Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Rabbis’ righteous anger

February 12, 2015


Over 500 rabbis from Israel, Britain, the US and Canada have called on the Israeli prime minister to stop demolishing Palestinian homes. Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) say Benjamin Netanyahu’s stance is against “international law and Jewish tradition.”
Jewish tradition has taken quite a beating in the last 20 years.
Many years ago Alexander Schindler,the head of Reform Jewry in the US warned his co-religionists “We do ourselves irreparable harm when we make Israel our surrogate synagogue.”
If you go into a synagogue and see an Israeli flag at the front, most likely idolatry is being peddled.
The disgusting house demolitions are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the utter cruelty of the Jewish state.
it is hopeful to see so many rabbis speaking up like this.
Sadly, most are too terrified of disturbing their congregations—even if it is about such blatant discrimination.
RHR’s open letter came after the Israeli PM announced the destruction of over 400 Palestinian homes in the Israel-controlled part of the West Bank, the territory known as Area C.
“Thousands have been forced to build without permits, and great human suffering is caused when hundreds of homes are demolished each year in Area C alone,” RHR stated in their letter, adding that Israeli planning and zoning laws “severely restrict the ability of Palestinians to build homes, even on the lands that the State recognizes as belonging to them.

According to the rabbis, there has been “no representation or true ability for Palestinians to determine how to properly plan for their communities since local and district planning committees were abolished in 1971. The army plans for them.”
In late January, the United Nations accused Israel of illegally demolishing the homes of 77 Palestinians, including many children, in East Jerusalem and the districts of Ramallah, Jericho and Hebron
“Demolitions that result in forced evictions and displacement run counter to Israel’s obligations under international law and create unnecessary suffering and tension. They must stop immediately,” the OCHA said.
According to the UN office, during 2014 Israel carried out a record number of demolitions in East Jerusalem and Area C.
“The Israeli authorities destroyed 590 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C and East Jerusalem, displacing 1,177 people — the highest level of displacement in the West Bank since OCHA began systematically monitoring the issue in 2008.”
While Israel insists demolitions are carried out because homes are being built without construction permits, the UN’s OCHA says the planning policies applied by Israeli authorities in Area C and East Jerusalem “discriminate against Palestinians.”
Palestinians are trapped in a vicious circle, where they build without permits to later have their homes razed to the ground.
“Palestinians must have the opportunity to participate in a fair and equitable planning system that ensures their needs are met,” the OCHA said.

Demon possession and its antidote

February 9, 2015


A condo on Bathurst Street, the former  site of St.Peter’s Catholic elementary school.

Sunday’s gospel reading was about healing.
Demons appear inside people. And right at the start of the earliest gospel, Mark. This is a great insight. And it occurs right off the bat in our Holy Story.

When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.

The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Exorcism. What to make of such a strange worldview?
Certainly people living under such hardship and occupation by Rome and a corrupt temple leadership had internalized deep fear. Many were “possessed’ and in need of healing.
Yes, possession still occurs when people internalize the superficial values of a culture, the unrealistic expectations,the dreams of shallow success and excess just around the corner for you.Those values are near epidemic in our consumer culture. One needs a deeper grounding to avoid “possession.”

How does one escape these demons?
First of all, there have always been “exorcists’ in our community, beautiful people whose elan vital, compassionate care and sheer joy of living have kept demons way on the periphery.These largely heroic yet unacknowledged shamans exist in every society.Many have been in the “healing” professions, social workers, teachers. therapists, health care people,youth workers, the church etc. They are not famous.They have been taken for granted by and large.But without them, society would disintegrate still further.
So on Sunday in my boyhood parish I prayed in gratitude for the presence in my life of two people who “worked” in a ramshackle downtown Catholic school, St.Peter’s just south of the church. Their names are Mary Sheehan and Sr.Mary of the Cross. I say “are” because they are still “with” me and hundreds of others.

Where these great women wove their healing magic now stands a very pricey condo. But people should know that there were such anonymous saints among us.They turned bricks and mortar into holy ground.These humble women would be the first to deny any great hymns of praise. They were just living out their faith.
The divine presence is still with us. Sacred ambassadors still walk humbly among us as a conduit to the holy.

We either advance or retard redemption in our daily lives.

Snapshots from Palestine: Elias Chacour

November 17, 2014


This is the first snapshot from Israel/Palestine. In no particular order, they give you a glimpse of life under occupation.

We set out early on Wednesday from the Mount of Beatitudes on the Sea of Galilee to visit Elias Chacour, the recently retired Archbishop of Akko, Haifa and Allo of Galilee in the Greek Catholic Melkite Church. Abuna Chacour had agreed to meet with us in Ibillin at the marvellous educational complex, begun by him in 1983. It now includes a co-educational kindergarten, primary school, high school and gifted program for Christian, Moslem and Druze students of the area. As we walked through the facility built on the hill overlooking the town, the energy and discipline of the young Palestinians was apparent to all. Chacour met with us in a large classroom lined with a pictorial description of the development of Mar Elias which had been constructed, as are most buildings owned by non-Jews, without a permit, that is, against the directives of the Israeli government.
Abuna Chacour began by drawing us out: What had we learned during our visit to his country? He listened intently and reminded us that a journalist who has spent one day in Palestine can write a book, a journalist who has spent a month can write an article and one who has spent a year there will see such complexity that she may not be able to write at all.  (Regardless, we blog on.)  Chacour then went on to briefly describe the details of his life as a Palestinian Arab Christian Israeli who had been born in 1939 into a large Christian family that, prior to the Nakba, lived in peace with other Jews and Moslems in Galilee.  In 1948, when the Zionists drove them from their village, the devout Chacour family became refugees in their own land. The youngest of four boys, Elias was encouraged by his father to accept the call to the priesthood.  After university, he studied theology at St. Sulpice Seminary in Paris. Returning to Israel in 1965, he was ordained a priest and assigned to the small village of Ibillin that became his parish and the focus of his educational activism for the next 50 years.
Abuna Chacour regaled us with the story about the “illegal” construction of his high school in the early 80s.  Every time the Israeli authorities showed up to see if he had a building permit he told them that he needed a building not a permit. As soon as they left, the work recommenced. He would not let the refusal to provide a permit to slow down the construction of the building. However, when he realized that the project was in jeopardy of becoming caught up in political conflict and red tape, he flew to Washington in 1981 to seek assistance from then Secretary of State James Baker. He landed unannounced at the side door of the Baker residence as the Secretary’s wife was beginning a Bible Study session on the Beatitudes. When she opened the door, Chacour introduced himself as “another man from Galilee.” When she asked if he had an appointment, Father Chacour quipped, “Appointment? We men from Galilee don’t make appointments. We make appearances.”  She invited him in and he explained to the group of Washington wives that the Christian Beatitudes are not “Be Happy Attitudes.”  They are a call to conversion and to peace making. Abuna Chacour became a close friend of the Susan and James Baker.  On his next Middle Eastern diplomatic mission, Baker quietly intervened by hand-delivering a letter to the Israeli government supporting the initiatives of the Mar Elias Educational Institution.  The necessary permits were granted.  No school demolition need be feared.

As we listened through tears of laughter and sadness to Elias Chacour, we realized that we were in the presence of a true peacemaker but we did not realize that he would be commissioning us to become the same in the service of the Palestinians whose sufferings we had been witnessing for the last two weeks.  As he has told others in the past, he told us to take the side of the Palestinians but he gave us this last bit of advice:  “If taking our side would mean to become one-sided against my Jewish brothers and sisters, back up. We do not need such friendship. We need one more common friend. We do not need one more enemy, for God’s sake.”

Disneyworld Tours alive in Israel/Palestine

November 15, 2014


We just returned from a two week sojourn to Israel/Palestine.
We visited people and places the ordinary “pilgrimages” never dare to go.


Most of these church tours are considered Disneyworld events or as some call them “fluff tours.”They miss the many splendored thing, the Holy Spirit of resistance in the beleaguered Palestinian people. These tours are in a word,disgraceful.They reflect an inanimate or dead theology, one which substitutes the holy places for the holy people,the ongoing incarnation of Christ exactly where Jesus told he would be found: in the crucified lives of the poor of Palestine.This is the true locus of divine revelation. These people are living under a similar occupation to that which Jesus endured.
Some people in our pilgrimage got very depressed watching these “spiritual”tours which manage to bypass the human in favour of stones,caves and churches.As Abuna(Archbishop) Elias Chacour says these are not the true terra sancta.The lifeless antiquities which may or may not have some connection with Jesus sadly have pride of place over the suffering occupied lives of Palestinians. Most of these pilgrims one should assume are good people but sadly led by “blind guides” promoters of a moribund theology which evades history.
These nostalgia tours are rooted in the past.They have little contemporary spiritual relevance. Their avoidance of a people so desperately needing solidarity plays into the hands of the occupying power and simply extends the long suffering of the people of Palestine.

God weeps, the church is silent

August 16, 2014



Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Matt 16;24

Christianity is a tough proposition, a road less travelled. In the west it has been sapped by advanced capitalism. The dynamite which caused a world revolution has been replaced by the equivalence of a “happy meal”, attendance at your local church and it must be said, often by very kind personal acts of charity at the interpersonal level. Biblical discipleship of course is not about charity. it is about justice, right relationships. As the great German theologian Johann Metz said, “danger lights up every page of the of the New testament” and it is dangerous to get close to the itinerant rabbi of Galilee. If you do you might share the same fate. Inevitably there will be a cross for you because of the options you have chosen.



The Anglo Irish priest therapist Diarmuid Omurchu puts it this way:

We have come a long way from the fiery prophetic figure Jesus of Nazareth who shocked and disturbed the conventions of his day in the name of justice and liberation. Our respectability has taken a terrible toll on the authentic calling of Christian life.

We have lost sight of the deeper vision and lost heart for the passion and enthusiasm of God’s New Reign. The following of Jesus is not a respectable religion.

That wonderful British Dominican Herbert McCabe has an ironic twist on this:

The Christian message—If you don’t love. you won’t really be alive. If you do love and do it effectively, you’ll be killed.

One looks in vein for any North American bishop who would dare utter the prophetic denunciation you are about to read. It comes from a man whose Presbyterian minister father was a beacon in his life. I refer to the amazing Pulitzer prize journalist Chris Hedges.

Sadly as Catholics we no longer look for the prophetic among the so-called leaders, though the present pope moves gingerly in that of these John Paul bishops are managers and administrators. We look in vain for the Jesus wild card, the disturbers of the status quo in the Hebrew bible, men like Jeremiah and Isaiah. The rabbinate in North America is no better.

Allan C Brownfeld of the American Council for Judaism in a letter( Aug.9,2014) to the Wall Street Journal made this point:

Judaism has been corrupted by its politicization.  For some, a form of idolatry seems to have been embraced, making Israel an object of worship, much like the golden calf in the Bible.  It is not only Palestinians who have been the victims of this enterprise, but Jewish moral and ethical values as well.

Sadly, there are few Abraham Heschels among today’s rabbis.

Yet the prophetic never dies—because God is still alive, mainly on the margins and outside the walls of of official religion especially when it comes to israel. Cultural Jews like world renowned Noam Chomsky are fearless.The latest atrocities in Gaza—1994 deaths, 1657 civilians and 468 children cry to heaven for advocates. Chomsky calls this savagery “a hideous atrocity, sadistic, vicious, murderous, totally without any credible pretext.

And this brings us to the authentic prophet Chris Hedges. His whole article can be read on

God’s covenant in the Promised Land was not made with those who pilot F-16 fighter jets that drop 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs over the concrete hovels of Gaza. It was not made with those operating Apache or Cobra attack helicopters that unleash lethal fire over crowded refugee camps. It was not made with drone operators that clinically kill children … outside mosques. It was not made with M-60 tank units and artillery crews that murder families huddled in terror in their homes. It was not made with those on gunboats that slaughter boys playing on a beach. It was not made with those that fire Sidewinder missiles and drop 250-pound “smart bombs” on apartment blocks. It was not made with snipers from the Golani Brigade that gun down unarmed men and women for sport. It was not made with occupiers that reduce an entire people to a starvation diet—indeed count the calories to keep them barely alive—or to those who use words like “mowing the lawn” to justify the indiscriminant slaughter of innocents.
God’s covenant in the Promised Land was not made with politicians—including every member of the U.S. Senate—that mouth words for peace and perpetuate war, that call for justice and perpetuate injustice, that refuse to stand up for the rule of law and the right of a captive people to be free.

God’s covenant in the Promised Land was not made, finally, with any race or religion. It was not made with the Jews. It was not made with the Muslims. It was not made with the Christians. God’s covenant—in the Bible and the Koran—was made with the righteous. When Ibrahim asked in the holy Koran if the covenant could be inherited, he was told bluntly: “My covenant is not given to oppressors.” And God’s iron requirement to stand with the oppressed occurs as well in the Hebrew and Greek bibles. Those who turn away from righteousness—be they Jew, Christian or Muslim—violate that covenant. They are not God’s people.

God’s covenant is made with those who love mercy and do justice, with those who care for the stranger, the orphan and the widow, with those who frustrate the ways of the wicked, with those who bring good news to the oppressed, who bind up the brokenhearted, who proclaim liberty to the captives and release to all those in prison, including those imprisoned in Gaza. God’s covenant is with those men and women—Jews, Christians and Muslims, believers and nonbelievers—who say, “Let my people go, oppressed so hard they could not stand. Let my people go.” And God calls these people oaks of righteousness. And they are God’s people.
Why does God weep in the Promised Land?
God weeps because families, huddled in terror in their homes, are dismembered and killed by Israeli bombs. God weeps because mothers howl in grief over the bodies of their children in U.N. schools hit by Israeli shells. God weeps because the old and disabled, who could not flee the deadly Israeli advance, died helpless and afraid. God weeps because the powerful, here and in Israel, lie and dissemble to justify murder. And God weeps for all those who stand by and do nothing.

God weeps because the assault on Gaza is not about Israel’s right to self-defense or about removing Hamas from power. It is not about achieving peace. God weeps because the assault on Gaza is about the decades-long campaign to destroy and ethnically cleanse the Palestinian people from their land. God weeps because Israel is constructing squalid, lawless and impoverished ghettos where life for Palestinians is barely sustainable. God weeps because Israel restricts or shuts off movement, food, medicine and goods to accentuate the human misery. God weeps because Israel has turned Gaza, now largely without power, running water and sewage [systems], into a vast gulag.

God weeps because the failure to condemn Israeli war crimes by our political establishment and our compliant media betrays the memory of those killed in other genocides, from the Holocaust to Cambodia to Rwanda to Bosnia. God weeps because we have failed to learn the fundamental lesson of the Holocaust, which is not that Jews are unique or eternal victims, but that when you have the capacity to stop genocide, and you do not, you are culpable. And we [Americans], who provide 95 percent of Israel’s weapons, are very culpable.

Rabbi’s heart broken by Israel

August 6, 2014


I’m a rabbi in mourning for a Judaism being murdered by Israel writes the well-known rabbi editor of Tikkun. In a long piece on Salon,com Lerner expands on his inner turmoil. The author has always been a champion of Israel, proud of its many achievements that have benefitted the world. He even had a son serve in the IDF.

Lerner like many of us Lovers of Zion in the goyische community always believed that the dominant humanity of the Jewish people,”and the compassionate strain within Torah” would win the day. While the author never mentions the corrosive ability of advanced capitalism to subvert even the best dreams I am sure he would agree.

The rabbi, given his attachment to Israel knows his history—how Israel radically regressed under the brutal leadership of Arab haters like Sharon and Netanyahu. Both were promoters of “greater Israel” that is the maximization of territorial theft. They simply ignored the Saudi Peace Initiative which granted Israel recognition(even accepted by Hamas) and continued to gobble up more territory. And now Gaza with its brutal assault.

Lerner argues that both communities are victims of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which has distorted future generations.

Dr.Jesse Ghanam ciinical professor of psychiatry and global health sciences at the University of California described PTSD among Palestinian children,

Even before the current military offensive, young Gazans bore the mental scars of years under siege and previous episodes of bombardment. After the 2012 war, the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among children in Gaza doubled, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides assistance for Palestinian refugees. Mental health experts fear that the latest bombardment may create detrimental repercussions too difficult for children to overcome.

Palestinian children in Gaza are exposed to more violence in their lifetime than any other people, any other children, anywhere in the world. If you look at children right now who are 10 years old, they’ve been through Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009, the invasion in 2012 and now the invasion and destruction in 2014, in addition to the siege. If you look at the statistics, for example, even before Cast Lead, 80 percent of Palestinian children in Gaza have witnessed some sort of violence against them, a friend or a family member. And now you’re getting to the point where probably close to 99 percent of children in Gaza are being exposed to a level of violence where they have seen family members be killed, murdered, burned alive. There’s nothing like the levels of traumatic exposure that any child in the world has ever been exposed to on a chronic and daily basis.



What distinguished Lerner’s critique is his role as a rabbi, a defender of universal Torah values. Like Henry Siegman, also am ordained rabbi, Lerner is disillusioned by the American Jewish community. He rails against idolatry.

Jews around the world have taken a turn that is disastrous, by turning the Israeli nation state into “the Jewish state” and making Israel into an idol to be worshiped rather than a political entity like any other political entity, with strengths and deep flaws. Despairing of spiritual salvation after God failed to show up and save us from the Holocaust, increasing numbers of Jews have abandoned the religion of compassion and identification with the most oppressed that was championed by our biblical prophets, and instead come to worship power and to rejoice in Israel’s ability to become the most militarily powerful state in the Middle East. If a Jew today goes into any synagogue in the U.S. or around the world and says, “I don’t believe in God or Torah and I don’t follow the commandments,” most will still welcome you in and urge you to become involved. But say, “I don’t support the State of Israel,” and you are likely to be labeled a “self-hating Jew” or anti-Semite, scorned and dismissed. As Aaron said of the Golden Calf in the Desert, “These are your Gods, O Israel.”

The worship of the state makes it necessary for Jews to turn Judaism into an auxiliary of ultra-nationalist blindness. Every act of the State of Israel against the Palestinian people is seen as sanctioned by God. Each Sabbath Jews in synagogues around the world are offered prayers for the well-being of the State of Israel but not for our Arab cousins.  The very suggestion that we should be praying for the Palestinian people’s welfare is seen as heresy and proof of being “self-hating Jews.”

The worship of power is precisely what Judaism came into being to challenge. We were the slaves, the powerless, and though the Torah talks of God using a strong arm to redeem the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, it simultaneously insists, over and over again, that when Jews go into their promised land in Canaan (not Palestine) they must “love the stranger/the Other,” have one law for the stranger and for the native born, and warns “do not oppress the stranger/the Other.” Remember, Torah reminds us, “that you were strangers/the Other in the land of Egypt” and “you know the heart of the stranger.”  Later sources in Judaism even insist that a person without compassion who claims to be Jewish cannot be considered Jewish. A spirit of generosity is so integral to Torah consciousness that when Jews are told to let the land lie fallow once every seven years (the societal-wide Sabbatical Year), they must allow that which grows spontaneously from past plantings be shared with the Other/the stranger.

The Jews are not unique in this. The basic reality is that most of humanity has always heard a voice inside themselves telling them that the best path to security and safety is to love others and show generosity, and a counter voice that tells us that the only path to security is domination and control over others. This struggle between the voice of fear and the voice of love, the voice of domination/power-over and the voice of compassion, empathy and generosity, have played out throughout history and shape contemporary political debates around the world.

Where are the prophets?

August 5, 2014



But there is worse…a spiritual corruption at the hands and lies and hypocrisy that borders on blasphemy, in the fact that a people could make use of the Torah to strengthen its national pretensions…This is a kind of prostitution of the values of Judaism…If there exists jew willing to join the national occupationist trend, making “greater israel”…the essential element of their faith a religious commandment, well then these people have become the heirs of worshippers of the golden too may be called “nation”, “and, “state.”

After the six day War (1967) Yeshayayu Leibowitz,(d.1994) the Israel polymath and Orthodox believer smelled out early, the price that Israel would pay as a nation. Like a Cassandra, he saw too clearly continual perpetual war and the undermining of Jewish values all in defense of nationhood, a concept foreign  to Judaism. He correctly saw the coming of the police state and the penning in of Palestinians. In many ways Leibowitz was a contemporary Jeremiah.He spoke as a religious Jew.

Few North American Jews ever heard of him.They much prefer the writings of” blind guides” and Israel firsters.

Chris Hedges writes as the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who was stationed in israel/palestine. He should know. He’s been there, seen it up close. No armchair quarterback here. No tribal pundit. He’s another Groucho Marxist—who do you believe me or your eyes?

All governments lie, as I.F. Stone pointed out, including Israel and Hamas. But Israel engages in the kinds of jaw-dropping lies that characterize despotic and totalitarian regimes. It does not deform the truth; it inverts it. It routinely paints a picture for the outside world that is diametrically opposed to reality. And all of us reporters who have covered the occupied territories have run into Israel’s Alice-in-Wonderland narratives, which we dutifully insert into our stories—required under the rules of American journalism—although we know they are untrue.

So writes Hedges n his latest dispatch on Trurthdig.

The latest whopper or “official lie” is “Mission accomplished” in Gaza. after 1938 were massacred,1626 civilians and 460 children 792 Gazans injured, mosques, schools and power plants destroyed and now this from the spin doctors: “Indications from Israeli officials were that the accomplishment of their mission—and not outside pressure to end the assault on Gaza—was the primary reason for agreeing to the deal and the withdrawal of troops. And the IDF tweet:
“Mission accomplished: We have destroyed Hamas’ tunnels leading from Gaza into Israel. All of Israel is now safer.”

You see its about the tunnels.

No it’s about the revulsion of the civilized world and  Israel’s biggest ally the USA finally saying “Enough”. It’s about an incredible number of Israeli soldiers   killed in this unholy combat. 64 beautiful young people like their Palestinian victims whose lives have been needlessly aborted. In a small country which mourns the death of its military this is an extraordinary number. It is because of this very high numbers that PM Netanyahu in a fit of rage unleashed even more firepower on Gaza.

How long, O Lord will israel continue to produce leaders like this?

So now a 72 hour time out so decent people can give their heads a shake.

Hedges addresses Israeli supporters:

And since most supporters of Israel do not have a desire to know the truth, a truth that would force them to examine their own racism and self-delusions about Zionist and Western moral superiority, like packs of famished dogs they lap up the lies fed to them by the Israeli government.
The Big Lie makes it clear to the Palestinians that Israel will continue to wage a campaign of state terror and will never admit its atrocities or its intentions. The vast disparity between what Israel says and what Israel does tells the Palestinians that there is no hope. Israel will do and say whatever it wants. International law, like the truth, will always be irrelevant. There will never, the Palestinians understand from the Big Lie, be an acknowledgement of reality by the Israeli leadership.

There are so many incredible Israelis who have had it with the violence. I have met them. They need to grow to mitigate the lies of one military government after another. They know nothing but the arrogance of power. Holocaust theology has run its course .As  American Jewish theologian Marc Ellis writes.

”Playing the Holocaust trump card isn’t working anymore. Few respond to their Holocaust pleadings as they did almost reflexively decades ago.
Call if cognitive dissonance – using Jewish suffering as a rallying call while Jews causing suffering to others in the name of that suffering is too confusing for most folks. Say the Holocaust and people think Gaza. It isn’t a comparison. It’s a deep revulsion to violence in the name of innocents suffering.”

Hamas, itself the creation of Israel, is the predictable and pathetic revolt against the barbarism of state terrorism. Of course it is futile; of course those rockets as puny as they are are war crimes. Hanas represents the defiance of a besieged people who can no loner stomach such continual oppression and abject humiliation. The end of  occupation, the end of blockades and sieges will be the end of Hamas.

I fear however that the worst siege is the siege mentality of Israel and diaspora  Judaism. Are there no Judah Magnes, Martin Buber, Abraham Heschels on the horizon?Is the voice of biblical prophecy totally dead?

Abraham Burg, the former speaker of the Knesset and an Orthodox view says,”Israel must understand that genetic Judaism has to end. We have to connect to the Judaism that shares a common fate and values with others.”

That road of necessity leads through the people Israel shares a country with. A vibrant Judaism is never about land. it is about texts. It is about Torah, Talmud and their universal meaning. It is about reconciliation. And here the onus is always on the powerful and their international enablers.

The broken Jewish heart of Henry Siegman

August 2, 2014

Henry Siegman is a longtime participant in American Jewish issues. The 84 year old is the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress and former executive head of the Synagogue Council of America, two of the major, mainstream Jewish organizations in the United States. What distinguishes him from so many others is that he is also an ordained Orthodox rabbi.

Unlike many, Siegman in public interviews is unafraid to speak as one committed to Judaism. The other morning on Democracy Now he sat down with the intrepid Amy Goodman, one of the most extraordinary reporters in the United States. Her regular NPR show is an oasis in the desert of American radio.

Siegman started his remarks with a Talmudic saying, in the Ethics of the Fathers: Don’t judge your neighbor until you can imagine yourself in his place.’”So, my first question when I deal with any issue related to the Israeli-Palestinian issue: What if we were in their place?”

His answer: “No country and no people would live the way Gazans have been made to live … our media rarely ever points out that these are people who have a right to live a decent, normal life, too. And they, too, must think, ‘What can we do to put an end to this?’


Born in Frankfurt in 1930, the son of a father who was an important European Zionist leader, he barely escaped Hitler’s claws and arrived as a 12 year old at Ellis Island. Ordained a rabbi he served as a chaplain in the Korean War where he was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He seemed the quintessential American Zionist but as a believing Jew he began to distance himself from the policies of the Israeli government.Unlike many of his co-religionists the Jewish state had not replaced Torah in his belief system.

Asked by Goodman about Gaza he replied, “It’s disastrous. … When one thinks that this is what is necessary for Israel to survive, that the Zionist dream is based on the repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we’re watching these days on television, that is really a profound crisis – and should be a profound crisis – in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and to its success.

If you don’t want to kill Palestinians, if that’s what pains you so much, you don’t have to kill them. You can give them their rights, and you can end the occupation. And to put the blame for the occupation and for the killing of innocents that we are seeing in Gaza now on the Palestinians—why? Because they want a state of their own? They want what Jews wanted and achieved?”
Unlike many, Siegman sees through the massive propaganda and does not begin with “the rockets,” those pathetic weapons sadly launched by Hamas. He has a sense of history. He begins with the root cause of the conflict the 50 year state violence visited on Palestinians by israel.

As a rabbi, Siegman continuously invokes “Jewish values.”

If you follow Jewish tradition, the lesson of those persecutions, we have always said, until the state of Israel came into being, is that you do not treat people in that kind of an inhumane and cruel way. And the hope always was that Israel would be a model democracy, but not just a democracy, but a state that would practice Jewish values, in terms of its humanitarian approach to these issues, its pursuit of justice and so on. ..That decent people in israel can watch evil and do nothing about it. That is the most important lesson of the Holocaust, not the Hitlers and not the SS, but the public that allowed this to happen. And my deep disappointment is that the Israeli public, precisely because Israel is a democracy and cannot say, “We’re not responsible what our leaders do,” that the public puts these people back into office again and again.

Siegman understands as few others in North America that Binyamin Netanyahu has publicly sworn to never allow the emergence of a Palestinian state.He told Goodman.” the policy of this government and of many previous governments, which is to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state. And they have built up their army and their armaments to implement that policy. And the difference between Hamas and the state of Israel is that the state of Israel is actually doing it. They’re actually implementing it, and they’re actually preventing a Palestinian state, which doesn’t exist. And millions of Palestinians live in this subservient position without rights and without security, without hope and without a future. That’s not the state of—the state of Israel is a very successful state, and happily Jews live there with a thriving economy and with an army whose main purpose is preventing that Palestinian state from coming into being. That’s their mandate.

He finished his interview with the sad obsrvation of the terrible price Zionism has wreaked on Judaism.


For many American Jews—and,  I suspect, for most American Jews—Israel has become the content of their Jewish religious identification. It has very little other content. I rarely have been at a Shabbat service where a rabbi gives a sermon where Israel isn’t a subject of the sermon. And typically, they are—the sermons are not in the spirit of an Isaiah, you know, who says, “My god, is this what God wants from you? Your hands are bloody; they’re filled with blood. But he doesn’t want your fast. He doesn’t want—he despises the sacrifices and your prayers. What he wants is to feed, to feed the hungry, to pursue justice and so on.” But that’s not what you hear from rabbis in the synagogues in this country. So, what I meant by that is that there’s much more to Judaism and to the meaning that you give to your Jewish identity than support for the likes of Netanyahu.

Judaism or Zionism

August 1, 2014


The voice we hear is the voice of the victims of injustice, but that is precisely the voice of God. As ones whose consciousness has been touched by the spirit of God, we say: vox victimarum vox Dei: the cries of the victims are the cries of God.

Kairos consciousness South Africa

A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel.

Yeshayahu Leibowitz 1968

A few words today on Zionism and Judaism, a very hot topic in today’s world. The shocking military force, the disproportionate firepower visited on Gazan civilians has revolted people around the world. This has confused so many people of good will. Many ask is this Jewish? is it israeli. With its obvious belief in pure force is this a rejection of Jewish tradition?For many the modern state of Israel has done great harm to the religion of Judaism.

Here are a few probes on this question.

Abraham Geiger (d 1874) a German rabbi argued that Judaism was an evolutionary movement, from Moses and the prophets to the present. Its central core was its morality, its covenant with the Holy One which commanded compassion, mercy and justice. Judaism was not a nation but a community. According to the prolific American Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner The prayers that Judaism teaches teaches all use the world israel but this doe not refer obviously to the state. ”Israel” is the holy community called to model life in the holy image, made manifest in the Torah. Today Neusner says “israel in synagogue and Jewish community affairs means “the state of Israel.”. For this reason Palestinian Christians never use the psalms in their worship. When people hear the word “Israel” they shudder. Like Neusner they are well aware of its biblical context, but in the the context of their own lives, the resonance is simply too painful.

“The state has become more important than the Jews”, Neusner says. The worst fears of the Zionist rejectionists have come true.

in 2001 the Liberal Jewish synagogue of London expressed this problem well: ”We seem to have to choose between loyalty to our people and loyalty to God. Did not the prophets love their people? Yet they castigated its leadership.” Zionism in effect, a colonialist expansionist movement created a historic break in Jewish identity. There has always been rabbinic resistance to this though Zionism has become extraordinarily powerful across the Jewish world.
While this is hardly the place to get into the extraordinary history of Zionism one must place it in context of the powerful cries of nationalism of the late 19th century. It inspired many Jews particularly of antisemitic Russia to rise up seeking self-determination and a new identity. Its brilliant leaders, among them Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion, both atheists, had no compunction about instrumentalizing religion with its powerful prophetic and messianic themes. Many symbols were kept but God was gone,torah replaced by fiery nationalism. It is fascinating to read about the rebbes of 100 years ago who were appalled by this development. For example Dov Baer Schneerson (d 1920) the fifth Luvatitche rebbe stated, ”The Zionists must give nationalism precedence over the Torah because it is known that those who cling to Torah and the commandments are not likely to change and accept another identity.

Moritz Gudemann, the chief rabbi of Vienna,(d 1918) predicted that “the Zionists would ultimately create a Judaism of cannons and bayonets that would invert the roles of David and Goliath and would end in a perversion of Judaism, which never glorified war and never idolized warriors.” Quoting from an from an Austrian poet, he concluded that the Zionist leadership was following a path that leads “from humanity through nationality to bestiality.”

The land of Israel (“Eretz Israel”) would become the heart of the new Jewish identity. And as we see anything to gain the land was acceptable. Murder and terror were commonplace. Two terrorists became Prime Ministers, Begin and Shamir. The original occupants of the land the Arabs had to be demonized. So many “Jews of Conscience” became horrified. Where was Torah? Where were the mitzvahs?

Remarkably today in the Toronto Star former rabbinic student Rick Salutin quoted one of the towering voices of “Jews of conscience” Yeshayahu Leibowitz (d.1994).This extraordinary polymath. an Orthodox Jew, from Riga emigrated to Palestine in 1935 where he distinguished himself in science and philosophy. In 1993 he turned down the state’s highest award the Israel Prize.I finish today’s post with this statement

The historical Jewish people was defined neither as a race, nor as a people of this country or that, or of this political system or that, nor as a people that speaks the same language, but as the people of Torah Judaism and of its commandments, as the people of a specific way of life, both on the spiritual and the practical plane, a way of life that expresses the acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, the yoke of the Torah and of its commandments.

This consciousness exercised its effect from within the people. It formed its national essence; it maintained itself down through the generations and was able to preserve its identity irrespective of times or circumstances. The words spoken by Saadia Gaon more than one thousand years ago, ‘Our nation exists only in the Torah’ (d Baghdad 942 CE)had not only a normative but also an empirical meaning. They testified to a historical fact whose power could be felt up until the 19th century. It was then that the fracture, which has not ceased to widen with time, first occurred: the break between Jewishness and Judaism.”  

Tomorrow a modern Jewish prophet Henry Siegman.

Biblical theology and the view from below

July 18, 2014


Four “terrorist” Palestinians playing soccer just before they are murdered


We must expel Arabs and take their places…and if we have to use force hen we have force at our disposal.”
David Ben Gurion the first Prime Minister of Israel Oct 5,1937 in a letter to his son

Stand up and speak on behalf of the poor
and those who need your voice in this world.
Remember that:
Where you stand will determine what you see;
Whom you stand with will determine what you hear;
What you see and hear will determine what you say and how you act.
Robert McAfee Brown


One of the cardinal things one learns as a student of the bible and as a primer for discipleship is to learn to think from below. This is not easy for the privileged. This is why North American Christianity is caught in a suburban captivity of privilege. Not bad people for sure but our starting point is generally white economic middle class privilege. This is why the growth in churches are those megachurhes. They give people waht they want. The prophets gave people what they needed. Think Joel Osteen and the biblically illiterate Christian Zionist churches in the American South.Any church which dares criticism of the “American Way of Life’ will struggle to survive. The call to the cross and the the kingdom offer of the crucified Galilean is decidedly not in vogue.


The fundamental narrative here is of course the Exodus story told from the perspective of the slaves and not of Pharaoh. For us the interlocutor is not the atheist but the nonperson, the unseen or seen only as a category—(everybody in Gaza is a terrerrorist, The Commies etc). Notoriously at different eras blacks, women, First Nations, the powerless were all people with no megaphones. Liberation theology shifted the essential question from the nonbeliever to the nonperson.


It was the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer about to be martyred in Berlin in 1945 who most graphically expressed this view in modern times:


There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.

When we analyze Israel/Palestine from this perspective our starting point for Christians is that of the poor. Who are the poor, the non-persons, those on the margin of life? We do not start from these reprehensible and self defeating rockets. We begin with the the radical dispossession of Palestinian people shoved into a crowded prison camp; we begin with the 50 year occupation of a homeland, of ongoing and relentless increase of settlements, theft of land, destruction of olive groves and collective punishment. We begin with second class citizenship, Jews only roads, a people with no nation or citizenship, no army and an asymmetrical poverty compared to the Occupier. We begin with Gaza, a foetid breeding ground of hopelessness hence the pathetic rocket attacks and the asymetrical death counts 270 dead Palestinians, 80% civilians and two israelis, each a child of God.

It is in the situation of these poor that God will be found . This is where the essential pain is.The underside of history and as we will see there are some brave Christian churches which have dared extend solidarity to the Palestinian people without justifying the counterviolence.



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