Click above for a video clip of Rabbi Brant Rosen’s plenum address at the Jewish Voice for Peace National Member’s Meeting in Baltimore on Sunday, March 15.
As rabbis and people of faith, we stand in solidarity with the work of Friends of Sabeel North America and Canadian Friends of Sabeel.
Palestinian Christian liberation theologians such as Canon Naim Ateek of Sabeel challenge Jews and Christians to rethink our relationship to the Holy Land and each other on the basis of a universal standard of human rights grounded in nonviolence. We have long encouraged the Jewish community to engage the Palestinian Christian faith community with an open heart and mind in order to encounter another version of faithfulness.
As Jews, we believe it is enormously important to engage in dialogue and find common cause with Sabeel. We appreciate their justice-based approach for providing needed alternatives to Christian Zionism and Replacement Theology, which so often find their basis in fundamentalism and anti-Semitism. We are also aware that far too often, mainstream Christians are loath to criticize Zionism and/or Israel for fear of offending their Jewish sisters and brothers.
In fact, we must speak out – and we must do it together. The Palestinian people suffer from daily brutality by the Israeli authorities, who are destroying their homes, confiscating their land and water, manning the checkpoints that prevent freedom of movement to hospitals, work and study, shooting tear gas during demonstrations, and dropping bombs in civilian areas. They are also forced to endure a toxic form of racism growing in Israeli society, as was recently evidenced during Israel’s national election.
The work of Sabeel is rooted in a theological vision of justice for all who live in the land. This is why we, as religious Jews, are honored to stand in solidarity with them. When the Declaration of Human Rights was written in response to the Holocaust, Jews were grateful for a universal measure by which to judge human behavior. We believe groups like Sabeel are our partners in affirming these sacred standards that are rooted in our shared conviction that all human beings are created in the image of God.
We are proud to stand together with them in our shared work of justice, dignity and liberation for all.
– Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council
by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
A powerful take away for rabbis attending the fabulous Jewish Voice for Peace National Members’ Meeting emerged during a text study with the venerable Rabbi Everett Gendler, who introduced us to the important work of Rabbi Samuel Tamaret (1869 – 1903). As we listened to our elder teach, we realized our deep connection to previous rabbinic generations who also regarded militarism and nationalism as antithetical to Torah.
Rabbi Gendler, a life long proponent of nonviolent direct action, was introduced to Tamaret by Dr. Gerson Cohen, a librarian at the Jewish Theological Seminary when R. Gendler was a student. According to Rabbi Gendler:
We had a warm personal relationship beset by substantial differences of political outlook! One day Dr. Cohen sees me in the hallway near the library. “Gendler,” he says, feigning the stance of a summons officer, Come in, I’ve got something for you.” He picks a thin volume off the shelf in his office, hands it to me with just a touch of disapproval, and says, “You’re an Iowa Quaker…this will appeal to you!”
How right he was! “The Community of Israel and Wars Among the Nations” was my introduction to the quite revolutionary writings of “One of the Passionately Concerned Rabbis,” – pen name of Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamaret.
The exchange between Gendler and Cohen is a beautiful testimony to rabbinic cooperation across the spectrum of opinion for the sake of knowledge.
Rabbi Tamaret, was a teacher of nonviolence as a core principle of Jewish life. He first supported and then opposed what he regarded as Zionism’s overweening nationalism after attending the fourth Zionist Congress in London in 1900. The following excerpts are from Rabbi Tamaret’s Shabbat Hagadol sermon during Passover 1906, translated by Rabbi Gendler. In the essay, Tamaret distinguishes two types of violence. He describes “natural violence” as direct violence arising from the inability to control human passions, and a second type of unnatural violence constructed from sophisticated falsehoods meant to persuade “whole populations to band together publicly in organized assaults upon weaker nations.”
Rabbi Tamaret regarded Zionism in the later category, as did significant numbers of rabbis in his generation:
Fradulent evil, that is, evil justified by the mind, or political evil, has become the greatest destroyer on the face of the earth. It is the source of the worst catastrophes which have befallen men since the beginning of the “improvement” of the intellect. For what have we seen? A steady reduction of private, natural crimes of individual violence, but an enormous increase in fraudulent murders…hypocrisy has united whole nations and entire societies in the pursuit of weaker ones. This is the secret of all the wars, conscriptions and organized slaughters which have occurred in the world at large…
It was in order to clear away these two corruptions: violence due to uncontrolled passion directed at immediate wants, and the unnatural ones resulting from misrepresentations of the intellect (systemic violence) that the Holy One manifested in the world through the giving of the Torah, preceded by the exile to and redemption from Mitzrayim (Egypt). Servitude, the condition of one having dominion over the person of another, falls under the second category of evil, that evil which pretends to some justification.
We have no assurance that the unnatural evil of man’s falsifying intellect will not snatch the Torah, toss it into its valise, and make of it another weapon for destruction and murder. For this is the standard method of the evil-minded murderer: to take the fruits of enlightenment and intelligence, intended to enhance life on this earth, and turn them into their opposites, tools for the angel of death.
Rabbi Tamaret also offered the following Talmudic commentary to illustrate what he regarded as the greatest provider of authentic security and the true meaning of Torah:
A man should concern himself more that he not injure others than that he not be injured…. The Children of Israel must derive this lesson from the events of Passover eve: not to put their trust in wealth, and not to put their trust in might, but rather in the god of truth and justice, for this will serve to defend them everywhere against those who would dominate by the power of the fist.
May the power of the Torah of nonviolence liberate our hearts and minds this Passover so we can celebrate liberty and freedom for Palestinians and Jews next year.
Like so many throughout the world, we grieve the loss of Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar – the three Israeli teens who were found murdered this week near their homes in Hevron. The loss of children through acts of violence strikes at the very core of our souls – we can only hope the outpouring of grief being exhibited throughout the world for these three young men is providing a measure of comfort to their parents and loved ones.
And just as fervently, we grieve for Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, murdered in an apparent “price tag” act of vengeance for the deaths of the three Israeli youths. We also note with sorrow that at least eight Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military during the weeks following the abduction of the three Israeli boys, including 10-year-old Ali al-Awour, 15-year-old Mohammad Dudeen and 22-year-old Mustafa Hosni Aslan. Ali died of wounds from an Israeli missile strike in northern Gaza; Mohammad was killed by a single live bullet in the village of Dura; Mustafa was killed by live bullets in Qalandiya refugee camp during clashes with an Israeli military raid.
We are also not unmindful that, according to the Israeli human rights organization, B’tselem, over 1,384 Palestinian minors have been killed by the Israeli military since 2000. Indeed, as the Jewish Voice for Peace statement issued yesterday affirms, “we refuse to mourn only the deaths of Palestinians, or only the deaths of Israelis. But that does not mean we can ignore the enormous power difference between Israelis and Palestinians, or pretend it is just a ‘cycle of violence’ with no root cause or context. Each of these horrific incidents that harms both peoples happen in the context of an ongoing occupation, itself inherently a system of daily violence. And it is a system that by its very nature puts the lives, dignity, and human rights of all in jeopardy.”
Just as we must understand the larger context of violence in which these acts occurred, we must also search our own souls to examine the ways in which we, as Jews, respond to our Jewish losses. We believe that too often, we use our grief as a barrier between our community and the outside world. We withdraw into our pain, holding tight to the conviction that the world ultimately believes “Jewish blood is cheap.”
And all too often, we use our grief as a kind of weapon to lash out at those around us. In this regard, we are deeply dismayed by the incitement of Israeli politicians and religious leaders against Palestinians, particularly Prime Minister Netanyahu’s public call for “vengeance.” It is impossible to separate this kind of incendiary rhetoric from the tragic violence perpetrated against Palestinians over the past few days.
We stand with the great sage Rabbi Ben Azzai, who famously taught that the concept of humanity being created in the divine image is the most central value of Torah. If we ultimately view all life as sacred, then empathy – not isolation or vengeance – is the most healing response of all. Let us affirm that our losses are all ultimately connected in deep and profound ways. Let us affirm that the loss of Jewish children is inseparable from the loss of innocent children everywhere who fall victim daily to hatred and violence. Let our grief inspire us to grieve no less for children who fall victim to violence the world over – whether in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Iraq, in the West Bank and Gaza – or in cities throughout our own country.
Let us redouble our resolve to create a world of safety and security for our children and for all who dwell on earth. And let us do what we must to make such a world a reality once and for all.
May the memories of all our fallen children be for a blessing.
Rabbi Brant Rosen
Rabbi Alissa Wise
Founders, Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council
by Rabbi P. Almoni
God. Torah. Israel. Through the ages, all three essential Jewish concepts have been the arena of fierce rabbinic debate. No aspect of Jewish life, sacred or mundane, has been immune from disagreement. The Talmud, the foundational work of post-biblical Judaism, is a 20,000+ page record of these vigorous discussions.
For 1,500 years and more the Talmud has shaped our Jewish culture. But now, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the immediate past president of the Union for Reform Judaism has declared an exception to the rule: the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. According to Rabbi Yoffie, all Jews believe it was wrong for the Presbyterian church to withdraw its investments from three American companies who enable and benefit from the Occupation of the West Bank. Two Jews, one opinion.
Rabbi Yoffie’s claim of Jewish uniformity of mind is his wish; it’s not the reality. I am a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. We are tens of thousands of Jews who enthusiastically backed the Presbyterian church’s stand for human rights on the West Bank. And this number is on the rise. Jewish Voice for Peace represents a growing movement. JVP is regularly adding staff to match its swelling membership and increased donations. The Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace continues to expand too. There are yet more Jews who are watching this debate about the Occupation; they are studying the issues. Yet Rabbi Yoffie would shut the debate down right now, angrily denouncing us as: “a fringe group in black T-shirts.” So much for the spirit of Jewish debate.
But I am troubled by the premise that lies in the background of Rabbi Yoffie’s statement. He believes in a monolithic Jewish community. A community in which all Jews share the same political position: the belief that divestment is wrong and that the Occupation of the West Bank may not be opposed in any meaningful way.
This is clearly a controversial idea. Why would all Jews choose to hew to this one opinion? Looking beyond the Jewish community, minorities rightly resist the idea that they all should hold to the same opinion. As Jews we should be the first to reject the idea that the color of a person’s passport or the color of their skin should determine their political beliefs. Try filling in the blank with the ethnic minority of your choice: “All ________ believe that ___________.” We don’t do that.
The claim: “all Jews are X” reinforces a classic anti-Semitic line of reasoning. It runs the risk of feeding anti-Semitic ideas about Jews, with ramifications for all minorities.
So, Rabbi Yoffie’s claim for Jewish uniformity is untrue and is ill-conceived. Revealingly, the Jewish establishment has taken pains to never put his claim to the test. I have never yet seen a community-wide conversation about Israel. Even supporting the modest step of divesting from the Occupation, is, according to Rabbi Yoffie, beyond the pale. Jewish Voice for Peace poses a threat to Rabbi Yoffie’s need for uniformity.
It’s high time we opened up the conversation and allowed voices outside the establishment to be heard. We desperately need to engage the imaginations of young Jews, for whom Jewish Voice for Peace is rapidly becoming a mainstream option.
Not: “two Jews, one opinion,” but, two Jews – as many opinions as those Jews choose.”
This is the spirit of Jewish tradition: not to censor and censure but to engage each other in dialogue and debate.
“Ploni Almoni” is the traditional rabbinic version of the English language “anonymous.” The author chooses to remain anonymous because of the adversarial nature of Rabbi Yoffie’s attack on those Jews who stand for Palestinian Solidarity. In that sense, Rabbi Ploni Almoni or Rabbi Anonymous, speaks for all the Rabbis and Jews who have come under attack from the Jewish establishment.
by Cantor Michael Davis
When my father died, some years ago, a close friend came over and sat with me quietly throughout the day. I felt no need to speak. I was comforted by his silent companionship. Ecclesiastes’ words of wisdom are captured in this ancient Jewish practice. Judaism instructs those who come to a house of mourning to be silent, to wait for the mourner to speak first.
The families of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Sha’ar, and Naftali Frankel, the three Jewish boys who were kidnapped while hitchhiking on the West Bank, are grieving. If I were to visit them today, I don’t know what words of comfort I could offer them in their pain. I would try to be present with them, to walk with them along their path. I know I would tremble to think of what it must be like to lose a child. I would be silent.
I know from the twenty years that I lived in Israel how tragic events like the kidnapping of the three boys become the focus of the entire Israeli Jewish community. American Jews have similarly marked the kidnappings – and now the tragically violent deaths – of the three boys. I will be hosting and participating in a memorial service for the three boys tonight. I hope our communal commemorations can offer some measure of companionship and comfort to the bereaved families.
But silence is not always a virtue. There is also a time to speak. Over the past few weeks, we have seen an ugly manipulation of the plight of the three Jewish families. Thousands of Palestinians live in fear of the brutal crackdown Israel has unleashed. Innocent men have been killed. On Monday night, the Israeli military attacked Gaza again.
If our feelings for the Jewish families are sincere then we can extend our compassion to the many other victims of violence. Compassion is not diluted by sharing it with others. Hundreds of Palestinian children have been kidnapped by Israeli forces. If kidnapping means the forcible removal of a child from his parents’ care and then being taken to a prison for an indefinite period of time, where he might be subject to torture or death, all beyond the reach of his family or the law – then the some 200 Palestinian children who are currently being held by Israeli forces are also kidnapped. More Palestinians have been kidnapped and some killed since the Jewish boys were seized on June 12.
Like 7 year old Ali Abd al-Latif al-Awour who died three days after being hit by shrapnel during an Israel airstrike on Gaza; 15 year old Mohammad Dudeen who was killed by an Israeli soldier near Hebron; or 16 year old Yousef Abu Zagha who was shot in the chest at the Jenin refugee camp. The numbers are hard to grasp. 127 Israeli and over 1,384 Palestinian minors killed since 2000 according to Israeli human rights organization, B’tselem. As hard as it is to even imagine the scope of this suffering, this this is just a part of an even larger picture of violent death and suffering, predominantly on the West Bank and Gaza.
While the story of the killing of the three Jewish boys was front page news in the Chicago Tribune and papers across the nation, the shockingly routine killing of Palestinians remains hidden from our sight. Out of sight, out of mind. We respond viscerally to the shock of an isolated act of violence. All too often we become accustomed to systemic violence and it is ignored. We get used to a new normal, as horrible as it may be. But this is cold comfort to the bereaved Palestinian families and the tens of thousands of men, women and children living in terror. What is going through the minds of the Palestinian population as they listen to Israeli leaders pounding the drums of war, condemning the Palestinian population at large as legitimate military targets. And this jingoistic talk of the leaders has made its mark on the Jewish population. Mohamed Hussein Abu Khdeir, a 16 year old Palestinian boy was kidnapped as he left home for early this morning on his way to Ramadan prayers. He was murdered, by all accounts by Israeli settlers. Thankfully, this particular incident was condemned by Israeli leaders.
The distinction of whom to feel compassion for and who shall remain invisible is a choice. When there are two sides to a conflict, it is a moral choice. Each Fall, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah we read the story of Israel’s ancient adversary, Ishmael. The Torah tells us that God provided a miracle to save the dying boy Ishmael. God heard the boy’s voice “as he was at that time” because he was an innocent child at that time. Our vocal response to the tragic kidnapping and deaths of the three Jewish boys underscores our continued silence at the violent loss of life and abuse of Palestinian children by the Israeli authorities.
At the beginning of the year we confess our sins “for the sins of commission and for the sins of omission.” The State of Israel professes to act on behalf of all Jews. That includes me. If I fail to voice my opposition to this campaign of violence, it would be an act of omission. The Talmud teaches that: “silence is equivalent to acquiescence.” I do not acquiesce to the kidnapping of underage boys and terrorizing an entire population to force it into submission.
Let use our voices to speak up for those who are trembling in fear of ongoing violence – with the looming threat of yet more violence to come. May we see the end to violence and may all the children in jeopardy, both Israeli and Palestinian, come home to their families, whole in body and mind.
Dear Commissioners of the Presbyterian General Assembly,
Over the past week a delegation of rabbis from the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace visited with the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly in Detroit. These rabbis, together with Jewish and Presbyterian peace activists, have prayed and stood vigil, spoken in public and held many private conversations with you, the commissioners.
The rabbis asked you, our Presbyterian friends: what does your conscience tell you to do? Overwhelmingly, you replied: my conscience tells me to vote for divestment. But, the Presbyterian elders – clergy and lay leaders – added: one concern still weighs on me. “What will the Jewish people in my life say: the rabbi I know, my Jewish cousins, my Jewish neighbors. Many of these Jews have emailed me or called me, asking me not to divest. I value my relationship with Jewish people and I do not want to undermine those relationships.”
Interfaith relationships, particularly between Jews and Christians, are an important focus. We appreciate the sensitivity of the Presbyterian Church to its relationship with Jews and the warm welcome we all received from you in Detroit. You were gracious and thoughtful. We were inspired by your commitment to each other as members of the Presbyterian Church USA.
Yet, when Rabbi Rick Jacobs came to the General Assembly on Wednesday evening, he warned you that a vote for divestment from three American companies could cost the Presbyterians their friendship with the Jewish people.
The Presbyterian Church USA over the last ten years has sought to engage Israel on the issue of the West Bank. Sadly, to no avail. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, too, has consistently spoken out against West Bank settlements. We have yet to see what results these well-intended statements can achieve.
Rabbis accompanied by young Jewish activists went to Detroit to encourage you, the Presbyterian elders to listen to your inner voice of conscience. The Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace does not believe that the risk of hurting the feelings of some, even many Jews should take precedence over the constant humiliation and violent attacks on Palestinians living under Occupation. As rabbis, we are sensitive to the feelings of those Jews who oppose divestment. But we cannot ignore the daily suffering of Palestinians and the shockingly routine loss of Palestinian life living under Occupation. Withdrawing financial support for tools of war is a compelling moral imperative.
We believe it is unseemly for Jews – or any observer – to try to steer you away from aligning the church’s investments with your own ethical commitments as judged by you. “Love your neighbor as yourself” teaches us to give the Presbyterians the same respect that we expect for ourselves: freedom to follow our consciences without being told this will cost us our friendships.
Jews will continue to debate with each other how to best to support peace and justice in Israel-Palestine. Let us allow the Presbyterian General Assembly the same freedom to choose how to align the church’s investments with its ethical commitments.
Cantor Michael Davis
Rabbi Brant Rosen
Rabbi Margaret Holub
Rabbi Alissa Wise
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Rabbi Brian Walt
Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton
Rabbi David Mivasair
Rabbi Shai Gluskin
Rabbinical Student Leora Abelsom
Rabbinical Student Ariana Katz
Rabbinical Student David Basior
Rabbinical Student Jessica Rosenberg
(list in formation)