The JVP Rabbinical Council Supports the Canadian Friends of Sabeel Conference “Seeking the Peace of Jerusalem,” (Vancouver BC, April 23-25, 2015)

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

Rabbi Everett Gendler teaches Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamaret’s Torah of Nonviolence

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.

Walking for Peace

Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace, co-founded by Rabbi Lynn Gottleib and Abdul Rauf with local Philadelphia activists. This sign is hanging on the walls of the International Airport in Philadelphia in the International Terminal as part of a Civil Rights display. Abdul Rauf is wearing a white kufi and holding the banner.
Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace, co-founded by JVP Rabbinical Council member Rabbi Lynn Gottleib and Abdul Rauf with local Philadelphia activists. This sign is hanging on the walls of the International Airport in Philadelphia in the International Terminal as part of a Civil Rights display. Abdul Rauf is wearing a white kufi and holding the banner.

I know our hearts are breaking for the many wounds we tend, and the sorrow we feel for the brokenness of this world. As a comfort to our hearts, I would like to share these moving words from my dear friend and peacewalk colleague, Abdul Rauf Campos Marquetti. Abdul Rauf has been unflagging in his advocacy for peace building among his brothers and sisters in Islam, as well as among people of faith everywhere. He has a life long commitment to serving incarcerated brothers and working for prison justice. His vision of Islam is shared with hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the world who have suffered immense trauma at the hands of the West for a thousand years. We join interfaith brothers and sisters who are choosing to actively pursue healing and restorative justice, to build peace, and walk into the future with awareness, skill, determination and hope. We choose to heal the wounds of structural violence and transform attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that perpetuate violence through the work of restorative justice and peacebuilding. May Abdul Rauf’s words inspire us in our interfaith work.

–Lynn Gottleib
In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful, The Muslim-Jewish Peacewalk is about transformation and the use of an alternative methodology that is deeply rooted in the Ibrahimic traditions.

Each peacewalk has its purpose, its challenges, its different forms, yet they all lead to dialogue, conflict resolution, reconciliation, peace, justice and compassionate actions. These are walks of peace without the violence that so mars the face of our world. As a Muslim I have personally conducted many peacewalks that have taken these different forms. Twice the journey of Umra from my home in Albuquerque, NM to the Holy City of Mecca. I have walked through Palestine, Lebanon and Israel and seen the devastation of occupation and woe, as an interfaith peace delegate with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. I have walked the PeaceWalk from masjids to synagogues to churches throughout the US and Canada, and to the Nevada Test Site on Shoshoni Land. These peacewalks have transformed my life and given me a new perspective on what it means to be a Muslim and the responsibility that it entails.Why the Peacewalk? Allah Subhana Wa’tala says in the Holy Qur’an: “I made you different so that you may get to know one another.”And for what purpose? “that you may learn righteousness.” And the crux of righteousness? It is centered on the pursuit of justice and peace for those who are suffering and those who are oppressed. Why the Peacewalk? In these times of conflict and unrestrained military violence we must be able to find creative, nonviolent and alternative ways to build Peace…for the future of our children. “

Abdul Rauf Campos Marquetti, 2004

An Open Letter to the Commissioners of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly

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Jews and Presbyterians join in a prayer circle outside committee deliberations on divestment, Detroit, 6/17/14

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.

In Friendship,

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)

“Anti-Semitism” vs. Palestinian Solidarity

by Cantor Michael Davis

Israel has withdrawn once again from peace talks with the Palestinians. Where, then, are we supposed to put our hopes for a peaceful and just resolution in Israel-Palestine? I have chosen to embrace the Palestinian call for boycott campaigns against Israel. Until Israel grants its Palestinian citizens rights equal to those of its Jewish citizens, addresses the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian refugees and, most urgently, ends the Occupation of the West Bank, this is our best option. A broad coalition of Palestinian civil society has called for our support of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). Supporting campaigns against Israeli companies, institutions and people who are complicit in the Occupation and discrimination against Palestinians is a way to affirm our commitment to justice and equality.

My position shouldn’t surprise anyone, least of all, my fellow Jewish leaders. As Jews, we’re called to heed the oppressed and to remember, as the Bible and our prayerbooks reiterate time and time again, the moral imperative that “we were once slaves in Egypt.”

As a Jew whose grandparents died in the Holocaust, I find the rhetoric of the Israeli government and certain American organizations trying to taint BDS with charges of anti-Semitism laughable. According to their spokespeople, to stand for equality in Israel-Palestine is to hate Jews. Recently, state legislatures have been considering bills opposing BDS and tarring its supporters as anti-Semitism. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The leaders of the BDS movement speak with a commitment to fairness and human dignity that stirs my own sense of justice. I believe their position, if voiced in any other context, would resonate deeply with Jews worldwide. It is an honorable call. Palestinian proponents of BDS have repeatedly distanced themselves from all racism including anti-Semitism. They have spoken clearly and consistently on the subject. They hold themselves to the high standards we should expect from social justice activists; and if they didn’t, we would demand it of them. Still, the charge of anti-Semitism is in the air, even though no evidence is provided. The reason for that is simple: no evidence exists. The goal of those who throw around words like “anti-Semitism” is to silence Palestinians and those who support their call for justice.

There is real anti-Semitism in the world, so let’s not throw the phrase around carelessly. I know. My grandparents were killed by the Nazis. I am named after their young son — my Uncle Michael — who was murdered alongside his mother, my Grandmother Rosa at the Birkenau death machine in Auschwitz. As a child in England, my synagogue was once attacked as we stood in prayer. The sanctity of our silent prayers that Saturday night was shattered by stones cracking the windows. So my response to those who would smear supporters of BDS with the anti-Semitism charge is: show your evidence or withdraw the charge.

BDS is the best hope for a desperately needed change in Israel’s policies towards its Palestinian population. It is an appropriate non-violent civil response to systemic abuse. Last week, on the West Bank, a 6 year-old Palestinian boy was detained by a squad of Israeli soldiers in full combat gear on his way to school. The Israeli authorities routinely demolishes Palestinian homes simply because they were built by Palestinians, including within Israel. At the same time, the State of Israel continues to build illegal settlements on Palestinian land. These are real and ongoing abuses. We — Jews, Christians, Muslims, and all people of the world — must respond. Raising the specter of “anti-Semitism” does nothing to advance the cause of peace for Israel and Palestine.

Hanuka: Dedicated to Resisting Militarism Through Peace Education

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

As we approach Hanuka, the Festival of Lights, we can either promote the rabbinic message of Hanuka as dedication to spiritual illumination and peace education  OR emphasize Maccabean militarism as necessary to achieving victory over opponents. Many in the Jewish community will try to promote both, but that is impossible. Our tradition warns us: either choose the way of the book or choose the way of the sword. If we choose the sword, we can no longer be faithful to traditional nonviolent values associated with the book.

The rabbinic tradition largely supports nonviolence: “Not by military might and not by force of arms, by My spirit.” This is the prophetic verse chosen by the sages to illuminate Hanuka! Today, many Jewish people believe military strength is the way to achieve lasting security. While all states have had legitimate security needs, militarization and military occupation were traditionally regarded as evil. Yes, evil. The prophets continually denounced militarism. The sages believed that even lifting one hand to threaten another is ‘rasha‘, that is, violent, unjust and a sin. “Once the arrow is released from its bow, not even the mightiest warrior can bring it back.” Militarism has a life of its own which breeds corruption, systemic violence and the degradation of humanistic values. Militarism is not Jewish.

I find it ironic, given current Jewish loyalty to Israeli militarism by mainstream Jewish institutions, that Hanuka’s traditional emphasis on active nonviolence arose during Roman Occupation. The rabbinic sages framed the holy day as a reminder that our spiritual power comes from remaining steadfast to compassion and good deeds. We are told to think of ourselves as cohainim, spiritual educators. We don the cohenet mantle and light a menorah in the window at sunset, as people return from the market place, in order to create a public witness to our faithfulness to upholding human dignity and love. This is the true source of human strength.

Hanuka also means education. Light symbolizes Jewish dedication to rekindling the altar of peace education! Great is peace, was the message of the sages. This meant refusing to cooperate with Roman militarism. The sages initiated a boycott which forbade the buying and selling of military equipment to either Romans or Jews.  Jewish rabbinic law forbid Jews to derive pleasure or benefit from any products that promote systemic violence. Yes, BDS has Jewish roots in rabbinic tradition. So, how do we increase light today? By supporting resistance to Israeli state militarism through peace education as well as noncooperation with militarism through BDS.

If you use olive oil to light your menorah, please listen to Iyad Burnat in the video above and remember that the olive tree has been tended by Palestinians in the holy land for millennium, and, thus, traditional knowledge about the olive tree has been largely kept by the Palestinian community to this very day. A collective tragedy is unfolding before our eyes. The Annexation Wall, which, when completed by 2020, will be twice the distance of the Green Line in the West Bank. As for security: 85% of the Annexation Wall is NOT on the Green Line. 

The true miracle of Hanuka today is giving public witness to the absolute necessity of putting militarism aside and rededicating our commitment to human dignity as a force more powerful for achieving security and peace.  And lest we forget, the children of Gaza are dying. I have learned from many young Gazans that they regard education as their main form of nonviolent resistance to Occupation. Education gives them hope. The message of nonviolent resistance is alive and well among Palestinians. Israelis would benefit from listening and responding to the traditional messages of Hanuka instead of promoting the Maccabees on steroids. 

Ta’anit Teshuvah: A High Holiday Fast for Palestinian Human Rights

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

It is a tradition for the pious to fast from dawn to dusk during the Ten Days of Teshuvah, as it is written, “I am with them in distress.” (Psalm 91:15) Suffering is ever before us. We mourn the unnecessary loss of life that stems from preventable harm: racial, gender and economic oppression, police violence, military occupation, forced dispossession and deadly conflict. These harmful conditions deny millions of people the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. During the holy days, we take time to heal our broken hearts, nurture our capacity for reconciliation, and breathe new life into our shared struggle for a just and compassionate world. We do this so we can lovingly and fiercely pursue justice and peace over the long haul.

In 2011 Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence initiated a Ta’anit Teshuvah during the seven intermediate days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Ta’anit Teshuvah culminates in renewing a shomer shalom vow of nonviolence during Kol Nidre.

Why fast? Public fasting gives witness to calamities. Public fasting is an act of remorse and reconciliation. Public fasting is also a call to action!

On the third of Tishri, a person who wants to undertake the fast proclaims the following before two witnesses:

I, ______________, take upon myself a Ta’anit Teshuvah from the third of Tishri through Yom Hakippurim. May this fast purify my heart so I can become a steward of nonviolence and reparative justice, compassion and peace throughout the year. I undertake this fast to (insert your intention). When this period of fasting is over, may I (as a shomeret shalom) continue to fulfill my obligation to engage in acts of nonviolence, reparative justice and reconciliation. Amen.

This year, JVP is focused on stopping the Prawer Plan, which is one more link in the long, unbearable chain of persecution that has bound Palestinians to continuous oppression for the past sixty years. You can dedicate your fasting to stopping the Prawer Plan by wearing white, and pinning a mourning ribbon on your clothes that says, “Stop Prawer.” (Click here to see what other actions you can take during the High Holy Day season to stop the Prawer Plan.)

I am also fasting to give public witness to the persecution of Native Americans, African Americans and Latinos by the United States in the form of police brutality, the war on drugs and gangs, closing of schools, mass incarceration, the militarization of the border, deportation and economic exploitation. One Oakland pastor who oversees the prophetic ministry program of his church lamented that it feels like a holocaust. “We are literally being locked up or killed in the streets while white America goes about its business as if nothing is happening.”

Recently, Noura Khouri and I initiated the Facing Urban Shield Action Network in the Bay Area which is composed of over 20 organizations that address different aspects of the militarization of police. Urban Shield is the weapons trade show and training ground for police agencies from the US and around the world. The IDF is connected to Urban Shield. Protesting Urban Shield is an opportunity to link domestic and international struggles against occupation, incarceration and war and build the global movement for justice and peace.

JVP is a place for alternative community building, a place where we commit to honoring the dignity of every human being, a place where we experiment with the methodology of nonviolence, a place where we live into a world rooted in creativity, resiliency, reconciliation and love. We are not afraid to struggle, to stand up for our rights and the rights of others. During this season of fasting, let us go into the streets and proclaim publicly:

This is the fast we have chosen:
Shatter the chains of oppression.
Unbind the yoke of unethical action from around our necks.
Dismantle prisons and end administrative detention.
Stop policies of dispossession
and let the oppressed move freely throughout the land.
Break the hold of corporate greed
Redistribute bread and resources to hungry
Build affordable housing
and establish a living wage.
Do not withhold a helping hand.
See every person as sister/brother
And banish violence from the land.
Then shall our inner light break forth
as the light of dawn.

(A riff on Isaiah 58)