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Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

Israel Bike Ride 2010 – We’re over the minimum

Posted by rabbiart on August 20, 2010


Thanks to all the contributors listed by name in the left hand column, and a few contributors who prefer to remain anonymous, I’ve met the minimum fund-raising amount of 100 x Chai, or $3600.00. Stay tuned for more exciting reports as the trip approaches, and daily posts about the ride once it begins. You’ve all contributed to breaking down the walls of hate and building bridges of friendship.

Consider these few sentences from one of the Jordanian alumni of the Arava Institute.

“I was born and raised by Palestinian parents in Amman, Jordan. My parents moved from Hebron to Jordan in 1956 before the six day war in 1967, and after the war they had no choice but to become citizens of a country where they did not belong. …I had never met a Jew before I started my studies in Israel. Before I arrived at the Arava Institute I had the impression that all Israelis were the enemy of the Arab. I quickly realized that many of these preconceptions were wrong….In addition to my involvement in the Arava Institute, I was a participant in the Camp Towanga Peace Makers Camp in the summer of 2006 and 2007 in California.. The camp gave me tools to strengthen my position as peacemaker and leader in the Arava Institute.
In my opinion, dealing with the Arab Israeli conflict through environmental lines will have the greatest positive impact on the conflict.”
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וַיִּגַּשׁ – Christmas Day, 2009

Posted by rabbiart on December 25, 2009

It might seem strange to be writing or reading a Torah commentary with the word “Christmas” in the title. During the Jewish sojourn in Europe and Russia over the last millenium, Christmas was the one day of the year that many Jewish communities abstained from studying Torah. Not in observance of Christmas, but for reasons of pikuach nefesh. Attacks on Jews were sometimes commonplace on Christmas, as marauders swept through Jewish settlements yelling (in their own language) “Jerusalem is lost”.

Although hostility toward Jews continues, and hostility toward the one country in the world with a majority Jewish population continues to be fomented, we are fortunate to live in a time when it is no longer dangerous to study Torah on Christmas Day. More recently, a number of Jewish communities have adopted the practice of performing practical mitzvot on Christmas, by doing volunteer work or substituting for Christian volunteers at hospitals and other places, so that they can devote themselves to celebrating their holiday.

In some places in the United States, Muslims are joining with Jews in this activity.  In Michigan, where the Muslim population is particularly large, Jews and Muslims are joining in “Mitzvah Day”, helping some 48 social service agencies.

It is particularly fitting that this activity should be occurring one day before we read the climactic episode of Breshit, wherein brothers who have despised each other achieve a heartfelt and emotional reconciliation.  Over the course of Sefer Breshit we have watched the painful process of brothers learning to live together in harmony.  First Cain kills Abel, and is sentenced to wander the earth the remainder of his days.  Isaac and Ishmael are forcibly separated by their parents, and come together only (as far as we know) when it is time to bury their father.  Jacob treats his brother with manipulation and deception, and the quality of their reunion is ambiguous and left to the reader to judge.

Joseph lords it over his brothers, and they respond with hatred, attempted murder, and selling him into slavery.  In his turn, having risen to power, he torments them when they come to Egypt looking for food to survive.  But this Shabbat, all is forgiven, if not forgotten, and they live out their days in peace.

How good it is for brothers to live together.  If only all of us could learn to emulate the teaching of our parshah this week, and follow the example of Moslems and Jews in Detroit, and come together to do mitzvot and repair the world.

Shabbat Shalom

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The Siddur and Health Care

Posted by rabbiart on September 5, 2009

I was sitting in shul this morning thinking about  the Torah and healthcare.   Thinking about the Torah portion’s repeated admonitions to be mindful and take care of the most power-less classes in society, I was lamenting that there was not a verse that spoke directly about taking care of the sick.  The siddur addresses this mandate in a number of places.At our shul we daven from what is now the “old” Siddur Sim Shalom. Like many siddurim it includes the traditional mishna and gemorah passages to be read in the very early part of birchot hashachar. In our version of the passage found in Talmud Brachot 127a, we read about the deeds that yield immediate fruit and continue to yield fruit in time to come – הקרן קימת לעולם.  Sure enough, right in between attending the house of study and helping the needy bride is visiting the sick. (Here’s a great article about this mitzvah, including that there is a dispute – of course 🙂 – whether it is one of the official 613 mitzvot.)

I suppose one could argue that the existence of a mitzvah of bikur holim even if officially one of the 613 mitzvot, doesn’t mean that rabbinic Judaism, or the Torah for that matter, mandates a particular healthcare system, or any kind of “right to healthcare.”  The mitzvah is based – as Rabbi Tranin’s article points out – on HaShem’s visit to Avraham Avinu on the third day after his (Avraham’s) circumcision.  The other Torah source for this mitzvah is Vayikra 19:18’s commandment – v’ahavta l’re-echa kamocha – you shall love your fellow human person as you love yourself.

Therefore we visit the sick because HaShem visited the sick, and because we would want to be visited when we are sick.So what about healthcare for all? (BTW – Does this mean that its advocates want to turn the U.S. into a socialist country.  State ownership of all means of production, state ownership of all capital?  It’s a great boogeyman, for people who check under their beds and in their closets each night looking for same.) In the second paragraph of the amidah, daily, festival and shabbat, we read that HaShem heals the sick – rofei holim – along with lifting up the fallen, clothing the naked, and freeing the bound.  What does the tradition say?  We should strive to be like – in a human way – HaShem.  As HaShem heals the sick, we should heal the sick.

Again, how can one take the Siddur seriously, take וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ seriously, and have an attitude of “you don’t have health care?” too bad for you?  In a country where so, so many people take pride in saying that it they are “religious”, or where people take pride in claiming the Unites States is a “christian country”, then how can these same people turn a blind eye to all the failures of our health care system?  Yes, it is from 2000, and the World Health Organization has stopped doing these rankings, but in 2000 the richest, most well-off country in the world ranked all of 37th, two spots ahead of Cuba.

Posted in Social Justice, Torah Commentary | 1 Comment »

The Torah, Healthcare and Socialism

Posted by rabbiart on September 4, 2009

Its a mystery to me how anyone can take the Torah seriously and defend the health care system in the U.S. of A.  I am not in the camp of people who believe that my religion is the only true, correct religion, or that my interpretation of the Jewish tradition is the only correct interpretation. I don’t think the word “correct” is even useful in this context.

But the Torah, the prophets and rabbinic tradition have an orientation toward society and a point of view on what society should be about; striving toward greater and greater social justice.  Jews do not “give” charity, Jews “pay” our justice obligation.  There is no place in the tradition that countenances a society that organizes itself around blind obedience to the profit motive; we are to organize ourselves around the (sorry) prophet motive!

This week’s parshah particularly brings to our hearts and minds that our purpose – and our worth – is measure by how we treat the powerless in our midst; in the Torah’s formulation the widow, the orphan and the stranger.  The degree of anger, hostility and downright demonization of people who are working well within the established boundaries of the U.S. poltical system to bring about societal measures that they favor – it is truly frightening.  Likening the duly elected President of the United States to arguably the worst, most evil human to ever walk the face of the earth ought to be beyond the pale.

Taken seriously, the Torah is a “liberal”, “progressive” even downright “socialist” document.  Every 50 years land is redistributed in order to restore the balance among all members of society.  The siddur calls daily for special attention to the needs of the poor.  Produce and grains fall off your combine?  You’re not allowed to go back and pick them up.  Plowing a rectangular field?  You’re not allowed to go deep into the corners; the very way you plow your field must leave gleanings for the poor and the hungry.  Got community?  Then you must have a communal food pantry!  Davening the amidah? Then you must open yourself to change – yes – that you can believe in.  You (We) are commanded to clothe the naked, lift of the fallen, feed the hungry.

אָרוּר, מַטֶּה מִשְׁפַּט גֵּר-יָתוֹם–וְאַלְמָנָה; וְאָמַר כָּל-הָעָם, אָמֵן

Cursed be he that perverts justice for the stranger, the orphan and the widow.

When people are sick, they must be taken care of.

Would that we build a society in which everyone would gladly answer “Amen”.

Then we could truly say “Shabbat Shalom”.

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Mitzvah 44: Redeeming the maidservant

Posted by rabbiart on June 11, 2008

A study of the traditional 613 mitzvot (commandments/obligations) according to their order of appearance in the Torah.

Here is another mitzvah that we cannot observe in our time. It is based on the same verse ( Shmot 21:8 ) as Mitzvah 43, and has the same rules for when it is in effect. Like the prior mitzvah, it applies only when the jubilee year is in effect, but more importantly, we no longer have servitude as described in the Torah and interpreted in the Talmud. Since we no longer sell ourselves – or others – into servitude to pay off debts, it seems that we can neither keep nor violate this particular mitzvah.

So what shall we learn from this mitzvah and its sister mitzvah; the betrothal of the Hebrew maidservant?

Servitude – in any form – should never be permanent. The option and the possibility of “getting out” should always be available, and it should be the decision of the servant, not of the master.

Dignity should be preserved for everyone. Not just for those who can afford to command their own dignity.  These two mitzvot remind us that the maidservant, and by extension anyone and everyone in an unfortunate circumstance is one of HaShem’s creations; not an object for someone else to exploit, and not someone to be treated as a lesser child of Hashem.  As our author has written, Jews “…are compassionate sons of compassionate fathers, it is fitting for them to deal kindly with human beings, even with those who have been their servants even if for but one day.”

What can we learn?  All of us should strive to maximize our compassion, not with just those who have been our servants, but with everyone.

Posted in Section 613, Social Justice | 2 Comments »

We Had Slaves? Who Knew?

Posted by rabbiart on May 26, 2008

A study of the traditional 613 mitzvot (commandments/obligations) according to their order of appearance in the Torah.

The biblical story undeniably includes Hebrew servants; their treatment is described right at the beginning of Parshat Mishpatim. “Servant” is a better translation than “slave” because only labor was owed by the servant to the “master”.  The relationship was not like slavery in, for example, the pre-Civil War American South.

This mitzvah is unusual in that it does not mandate or forbid one specific act. Instead it is comprised of provisions in three major areas, as set out in the parshah through verse six.  The length of the servant’s term and family status, provision of wife to the servant, and separation conditions are described.  If the male servant does not want to leave his family (where he came into servitude single), then he must have his ear bored, and commit to a lifetime of service.  This seems cruel to the 21st century sensibility. Yet writing in the 1300s, our author sees the tradition as kind and merciful, just as the tradition sees itself.

How can this be?  The servant had rights! He could pay off his term and exit early, should he acquire the necessary funds.  The master was required to provide food, drink, bedding and shelter, according to the midrash.

This is a law that is in effect only in certain times and places.  According to the Torah and rabbinic interpretation, only a male Israelite can have bondservants, and only in a time when the Jubilee year is in effect. The laws of bondservant treatment require the Jubilee year, because the bondservant goes free when the jubilee year occurs.  The jubilee year is in effect only when the Land of Israel is occupied by Israel.

Sefer HaHinuch gives us a wonderful explication of the reasoning for this mitzvah.  “if someone violated [this law] and did not treat a servant as it is written concerning him, he would thus disobey a positive precept and teach himself to be cruel, and would practically attest about himself that he is not a Jew, for they are the compassionate sons of compassionate fathers.”

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Beef – It’s What’s For Dinner

Posted by rabbiart on May 24, 2008

The subject of food first comes up in the Torah when HaShem tells Adam and Eve what they can have to eat. They are told:

God said: ‘Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed–to you it shall be for food; and to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is a living soul, [I have given] every green herb for food.’ And it was so…. (Breshit, 1: 29-30)

And it was the day that G-d said was “very good.” At that time, humankind lived in a vegetarian universe. Humans eat only grain and fruit, and animals do likewise. Food comes up again in the story of eating of the forbidden tree, but let’s skip over that story, which is not really about food, and move ahead to the aftermath of the flood, where meat eating is sanctioned. Noah is told:

“Every moving thing that liveth shall be for food for you; as the green herb have I given you all. Only flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.” (Breshit 9:3-4)

The only rule at this point is not to eat the blood; kosher butchers are not required. Eventually, we get the complete rules of kashrut, including rules for proper killing of animals, and handling the resulting meat so that there is no danger of consuming blood. Eventually we get kosher butchers, the institution of the mashgia-ach, and in the last ten to twenty years – kosher meat and poultry at the local supermarket. All we have to do is look for any of the many hechshers that indicate kosher food.

You may know what has been “recently” uncovered at AgriProcessors of Postville, Iowa. It was all the rage when first purchased by Aaron Rubashkin. A number of stories were published about the arrival of kosher-keeping Orthodox Jews in a small plains state town. The business grew until AgriProcessors and their distributors were supplying over 60% of the beef and 40% of the kosher poultry products distributed in the United States. The employee count grew to over 800, but many of them were undocumented workers, and sure as day follows night, poor treatment followed. Somewhere a descendant of Upton Sinclair may be writing an unhappy postscript to The Jungle.

Sub-standard treatment of animals and workers led K’hal Adat Jershurun, their certifying agency, to pull their certification on April 16 of this year after a long effort to identify and improve conditions at the plant. The federal government swept up 400 illegal immigrants in a raid on May 12. There have been over three dozen safety violations in 2008 alone. Leading jewish organizations have issued letters and petitions calling on Mr. Rubashkin to change business and kashrut practices.

“We ask the following:

1. Pay all of your workers at least the federal minimum wage.
2. Recommit your company to abide by all federal, state and local laws including those pertaining worker safety, sexual harassment, physical abuse, and the rights of your employees to collective bargaining.
3. Treat those who work for you according to the standards that Torah and halakha places on protecting workers–standards which include the spirit of lifnim meshurat hadin, going beyond the bare minimum requirements of the law.”

Otherwise, says the petition, the undersigned will stop patronizing establishments utlizing AgriProcessors products as of June 15.

Here’s the salient paragraph from the United Synaogue statement in this matter.

New York, NY ( May 22, 2008 ) – In light of continuing disturbing allegations of unacceptable worker conditions at the Agriprocessors Plant in Postville, Iowa, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly is united in calling for a thorough evaluation by kosher consumers of the appropriateness of purchasing and consuming meat products produced by the Rubashkin’s label.

There have been two major responses to issues at the intersection of business practice and kashrut. One is the “eco-kosher” movement; the other is the “hechsher tzedek”. The philosophy of the eco-kosher approach is to expand the definition of kashrut to encompass more than just whether a given food-stuff is “on the list” and has been slaughtered appropriately. Fair-trade coffee is a good example of eco-kashrut. In determining if coffee is eco-kosher, one considers where the coffee is grown, how the workers are treated, how the land is treated, harvesting methods and so on. All of this goes into whether or not the coffee is kosher.
The second approach goes with the label, so to speak of “hechsher tzedek.” The hechsher, which is in fact on the label, certifies that the product has

“met production benchmarks consistent with Jewish ethical standards, including how companies treat their employees. Hekhsher Tzedek will serve as a supplement to – and not a replacement for traditional certification of kosher products.
The creation of the accompanying seal will ensure that not only are kosher products rooted in the proper Jewish methods of inspecting and slaughtering animals, but that the food is produced in a way that demonstrates concern for those human beings who are involved in its production.”

This approach takes the mitzvot that apply to business practices and applies them to kashrut. For example “You should not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a citizen or a stranger”. (Devarim 24:14-15 ) or “Not to do wrong in buying or selling.” (Vayikra 25:14)


What is Kashrut about?
It worked originally to separate the growing Jewish nation from other cultures. It is a way of imposing order on the universe and a way of being mindful of what we eat. Some have suggested that the highest form of Kashrut would be to follow G-d’s original intention and keep a vegetarian diet.

Kashrut in its original intent does not seem to be about justice. But without justice Kashrut seems devoid of meaning and hollow. Applying justice to kashrut makes perfect sense.

Our Torah portion this Shabbat begins with the phrase em behukotai telechu – if you walk in my laws. That is the ultimate challenge that the Torah makes to us – whether at the customary age of celebrating Bar Mitzvah, or at any point in our lives. As we congratulate this year’s B’nei Mitzvah class, let’s remind them, and each other, that we are B’nei Mitzvah every day of our lives. So each day we have to determine how to walk in G-d’s ways. Applying justice to whatever we do, is a good way to start.

Shabbat Shalom

Posted in Jewish Practice, Social Justice | 1 Comment »

California Supreme Court Gets One Right

Posted by rabbiart on May 17, 2008

In 1954 – or thereabouts – the songwriter Sammy Cahn wrote these lyrics for Frank Sinatra:

Love and marriage, love and marriage
They Go together like a horse and carriage
This I tell you brother
You can’t have one without the other

Love and marriage, love and marriage
It’s an institute you can’t disparage
Ask the local gentry
And they will say it’s elementary

Growing up in the sheltered atmosphere of 1950s white suburbia, these lyrics would have made perfect sense to me. Love and marriage equalled Mom and Dad. If I had known them then, it equalled Uncle Eddy and Aunt Jean, who held hands their entire married life. I think I would have understood the lyrics even though I was only five years old when Sinatra introduced the song to families gathered in the living room to watch a television production of Our Town on the big old console television. You know, the one with a knob on it that you used to change channels, even though there weren’t that many channels to choose from. And you actually had to get up out of your chair and walk across the room to do it. – Oh, the horror. – (Uphill, both ways, and in the midwest, through the snow.)

My how the world has changed!

Thursday afternoon, actually while I had Sinatra playing over the Internet, I received a telephone call from Sue Nowicki of the Modesto Bee. She was calling local religious and civic leaders to gather reactions to the California Supreme Court decision that declared it unconstitutional to limit “marriage” to opposite-sex couples. I have to say that my quote in the Bee was not taken out of context, and is pretty much word for word what I said to Sue.

“I haven’t yet read the ruling, but anytime a society moves in widening the scope of civil rights to more people, I think it’s highly likely to be a good thing”.

The court acknowledged that California law affords a domestic partnership “virtually all of the same substantive legal benefits and privileges, and imposes upon the couple virtually all of the same legal obligations and duties, that California law affords to and imposes upon a married couple.” It then went on to say “The question we must address is whether, under these circumstances, the failure to designate the official relationshp of same-sex couples as marriage violates the California Constitution”

“One of the core elements of the right to establish an officially recognized family that is embodied in the California constitutional right to marry is a couple’s right to have their family relationship accorded dignity and respect equal to that accorded other officially recognized families, and assigning a different designation for the family relationship of same-sex couples while reserving the historic designation of “marriage” exclusively for opposite-sex couples poses at least a serious risk of denying the family relationship of same-sex couples with equal dignity and respect.

Let’s look at some of the reasons given for opposing the expansion of the definition of marriage; the will of the people, the threat to the institution of marriage, and violation of established religious tradition. The court itself addressed two of the three. (1) The will of the people does not always govern; we used to have laws forbidding inter-racial marriage, requiring separate entrances and even segregated drinking fountains. Simply because a majority of people believe something does not make that belief correct or even desirable. (2) I don’t see how same sex marriage threatens the institution of opposite-sex marriage itself. It seems like there is a whole class of people saying “we think so much of the institution of marriage that we want to partake of it.” How is that a threat?. As the court said in its decision “permitting same-sex couples access to the designation of marriage will not deprive opposite-sex couples of any rights and will not alter the legal framework of the institution of marriage, because same-sex couples who choose to marry will be subject to the same obligations and duties that currently are imposed on married opposite-sex couples.”

Finally, what about the religious tradition of marriage as between one man and one woman? We often hear the argument advanced “the Bible says that marriage is between one man and one woman.” Whose Bible? Which version? The Tanakh? The Christian Old and New Testaments, the Koran? The Bhagavad-Vita? As a society, do we want to go down the road of trying to impose our religious beliefs on people who don’t share them? That never really works out very well.

One of the quotes in the Modesto Bee reads like this: “’Clearly it’s against a biblical understanding of marriage. Our laws don’t reflect God’s standard for us and God’s definition of marriage. It will be interesting to see if our state will decide (in November) to uphold a biblical definition — do we believe in what God says or do we make up a new definition?’”

In point of fact, the Jewish bible does not define marriage; it merely describes various marriages while telling the story of our people. There is our founding patriarch Abraham – he had one wife and one concubine. His son Isaac fits the one and one model, but his grandson Jacob had two wives and two concubines. If anything, we find passages in the Torah that accept polygamy and proceed to regulate it.
In biblical times, polygamy was permitted. The Bible, in tolerating polygamy, gives evidence that the practice had long been an accepted social institution when these laws were written down. In the patriarchal age polygamy is regarded as an unquestioned custom. While the Bible gives a reason for the action of Abraham in taking Hagar for an additional wife and, in the case of Jacob, for having Rachel as a wife besides Leah, it only proves that polygamy as well as concubinage, with which it was always associated, was among the mores of the ancient Hebrew people (Gen. 16:1-4; 29:23-28). The same attitude is revealed in the episode of Abimelech and Sarah (Gen. 20:1- l3).
Polygamy was such a well established part of the social system that Mosaic law is not even critical of it. We find only certain regulations with respect to it; as, for example, if a man takes a second wife the economic position of the first wife and of the children she bore must be secure; and, in the case of inheritance, no child of a subsequent marriage is to be preferred over a child from the first wife. Other regulations were that the high priest could have only one wife and that a king in Israel should not have too many wives (Lev. 21:13; Deut. 17:17; Ex. 21:10). The last injunction, however, was of no effect. David had seven wives before he began to reign in Jerusalem, and an extraordinary number of wives and concubines has been attributed to Solomon (II Sam 3:2- 5, 14; 5:13). In connection with David, the prophet Nathan did not denounce the king for adding Uriah’s wife to those he already had but for the means he employed to secure her (II Sam. 12:7-15).

(Preceding two paragraphs quoted from http://www.faqs.org/faqs/judaism/FAQ/04-Observance/section-55.html)

Not until the 11th century did Rabbenu Gershom issue his thousand year ban against polygamy. If it was against our Bible, no ban would have been necessary.

Once you get past the legalese, the judicial syntax, the arguments based on religious tradition, the issue boils down to precisely this; dignity and respect. It’s not that there is a serious risk – as the court said- of denying members of a same sex relationship the same dignity and respect afforded to opposite sex relationships. It’s exactly what the people opposing this decision want; to deny dignity and respect to same sex relationships; to make their participants, in the words of the court, “second-class citizens.” If we believe that all of us are made in the image of G-d, and if we wish to do G-d’s will on earth, then should we not respect and honor each and every human being who G-d has made. And respect the choices that each person makes. What would be the harm in that? How does that threaten the marital institution? As my favorite quote from the Bee reads
‘There’s a lot of people with a lot of strong emotions, but my contention is that if you’re not in favor of same-sex marriage, you shouldn’t have one’
— Marian Martino of Modesto, who popped the question to her partner of 28 years minutes after she heard about the court ruling
Do all people love, and want to be loved? I hope so. I don’t know what Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen were thinking when they wrote these last two verses, but the sentiments expressed apply to anyone and everyone who is now, has ever been, or will be in love with another of G-d’s human creatures.

Try, try, try to separate them
It’s an illusion
Try, try, try, and you will only come
To this conclusion

Love and marriage, love and marriage
They go together like the horse and carriage
Dad was told by mother
You can’t have one, you can’t have none, you can’t have one without the other!

No Sir!

The Supreme Court got this one right.

Posted in Social Justice | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

What’s Right with Israel – 2

Posted by rabbiart on May 4, 2008

Judging by some comments on “What’s Right with Israel – 1” it seems like some readers are uncomfortable with those Israelis who are attempting to live up to the prophetic tradition and to the mandate of the Torah which says הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת-עֲמִיתֶךָ (You should surely rebuke your kinsman). I’m no fan of, for example, Women in Black, who often hold what I feel are anti-Israel demonstrations, and hold them on Shabbat when they know other Jews might rather be in shul than putting on counter-demonstrations. But the existence of – and acceptance of – dissenting voices in Israel, is something Jews everywhere should be proud of. After all, the RAMBAM’s writings were put in cherem for his views, which some considered heretical. And as recently as 1945, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan was excommunicated by the Assembly of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States.

And by the way, I’ll be riding my road bike in Israel in November to raise money for Hazon and the Arava Institute, because Israel has garbage problems like every other country in the world.

So here’s #2 in What’s Right with Israel; the not-so-very-short list of Arab members of the Knesset. The members of parliament from the parties Ra’am Ta’al, Hadash, and the National Democratic Assembly. Do I agree with what they have to say about Israel, some of which is quite hateful? Of course not. Do I think it’s completely laudable and amazing that a country surrounded on all sides (OK not the Mediterranean) is strong and self-confident and yes, pluralistic enough to live up to the best ideals of democracy. You betcha!!

Here’s some sugar to make the (for some) medicine go down; a list of the Israeli Nobel Prize Winners. And I suspect if there were not such an amount of Israel hatred (the new anti-semitism of course), the list might be significantly longer.

  1. Robert Aumann, Germany, Economics, 2005
  2. Aaron Ciechanover, Chemistry, 2004
  3. Avram Hershko, Hungary, Chemistry, 2004
  4. Daniel Kahneman, Economics, 2002
  5. Yitzhak Rabin, Peace, 1994
  6. Shimon Peres, Poland, Peace, 1994
  7. Menachem Begin, Poland, now Belarus, Peace, 1978
  8. Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Austria, Literature, 1966

Posted in Jewish Practice, Social Justice | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

What’s Right with Israel – 1

Posted by rabbiart on May 3, 2008

In spite of the unremitting hostility of surrounding Arab nations and the never-ending public declarations by Palestinian leaders of hatred for Israel and the calls for the destruction of Israel by Hamas, Iran and other Arab organizations and leaders, there are an impressive number of Israeli organizations devoted to safeguarding the rights of Palestinian Arabs and advocating on their behalf. All of the organizations listed here are headquartered or have offices located within Israel. They have varying degrees of effectiveness and public support, but no one seriously questions their right to exist, function and advocate for their beliefs. (And yes, I’d like to know a single Arab country about which a similar statement could be made! and I would be ecstatic to learn that there is one, or more)

Machsom Watch founded in 2001, “is an organisation of peace activist Israeli women against the Israeli Occupation of the territories and the systematic repression of the Palestinian nation. We call for Palestinian freedom of movement within their own territory and for an end to the Occupation that destroys Palestinian society and inflicts grievous harm on Israeli society.” (from their website) Machsom members regularly go to checkpoints and watch over what is happening. They publish reports on their website (look for Spotlight) and believe that their presence helps deter Israeli soldiers from succumbing to the inevitable temptations of being an enforcing power on behalf of a country against whom much of the rest of the world is in a constant and unfounded rage.

B’Tselem: The Israeli Infromation Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, founded in 1989, endeavors to document and educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, combat the phenomenon of denial prevalent among the Israeli public, and help create a human rights culture in Israel. (from their website). The word בְּצֶלֶם (B’Tselem) means “in the image of” and refers to G-d creating humankind in G-d’s image. In recognition of its work, B’Tselem won the 1989 Carter-Menil Aware for Human Rights.

Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel Established in November 1996, it serves Arab citizens of Israel, numbering over one million people or close to 20% of the population. Adalah (“Justice” in Arabic) works to protect human rights in general, and the rights of the Arab minority in particular. (from their website) The co-founder of Adalah – Rayef Zreik – is also a member of the Board of B’Tselem

Rabbis for Human Rights, founded in 1988, includes over 100 ordained rabbis and rabbinical students who are Israeli citizens. It “has championed the cause of the poor, supported the rights of Israel’s minorities and the Palestinians, worked to stop the abuse of foreign workers, endeavored to guarantee the upkeep of Israel’s public health care system, promoted the equal status of women, helped Ethiopian Jews, and battled trafficking in women.” (from their website)

Bat Shalom: women with a vision for a just peace, “is an Israeli national feminist grassroots organization of Jewish and Palestinian Israeli women working together for a genuine peace grounded in a just resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, respect for human rights, and an equal voice for Jewish and Arab women within Israeli society.” Their mission statement is ” We, the Jewish and Palestinian Israeli women of Bat Shalom, call upon all women to join our active struggle for peace and equality. We refuse to silently bear witness to the destruction of the hope and future of a peaceful reconciliation.” Bat Shalom is a member of the Coalition of Women for Peace.

The Israeli court system, which regularly hears cases and renders decisions which protect and expand the rights of non-Jews within Israel. For example, a ruling that Messianic Jews have the same rights regarding automatic citizenship as Jews who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. The court has rendered a number of decisions protecting the rights of Palestinians in Israel. (Page down to find the section “Supreme Court Decisions”)

Givat Haviva Institute implements activities to develop the experience of equality between Jews and Arabs living in Israel, and provides tools to this end. This is the moral foundation for achieving peace with the Palestinians and the Arab states.” Givat Haviva is named in memory of Haviva Reik who immigrated to Israel in 1939, joined the British army and parachuted behind enemy lines into Slovakia in 1944. She was captured and executed by the Nazis on November 20, 1944.

There are many more organizations and projects working for peace among Arabs and Israelis. More than I can write about in this post, and probably more than you want to read right now. You can see a large list of them, and get acquainted with them, in this Wikipedia article. As an open source effort Wikipedia can contain errors and isn’t suitable for serious academic research, but this article is a good place to acquaint yourself with this one small piece of what is right and laudable about Israel, a country that all Jews, really anyone who cars, should be incredibly proud. When we read our Biblical passages about Hashem offering to the Jewish people a chance to be a light unto the nations, we can think Israel and we can feel confident, that despite its imperfections, the light is shining pretty brightly.

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