Can the Jewish people reshape itself into a movement for world transformation?
When we focus our attention on “tikkun olam,” we are usually talking about specific issues like war and violent struggle in places like Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine and Israel; disemployment and overwork; health care; or the climate crisis. I want to raise a broader question about the public practice and the public vision of that broad movement.
So far, the broadest vision has come from Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. He has most forcefully and fully laid out the vision of a “new Jewish paradigm”– as rooted in and as different from the past of Rabbinic Judaism, as Rabbinic Judaism was rooted in and different from Biblical Judaism. And this new paradigm, in process and content, has been called “Jewish renewal.”
We did not just suck our thumbs and decide it would be fun to create a new Jewish paradigm. It is the transformation of the world around us by Modernity that is calling forth the need for a new paradigm of Judaism (as the Roman Empire called forth the need for a new Judaism).
More specifically, we have emerged because of the transformation of the world through modern means of control—technological and socio-economic–that have outraced the forms of community that have shaped the last two thousand years of human history. These forms of control are so strong that they threaten all our existing communities and many, perhaps most, of the species and ecosystems now on our planet, and the geochemistry of the planet itself.We are seeing happen on our own planet what the film Avatar shows happening on the planet Pandora to the Na’vi and to the Mother Goddess Eywa [Yahweh?] Who is present in all life.
In response to these new forms of control and domination, we are trying to shape a new form of Jewish community. Our goal is to absorb and restrain this new triumph of control.
The question I want to raise is: Does this new paradigm, this movement for Jewish renewal, do we ourselves, have a purpose, a mission, a task beyond itself, beyond us? Are we simply a reaction to the world transformation, or are we prepared to enter the process of transformation as a proactive rather than only reactive community?
Can we imagine not only ourselves as a movement for Jewish renewal, but the Jewish people as one element in a movement for world renewal? (By “movement” I mean not a denomination, a structure like the “Reform movement,” the “Conservative movement,” but a body of people that is itself in motion and can move others spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, physically. )
Can we stir the Jewish people to see itself as such a movement ? Do we want to?
Can we imagine ourselves moving through a wilderness of war, injustice, religious hatred, and degradation of the earth, moving toward a new kind of Sinai that speaks to the Jewish people in its particularity and calls the Jewish people to act in alliance with others to heal the world?
Could we become a transformative Jewish movement seeking a real tikkun olam, a real renewal of the world, as well as a movement for Jewish transformation that like a spiral, draws deeply on the past to move into a renewed future?
Can we imagine ourselves as a Jewish people that reshapes –
–its daily practice (for example, a new kashrut not only focusing on the food we eat but on everything we consume, like coal and oil);
–its prayer language and practice (for example, thinking of “YHWH”not as “Adonai” or “Lord,” but as the more indeterminate and all-encompassing “Breath of Life”);
–its way of celebrating festivals and life-cycle markers (so that Tu B’Shvat seeks to protect forests, Hoshana Rabbah seeks to heal rivers, Pesach seeks to topple Pharaohs, Hanukkah seeks to move radically away from fossil fuels, bar/bat mitzvah becomes a time for Elijah’s Covenant Between the Generations);
–its understanding of what is Torah and what Torah is, and its ways of learning and teaching Torah;
–its understanding of Shabbat expanding to include meditation during the “work week” —
–all in the light of feminist and ecological thought and experience.
Can we become a Jewish people that teaches this vision to and learns it from the future generations of Jews? Can we become a Jewish people that knows rest and reflection and meditation are crucial in the rhythm of our lives and all life?
Can we see our base of support as not just Jews but all who want to help create, ally with, and connect with that kind of Jewish peoplehood?
I look forward to a serious discussion of these questions. Please write to me and also post your thoughts on the Zeek facebook page (which will show up on Zeek’s home page as well).
Many blessings of shalom,
— Rabbi Arthur Waskow
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