You Shall Pursue

February 19, 2014

On Calling in and Service

Filed under: Social Justice — Tags: , , — marleyweiner @ 4:28 pm

A while ago, I read this fabulous article about engaging and building community with people even when they perpetuate oppression, and how we can build towards a less oppressive world in a loving way. The author, Ngọc Loan Trần, speaks movingly of the human cost that both oppressive speech and shutting down loving bonds as a result of speech can bring, and how to maintain loving relationships without sacrificing the dignity that comes from speaking truth to power.

This is something that I struggle with a lot as a rabbi. Part of my duty and service to my community is to stand as a moral exemplar, and I see part of my moral example is as an ally against oppression both outside of my community and (especially) inside of it. But another part of standing as a moral exemplar is loving, in a powerful and practical way, all of the members in my community, even when they hold opinions that are contrary to my own beliefs. Certainly there are certain behaviors that are beyond the pale, but most of the time, it is my duty to engage with people whose views I find oppressive with both justice and love.

A few weeks ago, the RRC student community studied on the concept of tochecha, which means rebuke. As rabbis, we are taught that it is our duty to reprimand with love in order to bring people’s behavior back in line with the values that they espouse. I will repeat here the text that we studied in full.

From Mishneh Torah Hilchot De’ot 6:6 (translated by Eliyahu Touger off

When one person wrongs another, the latter should not remain silent and despise him as II Samuel 13:22 states concerning the wicked: “And Avshalom did not speak to Amnon neither good, nor bad for Avshalom hated Amnon.”

Rather, he is commanded to make the matter known and ask him: “Why did you do this to me?”, “Why did you wrong me regarding that matter?” as Leviticus 19:17 states: “You shall surely admonish your colleague.”

If, afterwards, [the person who committed the wrong] asks [his colleague] to forgive him, he must do so. A person should not be cruel when forgiving (as implied by Genesis 20:17): “And Abraham prayed to God…”

Some points, regarding the Jewish notion of tochecha. First of all, one is expected to rebuke one’s fellow. It is law, and the one who does not do it has committed an injustice.

However, the word “fellow” is really important here. In the proof text, from the horrific story of the rape of Tamar, it is not Tamar who is expected to rebuke, but rather her brother Avshalom, who is the social equal of Amnon. I would argue that this piece teaches us that true tochecha is only possible  between those in a relationship of mutual respect. While structural inequality may prove a real systemic barrier to the empathy necessary to allow for true education and rebuke, challenge and education that comes from a place of love and empathy has a much better chance of succeeding.

This means that it is up to us to create the spaces where rebuke is possible. To serve as allies, as much as possible, to those for whom, because of a variety of reasons, rebuke is difficult or dangerous. And to actively build spaces where people feel, as much as is possible, that they can engage in rebuke and that it will be met in a loving and gentle way.

Part of that is offering critique consistently, to stand up and speak out against oppression wherever we see it. But part of that is also making a space for people who are ignorant, or growing, or asking questions, or having difficulty seeing beyond their privilege to be held accountable in a gentle and loving way. The important phrase here is “being held accountable.” Holding people who are working on their privilege in love does not mean that we don’t rebuke them. Tradition teaches us that we have that duty. And certainly we don’t back down from rebuke. That is also our duty. The challenge is creating a space for people to work out why their behavior was oppressive and feel like they can still be contributing members (Jay Smooth has one potential really excellent guide to this).

Certainly this isn’t work for every activist to do. But as clergy, it’s the work that I’ve chosen to take on, and a very particular way of doing it. And I find it helpful to know that other people are thinking about and creating guides to build communities that are both loving and accountable to each other.


March 26, 2013

In Honor of the Supreme Court Deciding on Proposition 8

Filed under: Social Justice — Tags: , — marleyweiner @ 3:50 pm

I think this article sums up my feelings on the subject beautifully.

Because we live in a country where it is still legal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in 34 states. That is more than half.

Because we live in a country where 40% of homeless youth are LGBT, many of whom are forced out of their homes when their parents discover their sexual orientation.

Because we live in a country where rhetoric around public assistance still focuses on marriage as the be all end all to help people, especially women with children, escape poverty (and that rhetoric is unhelpful at best, and actively pernicious at worst).

Because we live in a country where the rich give about half as much of their income to charity as the poor do.

It is beyond important that anyone who chooses should be able to make a family, whether that is through marriage or through other means. And everyone, especially those who build non-normative lives and families, deserve respect, dignity, and justice.

March 5, 2013

Income Inequality in America

Filed under: Social Justice — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 12:02 pm

This is a really good graphical representation of some really horrifying shit.

January 21, 2013

New President, Same as the Old President!

Filed under: Choosing Life, Social Justice — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 9:54 pm

Barack Obama speaks so movingly and compellingly about the triumph and dignity of properly compensated, just, and meaningful labor. It’s a beautiful thing.

… I also want to take a public speaking class from him. That man is CAPTIVATING.

January 18, 2013

Well, this seems a bit outrageous

Filed under: Jewish Communitty, Social Justice — Tags: , , — marleyweiner @ 6:09 pm

Well, this seems a bit outrageous

Seeds of Peace is not a terrorist organization. Jews of color are real Jews. And shame on anyone who behaves otherwise.

A Tool for Teaching Big Scary Concepts to Kids

Filed under: Social Justice — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 5:57 am

There is this nifty new tool called the Up-Goer 5, that forces a person to write using only the 1000 most common words in the English Language. A favorite feminist blogger of mine, Ozy Frantz, has used this to write easy-to-understand definitions of some complicated social justice topics. I may use this as a classroom tool to help my kids process some of the topics (like mitzvot, prophecy, and God) that we’ve been working on this year. I may also, when I’m done with my series on Reconstructionism, use the tool to define difficult theological and religious ideas.

January 14, 2013

Reconstructionism Part 4: Activism and Halakhah, How do we Make Jewish Law Work for Us?

Reconstructionism is in a bit of a strange place when it comes to halakhah (traditional Jewish law). When speaking about Jewish law, Mordechai Kaplan said that halakhah must have “a vote, not a veto.” But what on earth does THAT mean? Some Reconstructionist Jews would classify Reconstructionsim as a “post-halakhic” movement; one that cares about Jewish law but does not consider it binding. From a feminist perspective, many Reconstructionist leaders and thinkers have HUGE problems with halakhah, especially given the misogyny that governs standards of women’s behavior in the Oral Law. Still others feel that halakhah must be one of several religious and secular moral authorities employed when making a decision about communal practice. And still others (such as myself) are interested in having a conversation about how we can, as liberal Jews, use halakhah to our advantage.

One of the reasons for the debate about the place of halakhah in Reconstructionist Judaism is that, much as Reconstructionism cares about Jewish text and history, this is a movement that derives much of its identity from its social justice commitments. The second class of RRC rabbis was co-ed. We were the first rabbinical school to admit openly gay/lesbian students. The movement has accepted and welcomed interfaith families for decades. And we spend  a LOT of time and energy training clergy around issues of sexual violence, racism, trans* and genderqueer identities, and how to support and nurture people who may face discrimination from the Jewish community. Many Reconstructionist leaders have found from personal experience that traditional methods of halakhic interpretation shut out people who wish to find a place in Judaism. So how do we bring these two impulses to work together, the impulse for social justice and the impulse towards living in the bounds of Jewish Law?

Because my classmates are amazing, I want to link to this piece by Leiah Moser which encapsulates a lot of where I feel that our movement should be moving in regard to Jewish Law. I care about living my life in relationship with text; it is so important to Jewish history, culture, and identity. But our texts are changing and evolving, they always have been. If you read even a few pages of Mishnah or Talmud, you find contradictory opinions published all over the place. And the best part is that THEY DON’T TRY TO SOLVE THEM. Seriously. In the old days, the solution was often to plunk contradictory opinions down on the same page. Of course, there is legal interpretation, and the way that the law played out in the real world, but the real world application did not invalidate the fact that Judaism has a history of treasuring and preserving wildly differing opinions.

In addition, there are very old examples of rabbinic legal workarounds for religious issues that the rabbis found troubling. For example, the death penalty. The Bible is full of instances in which a criminal must be put to death (murder, certain instances of rape, persistent disobedience to parents) but the authors of later legal works write legal workarounds so as effect the practical abolition of the death penalty. The authors of the Mishnah and the Talmud were tremendous innovators. And I think that we, as liberal Jews, can follow in the footsteps of our rabbinic ancestors and reclaim Jewish law for ourselves.

I think that we as thoughtful, liberal Jews have the right and the responsibility to engage with halakhah in order to serve our ethical and moral obligations. Much of the reason that I was drawn to Reconstructionist Judaism is that it seems interested and willing to engage in issues of Jewish Law and text from a civilizational standpoint. These texts make us who we are; how can we make that work for us?

And there is much innovation around this area. Ideas such as eco-kashrut, that takes Jewish ideas about ethical and conscious eating and applies them to current questions about sustainability and the responsibility we have to both food workers and meat animals, Or groups like American Jewish World Service, which publishes curricula teaching the Jewish sources on world hunger, poverty, and other social justice topics. The more that we can thoughtfully raise up the work that is already being done in these areas, the more we can begin to reclaim Jewish Text and Jewish law as a powerful force for social good.

So many Jews feel a powerful connection to Judaism through their social justice commitments, and often they feel that they are secular Jews because that is the primary source through which they show their Jewish identity. However, their commitment to improving the world, to making sure that people can lead lives of dignity without want or fear is such a primal Jewish value. If we can show them that they are walking in the footsteps of the rabbis in terms of their social justice concerns, and if we can live up to the shining, justice-inspired parts of our own legacy, Judaism will be the richer for it.

December 31, 2012

Feminism and Faith

Filed under: Social Justice, Spirituality — Tags: , — marleyweiner @ 9:15 pm

Feminism and Faith

This is a fascinating article by the fabulous Sady Doyle about how women can use their religious beliefs as a tool for promoting a more just and egalitarian world. It can be a challenge, balancing a commitment to egalitarianism with the patriarchal origins of Judaism, but there is so much good to be had by reclaiming the text and making it ours.

December 12, 2012

On Gender Gaps in the Jewish Community

Filed under: Jewish Communitty, Social Justice — marleyweiner @ 1:54 am

I just read this post in the Forward about a new survey released of salaries for 75 Jewish nonprofit organizations nationwide. The results as they pertain to female leadership and compensation are troubling.

For all that we as Jews tout our history of progressivism, it appears that we lag behind the rest of the country in this measure of commitment to social justice. I am most troubled, both personally and politically, about the gender gap in compensation for rabbis. The field that I am about to go into is becoming rapidly feminized; my incoming class is 70% female. It troubles me to see the hard work of female rabbis valued less than that of their male peers, because I know that it will have very real-world consequences for myself and the members of my graduating class.

I have been privileged to be mentored by brilliant rabbinical students and rabbis of all genders, but I especially appreciate mentorship from female clergy, because they face unique challenges as women in leadership positions that I will also face one day (God willing!) The women I know in Jewish communal service are brilliant, and capable, and work their asses off. I simply cannot fathom how the Jewish community, given the high percentage of women running its education programs, leading its services, raising its money, and building its communities, cannot value the tremendous asset that it has in its women.

We as Jews must do better, and stand up for recognizing and rewarding talent whoever we find it, no matter what package it comes in.

October 2, 2012

Quick Post: in which I am a Kaplan Fangirl

Filed under: Choosing Life, Rabbinical School, Social Justice — marleyweiner @ 7:00 pm

In honor of the recent High Holidays (which I will talk about in a minute) and in honor of diving back into my schoolwork, I’d like to leave you with two quotes:

Religion must no longer betray the hopes of men for the abolition of poverty, oppression, and war on this earth by regarding these evils as mere “trials and tribulations” or “chastisements of love,” for which we shall be compensated in another world. It must cease waiting for an act of miraculous intervention to remove these evils “in the end of days.” It must encourage men with faith and hope to apply human intelligence and good-will to the removal of these evils in the achievement of the social salvation of mankind.

-Mordechai Kaplan “The Meaning of God”

To be sure, they seek Me daily, eager to learn My ways. Like a nation that does what is right, that has not abandoned the laws of its God, they ask Me for the right way, they are eager for the nearness of God:
“Why, when we fasted, did You not see? When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?”
Because on your fast day you see to your business and oppress all your laborers! Because you fast in strife and contention, and you strike with a wicked fist!
Your fasting today is not such as to make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast I desire, a day for men to starve their bodies? Is it bowing the head like a bulrush and lying in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call that a fast, a day when the Lord is favorable?
No, this is the fast I desire: to unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke. To let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin.

– Isaiah Chapter 58

Some things remain the same, and some things we need to hear over and over and over again, in different words in every age, because they are JUST that important.

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