Rabbi Arthur Waskow 09/09/2001
TEN QUESTIONS ON TIKKUN OLAM OF THE FUTURE************************
I have been mulling over and trying to crystallize some new ways of looking at tikkun olam -- Jewish action to heal the world -- that I think I have learned in the past year.
I have many more questions than answers, and even my "answers" I feel are tentative. I would be delighted to have a dialogue amongst us on these thoughts. I see them as starting hypotheses only, and welcome other perceptions.
With love in the ongoing Wrestle, Arthur(Rabbi Arthur Waskow)
Key labels for what I see: TEN QUESTIONS.
1) IS A NEW GENERATION OF JEWISH PROGRESSIVES EMERGINGIN SEPARATE NETWORKS FOR "SEPARATE" ISSUES?
2) WHAT CONNECTIONS DO WE SEE BETWEEN THE ISSUES?
3) DO WE SEE "OPPRESSION" CHIEFLY AS ECONOMIC-POLITICAL, OR ALSO AS SPIRITUAL/ CULTURAL?
4) IS "FREE TIME/ FREE PEOPLE" A JEWISH-ROOTED POLITICAL DEMAND THAT CONNECTS WITH EVERYONE???
5) WHAT ABOUT THE GLOBAL CORPORATIONS?
6) CAN THERE BE A PROGRESSIVE JUDAISM FOR AFFLUENT JEWISH COMMUNITIES?
7) SHOULD WE ORGANIZE TRANSNATIONALLY?
8) SHOULD WE ORGANIZE A MOSHAV/ CO-HOUSING COMMUNITY COMMITTED TO A PROGRESSIVE/RENEWAL/ ACTIVIST JEWISH LIFE-PATH?
9) WHERE IS OUR THEORY OF HISTORY?
10) HOW / WHERE DO WE DISCUSS THESE ISSUES, RELATING OUR REAL LIVES TO THEORY AND PRACTICE?
1. At least to my sniffing the wind, there is energy simmering, occasionally coming to a boil, for a new generation of progressive Jewish activists. Kol hakavod, and Baruch Hashem! (All honor to the activists, and Thanks to God!)
I think there are FOUR NETWORKS or clusters of these progressive Jewish activists, MOSTLY SEPARATE from each other: (a) economic/racial justice activists, (b) feminists especially concerned with gender equality and gay rights; (c) Middle-East peace activists, and (d) eco-Jewish environmental activists.
The Shalom Center is interested in and involved in all four of these areas, so I have some sense of what is going on in each of them. But there is no organizational framework that holds them together. (I think we are far from its birth, but may that be all the more reason to begin to imagine what such a thing might look like? See below, point 8. )
2. Not only is there little organizational connection, there is barely an common worldview that holds the four issue-clusters together. The nearest to an explicit outlook or assumption or theory about Judaism that holds these together is an extension of an often-repeated line of Torah: -- "Since we were underdogs in the Land of Egypt, Rome, Germany, etc -- Love & defend the underdog!" -- as an inheritance from the Exodus and/or from our experience as outsiders and victims in most cultures of the last 1800 years.
In the four areas, this means: Defend the poor and people of color; Defend women and gay people who have been victimized by patriarchy; Defend Palestinians as victims of Israel; Defend the wounded earth.
Granted, this summary is something of a caricature. There is also a nascent sense of spiritual connection of all human cultures and/or all species and eco-habitats, a sharing of the Image of God, which sometimes comes through among activists in these areas.
Especially in the Israeli-Palestinian case (perhaps because the more powerful party is "us," so that pro-underdog energy is problematic, there is a concern for the shared fate of both peoples and more of a desire for reconciliation rather than revolution. In gender issues and earth-human issues, this is also a strand of the existing activism.
If the first strand is rooted in Exodus, the second is rooted in Genesis, where first there is a power-reversal -- the younger siblings become "first-borns" -- and then there is a sibling reconciliation.
3. Except maybe for the eco-Jewish care for the earth, these four outlooks seem mostly NOT to have defined "oppression" in terms of the shattering or damaging of communities and/ or spirituality or what Michael Lerner calls "meaning." To most current Jewish activists, oppression seems to mean economic or political victimization by class, race, or gender. Cultural communal, or personal-spiritual deprivation seems to be left for individual solutions: Pray, meditate, sing.
Many (not all) of the new meditators/ pray-ers, singers, etc of Jewish renewal reciprocate this pattern: They affirm individual peacefulness without concern for tikkun olam.
4. It seems to me very important to rethink these questions. The two teachings about Shabbat in Exodus & Deuteronomy -- one that it is about the cosmic processes of Creation, the other that it is about the political liberation from slavery -- seems almost a perfect model for how we should we thinking about a Jewish wisdom for our generation. Even Eco-Jewish activists have not (it seeems to me) fully internalized and unfolded the meaning of this approach.
For me, the question of FREE TIME as a political issue is an important part of tikkun olam. FREE TIME for FREE PEOPLE -- not just more time for TV and Acapulco vacations, but "FREEING" time -- time that helps people become freer and deeper human beings, helps them connect lovingly with their families, their neighborhoods, and their own neshamas (souls).
This issue cuts across "official" class lines. The low-paid hard-driven McDonald's worker and the high-paid hard-driven brain surgeon both feel they have lost control of their time, their lives, their feelings, their loving, their being.
So might it be possible to build new coalitions by addressing this issue -- Time? And by drawing on (not getting stuck in) the tradition of Shabbat, sabbatical year, Jubilee, our festival cycle, to do so?
5. At this moment in history, the COMMON barrier to social justice AND spiritual renewal AND the earth-web of life is the GLOBAL CORPORATION and economic globalism. Its search for maximum short-term profit smashes small cultures, wrecks regional economies, destroys habitats and species, eats up all the time that could be used for spiritual renewal and grass-roots volunteer democratic participation, and endangers the earth-web itself.
Yet very little Jewish activism has started to address this as an across-the board institutional question. People have criticized specific corporations like Maxxam & some of the sweatshoppy Garment-Industry businesses, but except for Lerner's "Social Responsibility Initiative" and "Social Responsibility Amendment," we have taken little thought on how to address this.
There are several ways to do so -- some more confrontational, some less.
Those individuals and Jewish organizations that own shares in various corporations could use them to join in stockholders' campaigns. There could be Jewish consumer campaigns -- boycotting companies that behave badly and "girlcotting" (deliberately and proactively buying from) good companies. There could be campaigns to establish more effective governmental controls over corporate action, either specific or broad (as in Lerner's Social Responsibility proposals).
6. Many American Jews are now not just comfortable but affluent; a large & increasing number are really wealthy; and a small but unprecedented number are Super-Rich -- owning or controlling billions of dollars.
The whole 1800-hundred-year history & worldview of Rabbinic Judaism is built on being outsiders. We have not yet thought through what an Affluent Progressive Judaism is. Can there be one?
If there can, can some of the stockholders in those global corporations exercise their power for progressive ends? Thru supporting government control of corporate behavior? Thru the use of their own ownership power? Can consumer power be used in new ways? What would "eco/ethico-Kosher" practice in buying and consuming be like if large parts of the Jewish community used its purchsing power this way in an organized, focused way --- a coherent "boycott" and "proactive-buying" campaign? How does this new affluence link up with the "Free Time/ Free People" issue for people who are not desperately poor in money but feel very pressed for time?
7. Are Jews in US, Israel, Russia, Ukraine, France, UK, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, & Australia facing utterly different problems and futures?
Is the Trans-Israel Highway the same issue (in terms of its impact on earth & communities, as well as its origins in global corporate investment) as the logging of the Redwoods & the poisoning of the Hudson and the reactor at Cherrnobyl and the threat of Y2K etc etc? Is the problem of sweatshops in Jewish-owned garment factories where most of the workers are people of color, either in US or Third World countries -- similar to the issue of Israeli behavior toward Palestinians? More broadly, does it represent the problem of how to bring about responsible behavior in Jews who are not poor and underdogs, toward people who are. Are the issues of feminism -- either transcending the Jewish patriarchy within Torah, etc., or the general patriarchy -- different for Jews in different countries? How different?
If we were going to begin imagining a new Jewish progressive organization, should it be TRANSNATIONAL from the start?
If we are -- facing an aggressive global corporatism that shatters cultures, communities, regional economies, spiritual searching, biological species, and local/ regional eco-systems & habitats as a byproduct of its drive to maximize profits; and if on the other hand we have the benefit of the Internet, airplanes, etc etc., should we take seriously the historical fact that we are a Transnational people and try to organize progressive Jews that way?
There are some rudiments of transnational organizing, especially among Jewish Mid-East peaceniks in Israel, Europe, & America; but not on the other issues.
Whether or not transnational organizing seems a good direction, what kind of Jewish progressive organization might we imagine? A loose network of local groups & individuals, or a conventional membership organization? Where would the money come from -- both to start & to continue? Open to all religious/ spiritual/ secular views & paths, or committed to a religious or to a secular path? If either, is there commitment to equality of women and men, full participation of gays, eco-kosher daily practice, new forms of God-languagge etc in prayer? Etc etc.
8. On the other hand (but not necessarily contradictory, any more than two hands are), would it make sense to organize a JEWISH-RENEWAL MOSHAV/CO-HOUSING COMMUNITY to meet direct human needs in a down-to-earth progressive way?
One of the reasons (it seems to me) that Orthodox communities are growing despite their restorationist/ retrogressive life-paths when it comes to the roles of women, the exclusion of gay people, hostility toward other spiritual paths, and discomfort with converts, is that Orthodox communities often meet real earthy needs in the realms of food, work, money, child-rearing, sex, etc etc.
A "Renewal Monsey" would perforce -- simply because people would be living in close relationship with each other -- explore the implications of a new halakha committed to full equality for women, stronger caring for the earth, etc etc . Through actual practice, we would be able to test out and improve on many notions of a progressive Judaism that up till now have lived in the realm of dreams alone.
There is some risk that such a community might withdraw to some extent from broader social concerns at the political level, even while it is dealing with them in its own life. But such a risk could be minimized by agreeing ahead of time that part of the task of the community is to keep raising broader systemic and societal questions and taking action in the broader world.
Indeed, there is also a possibility that efforts at social change that now seem overwhelming for lonely individuals or households would be much more easily shouldered by a co-housing community.
9. Where is our underlying theory of the history that has brought us to a place where --
the Jews get Holocausted and then win unprecedented wealth & power, Jewish renewal and the possibility of a non-rabbinic Holistic Judaism emerges, the planet gets globalized, H-Bombs proliferate, so does the Internet, women become more and more nearly equal, face-to-face cultures and communities get shattered, and the planet faces Global Scorching?
Is our historical theory some variant of Marxism? Some variant of Torah, like for example Luria's and/ or Teilhard de Chardin's theories of history?
(In these theories, the evolution of the universe, including but not limited to human history, is itself an aspect of God working within the world. This process happens in jumps and discontinuities, some of which are leaps into greater control of the surrounding environment (both "nature" and "humanity") and some, leaps into deeper and broader loving community. From this perspective, what we are living through today is the crisis created in many life-areas by the great leap in control-ability called the Modern Age, and what we are now doing is expressing the God-surge into deeper and broader community.)
Or have we given up on any theory of history? If so, how do we understand Who, What, When we are?
10. How do we get together to DISCUSS THESE QUESTIONS IN TERMS OF THE REALITIES OF OUR LIVES, NOT VAGUE GENERALIZATIONS AND AIRY THEORY? By Email? By physical gatherings? If the latter, how do we plan such a gathering? Could it be regional? Transnational?
Are these useful questions and hypotheses?