Jewish Leaders Invoke Tisha B'Av in Philadelphia, Respond to Arrests

Jewish Leaders Invoke Tisha B'Av in Philadelphia, Respond to Arrests

This statement was issued Thursday, Tisha B'Av, at a press conference held at the National Museum of American Jewish History (in Philadelphia). For further information call Sara Marcus, 215/545-4844 or 215/925-6791.

Please be sure to see list of signers at the end.


As members and leaders of Jewish communities in Philadelphia and beyond, we feel moved to express grave concern with the city's treatment of RNC protesters. We believe the city is acting with an undue harshness that creates an atmosphere of political intolerance.

We urge the city to heed the protesters' wake-up cries. The people who took to the streets on Tuesday, August 1st, did so out of firm convictions: that the criminal justice system in the United States is cruel and unjust; that it unnecessarily criminalizes hundreds of thousands of people, often on nonviolent drug offenses; that it behaves with disproportionate harshness towards poor people and people of color; that no government has the right to put people to death; and that our society, by warehousing millions of people - more than in any other industrialized nation - has forgotten the rehabilitation process that should be the goal of any criminal justice system.

We regret that a small minority of protesters thought violence would advance their cause. The vast majority of demonstrators, however, were nonviolent, focused, compassionate, and principled, acting with what Rabbi Arthur Waskow has called a "prophetic outcry."

That prophetic outcry has been met with: threats to prosecute legitimate acts of non-violent civil disobedience with maximum penalties; enormous, unprecedented bails that single out supposed leaders for special punishment; brutalization in prison and on the streets at the hands of police; illegitimate search warrants and pre-emptive arrests; and threats of federal criminal investigations against social justice organizers and activists.

Today, Jews observe the fast day Tisha B'Av, which commemorates in grief the destruction of the First and Second Temples and other tragedies in the history of the Jewish people.

Our tradition teaches that the Temples were destroyed thousands of years ago because the Jewish community of the Land of Israel had lost both its sacred connection with the land and its sovereign ability to exercise political power in a just and responsible way.

Another interpretation focuses on the invading forces who destroyed the Temples, on the powers of oppression who moved to crush the Jewish community based on our beliefs and identity.

Either way, the connection with current events in Philadelphia is clear. Whether a call for vigilance against other oppressive powers, or a call to use political power justly, we hear in Tisha B'Av a mandate to speak out against Philadelphia's treatment of the RNC protesters.

A society that will not heed its prophetic voices, a city that imprisons them, silences them, beats them, has already shattered its own deepest holy places. We must continue to call attention to these voices and to decry the forces that would punish them. We urge Philadelphia to realize that voices of dissent - vociferous voices perhaps most of all - are crucial to a just and healthy democracy. Do not persecute them for speaking out.

ENDORSERS (in formation):

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, Temple University
Julie Davids, ACT UP Philadelphia
Rabbi Elisa Goldberg
Cynthia Greenberg, Coordinator, Jewish Social Justice Network, Jewish Fund for Justice, New York, NY
Dr. Joel Hecker, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Sue Hoffman, Associate Director, The Shefa Fund
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, The Shefa Fund and Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
Sara Marcus, R2K Legal Collective
Rabbi Marcia Prager
Rabbi Brian Walt, Mishkan Shalom congregation
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Director, The Shalom Center
Rabbi Elyse Wechterman, Mid-Atlantic Regional Director, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
Alex Volin, Religious Coalition Against the Death Penalty
Laurie Zimmerman, student, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

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