Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

After Paris, Where & How?

Sustaining Abundance & Sharing Justice --    Not Imposing War

We must mourn the dead of Paris. Later in this essay you will see a Mourners Kaddish in Time of War and Terror, in Aramaic/ Hebrew and in English, with an invitation to all of us to draw on it, to use it in our own tongus and teachings..

We must affirm and join the overwhelming majority of the Muslim world in utterly condemning these atrocities.  Below you will also see statements issued by the President of Iran  and by the US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), a coalition of leading national and local Muslim organizations.

And we must also, as quickly as possible, assess what to do now to prevent such atrocities.

In that assessment, we must take into account what terrible mistakes our own government and people have made in the past that served to sprout the seeds of terror that already existed in the Muslim world  -- as in other worlds, including some hyper-nationalist and hyper-racist Americans.

There were two such profound mistakes. One was broader than the Middle East, and has not received the focused attention it deserves. It was the failure of the US and other governments to respond to scientific warnings of impending disaster from global scorching. As the NY Times has reported  (March 2, 2015;  see <>),


“Drawing one of the strongest links yet between global warming and human conflict, researchers said that an extreme drought in  Syria between 2006 and 2009 was most likely due to climate change, and that the drought was a factor in the violent uprising that began there in 2011. …

“They cited studies that showed that the extreme dryness, combined with other factors, including misguided agricultural and water-use policies of the Syrian government, caused crop failures that led to the migration of as many as 1.5 million people from rural to urban areas. This in turn added to social stresses that eventually resulted in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.”


So one urgent lesson for the future is that the US and other governments must take swift and  vigorous action in the forthcoming Paris international conference on the climate crisis. Without such action, we can expect more such civil wars, millions of refugees, and desperate acts of war and terror as food and water vanish in many regions of the Earth.

The other profound mistake was the US War against Iraq.  Allegedly responding to the terror attacks on 9/11, the US government decided to turn away from pursuing the criminal band Al Qaeda in its home base in Afghanistan and instead decided to shatter Iraq.

The war renewed old furies between Sunnis and Shiites, destabilized the entire Middle East, and turned what should have been a sharply targeted police action into a totally unnecessary war between the US and large parts of the Islamic

world (including drone attacks that often murdered innocents and stoked fury among many Muslims).

It also brought deep violations of American values and Constitutional liberties – the use of torture as an act of official US policy, egregious governmental surveillance of practically all Americans without search warrants, and both governmental and private attacks on Muslims in a growing fever of Islamophobia.

Learning from this past  mistake means that  any decision to use force against ISIS should in both words and practice define the action as policing criminals within a context of protecting the Syrian and Iraqi publics, not fighting a war against Islam.

That means welcoming Russia and Iran, along with France and other Western nations, into working out a political solution to the Syrian civil war and isolating the terrorist criminals of the ISIS leadership as targets. The goal must be returning millions of refugees to their homes and encouraging the peaceful hopes and lives of the vast majority of Muslims.

And to make clear that our goal is to pursue justice for the peaceful and bring terrorists to justice, not to subjugate Islam, the US should take much more vigorous action to insist on the emergence of a peaceful Palestine alongside a peaceful Israel, in the context of a peaceful settlement between them both with all Arab and Muslim states.

Presidents Hollande, Obama, and Putin should explicitly praise the official statement of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani:

“In the name of the Iranian people, who have themselves been victims of terrorism, I strongly condemn these crimes against humanity and offer my condolences to the grieving French people and government.”

Similarly, President Obama should meet with the leadership of the US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), a coalition of leading national and local Muslim organizations, which yesterday (Saturday) strongly condemned “the abhorrent terror attacks that took place yesterday in Paris and left over 150 innocent people dead and scores injured.”

Its statement continued,


“USCMO stands consistent with its position against all forms of violence against innocent people anywhere in Turkey, Beirut, Syria, Paris, and on our soil irrespective of the perpetrators, targets, or reasons. These repugnant acts of violence defy the sanctity of every innocent human live and shall always be condemned and rejected.”

“The US Council of Muslim Organizations sends its heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the people of France and stands in solidarity with them against terrorism and violent extremism. We ask the American Muslim community around the nation to hold candle light vigils in memory of the victims and in support of their families.”


The point is that if action against  ISIS is done with the rhetoric of rage against Islam as a whole and if it is undertaken in actual practice with attacks on civilian Muslim populations, as was the Iraq War, then the result will be still more violence against  the US and other Western nations.

Any statements by Presidential candidates or others that fuel Islamophobia should be condemned by churches, synagogues, and other ethical opinion leaders in academia and the press as false and slanderous -- and in this historical moment, as incitements to terrorism both by some Islamophobes against Muslims and by some Muslim terrorists against the whole fabric of our own society.

Finally, I offer us all a Mourners Prayer that is rooted in the Jewish tradition of Mourners Kaddish and goes beyond  it to mourn the dead innocents in every community who have been victims of war and terrorism:   Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims, Jews, and Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, the peoples of Syria and France. I urge Jewish congregations to use the Aramaic and English that are intertwined here, and others to use the English and to translate it into their own tongues.

If we can mourn the dead of ”the others” as well as of “our own,” we are more likely to grow not a future where more and more of us die together at each others’ hands, but one where more and more of us live together in the warmth of each others’ compassion.

* * * * *

Mourners Prayer in Time of War and Terror

Yitgadal V’yit’kadash Shmei Rabah

May Your Great Name, through our own expanding awareness and our own fuller action, lift You to become still higher and more holy.

For Your Great Name weaves together all the names of all the beings in the universe, among them our own names and the names of those we mourn --   (Cong: Amein)

B’alma di vra chi’rooteh v’yamlich malchuteh  b’chayeichun, u’v’yomeichun, u’v’chayei d’chol beit yisrael u’v’chol yoshvei tevel, b’agalah u’vizman kariv, v’imru: --   Amein.

---   Throughout the world that You have offered us, a world of majestic peaceful order that gives life to those whose path is wrestling God and to us all who share this planet,  through time and through eternity ---- And let's say, Amein

Y’hei sh’mei rabbah, me’vorach, l’olam almei almaya.

So may the Great Name be blessed, through every Mystery and Mastery of every universe.

Yitbarach, v’yishtabach, v’yitpa’ar, v’yitromam, v’yitnasei, v’yit'hadar, v’yit’aleh, v’yit'halal --  Shmei di’kudshah, --  Brich hu, (Cong: Brich Hu)

May Your Name be blessed and celebrated, Its beauty honored and raised high, may It be lifted and carried, may Its radiance be praised in all Its Holiness –--  Blessed be!

 L’eylah min kol bir’chatah v’shir’atah tush’be’chatah v’nehematah, de’amiran be’alma, v’imru: Amein (Cong: Amein)

Even though we cannot give You enough blessing, enough song, enough praise, enough consolation to match what we wish to lay before you –

And though we know that today there is no way to console You when among us some who bear Your Image in our being are slaughtering others who bear Your Image in our being -

Yehei Shlama Rabah min Shemaya v’chayyim aleinu v’al kol Yisrael v’al kol yoshvei tevel, v’imru Amein.

Still, may it be that from the unity of Your Great Name there flows a great and joyful harmony and life for those whose path is wrestling God and for us all who share this planet.   (Cong: Amein)

Oseh Shalom bi’m’romav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu v’al kol yisrael v'al kol yishmael v'al kol yoshvei tevel -- v’imru: Amein.

You Who make harmony in the ultimate reaches of the universe, teach us to make harmony within ourselves, among ourselves --  and peace for the children of Israel, the children of Ishmael, and for all who dwell upon this planet.  (Cong: Amein)


Rabbinic Letter on Climate -Torah, Pope, & Crisis Inspire 425+ Rabbis to Call for Vigorous Climate Action

Encouraged by plans for and release of the papal Encyclical,  they call for Eco-Social Justice

As of Noon on October 29, 2015,  425 rabbis have signed a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis, calling for vigorous action to prevent worsening climate disruption and to seek eco-social justice. The text of the Rabbinic Letter and its signers are below.

 The Rabbinic Letter was initiated by seven leading rabbis from a broad spectrum of American Jewish life: Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the American Jewish University; 
Rabbi Arthur Green, rector of the Hebrew College rabbinical school; Rabbi Peter Knobel, former president, Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbininical College; Rabbi Susan Talve, spiritual leader of Central Reform Congregation, St. Louis; Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center; and Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. They were joined by Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, a leader of the Orthodox community.

 The full text and list of signers follows.


 To the Jewish People, to all Communities of Spirit,

and to the World:

 A Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis

We come as Jews and rabbis with great respect for what scientists teach us – for as we understand their teaching, it is about the unfolding mystery of God’s Presence in the unfolding universe, and especially in the history and future of our planet.  Although we accept scientific accounts of earth’s history, we continue to see it as God’s creation, and we celebrate the presence of the divine hand in every earthly creature.

 Yet in our generation, this wonder and this beauty have been desecrated -- not in one land alone but ‘round all the Earth. So in this crisis, even as we join all Earth in celebrating the Breath of Life that interweaves us all -- –

 --  You sea-monsters and all deeps, Hallelu-Yah.

Fire, hail, snow, and steam, Hallelu-Yah.

Stormy wind to do God's word, Hallelu-Yah.

Mountains high and tiny hills, Hallelu-Yah (Psalm 148)

 We know all Earth needs not only the joyful human voice but also the healing human hand.

 We are especially moved when the deepest, most ancient insights of Torah about healing the relationships of Earth and human earthlings, adamah and adam, are echoed in the findings of modern science.

 The texts of Torah that perhaps most directly address our present crisis are Leviticus 25-26 and Deuteronomy 15.  They call for one year of every seven to be Shabbat Shabbaton – a Sabbatical Year – and Shmittah – a Year of restful Release for the Earth and its workers from being made to work, and of Release for debtors from their debts.

In Leviticus 26, the Torah warns us that if we refuse to let the Earth rest, it will “rest” anyway, despite us and upon us – through drought and famine and exile that turn an entire people into refugees.

This ancient warning heard by one indigenous people in one slender land has now become a crisis of our planet as a whole and of the entire human species. Human behavior that overworks the Earth – especially the overburning of fossil fuels   --- crests in a systemic planetary response that endangers human communities and many other life-forms as well.

Already we see unprecedented floods, droughts, ice-melts, snowstorms, heat waves, typhoons, sea-level rises, and the expansion of disease-bearing insects from “tropical” zones into what used to be “temperate” regions. These cxonsequences are Leviticus 26 embodied.  Scientific projections of the future make clear that even worse will happen if we continue with carbon-burning business as usual.

As Jews, we ask the question whether the sources of traditional Jewish wisdom can offer guidance to our political  efforts to  prevent disaster and  heal our relationship  with the Earth.  Our first and most basic wisdom is expressed in the Sh’ma and is underlined in the teaching that through Shekhinah the Divine presence dwells within as well as beyond the world. The Unity of all means not only that all life is interwoven, but also that an aspect of God’s Self partakes in the interwovenness.

We acknowledge that for centuries, the attention of our people – driven into exile not only from our original land but made refugees from most lands thereafter so that they were bereft of physical or political connection and without any specific land – has turned away from this sense of interconnection of adam and adamah, toward the repair of social injustice.  Because of this history, we were so much pre-occupied with our own survival that we could not turn attention to the deeper crisis of which our tradition had always been aware.

But justice and earthiness cannot be disentangled. This is taught by our ancient texts – teaching that every seventh year be a Year of Release, Shmittah, Shabbat Shabbaton, in which there would be not only one year’s release of Earth from overwork, but also one year’s sharing by all in society of the Earth’s freely growing abundance, and one year’s release of debtors from their debts.

Indeed, we are especially aware that this very year is, according to the ancient count, the Shmita Year.

The unity of justice and Earth-healing is also taught by our experience today: The worsening inequality of wealth, income, and political power has two direct impacts on the climate crisis. On the one hand, great Carbon Corporations not only make their enormous profits from wounding the Earth, but then use these profits to purchase elections and to fund fake science to prevent the public from acting to heal the wounds. On the other hand, the poor in America and around the globe are the first and the worst to suffer from the typhoons, floods, droughts, and diseases brought on by climate chaos.  

So we call for a new sense of eco-social justice – a tikkun olam that includes tikkun tevel, the healing of our planet.  We urge those who have been focusing on social justice to address the climate crisis, and those who have been focusing on the climate crisis to address social justice.

Though as rabbis we are drawing on the specific practices by which our Torah makes eco-social justice possible, we recognize that in all cultures and all spiritual traditions there are teachings about the need for setting time and space aside for celebration, restfulness, reflection.

Yet in modern history, we realize that for about 200 years, the most powerful institutions and cultures of the human species have refused to let the Earth or human earthlings have time or space for rest.  By overburning carbon dioxide and methane into our planet's air, we have disturbed the sacred balance in which we breathe in what the trees breathe out, and the trees breathe in what we breathe out. The upshot: global scorching, climate crisis.

The crisis is worsened by the spread of extreme extraction of fossil fuels that not only heats the planet as a whole but damages the regions directly affected.

§  Fracking shale rock for oil and “unnatural gas” poisons regional water supplies and induces the shipment of volatile explosive “bomb trains” around the country.

 §  Coal burning not only imposes asthma on coal-plant neighborhoods – often the poorest and Blackest – but destroys the lovely mountains of West Virginia.

 §  Extracting and pipe-lining Tar Sands threatens Native First nation communities in Canada and the USA, and endangers farmers and cowboys through whose lands the KXL Pipeline is intended to traverse..

 §  Drilling for oil deep into the Gulf and the Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound off the Pacific have already brought death to workers and to sea life and financial disasters upon nearby communities. Proposed oil drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic threaten worse.

 All of this is overworking Earth -- precisely what our Torah teaches we must not do. So now we must let our planet rest from overwork. For Biblical Israel, this was a central question in our relationship to the Holy One.  And for us and for our children and their children, this is once again the central question of our lives and of our God. HOW?  -- is the question we must answer.

So here we turn from inherited wisdom to action in our present and our future. One way of addressing our own responsibility would be for households, congregations, denominations, federations, political action  --- to Move Our Money from spending that helps these modern pharaohs burn our planet to spending that helps to heal it. For example, these actions might be both practical and effective:

§  Purchasing wind-born rather than coal-fired electricity to light our homes and synagogues and community centers;

 §  Organizing our great Federations to offer grants and loans to every Jewish organization in their regions to solarize their buildings;

 §  Shifting our bank accounts from banks that invest in deadly carbon-burning to community banks and credit unions that invest in local neighborhoods, especially those of poor, Black, and Hispanic communities;

 §  Moving our endowment funds from supporting deadly Carbon to supporting stable, profitable, life-giving enterprises;

 §  Insisting that our tax money go no longer to subsidizing enormously profitable Big Oil but instead to subsidizing the swift deployment of renewable energy  -- as quickly in this emergency as our government moved in the emergency of the early 1940s to shift from manufacturing cars to making tanks.

 §  Convincing our legislators to institute a system of carbon fees and public dividends that rewards our society for moving beyond the Carbon economy.

 These examples are simply that, and in the days and years to come,  we may think of other approaches to accomplish these ecological ends.  

America is one of the most intense contributors to the climate crisis, and must therefore take special responsibility to act.  Though we in America are already vulnerable to climate chaos, other countries are even more so –-- and Jewish caring must take that truth seriously. Israeli scientists, for example, report that if the world keeps doing carbon business as usual, the Negev desert will come to swallow up half the state of Israel, and sea-level rises will put much of Tel Aviv under water.

Israel itself is too small to calm the wide world’s worsening heat. Israel’s innovative ingenuity for solar and wind power could help much of the world, but it will take American and other funding to help poor nations use the new-tech renewable energy created by Israeli and American innovators.

We believe that there is both danger and hope in American society today, a danger and a hope that the American Jewish community, in concert with our sisters and brothers in other communities of Spirit, must address.  The danger is that America is the largest contributor to the scorching of our planet.  The hope is that over and over in our history, when our country faced the need for profound change, it has been our communities of moral commitment, religious covenant, and spiritual search that have arisen to meet the need. So it was fifty years ago during the Civil Rights movement, and so it must be today.

As we live through this Shmittah Year, we are especially aware that Torah calls for Hak’heyl -- assembling the whole community of the People Israel during the Sukkot after the Shmittah year, to hear and recommit ourselves to the Torah’s central teachings.

So we encourage Jews in all our communities to gather on the Sunday of Sukkot this year, October 4, 2015, to explore together our responsibilities toward the Earth and all humankind, in this generation.

Our ancient earthy wisdom taught that social justice, sustainable abundance, a healthy Earth, and spiritual fulfillment are inseparable. Today we must hear that teaching in a world-wide context, drawing upon our unaccustomed ability to help shape public policy in a great nation. We call upon the Jewish people to meet God’s challenge once again.


Rabbi Jonathan Aaron     Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills   Beverly Hills CA Rabbi Susan Abramson     Temple Shalom Emeth   Burlington MA Rabbi Ruth Adar     Lehrhaus Judaica   San Leandro CA Rabbi Avruhm Addison     Cong Melrose B'nai Israel Emanu El   Philadelphia PA Rabbi David Adelson     East End Temple   New York NY Rabbi Alison Adler     Temple B'nai Abraham   Beverly MA Rabbi Moshe Adler     Beth El - The Heights Synagogue   University Heights OH Rabbi Rachel Adler     Hebrew Union College   Los Angeles CA Rabbi Ron Aigen     Congregation Dorshei Emet, Montreal   Montreal Canada Rabbi Aaron Alexander     IKAR   Los Angeles CA Rabbi Mona Alfi     Congregation B'nai Israel   Sacramento CA Rabbi Katy Allen     Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hop   Wayland MA Rabbi Adam Allenberg     Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion   Santa Monica CA Rabbi Doug Alpert     Congregation Kol Ami-Kansas City   Kansas City MO Rabbi Neil Amswych     Temple Beth Shalom   Santa Fe NM Rabbi Batsheva Appel     Temple Emanu-El   Tucson AZ Rabbi Aryeh Azriel     Temple Israel   Omaha NE Rabbi Elan Babchuck     Temple Emanu-El   Providence RI Rabbi Richard Backer     Ohalah   Newton MA Rabbi Chava Bahle     Or Tzafon   Suttons Bay MI Rabbi Ethan Bair     Temple Sinai   Reno NV Rabbi Benjamin Barnett     Beit Am Jewish Community   Corvallis OR Rabbi Lewis M Barth     Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion   Encino CA Rabbi Geoff Basik     Kol HaLev   Baltimore MD Rabbi Sarah Bassin     Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills   Beverly Hills CA Rabbi David Dunn Bauer     Congregation Beit Simchat Torah   New York NY Rabbi Birdie Becker     Temple Emanuel, Pueblo   Centennial CO Rabbi Marc Belgrad     B'Chavana Congregation   Buffalo Grove IL Rabbi Haim Beliak     Beth Ohr   Los Angeles CA Rabbi Lisa Bellows     Congregation Beth Am   Buffalo Grove IL Rabbi Gabriel Ben-Or     Gulfport Congregation Beth Sholom   webster FL Rabbi Karen Bender     Jewish Home of Los Angeles   Tarzana CA Rabbi Allen Bennett     Temple Israel of Alameda, Rabbi Emeritus   San Francisco CA Rabbi Philip Bentley     Honorary President, Jewish Peace fellowship   Hendersonville NC Rabbi Tiferet Berenbaum     Congregation Shir Hadash   Milwaukee WI Rabbi Marc Berkson     Congregation Emanu-El B'ne Jeshurun   Milwaukee WI Rabbi Marjorie Berman     Reconstructionist Rabbinical College   Clarks Summit PA Rabbi Phyllis Berman     Pnai Or-Philadelphia, Germantown Jewish Centre, Mishkan Shalom   Philadelphia PA Rabbi Ellen Bernstein     Shomrei Adamah   Holyoke MA Rabbi Jonathan Biatch     Temple Beth El, Madison, Wisconsin   Madison WI Rabbi Brad Bloom     Bloom   Hilton Head SC Rabbi Marc S Blumenthal     Reform Judaism   Long Beach CA Rabbi Neil Blumofe     Congregation Agudas Achim   Austin TX Rabbi Samantha Bodner        Houston TX Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton     Or Haneshamah: Ottawa's Reconstructionist Community   Ottawa Canada Rabbi Jill Borodin     Congregation Beth Shalom   Seattle WA Rabbi Neal Borovitz     Rabbi Emeritus Temple Avodat Shalom River Edge NJ   New York NY NY Rabbi Joshua Breindel     Temple Anshe Amunim   Pittsfield MA Rabbi Anne Brener     Academy for Jewish Religion   Los Angeles CA Rabbi Reeve R. 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Torah Portions: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Gloria Steinem, Reb Susan Talve, & Catholic Climate Activist on "The Church & Women"

Should "Outsiders" Criticize Subordination of Women in Catholic Theology & Practice? [Our initial essay on that issue, by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, is now available on our Home Page just to the right,  and at]

From Gloria Steinem:

    Arthur -- I think that as always, you make perfect sense, and of course, it's okay to both praise and criticize from outside a religion. You can't claim a truth that impacts the lives of others outside it without being subject to and heeding the voices of others.

It's especially interesting -- and a revelation to me -- that the Catholic position stems in part from early rabbinic misinterpretation.

I do think there are missing connections here that I would make.

First, the Catholic rejection of authority in women -- even over our own bodies -- is connected to and has the same motive as its rejection of love between two men or two women.

That's because Catholicism, like other patriarchal religions, opposes all forms of sexual expression that cannot end in conception, from birth control and abortion to sex and love between two men or two women. It's all about maximizing reproduction.

Of course, they are also being dishonest about the fact that the Vatican approved of and even regulated abortion until the mid 1800s. A female fetus could be aborted for a longer period than a male fetus -- which, being superior, they believed quickened earlier; thus women could tell the difference. (See John T. Noonan’s books, including A Church That Can And Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching (Notre Dame 2005)  -- and the magazine Conscience, published by Catholics for Free Choice).

The policy changed because Napoleon III wanted to grow a French population decimated by the Napoleonic wars, and in return, offered Pope Pius IX, a very unpopular Pope, support for the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility plus all the teaching positions in the French schools.

Second, I have always wanted to have a major public campaign naming all patriarchal religions that take away women's reproductive freedom, and accusing them of causing global warming.

Forcing women to have children they don't want continues to over-populate our Space Ship Earth

--  and this is the root cause of a continuous increase in global warming that is approaching a place of no return, and is already causing an unprecedented mass extinction of plants and animals.

Yet whenever and wherever women can control our own physical fate, reproduction gradually settles down to a little over replacement level. It is our natural health concern.

Some women may have six children and others none or one or two. But right now, too early marriage and the suppression of contraception, both traditional and modern, are so prevalent that pregnancy and birth have become the biggest cause of death among adolescent girls worldwide.

To me, this Pope is pretending -- perhaps even to himself -- to be against global warming while perpetuating its greatest cause. I don't think it's possible to praise his position on global warming without commenting on how he is sabotaging his supposed goal.

On a different but not-so-different front, I recommend Uncovered by Leah Lax -- an autobiography of a woman I came to know at Hedgebrook, a writing retreat for women. 

She joined a Hasidic Jewish community in Dallas, and after thirty obedient years and six children, realized she would die of another birth, got secret permission for an abortion -- and that single act of free will began to unravel her obedience as a "covered" woman. Her brave book speaks to all covered women, including Christians and Muslims.

           with friendship, Gloria


From Rabbi Susan Talve

[Rabbi Talve, spiritual leader of the Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, has been a crucial anti-racism leader in the white and Jewish communities there, long before the Ferguson crisis and during and since the upheaval there. She has been named a “Human Rights Hero” by T’ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. She also arranged with the approval of her congregation to use their building as the venue for the ordination of a number of devout and learned women as Roman Catholic priests, through the subversive involvement of a bishop who disagreed with the Church’s prohibition. She then faced and weathered intense criticism not only from the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis but also from the “official” Jewish leadership, which blamed her for anger from the Church that was disrupting local relationships between the Church and the organized Jewish world.]

Arthur -- The most compelling argument for me is your point that because of the public influence that the Pope and the Church have chosen to put forth to all creation they open themselves to this critique.  They do not just speak to and have influence over their own people, they  have chosen to impose their world view on all of us, a world view that causes suffering for poor women and the gay community.

 I also appreciate that you point out the inconsistent teaching on condemning the gross inequality that is causing worldwide poverty without seeing the connection to their own support for inequality and abuse through the subjugation of women.

I love your interpretation of the Garden of Eden. I wonder if there is a place in the teaching to leave room for it as an offering of one of many interpretations: an interpretation that will lead to healing and equality and justice without denying other interpretations and making room for other paths and other choices.

I don’t want to do to them what they do to me, deny to them what they deny to me. And I appreciate and admire so much of the space for others that Pope Francis is trying to make in so many other areas.

The thing that gets us into trouble is thinking we can “know” what we cannot really know: the sin of certainty.  Truth is, I would go to jail to defend a woman’s right to choose, but do I really know when life begins? Not really…I have my beliefs but I don’t know…

Living with this imperfection, with humility, outside the Garden, making room, doing the best I can, is the best I can do…  --  --  Susan


From Michelle Dugan

 Hello, Reb Arthur!  I know you through Interfaith Moral Action on Climate  and have followed your work online for several years now.

As a Roman Catholic and great fan of Pope Francis, I thank you for speaking out honestly about the problem posed by the Church's stance on women.  In so many ways, this problem hampers our common progress as human beings desiring the creation of the beloved community.

However, to communicate effectively with the Pope and others who support his vision of the family, you and all of us who desire change must first struggle to understand what in this conservative and patriarchal tradition might be worth understanding.

How can we extend the concept of family to include all types of families, rather than rejecting the notion of family as top priority?  Why is it that so many conservative forces feel threatened by change?

As much as I dislike the patriarchal tradition, I also reject the notion of "choice" in all areas.  There is a similarity between an insistence on absolute reproductive freedom and an insistence on the right to free consumption of the Earth's resources, and this is where the Pope is coming from.

He pictures families in the developing world whose greatest joy is in their children, and he wants them to have an abundance to support these children. We have to be careful to continue to find common ground on behalf of our suffering planet and the many poor and voiceless persons across the globe.

Again, I applaud your challenge to the patriarchal, hierarchical attitudes of the Catholic Church, and with you pray for the Spirit to touch Pope Francis and liberate him from the constraints of a tradition that works against our best hopes for a truly loving, peaceful, and just world.

Regards,  Michelle Dugan


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Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

The Binding of Isaac & Black Lives Matter: Bodies in Fear

Transcript of Eric Garne's last words as he died in a poice chokehold

File Attachment: 

[This remarkable Dvar Torah was given by Rabbi Tamara Cohen on the second day of Rosh Hashanah 5776 (2015) in the Dorshei Derech Minyan of the Germantown Jewish Centre in Philadelphia. The Torah reading for that day is on the Binding and near-death of Isaac. Rabbi Cohen connected that story with the deaths of unarmed Blacks at the hands of police –-  deaths that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. In  doing so, she helps us deepen our understanding of action for eco-social justice as a profound spiritual journey. [Rabbi Cohen is Director of Innovation for Moving Traditions. She has been a liturgist for Ma'yan in shaping its feminist Passover Seder, and five years ago was the Barbara Bick Memorial Fellow of The Shalom Center. She wrote "Eicha for the Earth," an English-language Lament for the Earth modeled on the Book of Lamentations and occasioned by the BP oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. [The graphic above is a transcript of Eric Garner's last words as he died in a police chokehold. There are other graphics as attachments. You can see the one above and those attached in full size by clicking on the title of this essay. The attachments  are “The Binding of Isaac” and “The Choking of Eric,” the first by Caravaggio and the second from a videocamera; and a baby held aloft in the midst of Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Ferguson, MO. --  AW, editor]

By Rabbi Tamara Cohen

This Dvar Torah was born a few times over this year.

I think the first place it was born was in the powerful experience of giving birth to a beautiful baby --  who among many other things is a white Jewish boy with blond hair and blue eyes --   in a moment when the Black Lives Matter movement was reaching a new level, in a moment when the stories of parents mourning the deaths of their children of color due to police violence were all around me.

We took our son Kliel to a Hanukkah Black Lives Matter protest for his first outing. He was barely a month old. Why? In part because I wanted to be there and in part because I was struggling with how to allow myself the joy of this new baby knowing that all around America and Philadelphia and even Mt Airy, other parents were also celebrating new babies, babies with all different colors of eyes and skin and hair, and that all of us lovestruck parents, wanting to do everything for our children, feeling acutely aware of their vulnerability, also had different relationships to the vulnerability of our kids because of the systemic racism in the America in which these babies were being born.

 I remember waking up in the middle of the night to nurse and realizing that this waking in the night was the core of my current spiritual work. It was a way to teach my baby's little body and deepest self: Yes, it's true, there is nothing I won't do to care for you. You are safe in this world and can take root. You are loved and cared for. Each time you cry out, or murmur, or show me your need, I will respond.

And then it occurred to me that the difference between my parental instinctual hearing and spiritual instinctual hearing was this: I wanted to be, and to raise my children to be, people who wake in the night when they hear not only the cries of their own babies but the cries of every and any baby.  

The kind of people who can respond with love and surrender each time they hear a cry of human being in need, even in the dark of night, even when we would rather sleep.

Another moment when this D’var Torah was born was on a phone call with my friend Y. after Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell. Y. was saying something like, “What’s going on? What’s going on? This is America!” And there was an urgency in her voice, a terror.

I had read a headline or two about the case but I hadn't yet taken the time to read more. I was busy, planned to get to it soon. But something in my friend’s voice, something said to me in a starkness, painful and real, that the difference between being a good white friend and ally and being a black mother in that moment was the difference between my upset at the story and her terror.

And I saw it clearly. I saw her daughter, 17, headed to Princeton after graduating as the only black Jewish girl from her yeshiva high school. I saw her suddenly, briefly, through her mother’s eyes.

I saw the terror of having to release one’s child, one’s black child, to an unknown world, the terror of having to allow one’s baby to drive on a street through Princeton. Anywhere really.

 And I felt shaken awake in a new way to the difference between my reality and the reality of my dear friend, both of us Jewish mothers who love our kids and would do anything to protect them, one of us white and one of us black.

 I tasted for a moment the physical terror in her voice. And then I went into my house to have dinner with my family and she went into her house to have dinner with hers. But before we got off the phone I made a promise to her, yes, we would do something, no I wouldn't forget the moment, no I wouldn't let this fear and anger and horror all sit solely on her shoulders.

The third place this dvar Torah was born was in my reading of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s amazingly beautiful, powerful and heart-wrenching book Between the World and Me, which I read this summer, thanks to the fact that the Germantowwn Jewish Centre’s  Racism group decided it would be a good thing to do together. For those of you who have not yet read this book, and I strongly commend you to read it, what you need to know for now is that the book is written by a black father to his fifteen year old black son.

 The book tells the story of how Ta-Nehisi, in his words, has made the struggle to live free in his black body in America the central meaning-making struggle of his life.

 He writes about his childhood on the harsh streets of inner-city Baltimore, his struggles with school, his period of valorizing and learning from Black Power and Malcom X, his awakenings at Howard University to the deeper complexities of race and racism and blackness, and about becoming parent.

 He shares the story of the loss of a peer to police violence and of his intense visit with the mother of this murdered son, a professor and dean, who had raised her son in the suburbs, sent him to private schools and given him so much, none of which protected him from being murdered by a police officer in the prime of his life.

 These three experiences led me to feel compelled, if still somewhat anxious about, giving this Dvar Torah. So here’s the essence of what I want to say:

 For me, this year, the Binding of Isaac is a story different from any other year I have read it. This year it is a story about an Abraham who loves his son but who is so terrified by the realization that he could be taken away from him that he almost kills him himself.

This year for me, Abraham is a black father. And Isaac is his beloved son. And what happens in the story is that Abraham, through binding his son on the altar, passes on to his son the terrifying truth that his body could be taken from him at any moment.

Isaac and Abraham are both afraid. Fear is something they live with and know. Indeed fear becomes part of Isaac's name (as Gideon Ephrat points out in a blog post on the use of the phrase Pachad Yitzchak after the Akeida).

 I want to briefly read you a few quotes from Between the World and Me that may help you see how I have arrived at this reading of Akeidat Yitzchak.

Coates writes:

“Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered. I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets that America made.”

“That is a philosophy of the disembodied, of a people who control nothing, who can protect nothing, who are made to fear not just the criminals among them but the police who lord over them with all the moral authority of a protection racket.

It was only after you that I understood this love, that I understood the grip of my mother’s hand.
 She knew that the galaxy itself could kill me, that all of me could be shattered and all of her legacy spilled upon the curb like bum wine.

“And no one would be brought to account for this destruction, because my death would not be the fault of any human but the fault of some unfortunate but immutable fact of “race,” imposed upon an innocent country by the inscrutable judgment of invisible gods.” - p. 82

 So, what happens when we read these two texts, Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Genesis 22 together? A few things happen.

 One of the most difficult and important things that Ta-Nehisi Coates asks his son and his readers to do is to accept a radically different and more violent narrative of America than the one we generally believe in.

 He asks us, as does the Black Lives Matter movement more broadly, to recognize that what has gone on this year have not been the acts of some bad cops, but instead a reflection of and carrying out of a policy of systemic racism consistent with the basic tenets of the American Dream in which the of safety and prosperity of people who get to claim the identity of “white” get that through the plunder, ownership, and terrorizing of Black bodies.

I hear in this two calls to us as a community of primarily white Jews.

The first is that we recognize how much we have benefited from the process of mostly losing, at least in the United States, the marker of having Jewish bodies, and of being accepted as having white bodies.

 But we can’t stop there. We must also take the step of deciding to stop believing in the whiteness of our bodies, while still fully acknowledging white privilege, and of no longer acquiescing to the system that gives us advantages because of our supposed whiteness on the backs of those whose skin is black.

 Another equally hard and important move that I invite us to make is for us to be willing to look at the Torah and at Israelite civilization with the same hard scrutiny with which Coates looks at America, and also, through the course of the book, at blackness.

 He writes:

"The writer, and that was what I was becoming, must be wary of every Dream and every nation, even his own nation. Perhaps his own nation more than any other, precisely because it was his own” (p.53)

"Perhaps there has been, at some point in history, some great power whose elevation was exempt from the violent exploitation of other human bodies. If there has been, I have yet to discover it."

 I think it’s important for us as Jews to be ready to admit that indeed our beloved Torah is not exempt as a story in which some great power is elevated through the violent exploitation of other human bodies.

 Despite the power of the Exodus narrative, in the Torah, in the end, Israelites bodies are the chosen bodies. It is the bodies of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan who are plundered and destroyed in order to pave the way for our Dream, for the conquest of the Promised Land. This is a very troubling way to look at the Torah, just as Coates presents us with a very difficult read of America. But the fact that it makes us uncomfortable doesn't make it not true.

And if we can tell the truth --  tell the truth about America, and tell the truth about the Bible, and tell a more whole truth about our changing and evolving position as American Jews in the civil rights struggle, not just about Heschel in Selma, and Andrew Goodman, and the stories we are proud of  -- we will be moving closer to being able to make necessary radical change.

Let’s return to Isaac, bound and trembling with the knife raised above him. On the one hand I am seeing him and asking you to see him as an American boy with a black body. I am doing this because black bodies are the bodies in America today that hold the position of Yitzchak, the position of fear, of lack of freedom, of being struck, bound between the promise of a grand and fruitful future and the very real possibility of immanent unexplained and incomprehensible death.

But at the same time that I want us to hold the image of Yitzchak as a black child, I also want to hold him as every child.

The binding of Isaac is a story that reveals that actually we all have bodies. And that actually every one of our bodies is vulnerable. Every one of our bodies would cry out "I can't breathe" if it was put into a chokehold and we had asthma. Every one of our bodies would be destroyed if it was bound and driven around in the back of a police van.

Isaac is our reminder that really race is a construct that creates an unnatural line between those bodies that are vulnerable and destructible and those that are strong and invincible.

Our narrative does not end with Yishmael cast out and Yitzchak  protected as the chosen one. Yitzchak ends up vulnerable in today’s Torah reading just as Yishmael did in yesterday’s. Isaac's body lies there bound and afraid, just as Yishmael sat in the desert thirsty and in danger of dying. Both of them together remind all us that all of our bodies could be taken from us for reasons we don't understand and will never understand. Each is dependent on an angel shifting their parent’s vision in order to enable their survival.

So on the one hand I am saying that some bodies are more vulnerable than others and on the other hand I am saying that all bodies are equally vulnerable. Yes.

Racism and the American Dream's dependence on it makes it true that black bodies are far more vulnerable in America than white bodies. But this is not an inherent truth. This is the result of a system built to protect and construct white bodies and to control and destroy black bodies, families, and communities.

When we recognize that whiteness is a construct, that blackness is a construct, that race is a construct, we take one important step. We then need to take another. We need to take the step of saying that we want to exchange our sense of distance from the reality of the vulnerability of the body for a society in which all bodies are equally vulnerable and equally free.

 We don't yet live in that society. The Torah doesn't live in that reality either. But Isaac's bound body and the rabbis choice to force us to look at it every year is perhaps a way in to that worldview.

That's where we want to go. To the worldview where the color of Isaac's skin doesn't make him more or less likely to be bound or unbound, where the color of his skin doesn't make him more or less likely to live with a constant underlying sense of fear.

As Jews we often read this story in a way that focuses us more on the intellectual, spiritual, philosophical questions raised by the Akeida. I have felt compelled this year to stay with the body. With the embodied terror of Isaac and of Abraham. And beyond them of Hagar and Yishmael. And even Sarah.

I have felt compelled to stay with the deep experience of bodily fear that is not right now equally shared in this country. But which perhaps we can begin to more deeply understand through our bodies than through our minds.

Racism can only partially be unlearned through the mind. The racist’s fear, the fear that the supposedly white body carries of the black body is also a bodily fear. And so perhaps we can get more to the root of racism if we go to this body place. And perhaps this year that is where Isaac is inviting us to go.

At least it is where his body invited me to go this year. His body and a mother’s terror, and the crazy sad fact of Sandra Bland's death, and all the lives taken this year because of police violence and the powerful gift of Ta-nehesi Coates’s words to his fifteen year old son — his act of father to son truth telling that somehow calls out to me across time and space as an answer to Abraham's deafening silence during his three day walk with his son.

Towards the end of the book, Coates addresses his son:

 "Part of me thinks that your very vulnerability brings you closer to the meaning of life, just as for others, the quest to believe oneself white divides them from it. The fact is that despite their dreams, their lives are also not inviolable. When their own vulnerability becomes real—when the police decide that tactics intended for the ghetto should enjoy wider usage, when their armed society shoots down their children, when nature sends hurricanes against their cities—they are shocked in a way that those of us who were born and bred to understand cause and effect can never be.

 "And I would not have you live like them. You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face and the hounds are always at your heels. And to varying degrees this is true of all life. The difference is that you do not have the privilege of living in ignorance of this essential fact... I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.” (pp.107-8)

May we keep learning, may we keep struggling, may we raise our next generation — all of them --  to be conscious citizens of this terrible and beautiful world.

May the shofar keep blasting and shaking all of us awake.




Torah Portions: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

The Ritual of Willows, & a Teach-in on Climate Action

The Shalom Report

This Sunday in Mt Airy: the Ritual of Willows,

A Teach-in on Climate Action, &

A celebration of The Breath of Life

On Sunday, October 4 at 1:00 PM. at the Germantown Jewish Centre (Ellet St. at Lincoln Dr. in the West Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia) ,  there will be a multifaith celebration of the last day of Sukkot and the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, plus a teach-in on how to bring hopeful action into the Climate question-- 
The gathering is co-sponsored by the Germantown Jewish Centre, The Shalom Center, Mishkan Shalom, P’nai Or, Philadelphia Interfaith Power & Light, and other congregations.

We welcome people of every faith to come together on October 4th. 

According to Jewish traditions, on this day we chant, sing, and process in circuits around the sanctuary to pray for the Earth and all who live on it. 

On the same day, many Christians will be celebrating St. Francis, the patron saint of animals and all Creation.  

We will also have seen the impact of Pope Francis's encyclical on the climate crisis and his subsequent visit to Philadelphia.  Gathering all of those strains of religious tradition, this program will serve as a response by religious communities to the  crisis of climate change.  

Together, we will combine prayer, ritual, and learning about what we can do to combat this serious threat to Creation.  We will begin with a welcome and a ritual inspired by Hoshanah Rabah involving seven circuits, one for each day of Creation, accompanied by prayers,  readings, and banners of seven colors , each connected to one of the Seven Days. 

We will then hear brief presentations from speakers who will touch on different forms of action that we can take to combat climate change, interwoven with music and meditation.  We will have the chancee to explore these ideas.

To end, we will perform the ancient ritual of beating willows against the ground, symbolizing our connection to the Earth and our commitment to protecting and caring for it.  We will leave inspired and empowered to enact our religious beliefs and teachings about the earth and to safeguard it for generations yet to come.  We will be outdoors, weather permitting, so please dress accordingly.  We encourage you to join us!

Let us be aware that this year, there are two extraordinary extra truths about Hoshana Rabbah:

St. Francis of Assisi loved the poor;  loved and celebrated all the creatures of Creation; broke through the fear and hatred of the Crusades warring all around him to go to Egypt to meet with the Sultan to try to make peace between Christendom and Islam;   learned from Muslim teachers how to deepen his own prayer; -- and became the inspiration for Pope Francis and his encyclical on poverty, oppressive power, and the climate crisis.

Secondly, the Torah calls on us to Assemble! -- Hak’heyl! — the entire Jewish people during the Sukkot after a Shmita/ Sabbatical Year, to hear the King and the High Priest teach Torah about protecting the Earth, protecting the poor, and restraining the powerful lest they become tyrannical. This very year, the coming Sukkot festival is exactly the one for which the Torah calls Hak’heyl!

In our generation, Pope Francis, the High Priest of a billion human beings, has in an extraordinary way used modern media to Assemble, Hak’heyl, all the peoples of the Earth to hear the Torah of empowering the poor, limiting the power and greed of huge corporations,  and healing the planet.

So for Hoshana Rabbah, in the spirit of Jewish tradition that on Sukkot we pray for the well-being of all the “70 nations” of the world, let us invite all our neighbors to learn from St. Francis, from the Pope’s Laudato Si, from the Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis, and from the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change. (Those three are on The Shalom Center’s Home Page at <>)

During the last seven years, many of us have brought the Sabbatical/ Shmita Year to new levels of awareness in and beyond the Jewish community. But we have not yet been able to turn this new awareness into action that would actually help the earth to rest.

So let us see this Sukkot as the time for us to begin shaping a Seven-Year Plan to heal the Earth.

Let us commit ourselves to take these next seven years, from now through the Shmita Year that ends in the Fall of 2022, as the time to carry out our Seven-Year Plan so that our Mother Earth can catch her breath and actually rest from our relentlessly choking her by burning global carbon.

Let us take this time to bring Jewish wisdom and activism to join with the wisdom and activism of others in that Great Healing, Great Turning, Great Transformation.


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Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Applying the Clean Power Plan to Pennsylvania

[This statement was my presentation --  at hearings held by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection -- of The Shalom Center's view on how Pennsylvania should respond to the Federal EPA's call on all states to devise their own plans for major reductions in CO2 and similar planet-destroying emissions.  About 30 groups submitted statements. All but two vigorously supported the Clean Power Plan and proposed specific conteent for it. One opposed the whole idea of the Clean Power Plan. That was the Pennsylvania Association of Manufacturers, which called the whole plan unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania coal industry explained that coal is so crucual to the eonomy of the state that well-meaning efforts at controlling emissions are mistaken in their goals and their results. --  AW.]

September 30, 2015;  17 Tishri, 5676 To the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection:

Shalom, and thanks for your and Governor Wolf’s  swift response to the request  from the President and the federal Environmental Protection Agency for Pennsylvania and other states to develop plans to carry out the Clean Power Plan.

I am Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center, a national network (with headquarters in Philadelphia) that seeks to be a prophetic voice in Jewish, multireligious, and American life. The Shalom Center initiated a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis  that has been signed by 412 rabbis of every stream of Jewish life. Thirty-four of these Rabbis live and lead in Pennsylvania. My remarks today are grounded in the views of those Rabbis as expressed in their Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis and of thousands of other Jews who agree with them   -- though in the midst of the High Holy Days it has not been possible to consult them about these specific words.

 Though the criminal behavior of Volkswagen had not yet been revealed when the Rabbinic Letter was written and published, the Rabbinic Letter is very clear about the danger of Carbon Corporation irresponsibility. Point 1 follows the Letter’s teaching on this danger:

To meet the requirements of the Clean Power Plan, we call on the Governor -- :

 1.  To order the mandatory recall within one month of every Volkswagen diesel automobile manufactured and sold in the last two years, each of which is fraudulently and murderously pouring lethal chemicals into our air by virtue of deliberately tricking and violating emission tests; to bring a lawsuit against the Volkswagen Company for the full sale price of each such auto now being driven in the State of Pennsylvania,  the full sale value then to be paid by the state to each owner; to include in the suit as well, additional massive damages due our State for the hurt done to our air and our people; and to bring criminal charges against any Volkswagen executives and staff who conspired to commit these crimes.

2.  2. To announce an immediate and permanent end to all fracking on public lands in Pennsylvania and on all new permits for fracking on any property within the state. Businesses that profit from fracking have “justified” it on the grounds that it results in fewer scorching-gas emissions than burning coal or gasoline. It is now clear that this is not so. The fracking process produces methane emissions that, since methane is far more powerful than CO2 in scorching our planet,  creates even more danger of climate chaos than burning coal. At the same time, it poisons water supplies and air that are crucial to the health of Pennsylvanians. The argument that fracking is a way-station to renewable power is a fallacy. The real way station is to invest the billions that are now going into fracking, instead to spread solar and wind-power installations all across the state.

T  3. To oppose the plans of some  Carbon Corporations to turn the City of Philadelphia into what they call an “energy hub” -- actually not a hub but a cesspool of dirty energy, endangering our city on the ground through the constant passage of extremely dangerous  trains carrying volatile and lethally explosive Bakken shale oil, and endangering our entire planet by multiplying the emission of CO2 and methane. We also call on the Governor to use the police and safety powers inherent in the Commonwealth to stop and hold for inspection every railroad car entering the state bearing Bakken oil, and to subject each car to thorough tests of its safety before deciding whether to permit it to go forward in Pennsylvania.

4 4. To adopt a seven-year program for phasing out all coal-burning power plants in Pennsylvania, beginning with those situated in neighborhoods with high unemployment and poverty rates, in order to reduce the epidemics of asthma that plague those neighborhoods. We also call on the Governor to end all forms of subsidies and tax breaks to coal mining businesses in Pennsylvania.

5.  5. To adopt a simultaneous seven-year program to guarantee full employment at full wages in green jobs  for a two-year period to all workers in the Carbon industries who are displaced by these ,crucial transformations.

6.  6. To adopt a simultaneous seven-year plan to emplace and subsidize  wind-power and solar-power generators and distribution systems in key locations in Pennsylvania.

These proposals are grounded in the Bible, which encodes the practical and the spiritual experience of an indigenous people of shepherds and farmers who were closely connected to their land and who saw that connection as their avenue to God. Leviticus 25-26 call for one year of every seven to be Shabbat Shabbaton – a Sabbatical Year –--a Year of Shmittah –- restful Release for the Earth and its workers from being forced to work.

In Leviticus 26, the Torah warns us that if we refuse to let the Earth rest, it will “rest” anyway, despite us and upon us – through drought, famine, and exile that turn whole peoples into refugees. This ancient warning heard by one indigenous people in one slender land has now become a crisis of our planet as a whole and of the entire human species.

Already we see unprecedented floods, droughts, ice-melts, snowstorms, heat waves, typhoons, sea-level rises, and the expansion of disease-bearing insects from “tropical” zones into what used to be “temperate” regions. Leviticus 26 embodied.  Scientific projections of the future make clear that even worse will happen if we continue with carbon-burning business as usual.

The unity of justice and Earth-healing is taught both by our ancient Torah and by our experience today: The worsening inequality of wealth, income, and political power has two direct impacts on the climate crisis. On the one hand, great Carbon Corporations not only make their enormous profits from wounding the Earth, but then use these profits to purchase elections and to fund fake science to prevent the public from acting to heal the wounds. On the other hand, the poor in America and around the globe suffer first and worst from the typhoons, floods, droughts, and diseases brought on by climate chaos. 

By overburning carbon dioxide and methane into our planet's air, we have shattered the sacred balance in which we breathe in what the trees breathe out, and the trees breathe in what we breathe out. The upshot: global scorching, climate crisis.

All of this is overworking Earth -- precisely what our Bible teaches we must not do. So now we must let our planet rest from overwork.

The proposals we have put before you take some major steps toward healing our wounded Mother Earth and all her children – including the entire human species – by halting our reckless choking and scorching of our common home. We call on you to enact them.


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Yom Kippur Meets Eid al-Idha: Isaiah & Ishmael

Isaiah by Raphael

Tales of Spiritual Breakthrough

This coming Tuesday evening, September 22, 2015, the 26-hour fast of Yom Kippur begins. The next morning, Jews everywhere will read the outcry of the Prophet Isaiah, challenging and disrupting the official liturgy of Yom Kippur:

“Is this the fast I, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of Life, demand of you? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry? To break off the handcuffs that oppressive power locks upon its prisoners?”

And on Wednesday evening, just as the fast is ending, there begins the Muslim Great Feast of Eid al-Idha, the Feast of the Sacrifice. It echoes the story of how Ibrahim prepared to offer up his son Ismail in response to God’s calling, and how at the last moment the Holy Voice told him to relent and he offered up a ram instead.

This memory, of course, shares the story that Jews have just last week retold on Rosh Hashanah– with the differences that often arise when different branches of a family remember a powerful family story.("Which son was it?")

Traditionally, on Eid al-Idha Muslim families buy a lamb to be slaughtered (as an echo of Ibrahim's ram), and divide its meat in thirds — one-third to the immediate family, one-third to the extended family, one-third to the poor — a teaching that might be heard as “Do not kill your children; feed the poor!”

A teaching to us all about war and compassion. A physical act carrying the same message as the Isaiah Haftarah for Yom Kippur.

The connections between the two sets of festivals beckon us into a new way of treating Torah-reading as an avenue toward seeking "tshuvah" (turning ourslves in a new, more ethical direction).

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Jews tradtionally read the story of  Abraham's expulsion of Ishmael from the family, and Ishmael's near-death in the wilderness, saved at the last moment by God's making visible a hidden wllspring. On the second day, the reading is about Abraham's willingness tp make a burnt-offering of his other son, Isaac, and Isaac's near-death on the mountain -- saved by God's Voice at the last moment.

Later in the Torah, there is a story of how the two sons reconnect (Gen. 25:7-11). After their father Abraham dies, they come togethr to bury him. For the first time, the Torah refers to them as partners.  We read this passage in the regular rhythm of the regular Shabbats. But  this story is not lifted up on a special festival, as are the two stories we read on Rosh Hashanah.

It would be a true act of healing to read this brief passage on Yom Kippur. Especially in a generation when there is a great deal of conflict between some of the descendants of Isaac and of Ishmael, this tale of reconciliation

would be a powerful calling to do tshuvah. If the death of their father calls them together, can the bloody deaths of our children at each other's hands call us to compassion instead of revenge?

Yom Kippur is supposed to recall us to the path of loving-kindness. And its prophetic reading from Isaiah does -- if we reawaken his passion.

Just two weeks ago, the Living Isaiah took life again for me. I was asked to speak out to our own generation his challenge to a crowd who 2500 years ago thought they were observing Yom Kippur. And I was asked to use my own translation of his challenge.

The occasion was a conference in England called by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC -- an organization founded by Prince Philip in 1995) , to explore what  the world’s religious  communities would set for the UN’s goals of “Sustainable Development.” From all over the world, from China to the Americas to Africa and Europe, there gathered Taoists and Buddhists, Hindus and Jains, Muslims and Sikhs, Christians and Jews.

To begin the conference, we met in the City of Bristol’s chapel of the Lord Mayor, who was herself there, dressed in medieval finery. So was a multiracial children’s choir, drawn from Bristol’s neighborhoods. It was in a way a fitting setting to speak Isaiah’s truth to both the powerful and the disempowered.

 After I read / spoke Isaiah, many of the participants and the Lord Mayor herself came up to me to say that through my translation, the ancient words had taken on much fuller meaning than what was written in their Bibles.

To remain alive, the Prophets must always speak again and again through the Shofar, the Ram's Horn,  blown anew in each generation.

So I offer you my translation below – if you wish, to read it in your synagogue on Wednesday morning.   Or just to read it   -- aloud! --  amidst your friends, your co-workers, your family.

And even more, I encourage you to watch "Isaiah Lives!" a video that combines my translation set in the midst of extraordinary chant and music by Cantor Abbe Lyons and Will Fudeman,  art work by Michael Bogdanow, and scenes from a world in turmoil and the world of calm. These sounds and pictures enormously enrich the text.

To see the video, please click to --

Isaiah breaks into the official liturgy of Yom Kippur

The Prophetic Reading for the Fast of Yom Kippur,

Isaiah 57:14-58:14

Blessing before the Haftarah:

Blessed are You, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh,

The Interwoven Breath of Life,

Who in every generation

Breathes prophetic truth

Through the throats of human beings --

As we blow outcry

Through the Great Ram’s Horn. (Ameyn)


And God said: Open up, open up, Clear a path! Clear away all obstacles From the path of My People! For so says the One Who high aloft forever dwells, Whose Name is Holy:

I dwell on high, in holiness, And therefore with the lowly and humiliated, To breathe new breath into the humble, To give new heart to the broken-hearted.

For your sin of greed Through My Hurricane of Breath YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh I smashed you. Worse: I hid My face, withheld My Breath.

Yet I will not do battle against you forever, I will not be angry with you forever. From Me comes the breath that floats out to make all worlds. I breathe the breath of life, I am the Breath of Life.

When you wander off the path as your own heart, wayward, takes you. I see the path you need —— and I will heal you. I will guide and comfort you With words of courage and of consolation For those who mourn among you. Peace, peace … shalom, shalom!… to those who are far and near, Says the Breath-of-Life —- And I will heal you.

But the wicked are like a troubled sea Which cannot rest, Whose waters toss up mire and mud. There is no peace, said my God, For the wicked.

Cry out aloud, don’t hold back, Lift up your voice like the shofar! Tell My people what they are doing wrong, Tell those who call themselves the “House of Jacob” their misdeeds. For day after day they go out searching for Me, They take some kind of pleasure in getting to know My ways —- As if they were a people that actually did righteous deeds And never ignored the just rulings of their God.

They keep asking Me for the rules of justice As if they would take delight in being close to God.

They say: “Why is it that we have fasted, and You don’t see our suffering? We press down our egos —- but You don’t pay attention!”

Look! On the very day you fast, you keep scrabbling for wealth; On the very day you fast, you keep oppressing all your workers.

Look! You fast in strife and contention. You strike with a wicked fist.

You are not fasting today in such a way As to make your voices heard on high. Is that the kind of fast that I desire? Is that really a day for people to “press down their egos”?

Am I commanding you to droop your heads like bulrushes

And lie around in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast day,

The kind of day that the God of the Burning Bush would wish?


This is the fast that I desire:

Break off the handcuffs that oppressive power

Locks upon its prisoners!

Untie the ropes of the yoke!

Let the oppressed go free,

And break off every yoke!

Share your bread with the hungry.

Bring the poor, the outcasts, to your home.

When you see them naked, clothe them;

They are your flesh and blood;

Don’t hide yourself from them!

Then your light will burst through like the dawn;

Then when you need healing it will spring up quickly;

Then your own righteousness will march ahead to guard you.

And a radiance from YHWH will reach out behind to guard you.

Then, when you cry out, YHWH/ the Breath of Life will answer;

Then, when you call, God will say: “Here I am!”

If you banish the yoke from your midst,

If you rid yourself of scornful finger-pointing

And words of contempt;

If you open up your life-experience to the hungry

And soothe the life that has been trampled under foot,

Then even in darkness your light will shine out

And your moments of gloom turn bright as noonday.

Then the InterBreath of Life will always be your guide,

Will make your breathing easy when your mouth and throat are  parched --

And strengthen your bones when they are weary.

Then you shall be like a garden given water,

Like a wellspring whose waters never fail.

Those who spring from you shall rebuild the ancient ruins

And you shall lay foundations for the coming generations.

You shall be called “Those who mend torn places,”

You shall be called “Those who build lanes to live in.”

If you refrain from trampling My Sabbatical time

And from being busy-busy

On My restful day and in the fuller rhythm --

Through My year of releasing Earth from overwork;

If you will not only call these times of Pause delightful

But also turn far from your usual way

And set aside your driven-work and chatter

To be yourselves the rays by which God’s Holiness

Can turn this world into a radiant joy —-

Then indeed you will find delight in YHWH.

Then —- when you feed others —- I will let you eat your fill.

For then —- when you have joined the lowly —-

I will set you all with Me, in the Majesty of Nurture

Astride the heights of Earth.

Now! For this word comes from the Mouth that Breathes all life.


In addition to the explicit content of the Haftarah, there are two important aspects of its form:

Isaiah proclaims that he is interrupting and disrupting the conventional flow of the Yom Kippur liturgy. He sees and says that “Even in the day you fast, you lift your fists in violence” – against his outcry.

He begins with a “high” that turns out to be a fake, then plunges into the depths of the oppressed and humiliated, calls for solidarity with them, and then as people do join in that solidarity celebrates a true “high” of exaltation for the whole society.

On the High Holy Days we realize that we do not know who in the next year will fruitfully live, who will sorrowfully die. And we call ourselves to account: that in three ways we can make more gentle whatever our fate will be: tfilah, tshuvah, and tzedakah.

That is, by deep and heart-felt prayer; by atoning for our misdeeds --turning from them and toward “at-one-ment” with the Breath of Life, the whole human community, and all our wounded Earth; and by giving gifts of financial help to those who are pursuing eco-social justice.

In that spirit, we ask you to help support the work of The Shalom Center, by clicking on the “Donate” button in the left margin.

Torah Portions: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Wellsprings of Life: Hagar & Rosh Hashanah

Hagar weeps as her son Ishmael apprpaches death from thirst

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the traditional Jewish Torah-reading is Genesis  21. In it, Abraham’s second wife Hagar and his first son Ishmael are sent forth from Abraham’s family, with a leather-skin of water that is not enough to meet their needs in the dry wilderness.   In extremis, Hagar gently lays Ishmael beneath a tree and begins to weep as she fears his death.   (The Torah uses the word Tashlich  for this laying-down, teaching us that in the Rosh Hashanah ceremony of Tashlich we are not casting our misdeeds away into the flowing water, but seeking to transform their energies for the sake of Life, as Hagar did.)   Then, says the Torah,  Hagar’s eyes are opened, and she saw the wellspring that she names “Be¹er Lachai Roi, The Wellspring of the Living ONE Who Sees Me."   It saves their lives.

As I try to see this story, it seems to me that when Hagar’s eyes were opened, her tears poured forth so fully that she herself created the wellspring.   Today, all around the world we face the death of trees and the dearth of water, the deaths of many other life-forms and millions of our own Ishmaels.   Many parts of Earth are becoming as scarce of water as was the ancient Middle East. As our planet heats and scorches, our Mother Earth is parched and can no longer pour forth from her breasts the pure water that nurtures and sustains us.   May our own tears for Mother Earth pour forth to water the wellsprings of new life. May we open our eyes, and act!  -- act out of seeing the Living ONE Who Sees Us.

 May we pour forth the tears that make healing action possible!

And as Mother Hagar needed nourishment, so do those of us who draw on flowing Spirit to do the work of healing Mother Earth. Please click on the “Donate” banner on he Left margin, to pour forth as well the money that is also necessary if we are to make healing action possible.


Torah Portions: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Climate-Crisis YOM KIPPUR: Fast with Abe Lincoln at his Memorial

Sorrowful Lincoln at the Memorial

Atonement and At-One-ment: Sundown to Sundown--September 22nd & 23rd

Yom Kippur at the Lincoln Memorial:

Sponsored by The Shalom Center

 Yom Kippur is the day of both Atonement and At-One-ment.  At this moment in history we humans are in need of atonement for the ways in which we have desecrated the Earth. This desecration is the result of our lack of At-One-ment – our separation from all life -- our separation of ourselves from the Earth of which we are in truth an interwoven thread.

This year Yom Kippur occurs immediately before Pope Francis’s unprecedented address to a joint session of Congress.  We offer this Yom Kippur service at the Lincoln Memorial as an invitation for our Jewish community, along with people of all faiths, to come together, acknowledging our shared need for atonement. And we will gather as one of a number of faith-based events planned for that week in support of Pope Francis' response -- the encyclical Laudato Si -- to the climate crisis and its roots in world-wide social crisis.

At the Lincoln Memorial we see the image of a sorrowful leader who mght well be fasting with us today in atonement for our damage to the Earth and to many human communities, in atonement for our subservience to great corporations as oblivious in their cruelty as the slaveholders he faced. And who turned his sorrow into action, into transformation. Into At-One-ment.

The Memorial enshrines and honors not Lincoln alone but also the millions of Americans who have gathered there to stand for the dignity of every person. It is the pre-eminent American symbol of our collective responsibility to work for freedom and democracy for all people. “with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.”

The schedule for our service:

Kol Nidre -- 6:30 to 8:30 pm, Sept 22 Morning Services -- 10 am to 1:30 pm, Sept 23 Ne'ilah  -- 5 to 7:40 pm Sept 23, concluding with the blowing of the shofar and leading to an interfaith vigil. (THIS SERVICE WILL BE AT JOHN MARSHALL PLACE PARK at 4TH AND C STREETS NW.)

While drawing upon the structure of the traditional Yom Kippur liturgy, we intend to focus our worship experience with more Chanting, and Reflective Spiritual Exercises; and we will invite other faith traditions to participate during the day, asking them to bring their prayers of atonement.  We will move towards prayers and feelings of At-One-ment with all that is.

This invitation to other people of faith is an acknowledgement that we share a worldview about responsibility to the interwoven life of Earth, even while we understand this commitment may be  rooted in specific teachings that are especially sacred to Judaism, or to Catholicism, or Islam, or to any one tradition.

In that spirit and to make clear our sharing, we have placed on this page, our Home Page, three statements that, out of three different traditions, come to the same conclusions: the full text of the Pope's Laudato Si, the   Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis  now signed by more than 400 rabbis from every stream of Judaism; and the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, set forth by leading Muslim spiritual teachers from around the world.

It is critical that we now act together, entering into shared atonement for what has occurred,  into prayer for the future of all life, and into commitment to act in the spirit of AT-ONE-MENT.

  After the traditional afternoon break in Yom Kippur services we will reconvene and continue our liturgy at 5:00.

We will conclude the Yom Kippur liturgy, as we traditionally do, with the long shofar blast as three stars appear in the sky – a fitting affirmation that our lives are interconnected with the movement of the universe.

At 7:30 Wednesday evening, as Yom Kippur is ending, there will be a multi-faith vigil called to usher in the Pope’s address the next day. At that point, we will welcome others and transition into a multi-faith service.

We will be joined in “breaking our fast” by people of faith who have been fasting for as long as ten days near the White House calling attention to the need to act for the sake of all life.

Please be aware:

Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and it is not appropriate to publicly eat or drink during the day.  Jewish tradition is clear that in cases of serious threats to health, the protection of life transcends even this most solemn fast. If you need to eat or drink during this service, we ask that you do so away from the congregation. Many people will wear white clothing to signify our intention to purify our souls and our lives. You are encouraged to:

Invite friends, family and colleagues who may want to join us for any or part of Yom Kippur. Bring a chair or a cushion, so that you may be more comfortable. Bring food for yourself for the Break Fast. Most important, remember it is a sacred and holy moment in time, in our hearts and spirits – and so we ask that you join us with this awareness.

  Please visit our Facebook page "Yom Kippur 2015 at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC" by clicking to <> and let us know if you will be joining us Share this invitation with your friends and encourage them to come.

Whether you can join us at the Lincoln Memorial or not, if you want to support this and our related work to bring a moral, religious, and spiritual dimension to the active healing of our Earth, please click on the "Donate" button in the left margin of this page.


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Sharing Texts on Climate: "Laudato Si" & Jewish Sages

File Attachment: 

 [Rabbi Daniel Swartz, chair of the board of the Pennsylvania chapter of Interfaith Power & Light, has brought together, in parallel,  passages from Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si with texts pf Jewish teachers across the millennia.  The attachment actually shows the passages  side-by-side. Below, the first passage in each category is from Laudato Si; the second is a Jewish teaching. We join in commending this as a fruitful text for study on Yom Kippur, or the festival days or Shabbat of Sukkot  --  AW, ed.] 

Discussion Guide for Encyclical Text Study -–

Laudato Si and the Jewish Sages: Reflections on Climate Justice”


Overview: The texts in “Laudato Si and the Sages: Reflections on Climate Justice” are designed to spark reflection and action global climate change.  We hope it will help people take a new look at the connections between climate and justice, human responsibility, our role in the world, and what this means to us as people of faith.  While it is especially intended for use on Yom Kippur afternoon study session, it can easily be adapted for many other occasions in synagogues, elsewhere within the Jewish community or in interfaith settings. 

The texts are presented in two formats:  Below, you can find a more complete four page selection, designed for in-depth or multi-session discussions; it can be studied in a larger group setting or in hevruta or small groups. I’ve included some questions here on each topic highlighted by the texts, as well as some summary questions.  It’s a lot of material, so obviously everyone should feel free to pick and choose which texts to cover.  There is also a single page below, which is accompanied by its own questions. It is meant to serve as a ready-made one-hour program, to be led by a professional or lay leader, or even for people to reflect on individually.

The texts in the left column are drawn from passages in Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home, the recent encyclical letter by Pope Francis.  An encyclical letter is a high level written pronouncement issued in the name of a pope, second in authority only to an “Apostolic Constitution.”  Every paragraph in Laudato Si is numbered – the paragraph numbers for these texts are indicated after each text. The paired texts in the right hand column are drawn from a wide variety of Jewish sources, ranging from Tanach to a rabbinic letter written in response to the Pope’s encyclical. 


To help set a reflective tone, you might begin with a song, niggun, or a reading such as this selection from Laudato Si:

Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life. Nature is filled with words of love, but how can we listen to them amid constant noise, interminable and nerve-wracking distractions, or the cult of appearances? Many people today sense a profound imbalance which drives them to frenetic activity and makes them feel busy, in a constant hurry which in turn leads them to ride rough-shod over everything around them. This too affects how they treat the environment. ¶225

To close, the group might read one of the prayers on the fourth page and/or sing Hashiveinu or another appropriate song.

Discussion Questions

Note on the texts used:  The two texts in the left column are drawn from passages in Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home, the recent encyclical letter by Pope Francis.  An encyclical letter is a high level written pronouncement issued in the name of a pope, second in authority only to an “Apostolic Constitution.”  Every paragraph in Laudato Si is numbered – the paragraph numbers for these two texts are indicated after each text.  The first right column text is drawn from Adnei Kesef, a Torah commentary by Joseph ibn Kaspi (1279-1340). The second is an excerpt from a letter, signed by over 400 rabbis, drafted in response to Pope Francis’ call for climate justice.


Our Connection to the Earth: Do you think of the earth as a sister or mother?  Would it make a difference if you did? Do you feel the connection to animals, plants and even “lifeless stone” that ibn Kaspi writes about?  What might make that connection stronger? What relevance might the commandment to let the land rest every 7 and 50 years (note: this is considered to be a 50th year) have today? When you think of “the environment,” do you think of something separate from humans or connected to us?

Climate Justice:  Do these texts make you think differently about the connections between climate change and justice?  Why or why not? What are some ways Jews might connect our traditional efforts to help the poor with work on climate change? Did you know that a letter in support of faith-based efforts to address climate change has been signed by over 400 rabbis?  Did you know there is a similar letter that Muslim leaders have recently published?  Why is climate justice a topic faith communities should address?

Summary Questions: Which text has served as a shofar for you and woken you up?  What actions have you taken or not taken that might call for T’shuvah (repentance, return). Which texts resonated most for you?  What new understandings do you have?

 Next steps:

  • Your congregation/organization can link up across faith traditions through Interfaith Power and Light, which has affiliates in most states. PA IPL produced this document, and it’s hosting its annual conference in Philadelphia on October 25th. For more information on PA IPL, go to and for other states, go to




1) Redefining Progress


There is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means “an increase of ‘pro­gress’ itself”, an advance in “security, usefulness, welfare and vigour” as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from tech­nological and economic power as such. The fact is that our immense tech­nological development has not been accompa­nied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience. …But human beings are not com­pletely autonomous. Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the un­conscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. … Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress. A technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be consid­ered progress. Laudato Si, 105, 194


1) Technological civilization is the product of labor, of our exertion of power for the sake of gain, for the sake of producing goods.  It begins when we, dissatisfied with what is available in nature, become engaged in a struggle with the forces of nature in order to enhance our safety and increase our comfort… How proud we often are of our victories in the war with nature, proud of the multitude of instruments we have succeeded in inventing, of the abundance of commodities we have been able to produce.  Yet our victories have come to resemble defeats.  … To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day on which we stop worshiping the idols of technical civilization, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow humans and the forces of nature – is there any institution that holds out a great hope for our progress than the Sabbath? The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel, pp. 27-28


2) Climate Justice

The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot ad­equately combat environmental degradation un­less we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest”.For example, the depletion of fishing reserves especially hurts small fishing communities without the means to replace those resources; water pollution particu­larly affects the poor who cannot buy bottled wa­ter; and rises in the sea level mainly affect impov­erished coastal populations who have nowhere else to go.   ¶48



2) The unity of justice and Earth-healing is also taught by our experience today: The worsening inequality of wealth, income, and political power has two direct impacts on the climate crisis. On the one hand, great Carbon Corporations not only make their enormous profits from wounding the Earth, but then use these profits to purchase elections and to fund fake science to prevent the public from acting to heal the wounds. On the other hand, the poor in America and around the globe are the first and the worst to suffer from the typhoons, floods, droughts, and diseases brought on by climate chaos.   So we call for a new sense of eco-social justice – a tikkun olam that includes tikkun tevel, the healing of our planet.  We urge those who have been focusing on social justice to address the climate crisis, and those who have been focusing on the climate crisis to address social justice.

-- From the “Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis,” 2015


3) Global Inequity

The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the re­sponsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others. That is why the New Zealand bishops asked what the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” means when “twenty percent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive”. 95



3) Is it not enough for you to graze on choice grazing ground, but you must also trample with your feet what is left from your grazing?  And is it not enough for you to drink clear water, but you must also muddy with your feet what is left?  And must My flock graze on what your feet have trampled and drink what your feet have muddied? Ezekiel 34:18-19


4) Just Solutions

Some strategies for lowering pollutant gas emissions call for the internationalization of en­vironmental costs, which would risk imposing on countries with fewer resources burdensome commitments to reducing emissions comparable to those of the more industrialized countries. Imposing such measures penalizes those coun­tries most in need of development. A further in­justice is perpetrated under the guise of protect­ing the environment. Here also, the poor end up paying the price. Furthermore, since the effects of climate change will be felt for a long time to come, even if stringent measures are taken now, some countries with scarce resources will require assistance in adapting to the effects already being produced, which affect their economies. In this context, there is a need for common and differ­entiated responsibilities. As the bishops of Bo­livia have stated, “the countries which have ben­efited from a high degree of industrialization, at the cost of enormous emissions of greenhouse gases, have a greater responsibility for providing a solution to the problems they have caused.” ¶170

4) When they collect taxes from the people of the city in order to build a protective wall … it is collected according to wealth (ability to pay) and only after it is divided up, they also collect from those closer to the wall, those closer paying more (because they are in greater danger if the wall should fall) And if there is a house close to the wall that does not have money and one far from the wall that does, do not collect from the close one, because it does not have anything. Shulkhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat 163:3


5) Solidarity and the Common Good

We require a new and universal solidarity. As the bishops of Southern Africa have stated: “Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation”. All of us can cooperate as in­struments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.¶14


5) Some people were sitting in a ship.  One of them took a drill and began to bore a hole in the ship under where he was sitting.  His companions said, what are you sitting and doing?  He said, what has it to do with you?  I am boring a hole under my part of the ship.  They said, but the water is coming in and sinking the ship under us. – Leviticus Rabbah 4:5


6) Intergenerational Justice

Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely util­itarian way, in which efficiency and productivi­ty are entirely geared to our individual benefit. Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us. “The environment is part of a logic of re­ceptivity. It is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next”. ¶159



6A) Once, while the sage, Honi, was walking along a road, he saw an old man planting a carob tree.  Honi asked him:  “How many years will it take for this tree to give forth its fruit?”  The man answered that it would require 70 years.  Honi asked:  “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?”  The man answered:  “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me.  So, too, will I plant for my children”.   Talmud Bavli, Ta’anit 23a


6B) “The voice of your brother’s bloods cry out to me.”  Why plural? Because he spilled his brother’s blood and that of all possible descendants. Rashi on Genesis 4:10


7) Our Connection to the Earth

LAUDATO SI, mi SignorePraise be to you, my Lord. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she groans in travail (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. 1-2



7) We are composed of four substances: mineral, vegetable, animal, and human, the categories of created things.  In our pride we foolishly imagine that there is no kinship between us and the rest of the animal world, how much less with plants and minerals.  To eradicate this foolish notion God gave us certain precepts, some concerning minerals, others vegetable, others animal, and others human.  Above all we are bidden to be compassionate to all other human beings: “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Next in order come our relationships with the animals… for this reason, the Torah commanded us to show pity to them, to send away the mother bird.  In a descending scale come the precepts governing the plant world, since they are further removed from us.  We are forbidden to cut down fruit trees and the like.  After this comes the soil and inert matter, which is further removed but still akin to us.  Thus the land itself must be rested every seven years.  To conclude, the Torah inculcates in us a sense of our modesty and lowliness, so that we should be ever cognizant of the fact that we are of the same stuff as the ass and mule, the cabbage and the pomegranate, and even the lifeless stone. Joseph ibn Kaspi on Deuteronomy 22:6-7


8) God’s Love in Creation

Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains – everything is, as it were, a caress of God. The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intensely personal meaning; we all remember places, and revisiting those memories does us much good. Anyone who has grown up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to drink, or played outdoors in the neighbourhood square – going back to these places is a chance to recover something of their true selves. 84


8A) One glorious chain of love, of giving and receiving, unites all creatures; none is by or for itself, but all things exist in continual reciprocal activity -- the one for the All; the All for the One. Third Letter of Ben Uziel, Samson Raphael Hirsch


8B) Master of the universe, grant me the ability to be alone; may it be my custom to go outdoors each day,among the trees and grasses, among all growing things,there to be alone and enter into prayer.There may I express all that is in my heart,talking with God to whom I belong.And may all grasses, trees, and plants awake at my coming.Send the power of their life into my prayer,making whole my heart and my speechthrough the life and spirit of growing things,made whole by their transcendent Source. O that they would enter into my prayer!Then would I fully open my heart in prayer, supplication, and holy speech;then, O God, would I pour out the words of my heart before Your presence.  Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, Likutey Moharan Helek I, 5:2


9) Hope

Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start. 205, 71



9) There is hope for a tree; if it is cut down it will renew itself; its shoots will not cease.  If its roots are old in the earth and its stump dies in the ground, at the scent of water it will bud and produce branches like a sapling. Job 14:7-9

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God,

You are present in the whole universe

and in the smallest of your creatures.

You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.

Pour out upon us the power of your love,

that we may protect life and beauty.

Fill us with peace, that we may live

as brothers and sisters, harming no one.

O God of the poor,

help us to rescue the abandoned

and forgotten of this earth,

so precious in your eyes.

Bring healing to our lives,

that we may protect the world and not prey on it,

that we may sow beauty,

not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts

of those who look only for gain

at the expense of the poor and the earth.

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,

to be filled with awe and contemplation,

to recognize that we are profoundly united

with every creature

as we journey towards your infinite light.

We thank you for being with us each day.

Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle

for justice, love and peace.

-- From the close of Laudato Si



Between the Fires


We are the generation that stands 

between the fires:

Behind us the flame and smoke

that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima,

From the burning forests of the Amazon,

From the hottest years of human history

 that bring upon us

Melted ice fields, Flooded cities, Scorching droughts.

Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,

The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.


Here! we ourselves are coming

Before the great and terrible day

of  smiting Earth —

For we ourselves shall turn the hearts

Of parents to their children

And the hearts of children to their parents

So that this day of smiting

Does not fall upon us.


It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze

But the light in which we see each other fully.

All of us different, All of us bearing

One Spark.

We light these fires to see more clearly

That the Earth and all who live as part of it

Are not for burning.                                             

We light these fires to see more clearly

The rainbow in our many-colored faces.


Blessed is the One within the many.

Blessed are the many who make One.


By Rabbi Arthur Waskow, drawing on traditional midrash about the danger of a Flood of Fire, and on the passage from Malachi 3:20-24



Jewish and Interfaith Topics: