As I wrote last week, one of the great riddles of religion is
the close connection in factual human history and in our mythic stories between
danger and hope, disaster and transformation.
How do we celebrate a God Whose moments of wonder and joy are so interwoven with
moments of despair and degradation? Last week, Rabbi David Seidenberg and I
wrote about how this connection operates in the story of the Rainbow, its
broken, twisted version in the oil slick spreading across the Gulf Coast of the
US, and the Rainbow's shattered version in the multicolored sparks that appear
in an H-Bomb's mushroom cloud .
Today, let's look at the recent efforts in Israel and America by those who think
they are "in charge" of Jewish life to clamp down on opinions that challenge
their own. This is clearly rooted in two fears: fear that despite Israel's far
superior power, it faces persistent danger from Palestinian rage and terrorism
and from misplaced sympathy for the Palestinian underdogs; and fear that those
who want to control Israeli and American Jewish official policy are actually
less and less in control of events, because many of their constituents have
gotten out of their control.
In Israel, this has taken the form of trying to muzzle organizations (like the
New Israel Fund and recipients of its funding) that challenge the government's
behavior toward human rights; to denounce and cripple groups that document
specific cases in which specific Israeli soldiers committed acts that may have
been war crimes; and to slander people (even committed Zionists like Judge
Richard Goldstone) who challenge the government's refusal to create an
independent commission, as provided by law, to investigate such charges.
In America, two recent cases in the Bay Area, said to be one of the most
"liberal" American Jewish communities:
In one, the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation responded to the showing
of a film about Rachel Corrie in the local Jewish Film Festival by adopting a
code of what ideas were allowed to be expressed and what were forbidden, in
Jewish venues they fund. (Corrie, an American who was using direct non-violent
resistance against demolition of Palestinian homes, was killed by a bulldozer in
whose path she stood. Some witnesses said the killing was deliberate; others,
that it was an accident.)
Three weeks later, just across the Bay in Oakland, some unknown person who made
clear his/her right-wing opinions about Israel vandalized the house of Rabbi
Michael Lerner. S/he glued to the house placards and cartoons denouncing Lerner
for supporting Judge Richard Goldstone along with 38 other rabbis when Goldstone
was barred from his own grandson's becoming bar mitzvah in South Africa, by
threats to disrupt the Shabbat service. (Full disclosure: I was also among the
Lerner and his magazine Tikkun explained the vandalism by focusing on the
Goldstone connection. I would add that it may be no accident that Lerner lives
in Berkeley, just across the Bay from San Francisco. Once the "centrist" or even
"liberal' establishment puts its kosher stamp on stamping out debate, violence
is very likely to follow.
For the full Lerner story,
In the great archetypal tale of top-down, irresponsible, unchecked power - the
biblical tale of Pharaoh - the Torah says that when Pharaoh first felt
challenged, he made life even worse for the Israelite workers, hoping to
terrorize them into submission. ("Bricks without straw!" came the order.) Some
gave in; Moses, Aaron, and Miriam did not. And ultimately many Israelite
households signalled their determination to go free by choosing to smear the
blood of their own lambs upon their own doorposts.
That was an act of bravery, defiance, turning the doorway unto a birth canal
lined with blood as every human is born through a birth canal lined with blood.
A second birthing, into freedom.
Did those who smeared and glued threats upon the Lerner family's doorway realize
they were turning upside down the ancient act of freedom?
This reversal was, of course a symbolic attempt at imposing death rather than
choosing birth - and it is not likely to stay only symbolic forever. It attempts
to glue us into our old houses, the tight and narrow space (the literal meaning
of the Hebrew word "Mitzrayyim, Egypt"), the space of death and slavery.
Today, glue in the most prophetic voices. Tomorrow, the "liberals." Unless we
all open doors into our own rebirth.
In the ancient story, repression ended badly ---
"Pharaoh's Army was drowned,
Deep in the Blood-Red Sea!"
What is wrong with repressing debate?
Three things. First of all, it twists out of shape the individual conscience and
wholeness of each human being who must choose between honest expression of
her/his own truth and the fear of losing livelihood, communal connection, even
Second, repression twists and demeans the Image of God in every human being.
Each can only express his/her own unique face of God by saying his/her own truth
- non-violently and without threats, so as to challenge but not to hurt or kill
one of God's Images. For hurting or killing one of God's Images shatters God's
Own Wholeness, imposes an internal civil war into the God self.
Third, repression shatters the wisdom of the community. How can the community -
whether Jewish or of any other culture -- make wise decisions without hearing
with attention and concern the words and voices of each Mouth of God?
The biblical story tells us that Pharaoh brought on the ruin of his own country,
his own family, and at last himself because he refused to listen - and tried to
punish and threaten instead. Bad listening makes bad policy. Repression breeds
yet more repression until the Red Sea recoils.
Pharaoh began by oppressing Israelites. He ended by killing Egyptians.
Today Jewish officialdom begins by occupying and blockading Palestinians. It
will end by killing Jews.
Unless we act on behalf of freedom and re-birthing, for both peoples.
Shalom, salaam, peace! - Arthur
Rabbi Waskow is the director of the Shalom Centre, and is very involved in human rights work.