Dec 31, 2012

Rabbi David Lerner on jewishboston.com: "A Shot Heard 'Round the Nation" #CLERGYAGAINSTBULLETS @PICOnetwork

jewishboston.com: "A Shot Heard 'Round the Nation"
Rabbi David Lerner 
December 30, 2012


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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Dec 28, 2012

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson on #HuffPost: "Unity Is Not Uniformity: An Open Letter to Natan Sharansky" #liberatethewall

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson on HuffPost: "Unity Is Not Uniformity: An Open Letter to Natan Sharansky"

Dear Mr. Sharansky,
I am writing to ask you to use your new authority to provide real freedom of religion at the Kotel, Jerusalem's Western Wall.
Like many others, I have long been in awe of your heroic fight on behalf of Soviet Jews. Your courage in the face of the full force of Soviet power was a beacon of light that inspired countless others and made possible the repatriation of many Jews to the Land of Israel. We are all in your debt.
Recently, the Prime Minister of Israel turned to you to provide another act of courage and service. Few can ignore the atrocious reality that the most public religious site of Judaism, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, has been a site of constricted bigotry, under the domination of an Orthodox rabbinate intent on maintaining its monopoly and avoiding a real exchange of ideas with other Jewish streams. Those government-sponsored theocrats have succeeded in generating legislation enforcing a monopoly of their version of Judaism as the sole permissible practice at this ancient national landmark. As a result of such repressive legislation, we have witnessed women arrested, harassed, even incarcerated for the "crime" of attempting to hold a Torah service at the Kotel, the Western Wall. They are bullied, shouted down, pushed and attacked for the beautiful egalitarian expression of Judaism as they practice it. Many of them have been charged with a crime simply for wearing a Tallit, a prayer shawl.
This shameful reality makes Israel's official rabbinate look little different than the government funded religious bureaucrats elsewhere who would use their faith to silence and intimidate those who live differently than their parochial views would authorize. Why is it that so many zealots are so threatened by women who refuse to be silent, marginalized or intimidated?
I write to you today as one who loves Israel with her rich diversity of people's faiths and communities. I write to you as one who spends extensive time in Israel every year and whose students live a full year of their program learning in Israel. I write to you as a rabbi affiliated with the Conservative/Masorti stream of Jewish life, insisting that there must be room for the Judaism that I and hundreds of thousands around the globe affirm.
I write because the Torah of Israel demands it, as does the democratic nature of the State of Israel.
One of the greatest contributions of the Hebrew Bible to the cultural heritage of humanity is the most often repeated commandment in the entire Bible: "You shall have one law." That mandated standard of equity in the Torah pertained to Israelites and to non-Israelites dwelling under the Torah's jurisdiction. One equal standard was to pertain to both citizens and resident aliens. That same aspiration of legal equality pertained across the board of Israelite class or status: There was to be one law for all. Indeed the rabbis of the Talmud went so far as to claim that this biblical mandate for one legal standard crossed gender barriers as well: "Scripture equated women and men for all the laws of the Torah" (Bava Kama 15a).
This core biblical aspiration motivated the Enlightenment thinkers to advocate social structures in which all citizens could be free and equal: liberty, brotherhood and equality, in the words of the French slogan. Or, as Thomas Jefferson put it: All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. The ancient mandate of Torah pulsated through their work with an insistence that the purpose of government is to protect human liberty and diversity. Indeed, that very sentiment reverberates in the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel: 
THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open to the immigration of Jews from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions...

That this standard was never fully attained in the biblical period runs like a torrent through the condemnation of Israel's prophets. But the ideal remained the goal. That this egalitarian standard was never fully attained by contemporary democracies (Israel among them) has driven the movements for social justice across the last several centuries -- inspiring the anti-slavery movement, the women's movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the gay/lesbian movement and most recently efforts to expand inclusion to those with special needs. Yet here, too, the imperfections and shortcomings of reality could not erase the power and validity of the goal. The goal remains equality, inclusion, diversity.
Included in this litany of struggles to extend equal protection was the long battle for religious freedom: that a citizen could practice or reject the faith of his or her choice without prejudice, exclusion or penalty. The fight for religious equality has been hard fought across the ages and around the world -- for the right of Jews to be citizens, for the ability of Catholics to serve in higher office, for Mormons, or Muslims, or Hindus, or atheists to be able to function as citizens and share in the exercise of power without regard to their metaphysical convictions.
The right to the free exercise of religion is a hallmark of any real democracy, no less than the right to vote freely, to protest publicly, to a court of law and a jury of one's peers. Israel, as one of the few democracies in a region of continuing despotism and religious violence, has both a mandate and an opportunity to demonstrate the vitality of democracy with its embrace of raucous religious freedom. In a Jewish state, it is particularly obscene to favor one sect at the expense of all other expressions of contemporary Jewish vitality.
"You are the man!" a biblical Natan told King David when he violated prophetic ethics. And you, Natan Sharansky, are the man with sufficient stature and courage to restore to Israel the full measure of religious freedom for each stream of Judaism, throughout the Jewish State.
The Kotel is as good a place as any to launch that re-commitment to the Torah's vision of "one law," of unity without uniformity, and to Israel's imperfect but vigorous expression of democracy in action.
Mr. Sharansky, liberate that Wall!

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Rabbi Menachem Creditor


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Dec 27, 2012

Megillah 2a “What Makes a Worthy Leader?”

Megillah 2a "What Makes a Worthy Leader?"
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Note: This post is the first of "Marginal Judaism," a new series of Talmud reflections. For the archive, please visit http://marginaljudaism.blogspot.com. To receive them via email, send a blank email to marginal_judaism-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Talmudic Text:

The Mishnah taught: "The Megilla was read on the 11th day of Adar." From where do we deduce this? From where do we deduce this?! …The rabbis decided that the scroll should be read on Mondays and Thursdays, in order to make it easier for the inhabitants of small villages, who usually came to the towns on Mondays and Thursdays for market.  …We meant to say that the reading of the Megilla was decided by the Members of the Great Assembly (who lived earlier than the rabbis). Now, at the first glance, if the Members of the Great Assembly ordained it should be read on the 14th and 15th, how could the sages believe they had the power to abolish the ordinances of the Great Assembly? Have we not learned in a Mishnah that a Beit Din is not able to abolish the ordinances of its colleagues unless they are greater in wisdom and in numbers? Therefore we must say that all the mentioned days were ordained by the Great Assembly. So where, then, is the biblical hint for the dates? Said Rabbi Shamen bar Abba in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: It is written "To confirm these days of Purim in their times. (Est. 9:31), and "in their times" signifies that many possible times for reading the Scroll of Esther are to be ordained…

Comment:

Do leaders believe their chief obligation is fulfilling the mandate they were handed?

Leadership is different than management. Whereas management directs optimal execution, leadership lives in discerning vision, shaping voice, and inspiring others to feel and act in alignment with that vision and that voice.

Leaders are not necessarily moral, their abilities are not inherently trustworthy, and a large quantity of followers does not indicate goodness.

So what, then, determines the worthiness of a leader?

Our text does not make clear the inner thoughts of the rabbis. But perhaps the sequence (only an excerpt is quoted above) of dissatisfying textual anchors for the observance of Purim indicates their own struggle for authenticity. The past might not dictate policy, but authentic leaders care about history. Hopefully their work within and on behalf of others is based in the resonance they share. It is possible, after all, that the text came after the Purim customs were already widespread, and the rabbis would therefore see as their goal the legitimizing, the "traditionalizing", of popular practice.

But it is also possible that the rabbis of antiquity were reacting to the presence of an absence, the void where God's Home in Jerusalem once stood. Perhaps, alternatively, they were reacting to Priestly elitism and the widespread grief of the newly re-traumatized Jewish People. So they did their best to stabilize, strengthen, and inspire - using the vocabulary of the past to recreate their world.

Regardless of their intent, the rabbis in our text (and its editor!) were human beings occupying positions of leadership. Their fallibility is inherent, and their motives are, at best, discernible after the fact.

In that light, our text offers us this challenge: Is it possible to trust those in positions of influence to lead with integrity? Does the embrace of the past define integrity? Does imagining the future betray it?

The only bellwether might be honest self-reflection. And the subjective nature of your response should also indicate your own desire to lead.

But then the question should occur to you: Where is your own reactive leadership impulse coming from? Can you be trusted any more than anyone else?

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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Dec 26, 2012

Philadelphia Inquirer: Speak & Act as Prophets Did (King & Heschel)

Speak and Act as Prophets Did: The Teachings of Dr. King & Rabbi Heschel
By Sister Mary Scullion and Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Forty-four years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. Forty years ago, his close friend and prophetic partner, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, died. In biblical tradition, "40" is a ripe number, suggesting a pregnant pause before a major transformation – Moses and the Israelites wandering 40 years in the desert, Jesus' 40 days of temptation. What do we learn from their teachings, a generation since their deaths?

The two of them were, in their day, an odd couple. King was a product of the black Baptist church, raised in the oppressive confines of the Jim Crow South and the crucible of American racism. Heschel, descended from a long line of Polish Hasidic rabbis, fled Nazi-dominated Europe (where most of his family was killed).

A towering Jewish intellectual, theologian, and mystic, Heschel brought ancient Hasidic spirituality into the tumultuous world of social activism in the 1960s. Given his writings on the religious struggle of the modern person in a confusing world, and on the urgent relevance of the ancient Hebrew prophets, it was no surprise that he found a kindred spirit in King. 

Today, religion is often divisive (even violently so); in the 1960s, Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel modeled a friendship rooted in deep admiration and mutual affirmation of their respective spiritual traditions. Today, we debate the role of religion in the civil arena – usually resulting in rancorous and judgmental culture wars; King and Heschel were public theologians and spiritually grounded activists, witnessing to the power of faith in the service of social transformation.

The iconic photograph of the two of them together at the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery is emblematic of the best possibilities of the vision of the civil rights struggle. (Later, Heschel noted famously of that experience, "I felt my legs were praying.") 

Heschel and King worked closely together in spiritually rooted prophetic opposition to racism, poverty, and militarism in American society. Like the biblical prophets, they spoke truth to power - but also spoke truth to the disempowered, who can only win their fair share of democratic power by learning and acting on the truth. They spoke truth to their own supporters, even when those supporters urged them to hush - as many did when they spoke out against the Vietnam War. The two of them witnessed to the absolute unity of means and ends, as embodied in nonviolence. The two of them likewise demonstrated a deep unity of prayer and social action.

A biblical generation later, many Americans who likewise see the connection of faith and social transformation are drawing on the legacy of these two brothers. What issues would Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel address today?

Perhaps the mass imprisonment of more than two million Americans, most of them black or Hispanic. Perhaps the breathtaking increase in poverty and economic inequality. Perhaps the horrendous violence in our society.
Perhaps the physical and legal attacks on American Muslims and Hispanic immigrants. Perhaps the government dysfunction that threatens our financial stability. Perhaps our collective failure to address the climate crisis that threatens the web of life, including human life, on our planet.

These two prophets would speak forcefully to the image of God in each person, the inherent dignity in even the most marginalized of our sisters and brothers. They would give voice to the "beloved community"
as the ultimate answer to the crises of poverty, homelessness, addictions, and violence. They would translate the language of Torah, Prophets, and Gospels into a concrete and compelling vision of justice and peace for our world today.
And they would not be content with rhetoric alone: In their generation, they modeled putting faith into action, and today they would urge us to collective action to address injustice and work for the common good. They would insist that any genuine vision must translate into concrete policies, legislation, and real public action.

But now that is our task. Today, no less than in his day, we are confronted with what Dr. King called "the fierce urgency of now." As much now as then, we are challenged by Rabbi Heschel's words: "In a free society, when evil is done, some are guilty; all are responsible."

Forty years have passed since Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel worked and witnessed among us. Perhaps, like a biblical generation that represents a pregnant pause before a major transformation, we may be ready to act for a transformative rebirth in our time.
_ _ _
Sister Mary Scullion is executive director of Project HOME. Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of the Shalom Center. Their organizations are among more than 50 sponsoring the King-Heschel Festival at Mishkan Shalom in Philadelphia on Jan. 4 and 5. For more information, see www.mishkan.org/story/heschel-king-festival.

Dec 21, 2012

Rabbi Gary S. Creditor: "The Blood of the Children Cries Out From the Ground"


The Blood of the Children Cries Out From the Ground!
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
December 22nd, 2012
 
Over the many years that I can remember, beginning with the assassination of President John Kennedy with a rifle, the sound of the bullet was echoed by the citation of the second amendment and the "right to bear arms."  Whenever a catastrophe occurs, whoever cites past catastrophes always omits the earliest ones, which never lose their terribleness, because it is too hard, too painful, too long a list to remember to recite all the names of all the places.
 
I want to talk about the "Right to Live." This is not the cliché lifted from the Declaration of Independence, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," even as that is a very significant statement. I want to talk about the "Right to Live" of six and seven year olds to grow up, discover the universe, and fulfill their destinies. I want to talk about the "Right to Live" of the people dedicated to teaching them, who threw themselves in harm's way. I want to talk about the "Right to Live" of all innocent people, struggling in a difficult world, being good people, loving men and women, who are murdered, wantonly murdered by those with guns in their hands, in any place and at any time. No just now.
 
I want to know something. Doesn't the "Right to Live" supercede the "right to bear arms?" Isn't there something more important than guns? Isn't there something more fundamental than the caliber of the bullet? Isn't there something more precious than the rate of fire? Doesn't the "Right to Live" trump all other rights? To paraphrase the verse from Genesis from the story of Cain and Abel, "the blood of the children, the blood of their adult defenders screams out to Me from the ground." It is to them, the dead, to our children, the living, that the answers must be given.
 
I want to know something. Does the 'right to kill' supercede the "Right to Live?" What is the purpose of guns? I remember being a little boy with a holster and cap guns. You had to put one cap in each and it made a bang. For some reason I had a Mattel gun that used a roll of caps and you could make a lot of sustained noise. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what it meant. I don't know why my parents bought them for me. Our children never had toy guns. Never! Ever! Stop the nonsense that guns don't kill. Yes they do! Yes, guns kill because they are held by people. Guns kill people. Guns kill animals. Killing begets killing, which begets more and more and more until there is no end! The blood of the children cries out from the ground: stop the killing! Who needs guns?!
 
I want to know something. Is the "Right to Live" held so cheaply because the profit is great from the proliferation of the "culture to kill" through video, movies, music – do you listen to the message of the lyrics?, toys, television and the manufacture of guns? What is more important? To make money and elevate the culture of death?  Or the culture of life? Is this the America we want? Is this the epitome of our society? Is this the "alabaster city?" Is this the country that we want God to bless? I enjoy the old westerns on cable. Where is the blood? Where is senseless violence? None. Justice, honesty, truth were the elevated values that would triumph, but killing was not glorified. There was even a sense of remorse by the guy who was clearly good. Today it is reversed! The more gore, the more horror, the more blood and guts and cut open bodies, the more explosions and destructions. Just because there is the technical capability to show all this, do we have to? Should we? Must we?  What world are we making? Do we promote fine arts? Do we esteem classical literature? Do we elevate excellent music?  What do you expect to reap, when the seeds of destruction are so blatantly planted? The blood of the children cries out from the ground: make us a better world! Make us a world of peace!
 
I want to know something.  Against whom are we bearing arms? Do we fear invasion from our neighbors to the north and south? Do we fear our neighbors who live next door? Do we intend to confront the local and state police? Would not intruders be more deterred by active alarm systems? Will the ability to defend against an intruder outweigh the number of deaths caused by people with guns who are ill-trained and ill-tempered? Will the proliferation of more guns, in a society already more armed than any in the world, make us safer, securer, surer? Are these quasi-military, high powered, quick-firing guns, the ones used to shoot duck, deer and antelope? The blood of the children cries out from the ground. They demand to know: who needs these guns?
 
I want to know something. I remember when living in New York it was decided to close facilities dealing with mental health, as it was deemed better to integrate these people into society at large. It never happened. If they had, they were abandoned to their families who did not have means to cope with the needs. Otherwise, they were on the streets. It really wasn't the philosophy, it was the cost. They would rather build prisons that honestly deal with the needs of society. They didn't want to deal with people. People with mental issues are "nobody's fault." They are members of our universal family. They are the easiest to cut in any budget. They are seemingly invisible. They don't have a lobby like the NRA. Now, now, it is on the agenda! The blood of the children cries out from the ground: this is the real cliff! This is the real cliff over which our world is destroyed! Fix it! Repair it! Mend it! Do not ignore us!
 
I want to know something. How many innocent deaths will it take for our elected officials to be leaders with moral backbones and not wimps who pander for votes? Where is their moral courage to face the mirror and know that day after day they have labored in society's vineyard to make each hamlet, each town, each county, each city better for each boy and girl, infant and adult, young and old, reach and poor, healthy and ill? How many tears must be shed by human beings? How much blood must spill in movie theatres, college campuses, high schools, elementary schools, shopping mall parking lots? How many hearts must break when the bell tolls as each name is read, as each tender body is buried? What must it take for delegates, senators, representatives, and president will finally act?
 
Until then, every morning, noon and night, at the break of dawn and the setting of the sun, in the dead of night and the brightness of the midday  sun, The blood of the children cries out from the ground! And it will continue to cry and cry, scream upon scream, like those in Newtown, Connecticut, until someone, someone will give them an answer.

Let Shabbat in. We all need it.

Let Shabbat in. We all need it. 
Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Abraham Joshua Heschel z"l was introduced to address a packed auditorium somewhere. He walked to the podium and whispered to the crowd: "I saw a miracle on my way here tonight." Every person leaned forward in their chairs, waiting. Heschel continued, "I saw a flower. Isn't that amazing?"  It's too easy to miss simple miracles. 

There's a lot of work to do - a whole world to recreate - but let Shabbat in. Breathe deep. Let it in. 

We'll continue the work in 25 hours. It will wait. It will still be there. The world needs you to be strong enough to do your work.

Save The DateS: Two Scholars in Residence in Jan and Feb! @cnsberkeley

Save The DateS: Two Scholars in Residence in Jan and Feb! @cnsberkeley

Jan 18 (erev Shabbat) and Jan 19 (shabbat day)
CNS Scholar-in-Residence Rabbi Jason Klein, incoming president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association!
Friday Night Dinner/Davening (Jan 18): During Dinner, Rabbi Klein will deliver a talk entitled "The Relationship Between Prophecy & Authenticity" (rsvp required, stay tuned for details!)
After Kiddush Learning (Jan 19): Rabbi Klein will lead a teaching entitled: "A Text Study on My Favorite Parsha"

Rabbi Jason Klein is the incoming President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and executive director of University of Maryland (Baltimore County). Rabbi Klein's particular Jewish interests include text study, liturgy, music, creative rituals, and midrash. He is committed to Israeli-Palestinian peace and justice, inter-movement and interfaith dialogue and collaboration, gender and LBGT concerns, and issues of social justice in general.


Feb 9 (shabbat day)
Netivot Shalom's Masorti Scholar-in-Residence: Rabbi Andy Sacks, director of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel!
Rabbi Sacks will deliver the Drasha during Shabbat morning services and will also present the after-kiddush learning!

Rabbi Andrew Sacks is the director of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel and the Religious Affairs Bureau. Ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the only Masorti Mohel practicing in Israel, Rabbi Sacks is the author of Masorti Matters, a provocative online column for the Jerusalem Post.

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Dec 20, 2012

Rabbi Jack Moline: "On the Occasion of the Murders of Schoolchildren" @RabbiAssembly @PICOnetwork

"On the Occasion of the Murders of Schoolchildren"
Rabbi Jack Moline
December 18, 2012


To my dear friends, my dear congregants.

I send you this column in lieu of a sermon, largely because I know that children will be present on Saturday morning.  We will talk about the tragedy – I have asked Alan Gura, our congregant who argued the landmark Supreme Court decision on the Second Amendment – to have a public conversation with me in the place of Torah study on Shabbat morning.  But I do not expect that conversation to speak to matters of the heart, even if we hope to address the heart of the matter.

Rabbi Shaul Praver of Newtown was correct when he said there was no theological justification to be offered here.  These deaths were unjustifiable.  Everything about them is tragic, including the sad story of the young man who succumbed to the urgings of the evil impulse, for whatever reasons.

You know that I have a particular interest and involvement with public policy.  It should come as no surprise to you that I have long been in favor of stricter gun control measures, and that I am not particularly picky about where we start – assault weapons, ammunition identification, licensing, etc.  I found Gov. McDonnell's willingness to "discuss" arming teachers to be reprehensible; no one will be safer because a loaded gun, accessible and usable in an emergency, is present in a classroom.

But I am also well aware that the Bill of Rights grants our citizens the right to bear arms, and no responsible advocate can ignore the role that self-protection plays in the law, lore and culture of America.

I am also a supporter of public and private resources for those who struggle with mental and emotional challenges.  We should not forget that such services have a checkered history in our country.  For far too long, "mental patients" were consigned to the kinds of facilities depicted in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  One such facility is the Southbury Training School in Southbury, CT.  Mostly it was a residential facility for people who were mentally compromised – "retarded" – though it also had wards for residential psychiatric patients.  In 1986, admissions were closed as part of the Reagan administration's reimagining of mental health treatment in our country.  In 1997, the courts prohibited Southbury from taking in any new patients.  Some 750 older adults still live there, grandfathered by the charter.  It is worth noting that President Reagan proposed out-patient clinics and respite care for the deinstitutionalized adults and children, but that Congress did not fund that half of the proposal.

It is also worth wondering what kinds of reforms might have transformed the facility into an enlightened temporary or permanent home for people tormented by mental illness.  Southbury Training School is about twenty minutes from Newtown.

Speculations aside, this much is true: until Adam Lanza shot his mother, nothing he did was illegal.  The guns his mother owned were legally purchased, properly stored and used in supervised sporting environments.  In fact, at least one gun dealer in Danbury, the next town over, reported that he refused to sell a gun to Adam that week.  Even if the rifle used to murder the children had remained under the assault weapons ban, the automatic pistols he carried would have remained just as legal and just as lethal.

And health care wish lists aside, this much is true: Adam Lanza was receiving regular expert care from a family that provided the resources they believed they needed for his treatment. 
And security concerns aside, this much is true: this young murderer entered a secure school by shooting out the glass in the security doors, not by taking advantage of laxity or familiarity.
So in spite of my inclinations and my concerns about public policy, there is no proposal being offered for gun control, mental health treatment or security that would have prevented this tragedy if Adam Lanza was bent on mayhem and murder.  I am not going to refrain from participating in efforts to reconsider the status quo in any of those matters, but neither will I – nor should you – pretend that political battles for or against reform could have, would have or even might have changed the outcome.  Nancy Lanza did not believe her son to be capable of the acts he committed.

So are we to throw up our hands and consider the deaths of these 26 sacred souls to be simply forfeit to the random uncertainties of life?  Absolutely not.  As a country, as a society and as individuals we have soul-searching to do, because these children, like the victims at the Michigan gurdwara, the Colorado movie theater, the Ft. Hood administrative center and the streets of our city and others are not acceptable losses in our efforts to build a beloved community and an admirable society.

As President Obama said, certain things have to change.  The first among them is in our hearts.  We must listen with compassion to those who find value in the status quo.  We must listen with compassion to those who demand change in the status quo.  But the status quo is far from static; it is a moving target, to use an unfortunate metaphor.  Neglect of gun laws, mental health care and intelligent safety concerns has created an environment in which incremental complexities have been addressed by inadequate and outdated methodologies.
As a Jewish community we have contributions to make to these discussions.  I am not the first to suggest them, but I am impressed again that the wisdom of Jewish tradition is not applicable just to Jews.

First of all is the concept if tohar haneshek, "purity of arms," that is impressed on every teenager in Israel as they enter military service.  Israelis are surrounded by automatic weapons, yet criminal gun violence, especially by private citizens, is rare.  Why?  Because rather than glorifying firearms as an expression of personal power, Israelis are taught that a gun of any kind is defensible only if used appropriately.  The role of guns in American society, encouraged by political, entertainment and digital advocates, deemphasizes the Constitutional concerns and relegates weapons of death to toys, the equivalents of basketballs and tennis racquets, employed by cartoon characters who recover in time for their next action flick or game level.  In America, guns are sacred, but they are not tohar, clean, pure, uncontaminated.  A reorientation of attitudes toward firearms is a necessary prelude to legislation. 

Don't think we can do it?  No one thought we could wean America off of cigarettes, either.  We may not complete the task, but we must not refrain from it.

Second of all is the wisdom of Jewish law concerning human responsibility.  The great blessing of America is that we affirm the rights of all people – ethical norms like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which are unalienable, and legal norms which are (in spite of our belief otherwise) legislated by Constitutional amendment.  But in Jewish law, rights are a by-product of people meeting their obligations to a just society. 

To be sure, the responsibilities of Jewish law do not produce all of the rights we enjoy as Americans, which is why openness to America is important to faithful Jews.  But equally true, Americans misunderstand "rights" to mean "unlimited entitlements."  There are times that the Jewish demand to set aside personal benefit for the sake of higher principles is a necessary contribution to deliberations in our country.

These discussions ought to take place surrounding gun ownership, mental health care and security. And, without going into detail, the additional wisdom of Jewish law and tradition on private and public safety, human dignity and its limits, and reasonable expectations of government should be part of mix.  We all have our opinions of what we prefer politically; the value added we bring as Jews is a perspective that is our legacy. 

And while there is much room for differing opinions in our rich tradition, it is worth knowing as a Jew when your political opinions exist close to or outside the margins of Jewish thought.  And if that's the case, then you'll have to come to terms with the question of just how "Jewish" your beliefs are.

I am sad, angry and determined by the deaths of these innocent children.  I see them in the faces of the kids in our religious school, in our pre-school and in our neighborhood.  I feel in my heart the panic of every parent as he or she considers even the remote possibility that such horror could be visited on our own precious children.

I am resolved not to be controlled by those feelings, because the worst way to make rules and laws is in an attempt to revise the past.  We must cry for a while and hold our loved ones close.  And then, when the frantic beat of our hearts is no longer pounding in our ears, we must take a sober look at how to make this society a better, safer and freer place to live.
And then we must have the courage to act.

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