Culture, Justice, Mishegas, Religion, Sex & Gender

AJWS launches

marvin_logoNow we’re talking. Just in time for your Shavuot Night Torah Study, the American Jewish World Service has launched, a user-editable repository of social justice-oriented texts from Jewish tradition.
If you were wondering where in the Jerusalem Talmud is the original source for the dictum “one who saves a single life has saved the world entire”, a simple search yields Sanhedrin 4:22.
If you’re looking for a well-spoken prophet of antiquity who railed against the exploitation of the poor — Amos pops up with some choice words.
If you are curious what statement was made by some Jewish leaders arrested working for civil rights in Florida in 1964, you can read a passage from it here.
It’s a veritable wiki-concordance of “tikkun olam”! Here is how it is described in an announcement from AJWS:

On1Foot is an online, open source database of Jewish social justice texts. We invite you to visit On1Foot to explore this exciting new resource for Jewish social justice education.
On1Foot allows users to:

  • Search and browse hundreds of biblical, rabbinic and contemporary Jewish texts about social justice
  • Upload new texts
  • Comment on existing texts
  • Create custom source sheets using the texts and suggested discussion questions

On1Foot is a project of American Jewish World Service and is co-sponsored by AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, Hazon, Tzedek, Mechon Hadar and Uri L’Tzedek.

As we say down here in the District: Happy learning!

8 thoughts on “AJWS launches

  1. Hmm. I feel like this is the sort of thing that we’re all supposed to be into, and yet…it actually makes me feel quite a bit less than pleased. There’s something about taking an enormous, complex and often ethically problematic (to me) tradition and watering it down to “social justice texts!” that makes me think that we haven’t thought very much about why, exactly, we desire to have this assurance that a long and complex tradition agrees with us.
    First of all, to state the obvious, there are many, many, many (many, many) passages in the Bible and the rabbinic lit which are, to my mind, profoundly problematic in their ethical implications. (Having just taught a course on Women in Judaism, I can think of a number of ones on women just off the top of my head). And this would, I think, be expected – what a male, Babylonian, sixth century (or whatever) rabbi thinks is right in the world won’t necessarily line up with what I, an American female living in the 21st century, thinks is right.
    Second of all, I’m unsure why, exactly, it matters to us so much sometimes that a Jewish source said something about, for instance, the necessity of caring for the poor. Personally, I think that we should care for the poor anyway – and I would think so, I hope, even if the sources didn’t sometimes instruct that way. And of course, I think that the sources are sometimes wrong in what they say.
    So while I understand the political value of being able to point to a text as a prooftext, I’m not sure it’s that honest, in terms of expressing our actual reasons for affirming a position or idea. For myself, I think I would prefer to take the texts as they are and read them for what they are, instead of trying to pretend that they’re absolutely “good”. Why not actually engage with the sources, in all their messiness, instead of only looking at the “good” ones or trying to explain away the problems?
    Does this make sense?

  2. Miri, I think you’ve beautifully articulated some of the problems with a project like this. But it’s an open-source project, so there’s no reason why that can’t include problematic sources and how we grapple with them. And given the way our tradition preserves both accepted and contested texts, that seems like a very authentic approach to engaging in this particular project.

  3. Miri, I see what you’re saying, but I’ve gotta point out that the likely reason you “think that we should care for the poor anyway – and would..even if the sources didn’t sometimes instruct that way” is because you’ve got biological and spiritual anscestors going back thousands of years who learned this stuff!
    The point, I imagine, isn’t to convince your non-justice-minded friends (though that could be a perk), but to demonstrate the wealth of material in Jewish tradition on these topics and to give new generations of Jewish change-makers a better sense of what footsteps they are following.

  4. I have a fun anecdote on this topic: I was asking my friends and mentors how they make ethical decisions. And a rabbi mentor from Seattle gave me the most honest answer of all.
    He said, “Well, I think about what I feel, then I go to my religious texts and find the passages that agree with my feelings, and I ignore the rest. I think everyone does this, I’m just more honest about it.”
    I agree. I think the rabbis through history and all of us pick the parts of tradition we already agree with. Additionally, we are influenced by the most inspirational parts and swayed by the parts our teachers have told us are more important in their eyes.
    To me, the practical use of this is to find those quotes and sources when I can remember part but not all of a quote I once heard before.

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