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Transformative Judaism and our Planetary Crisis

Since human action has endangered the web of life on earth, human action can heal it.

And the religious and spiritual communities of our planet have the wisdoms and the tools to do the healing.

Judaism is especially relevant because, unlike most world religions, we preserve the teachings of an indigenous people in the biblical tradition –- the spiritual wisdom of shepherds and farmers. And yet as a world people, we can now apply the earthiness of our origins to the Whole Earth.

That does not mean simply repeating the ancient practices. For instance, the ancient code of kosher food does not take into account that we now “eat” coal and oil and crucial minerals like lithium. Is there an “eco-kosher” way of eating them, as well as caring for vegetables and fruit and kosher animals in ways traditional kashrut did not? Can we shape our ways of celebrating Sukkot and Passover and Tu B’Shvat and life-cycle ceremonies so that they embody social action as an aspect of spiritual deepening?

For The Shalom Center, this transformation in our reality calls for action in four aspects of reality:

1. Spiritually, the creation of new forms of prayer meditation, and celebration that draw us into fuller awareness of the interweaving of all life: for instance, “pronouncing” and understanding the Sacred God-Name “YHWH” as YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Interbreathing of all life – rather than Lord or King. Ruach ha'olam, rather than melech ha'olam.

2. Intellectually, the absorption of ecological science into what we teach and learn as sacred Torah, just as Maimonides integrated the best science and philosophy of his day into Torah. Ecology takes seriously both each distinctive niche of each life form and the flow that connects them. It does what Kabbalah yearns toward: reintegrating the two Trees of Eden — the Tree of Flowing Life and the Tree of Distinction-making — into One.

3. Relationally, our recognition of the varied ethical, religious, and spiritual life-paths as necessary and valuable unfoldings of the varied “organs” of human civilization and planetary life – as different from each other and as equally necessary to each other as the brain, liver, heart, and lungs in a single body. To heal our planet in the present crisis, we will need to draw on the wisdom and commitment of every human culture. So we need to move beyond interfaith dialogue into the pursuit of interrelational work among the different communities.

4. Vigorous action to confront the modern Carbon Pharaohs that are bringing plagues of drought, flood, war, and famine on the Earth and all Humanity – action that might include lobbying, voting, rallies, vigils, nonviolent civil disobedience, organizing counter-institutions like coops, organic farms, etc., and economic action to Move Our Money/Protect Our Planet (MOM/POP) – moving our money from corporate investments and banks that endanger Mother Earth to companies, banks, coops, etc. that protect and heal her.

As we move forward in all these aspects of the world, we create a Judaism that heals and transforms itself in order to heal and transform the world. We learn anew what ancient Torah teaches: – “Sh’sh’sh’shma! Hush’sh’sh’sh and Hear, all you who wrestle with the Ultimate — Hear the still small sound of almost-silent breathing: the Breath of Life is ONE

Member since 2010
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph. D., founded (1983) and directs The Shalom Center https://theshalomcenter.org In 2014 he was honored by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights with their first Lifetime Achievement Award as a “Human Rights Hero.” In 2015 he was named by The Forward one of the “most inspiring” American rabbis. Beginning in 1969 with writing the original Freedom Seder and continuing with his seminal work as editor of New Menorah magazine and author of Godwrestling (1978) and Seasons of Our Joy (1982), he has been a leader of the movement for Jewish political and spiritual renewal. Waskow pioneered in the development of Eco-Judaism in theology, liturgy, daily practice, and activism -- • through his books Seasons of Our Joy; Godwrestling – Round 2; Down-to-Earth Judaism; Trees, Earth, & Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology; and Torah of the Earth: 4,000 Years of Ecology in Jewish Thought; • as author of a pioneering essay on “Jewish Environmental Ethics: Adam and Adamah,” in Oxford Handbook of Jewish Ethics and Morality (Elliot N. Dorff and Jonathan K. Crane, eds.; Oxford University Press, 2013); • through the Green Menorah organizing project of The Shalom Center; • through the Interfaith Freedom Seder for the Earth and a number of climate-focused public actions drawing on and transforming traditional liturgies for Tu B’Shvat, Passover/ Palm Sunday, Tisha B’Av, Sukkot, and Hanukkah; • as a candidate for the World Zionist Congress on the Green Zionist Alliance slate; • as a participant and speaker in the World Interfaith Summit on the Climate Crisis called by the Archbishop of Sweden in Uppsala in 2008; • as a founding member (2010-2013) of the stewardship committee of the Green Hevra (a network of Jewish environmental organizations); • as a member of the coordinating committee of Interfaith Moral Action on Climate; • and as a practitioner of nonviolent civil disobedience who has been arrested in climate protests in the US Capitol, at the White House, and has undertaken civil disobedience at Philadelphia conclaves of fracking corporate leaders.
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