by Salem Pearce
Editor’s Note: This post is the tenth in Jewschool’s series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson and beyond.
“We forfeit the right to worship Gd as long as we continue to humiliate Negros.”
Using the language of his time, so said Abraham Joshua Heschel in a telegram to Pres. John F. Kennedy, just before their meeting. Heschel was talking about the structural racism of the 1960s: He had just met the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King at a conference and was getting more involved in the civil rights movement. With this message, he signaled his desire to move the religious community to take action and make personal sacrifice in solidarity with the black community. “Churches and synagogues have failed. They must repent . . .The hour calls for high moral grandeur and spirituality audacity.”
Heschel was a poet as well as a rabbi and a scholar, and even though — or maybe because — his medium was a telegram, I know he chose his words carefully when he made this radical statement. On the one hand, “forfeit” can have an active connotation of relinquishing, or letting go. In this sense, “forfeiting” means you surrender a claim: When you plead guilty to a crime, you forfeit trial by jury. On the other hand, “forfeit” can have a more passive connotation, of something being taken. In this sense, you are deprived without your assent: When you are convicted of a crime, you forfeit your freedom. I think Heschel wanted to say both. Moral action is a prerequisite to relationship with Gd. For Heschel, racism means that we are saying no to Gd. And it also means that Gd is saying no to us. Read more »
Chicago Jewschoolers, take note! Jewschool Senior Editor Aryeh Bernstein is moving back to Chicago and will be teaching a beginners Judaism class for the Mishkan community. Registration just opened.
Inspired Judaism in Small Installments for Busy People
will kick off February 4th and runs Wednesdays through July 29th, 6:30-8:30 pm [Conversion Add-on 8:40-9:30 pm]
@ The Mishkan Space at 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave, 403a
Sign up for 1 class, 4 classes, 8 classes, or the Whole Megillah
• for conversion
• adult b’nai mitzvah
• general brain food for everyone
Finally learn all the stuff you pretend to already know about Judaism. Impress your friends at parties, not to mention, stimulate your most under-utilized organ with a sophisticated dive into the fundamentals of Jewish practice, thought, philosophy, culture and tradition. Take your Jewish intellectual life to the next level.
Learn more about Mishkan here.
by Mo Martin
Mo Martin is the host of the new podcast “Radio Free Babylonia”, produced by Jewish Public Media.
The year I first cracked open a book of Talmud was 2006, and life was pretty good. I was a moderate liberal filled with the righteous indignation of the Bush years, I was a 19-year-old Birthright-style Zionist in Israel (The Land Flowing With Beer and Single Jews My Age), and I was a loyal and proud son of the Conservative Jewish movement. Sure, life wasn’t perfect. I had an undiagnosed panic disorder, no girlfriend, and my friends back in the states missed me, and I missed them. But surely the Democrats were about to sweep the midterms, and with Israel withdrawing from Gaza, peace couldn’t be many years away, right? Talmud was an exciting intellectual adventure, and a necessary step on my way to the Rabbinate. As the foundation of Jewish religious thought, Talmud would clarify the complicated Halakhic discussions that I had been told were the heart of Jewish life. At that time, my religious life and my political beliefs were distinct.
Now it’s 2015, and I’m angry. Read more »
While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in.
— Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, 1965
And then, all of a sudden, we were slaves. Chapter 1 of Exodus moves quickly and gets right to the point. And just as quickly, it slows down to detail Pharaoh’s negotiations with the midwives (Exodus 1:15-22):
by Rabbi Michelle Dardashti
Jacob has a thing for messing with the expected societal order. His story begins with striving to claim for himself what his birth-order denied and ends with his enforcing this switch upon his grandsons.
“When Joseph saw that his father [Jacob] was placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head, he thought it wrong; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s. “Not so, Father,” Joseph said to his father, “for the other is the first-born; place your right hand on his head.” But his father objected….” (Gen. 48: 17-19).
One’s first instinct in reading is to simply presume that old habits die hard and Jacob has learned nothing from his own destructive experiences with meddlesome blessing bestowal and favoritism. But in reading Genesis this year, with dynamics of power and privilege at the forefront of my thinking, I’m inclined to believe there’s something deeper at play. A closer look at the stories of our ancestors reflects that the supposed precept of a birthright—privileging/entitling an eldest son to a greater share of blessing simply by virtue of being the first born—simply was not upheld. (Evidence: Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers – our narrative lists and preferences each in a manner contrary to their seniority.) Read more »