And not just Passover, but many other aspects of ritual and ceremony were reread into new life, new meaning. The Freedom Seder became a tiny crystal of change tossed into a super-saturated solution of people who were thirsty for change. The "super-saturated solution" became a light-filled, light-refracting  crystal.

Can we do this again, this year?  Can the Spirit rise in the face of tyranny as it rose in the Exodus, in the week from Palm Sunday to Easter, in the Hegira from Mecca to Medina?

Already, all across America, a multi-state nation-wide Call for Moral Revival, led by Rev. William Barber, intends to include vigils and civil disobedience in affirming a new Poor Peoples Campaign  --  renewing and enriching what Dr. King was doing in  the last year of his life. See <>

Already the National Council of Churches has called for a massive gathering on the National Mall in Washington on the morning of April 4 to begin a great campaign for “Truth and Racial Reconciliation.”  See --



Already, The Shalom Center has organized and posted a remarkable collection of prophetic teachings by and about Dr. King.  See <>

What more? All across America, religious communities and congregations and multireligious alliances could sponsor Interfaith Freedom Seders during Holy Week and/or Passover (especially April 3 or 4) as a way to challenge the Pharaohs and Caesars and Bull Connors and Trumps of our own day. 

For example, New Freedom Seders could dedicate the Four Cups of wine or grape juice in the Seder to  “Healing Us from the Deadly Quadruplets”  -- the triplets named by Dr. King and the fourth, sexism, added by the realities of our day.

The Shalom Center is at work on creating the text for that Seder. We welcome your suggestions.

And meanwhile, we invite you to explore these versions we have already created of a Seder for the Earth:

“The Interfaith Freedom Seder for the Earth” at <>

“The Seder that Makes Clear the Earth Really Matters” at


Please write us with your suggestions for a New Freedom Seder and/or with requests for our help and suggestions in creating and organizing your own.


Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

1 Comment

Toward liberation

The Exodus story as metaphor for our individual liberation. We seek liberation yet fear the unknown of 'freedom' - Pharoah promises and reneges mimicking our difficulty of letting go to move forward only to lose his forces in their failed attempt to hold the tide back. The crossing of the sea to Sinai and wandering is the birth of a people and an ideology similar to the birth of a human - gestation, painful birth, maturing thro' new experiences and leaving old patterns behind and finally receiving 'heart', the Mishkan. Our failure to follow the wisdom if this path to liberation is one cause of our suffering thro' life rather than embracing true liberation. This points up the struggle between mind and heart and the shortcomings of language.

Add new comment

Subscribe to Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts