Archive for April 27th, 2017

Marc Ellis offers sight to the blind

April 27, 2017

30 years ago Jewish theologian Marc Ellis launched his first philippic at Israel’s blindness and inability to confront the “original sin” of dispossessing another people.In 1948 Israel ethnically cleansed 750,000 people and refused despite international law to allow these people back into their Palestinian homes.

What ellis did was very brave. Virtually alone among Jewish theologians he challenged Israel to own up to its radical biblical failure. Using the Exodus story of Pharaoh and the slaves, he wrote Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation.


The central problem facing us as Jews is justice for and reconciliation with the Palestinian people. “Without both we as Jews are nowhere, at least ethically speaking.”

He still asks the question today—still a pariah in almost every Jewish community. Ellis’ s steady drumbeat of books on this theme continues to send Zionist theologians into fury. Rabbis never invite him to their synagogues. As one rabbi told me, it was simple,”He’s not a Zionist.” In other words he refuses to buy into Jewish nationalism and holds up the age-old code of Jewish ethics, best expressed ion Deuteronomy: “tzedek,tzedek tirdof.” (Justice, justice you shall pursue.)

Biblical faith hears another story, has memories that others do not have, and as Hebrew scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann says, “one needs to nurture a historical imagination.” In this way of thinking, Pharaoh comes to be a symbolic reference to every form of oppression. Every liberation movement thus is a new dealing with Pharaoh. Zionism for Ellis is the negation of the biblical justice tradition of “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” Deut. 16:20. Zionism, because it acts like Pharaoh in oppressing and displacing another people, in stealing their land, has become the horrid example of a master/slave relationship.

In 2002 Jonathan Sacks the Orthodox Chief Rabbi of the UK stated the obvious:

You cannot ignore a command that is repeated 36 times in the Mosaic books: ‘You were exiled in order to know what it feels like to be an exile.’ I regard that as one of the core projects of a state that is true to Judaic principle. And therefore I regard the current situation as nothing less than tragic, because it is forcing Israel into postures that are incompatible in the long-run with our deepest ideals.”
For Marc Ellis  the situation is much graver.

As Jews, darkness surrounds us. We have entered an abyss. There is also hope. I have witnessed that too in struggles I have participated in and the struggles that Jews of the new generation are waging. Years ago a Palestinian told me that the Jewish prophetic would never die. He was – is – right. The prophetic is our indigenous. It is exploding right before our eyes.
The prophetic is also in exile. As old as our scriptures. Yet it is important to think through what both the prophetic and exile mean for Jews today. That is for Jews of Conscience who seek to practice Jewish in an age where Empire Judaism seems triumphant.”

When Mahmoud the sieve maker rose up against injustice in Persia in the 13th century he said his army was partly visible, consisting of men, and partly invisible, consisting of the heavenly hosts, which fly in the air, and of the tribe of the jinns, which walk on the earth.

This is till the case with Jews of Conscience called forth by the ruah, the Spirit (the invisible) of the liberating God who chafes at all injustice.


In this sense the prophetic never dies modern Jeremiahs male and female rise up today against the new Pharaoh, the state of Israel