With one month to go until Yom Kippur, The Shalom Center and Jewish Currents have teamed up to create a video celebrating 10 contemporary martyrs who were killed in the past 50 years “because they were affirming profound Jewish values of peace, justice, truth, and healing of the Earth.”
After the jump, Rabbi Arthur Waskow provides theological context:
“Eleh ezkerah” recalls ten great rabbis who were tortured to death by the Roman Empire during its occupation of the Land of Israel, because they refused to abandon the teaching and practicing of Torah. They practiced what we now call nonviolent “satyagraha,” soul-force, unto death.
These ten became a model for Jewish martyrdom, traditionally viewed as dying for the sake of “kiddush hashem,” acting to make holy the Name of God.
Sometimes this is understood as simply affirming in public the holiness of God’s name, which is already holy.
But a deeper theology might take it that God’s Name Itself becomes still more holy when human beings act to affirm the teachings of what holy action is.
A still deeper theology might even say that we and our own names are part of Sh’mei Rabbah — the Great Name — and that the Name Itself necessarily becomes still greater and more holy (Yisgadal v’yiskadash) when we act in holy ways, lighting up our own names in fiery letters as part of the Great Name.
In most of Jewish history, those who died for kiddush hashem, making the Name of God holy, were killed precisely because they were Jews who were upholding Torah for the sake of the Jewish people. Their attackers, like the Roman authorities two thousand years ago, were enraged by their Jewish commitment itself, and they died mostly in company with other Jews — usually not along with those of other ethnic or spiritual communities.
Read the rest to learn more about the ten activists in the video.