Two great divrei Torah on Justice
As I sat in shul this morning, it was helpful to reflect on the parasha of this week.
As we were called to the Torah for our various work in law, justice and healing, it was helpful to meditate and reflect on a number of things in my life, including the varying responses people had to posting a varied political perspective that was critical of the occupation and war in Lebanon.
Even with my own critiques of the actions, some of which I did include in the posts, some of which I did not, I think the majority response in the posts, which is almost always overwhelmingly negative on Jewschool, was both interesting and heartbreaking. Heartbreaking because I know that when I do sit and talk with many Jews, in varying ways, people in their hearts do not want wrongdoing to happen to others, and have concerns and critiques about the occupation, and of Israel’s policies, yet rarely, in fact hardly ever do mainstream Jewish organizations include these viewpoints.
I am willing to post these varying viewpoints that are critical of Israel and will continue to do so–it is a bit tiring to me that some want to say that to be critical of Israel’s government means one is critical of its people and all Jews–that is simply not true. I am just as, if not more so, critical of the US government, and to me governments more often than not do not reflect the interests or opinions and hearts of their people. And ultimately, it is not one-sided to critique governments that have more political and global power in different, and potentially, harsher ways, than nations and goverments that do not. Amnesty International has first-hand information that points to an Israeli policy of deliberate destruction of Lebanese civilian infrastructure during the recent conflict in which almost one million people — one-quarter of Lebanon’s population — were displaced in the month-long Israeli assault. Israel carried out more than 7,000 air attacks. Over 1,000 Lebanese were killed (one-third of them children); over 4,000 were wounded –view AI’s video documentation here. In this time, 175 Palestinians and 51 Israelis were also killed. To critique these governments is an honest reflection of the global world that we live in today–“with great power comes great responsibility”. It does not mean that people do not care about the lives that are lost in Israel, or that people do not care about their own people–rather it means that they, that we, care deeply. If readers need to make this out to be about me, then that’s unfortunate, because it misses the larger issues and ultimately doesn’t serve us as individuals and as communities trying to think about justice in its many forms. If you know me, as in if you know me off this internet “community” with its limitations in being able to actually have conversations, you’d know that I believe that things are complicated, nuanced and that ultimately I believe in finding nuanced ways to reach people. I wish the actions had done more to open up the messaging to reach more people. And I also wish that more people would be open to taking the risks that the people in the actions did in naming the atrocities that are taking place. Many of the folks involved are deeply involved in Jewish communities, in Jewish learning and organizing, yet that’s not “seen”–partly because it is almost impossible to work (as in be a paid staff/employee) in the Jewish world today and be able to voice criticism of the occupation and Israel’s actions, yet there are many who are employees who have critiques. So what happens–people have to hide. Well, people don’t want to hide anymore and people want to say what they feel, even if it will be unpopular. It is no coincidence in my eye that many involved in this work are also already marginalized within Jewish communities, in being queer, trans and Jews of color–for we already know what it is to be outside. To take the risk in criticizing Israel, to be seen as outside, is something we already know. And it is no coincidence in my eye that the language then includes discussing people as “freaks”–for we know all to often how truly “welcome” we really are.
At this point, more often than not, I am more interested in the work that happens around the kitchen table, in the conversations between people where a different kind of growth and honesty can happen–where we can express our questions, fears, lack of knowledge, awareness, etc–where people engage with each other and try to meet each other where we are–and while some may critique the actions for this reason, the blogs, in many ways, are not about that work either. More often than not the “conversations” are just as polarized, just as staunch and rigid and just as limited. So if one is to critique direct action for this, as a friend of mine this weekend so eloquently put, one must also critique the blogs for the very same reason. So, lets take a look around ourselves, at what it is to engage with this project and ask ourselves, how much justice, how much conversation and engagement with each other are we willing to pursue?
If you enjoy reading parashat, check out Rabbi Jill Jacob’s piece on jspot and radicaltorah.
Also an excerpt from Melissa Simon’s piece on Mosaic:
This week’s portion, Parashat Shoftim, or “magistrates,” is about creating a just society. It is part of Moses’ closing speech to the Children of Israel. The Israelites are standing and waiting to go into the Land, but Moses is unable to go with them. Because of Moses’ bad behavior in the desert, he will be left behind as the Israelites go on to the promised land.
In Moses’ speech, he provides ethical and administrative norms to be followed by the community. A dominant word within this parasha is tzedek, “righteous” or “justice.” The word occurs six times in the Torah and 68 times in the entirety of the Tanakh.
What is justice? Many modern Jews, myself included, take pride in our faith’s commitment to social change. “Social justice” has become a sort of buzzword for young Jewish activists working in a variety of fields. As a Reform rabbinical student, I take particular pride in my denomination’s leadership role in certain areas of social justice. The idea of a just society is rooted in our most holy text, the Torah. According to W. Gunther Plaut, a leading commentator on the Torah, “no people gave as much loving attention to the overriding importance of law equitably administered and enforced as did Israel.”
What, then, does a just society look like for LGBTQ people? This week’s Torah portion says “they shall govern the people with due justice” (Deuteronomy 16:18). Plaut suggests that this roots the ultimate administrative power in the people, rather than the king. This leads us to ask questions of our own lives. How can our leaders lead justly? How can we be leaders in our own community? How can the people create their own just society?
In Parashat Shoftim we are commanded “Tzedek tzedek tirdof” (“Justice, justice, you shall pursue,” Deuteronomy 16:20). The verb tirdof is in the imperative, commanding us to engage in the work at hand. Why does the word tzedek, “justice,” repeat twice? There is a Chassidic teaching that the word justice is repeated because “in matters of justice one may never stand still. The pursuit of justice is the pursuit of peace. Do justly so that justice may be engendered.”
We all must take a stand for justice wherever we see injustice taking place, not only for our own communities, but also for those in need of our support. The work of Citizens to Restore Fairness was accomplished through the work of people of all races, of many religions and across the entire spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is through embracing our diversity that we have the power to create change.