Shofetim

Arrested! While Blocking ICE in Philadelphia

This past Wednesday, my beloved fellow-rabbi and life-partner Phyllis Berman and I were arrested, along with two other people, while blocking the entrance to the ICE offices in Philadelphia. We were arrested by the Federal Dept of Homeland Security police, not the Philadelphia police -- and were each harged with two Federal offenses (with whopping fines if we don’t stand trial and the possibility of prison time if we do). 

My "Torah Talk" for Presidents Day Protest -- NOT DIctators Day

On Presidents Day I spoke to a crowd gathered at the City Hall of Philadelphia to protest the “Fake Emergency” proclaimed by Donald Trump to enable him to bypass Congress’ refusal to appropriate money to build a Wall and further militarize our Southern border. The protest was live-streamed, and the recording is at --

https://www.facebook.com/jemjason.corraggio/videos/2388797751344077/?notif_id=1550509702151643&notif_t=feedback_reaction_generic

 My own speech begins exactly one hour into the recording -- !:00:00 --  and lasts till 1:12:00.

 Since various other sounds partially intrude, I have included, below, the text I used. I skipped a few parts of my text and ad-libbed occasionally beyond it. I hope you will take the time to see and listen live.

 With blessings to you and to us all of the strength and perseverance to stand tall for democracy, for justice and compassion, against all their enemies  --  Arthur

 [Photo by Rabbi Mordechai Liebling]

Why am I here today? [I ad-libbed some remarks about the Passover Seder as both a commemoration of ancient struggles against a tyrant, Pharaoh, and at its best an activist teaching and reaching toward future transformation: for example, what it means for The Shalom Center to be sponsoring a pre-Passover Seder in which Rev. William Barber of the Poor Peoples Campaign will be one of the leaders. I moved  from that holy time of challenging tyrants into ---]

And I am here today because this too is a holy day – a holy day in the American calendar. Today is Presidents Day. Not Dictators Day. Not King George III’s Day. This holy day is known as Presidents Day in honor originally of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and more recently to honor all the honorable Presidents of the United States. And when necessary, as it is today, to challenge a dishonorable President.

What does it mean to be a US President, not a king or a dictator? It means to live in and under the Constitution of the United States.  It means you swear an Oath to “preserve, protect, and defend  the Constitution of the United States.” Not even to defend the physical safety of the United States, but its moral and spiritual and political Truth -- the CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES. Imperfect, evolving – toward democracy, not away from it.

And that includes --

  “Article. I. Section. 8. ... No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law  --  by Congress.”

No President can take our tax money to use any way he feels like, for something that Congress refuses. This teaching – We the People have no Dictator, no King – goes deep not just into our Constitution but into the moral fabric that preceded it by about 2500 years.  Even when people chose kings, the Bible taught that even a king, especially a king, must have his powers limited.

Deuteronomy 17:14-19 

“If you say, “I will set over me a king like all the nations round about us,  you may set, yes, set over you a king – one that YHWH [Yahhh – the Breathing Spirit pf the World ] your God chooses.... 

Only: He is not to multiply cavalry [the jet bombers and H-bombs of that day] for himself, or make the people return to the Tight and Narrow Place [of slavery] in order to multiply his cavalry, since YHWH [Yahhh – the Breath of Life]  has said to you, ‘You will never return that way again!’

“And he is not to multiply sexual partners for himself, lest his heart be turned aside. And silver and gold he must not multiply for himself.  

“But it shall be when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself with his own hand, a copy of this Teaching in a scroll.  [He shall write it sitting] face to face with priests of the tribe of Levi. It is to remain beside him, and he is to read out of it every day of his life, so that he may learn to have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life]  his God and to be fully caring for all the words of this Teaching and these laws, to observe them, so that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”

I do not want to make the Bible into American law. God forbid!! Truly, God forbid! I do want to learn from that last line --- the moral and spiritual line about the danger that kings will lift their hearts above their community, not turn their hearts toward their community.  That warning is at the heart of all the political rules that aim toward democracy.  For us as well. 

 The only emergency Mr. Trump has proclaimed is his own desperate raw emotional and political need to subjugate everyone who will not bow down to him. He kidnaps children from their families, he brings wildfires and hurricanes and famines on all living beings. He is doing exactly what the Bible forbids: “that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”

[Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY]

In our country, We the People – the whole People  --  are the “priests of the tribe of Levi.” We ALL breathe the Breath of Life. We –- along with all the life-forms of our planet, the life-forms that this President is radically endangering. We demand that this President obey our Constitution.

And more!  Mr. Trump, we demand that you stop lifting up your heart in contempt and arrogance and cruelty above and against your people, all peoples, and all life; and turn your heart instead toward justice and compassion.

 Or ==  Mr. Trump, if you will not, cannot, turn your  heart to justice and compassion, if you cannot turn your heart to being worthy of this Presidents Day, leave. Leave the Presidency you are trying to make into a personal dictatorship.

You are not our King.  We have no King!  [Crowd joins in: “We have no King!  We have no King!  We have no King!’] And if Congress will not stop you, We the People must. We here, everywhere in America today, meeting at Noon in every time zone from Philadelphia to Hawaii, must stop you.  

Will stop you.

For we have no king!


 

TRUMP: Kings and Presidents, the Bible & the Constitution

Tomorrow (February 18) is Presidents Day. Not Dictators Day. Not King George III’s Day. The holy day is known as Presidents Day in honor originally of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and more recently to honor all the honorable Presidents of the United States. And when necessary, to challenge a dishonorable President.

Throughout the United States, at Noon local time tomorrow, Monday, February 18, there will be solemn rallies of protest against the so-called “National Emergency” just proclaimed by Mr. Trump.

You can find a rally near you by clicking here

https://www.crisisresponse.us/event/crisis-response/search/?source=dailykos&link_id=1&can_id=ec320de8eee4a92ec3d9eb18c7b84a60&email_referrer=email_496350&email_subject=there-is-an-event-in-or-near-city-default-your-town-on-monday-february-18

and plugging in your zip code.

The Shalom Center has endorsed the national wave of protests, and I will be speaking at the one in Philadelphia. It will gather at NOON Monday at SOUTH SIDE of City Hall.   

We the People chose to bind our President by a Constitution. Here is what that means:

 CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES

 Article. I. Section. 1. All legislative Powers herein granted

shall be vested in a Congress of the United States,

which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

  Article. I. Section. 8. ... No money shall be drawn from the Treasury,

but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law

 Article II. Section 1:  He [The President] shall ... take the following Oath or Affirmation: --

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute

the Office of President of the United States,

and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend

the Constitution of the United States.

This teaching – We the People have no Dictator, no King – goes deep not just into our Constitution but into the moral fabric that preceded it by about 2500 years.  Even when people chose kings, the Bible taught that even a king, especially a king, must have his powers limited.

Deuteronomy 17:14-19

When you enter the land that YHWH  [Yahhh, the Interbreathing spirit of all Life]  your God is giving you, and you possess it and settle in it, should you say, “I will set over me a king like all the nations around us,”  you may set, yes, set over you a king that YHWH [Yahhh] your God chooses....

“Only: He is not to multiply cavalry for himself or make the people return to the Tight and Narrow Place [of slavery] in order to multiply his cavalry, since YHWH [Yahhh] has said to you, “You will never return that way again!” And he is not to multiply wives for himself, lest his heart be turned aside. And silver and gold he must not multiply for himself.  

“But it shall be when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself a copy of this Teaching in a scroll, face to face with priests of the tribe of Levi. It is to remain beside him, and he is to read out of it every day of his life, so that he may learn to have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life]  his God and to be fully caring for all the words of this Teaching and these laws, to observe them, so that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”

            [Translation by Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses (Schocken Books, 1995), with a few  modifications by Rabbi Arthur Waskow]

That last line about the danger that kings will lift their hearts above their community, not turn their hearts toward their community, is at the heart of all the political rules.  For us as well.

Back to the "political": No previous invocation of a "national emergency" has purported to usurp the sole power of Congress, by “withdrawing from the Treasury” money that has NOT been drawn “in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”

Moreover, in the very proclamation of this “emergency,” Mr. Trump said, “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster. I just want to get it done faster, that’s all.”

 That's the very definition of a non-emergency –-- except to meet the raw emotional and political needs of the proclaimer to subjugate everyone who will not bow to him. He kidnaps children from their families, he brings wildfires and hurricanes and famines on all living beings. Doing exactly what the Bible forbade: “that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”

In our country, We the People – the whole People  --  are the “priests of the tribe of Levi.” We ALL  breathe the Breath of Life. We –- along with all the life-forms of our planet, the life-forms that this President is radically endangering. We demand that this President obey our Constitution.

We demand that he stop lifting up his heart in contempt and arrogance above and against his people, all peoples, and all life; and turn his heart instead toward justice and compassion. Or leave.

What does Torah teach about Judge Kavanaugh?

 Are you surprised to hear that President Trump and Judge Kavanaugh, his nominee for a lifetime post on the Supreme Court, might appear in a text that is about 2500 years old?

Read Deuteronomy Chapter 17: 14-20 --  a section often called Perek HaMelekh, “Passage on the King.”

The passage is worried about the possibility that an Israelite king might turn himself into a tyrant, like Pharaoh.

So it  starts out by setting limits on the power and behavior of a king, and then it tries to create a way of enforcing these limits. .

The king must not act haughtily toward the people – that is, with contempt.

The king may not multiply gold and silver for himself.

The king may not multiply wives/ women for himself.

The king may not multiply horses. (Horse chariots were the jet bombers of the day, weapons for an aggressive imperial army like that of Egypt’s Pharaoh). 

What’s more, the king may not send the people back into Mitzrayyim (the Tight and Narrow Place, which in Hebrew is the name of Egypt) to buy horses for himself. (That is, he may not oppress the people by imposing taxes or forced service so he can pay for an oppressive army).  

And the king must every day of his life read --  under supervision by the levitical priests --  the Torah passages that restricted his powers and protected the poor. 

 Under priestly supervisionahhh, that is what the Torah hoped would keep him under control. For the Kohanim, the priests, members of the Tribe of Levi, were utterly independent of the king. They had religious power to come close to God, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh -- the Interbreathing Spirit of the world. The Breath of Life.

They were not appointed by the king. They were not members of the king’s family. Not even of his tribe, since they were descendants of Levi, like Moses and Aaron and Miriam, and the kings were descendants of David, of the tribe of Benjamin.

 When the heirs of the Maccabees, the Hasmonean kings, broke this ancient Constitution by merging the priesthood and the kingship, they turned out to be terrible kings. Among other things, they sold out Israelite independence to a foreign power --  Rome.

Why does all this matter? So Torah seeks to limit the power of a king, as do the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. Why does this matter to us today?

Because it embodies wisdom that speaks through centuries and millennia  --  not just about a single generation’s crises, fears, desires. It is a wisdom that our culture today often, though not always, seeks to learn from  -- precisely because it embodies what has lasted.

Surely that wisdom, like the US Declaration and Constitution, was flawed. The Bible, for example,  assumes and often seems to endorse the subjugation of women. (In how the furthest reaches of the Bible see the great arc of the human future, not so; but that is another exploration.)  So did the original US framing documents, as well as the subjugation of Blacks.

Yet some wisdom even deeper has kept moving the adherents of both sets of framing Teachings to keep trying to move beyond those subjugations to a fuller sense of human dignity. What we call the “spirituality” of the Bible is a distillation of a wise relationship of a small tribe to all that is greater than itself – to the great round Earth, to the other cultures (“strangers”), to its own future, its great-grandchildren, to the over-arching Mystery of how we came into physical, biological, and cultural existence in the first place.

So it behooves us in our perilous present moment to recall that the Bible was and is worried about the concentration of power in a single human’s hands.

All right. Let us look with eyes wide open at our present.

We have an elected king who speaks of his own people – Blacks, Latinos,  the free and independent-minded press, Muslims, women with contempt (“haughtiness above his kinfolk”).  

Who speaks and sometimes acts toward women as mere objects of his own pleasure (“multiplying wives”).

Who has used his own power before and since becoming “king” to cheat workers and contractors, to make secret deals,  to hide his finances from the public (“multiplying gold and silver for himself”).

Who threatens other nations with ”fire and fury” and who seeks a trillion dollars to “modernize” a nuclear arsenal that can already destroy all life on Earth several times over, and who is planning to erase the bright line between nuclear and other weapons by producing “small” nuclear weapons for battlefield use (“multiplying horses for his army”).

And who now seeks to appoint to the Supreme Court – our nearest effort at inventing the independent check of the Levitical priesthood --  a man whose previous record indicates willingness to support the “king’s” hostility to women’s rights, to workers’ rights, to efforts to heal the Earth.

Whose previous record suggests support for such egregious misuses of kingly powers as the use of torture. A man who is opposed to even the limited possibility of subpoenaing the “king” to testify under oath.

All this while the “king” himself is already under very serious clouds of possible violations of the Constitution and the laws. And when his appointee, if confirmed, would probably be a crucial weigh-in for how this sacred body of the Court would vote.

So for all these reasons, I urge you, all members and readers of The Shalom Center, and all your friends, to call 1202-224-3121. To ask for your Senators and Congressmember.

What could they do? They could oppose with every nonviolent means the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh. They could, for example, use legitimate parliamentary rules to hold all Congressional decision-making in suspense  until the Senate Judiciary Committee tables the nomination. They could demand roll-call votes on “ordinary” business instead of giving unanimous consent. The future of our Constitution and our freedom is at stake; this is no time for “ordinary” measures.  

Demanding this kind of action is not just “politics.” It upholds what the Bible itself taught was and is a crucial part of the spiritual health of a community committed to human dignity.

Call 1202-224-3121.

With blessings of joyful action in this coming new year, this Time of Transformation,  for the sake of human dignity – Arthur

How Clergy & Congregations can Respond to the 2016 Election:

FACT: This election campaign raises some of the most profound spiritual issues in our history.

WORRY: Some clergy and some congregational lay leaders worry about what a tax-exempt group (501c3) can and can’t do, both legally and to preserve comradeship among the members.

FACT: only actual endorsement or opposition to a specific candidate or party is totally forbidden to a 501c3.  These are ten suggestions for legitimate actions. (For 3 to 10, click on the "Read More" line on the website):

  1. Getting out the vote in November will be very important, and is totally legal for synagogue, church, or mosque to sponsor. That could be strengthened by asking your congregation’s spiritual leader to give sermons – e.g. on Rosh Hashanah/ Yom Kippur  --  or earlier, depending on the registration deadlines in your own state  --  urging congregants to register, and to urge their children of voting age to register.
  2. To help make voter registration communal, not competitive, you might arrange a festive congregational potluck where the congregation provides, collects, and submits voter-registration forms, along with songs and food.

July 4, 2016: Independence Now! from Corporate Domination

13-star flag of American Revolution

 For many Americans, the 13-starred Flag of the American Revolution continues to  symbolize resistance to tyranny.. Below you will find a new “Declaration of Independence from Corporate Domination.” We recommend it for study and as several of its paragraphs say, for action – during the days before, on, and after the Fourth of July.  

We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men and women are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights: That among these are –

  • life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the sharing of Beloved Community throughout our planet;
  • a life-sustaining share of the Earth’s abundance;
  • honorable jobs with living wages and income, based on livable hours;
  • a rhythm of work and rest that frees time for family, neighborhood, citizenly service, and the spirit;
  • democratic elections and legislatures not controlled by wealth
  • peace among all peoples;
  • and responsible relationships embodying, healing, and upholding the sacred web of life upon this planet.

We affirm that governments, corporations, and other institutions are founded solely to secure these rights and uphold these responsibilities, deriving their just powers from the consent of those they govern and whose lives they shape.

We affirm that at the present time, the power of large corporations - especially those in banking, the military-industrial complex, health care, and fossil fuels – is dominating many branches and aspects of the American government and deeply damaging both American democracy and the American future.

We affirm that to redress these wrongs, it is incumbent upon the people to undertake nonviolent action through elections, lobbying, free speech and a free press, strikes, purchasing campaigns, sit-ins, teach-ins, rallies, and vigils;

And therefore we demand: 1.  Actual full employment with a living income for all on the basis of a 32-hour work week 2.  Universal health care on the model of Medicare for all 3.  Strong laws to prevent global climate disaster and swiftly move the US and world economies from fossil-fuel dependence to renewable energy; such laws to include capping greenhouse-gas emissions and placing a rising tax on the production and emission of carbon dioxide and methane, with the income to be divided among

Torah, World Politics, & Iran

How does the American Jewish community make a decision on an issue that is crucial to our own future and the fate of the world around us -- like the decision that faces us now about making sure that Iran adheres to its own claim that it does not intend to produce nuclear weapons?

 To bring a specifically Jewish wisdom to this process, we could draw on the deep, ancient, and evolving wisdom of Torah, reading it anew in the light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves today.

 The passage of Torah that leaps out as most relevant is Deuteronomy  20:10-11. It teaches that if and when we besiege a city (which is what the sanctions against Iran have been), we must proclaim SHALOM to it, and if it then agrees to decent terms that meet our conditions and fulfill our crucial needs, we must make sure it adheres to them and we must end the siege.

That is what the proposed agreement with Iran does.

It does this by requiring Iran to abandon all the physical objects and scientific processes that could lead to nuclear weapons, and to subject itself to unprecedented intrusive inspections to make sure it is adhering to that regimen. It makes sure that if Iran’s government were to change its mind, decide to go nuclear, and expel inspectors, the world would have at least a year to take action before Iran could make a nuclear weapon.

[See the point-by-point analysis of the agreement by clicking to   <https://theshalomcenter.org/content/iran-agreement-facts-point-point>]

 

Yet we must test the Torah teaching against our present situation. In this case, what is an alternative approach that would make sure Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons?

The same Torah passage that counsels proclaiming Shalom to a besieged city and bending it to our own will sees that the alternative to agreement would be an utterly destructive war.

And in our present situation, that expectation seems correct.  If the Congress were to torpedo this agreement, the world-wide regimen of sanctions against Iran would almost certainly

HaAretz article on Iran agreement & The Shalom Center

By | Haaretz  Jul. 15, 2015 | 3:52 PM

No U.S. Jewish consensus on Iran deal - yet

         

NEW YORK – It was the summer of 1946 when the first anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima coincided with Tisha B’Av, the annual Jewish commemoration of Jerusalem’s destruction. Arthur Waskow was a boy of 12 editing his camp newspaper when he wrote, “it is totally clear that we have to put an end to war.”

Seven decades later nuclear disarmament remains one of Waskow’s primary concerns. So for Waskow, now a rabbi and director of the Shalom Center, a Philadelphia-based progressive Jewish think tank, the announcement of an agreement signed between Iran, the United States and European governments was a welcome development.

“This is a perfect case of what the Torah teaches: ‘when you besiege a city,’ which is what the sanctions are, ‘proclaim shalom to it and see if the city will meet your conditions for peace making.’ If they agree, you stop the siege and you’re at peace with the city,” Waskow told Haaretz, citing Deuteronomy.

The Shalom Center was born in 1983, in fact, to add a Jewish voice to the religious conversation about the nuclear arms race after American Catholic bishops published a pastoral letter on the subject.

Breaking News --Iran, Tisha B'Av, Hiroshima, &Temple Earth

Thus Summer, We Face Deep Decisions of  Spirit in Society 

Dear members and friends of The Shalom Center,

First  -- A last-minute addition to this letter: I have just this morning  (July 14) been on the phone with a reporter for Haaretz, the leading Israeli newspapaer, interviewing me about my response to the agreement just achieved between Iran and the world's great powers, including the US, for tough, intrusive, and inclusive inspections to make sure that the world knows as fact what Iran has long claimed: that it will not take possesion of nuclear weapons.

[See a copy of the article on our Website at https://theshalomcenter.org/content/haaretz-article-iran-agreement-shalom-center, with photos, etc, on the Haaretz website at http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-news/.premium-1.666129. To see it on the Haaretz website,  you may have to register as a reader.]

In the interview,  I quoted the Torah (Deut 20:10-11) that says if you besiege a city (which is what the sanctions have been), proclaim SHALOM to it, and if it then agrees to decent terms that meet your conditions and fulfill your crucial needs, make sure it adheres to them and end the siege.

That is what this agreement does.

The Israeli and Saudi governments have denouncd the new agreement. They are profoundly mistaken. There will be attempts by some Members of Congress -- with support from a few "official" Jewish organizations -- to torpedo the agreement. They too are profoundly mistaken.

I understand how it is easy for the Israeli Jewish community, for whom the Holocaust is a constant nightmare in the constant present, to be consumed by fear when an increasingly right-wing government appeals to that fear to increase its own power (as PM. Netanyahu did just before the election). But neither Israel nor the world-wide Jewish people is powerless, a helpless victim, in this generation.

And the great majority of actual flesh-and-blood American Jews know this, and support the agreement with Iran.

Protection of the State of Israel from possible nuclear attack is one major concern of the American Jewish community. And most of the comunity knows that there are only two ways of making sure that Iran lives up to its stated intention not to possess nuclear weapons: to affirm the new agreement with its extraordinarily tough inspections, or to undertake a military attack on Iran.

Such an attack might win a momentary victory. But Iran's government  would then seek nuclear weaponry to deter future attacks. Only a continuing, probably permanent, occupation — constantly harassed by guerrilla warfare from a furious and united Iranian people — could prevent their government’s achieving a nuclear arsenal. Such a war would be far worse for the US, Israel, and the whole Middle East than the Iraq War was.”

Yet those who lied us into the Iraq war are pursuing the same disastrous path now. And this time the disaster would be even greater. A foreign-affairs disaster for the US, a domestic American disaster to meeting crucial civilan needs, disastrous deaths for soldiers and civilians in many nations, an ethical and moral disaster.

I urge all our members and readers to call and write your Members of Congress and Senators now, urging them to support the new agreement. I encourage us all to make clear the religious roots of our commitment, and the importance of this decision.

Below you will find

Electing Our Leaders Today: The Torah of our Choosing

You may set, yes, set over you some to hold office
Who are aware that the Breath of Life is
One,
Uniting all, breathing into life all God’s Crea
tion.
You may not give power to those so ali
enated
As not to feel that you are kin t
ot
hem.

Indeed! —  the officials whom y
ou choose
must not multiply the horses of
a cavalry,
a standing army to invade other nations and oppre
ss your own;

Your choice must not retur
n the people
to living in a Tight and Narrow Place – th
at’s slavery!
For the Breath of Life ha
s said to you:
You must not return you
rself or others
to ignorance, to poverty, to subservienc
e, or despair-
all slavery!

The ones you choose must not become addicted to
sexual obsessions,
Or to taking bribes or fav
ors from the wealthy
For in these ways their hearts
will be turned aside
From
wisdom and compassion.
 
But it shall be when they sit in the h
alls and seats of power,
They are to clarify their understand
ing of Most Sacred Wisdom
And face the caring
public; share their vision
in
ways that could with honor
face the wis
dom of our wisest forebears,
prophets and holy teachers,
andso be worthy of our trust.

  Their un
derstanding of the Sacred Wisdom
is to remain beside them,
to read it and
rewrite it as each day, each dawn,
Brings new knowle
dge and new insight to our lives —
To make ce
rtain that the rulers whom we choose
Will remain s
teadfast in knowing that all Creation
deserves
, demands, our wonder and our healing,
so that their hearts not
rise in arrogance above their kinfo
lk,
all Earth and all her life-forms –
that they
no
t turn-aside from what connects us all.


Only in this way can we prolong our days
among all peoples
, all life-forms —
we and all our children!

[A midrashic interpretation of Deuteronomy 17: 14-20]


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