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Rabbis Social Justice Statements

Bearing True Witness: Raising the Collective Rabbinic Voice

Late last week, the New York Times treated us to a column featuring two Reform rabbis, Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig and Rabbi Yoel Kahn, along with other religious leaders who have been pioneers in the struggle for LGBT equality. The article’s title suggested a problem it was striving to correct: “Push Within Religions for Gay Marriage Gets Little Attention.”

Reading the news, one could easily develop the impression that religion itself opposes LGBT equality and reproductive liberty, while demanding easy access to fire arms, to name just a few examples. Consider discussion around the Boy Scouts of America’s policy change, permitting gay and lesbian adults to serve in leadership capacities. We have all heard much about religious groups’ demand that they be permitted to bar gay men and lesbians from serving in these roles in the Boy Scout Troops they house, but precious little about religious groups that will only host Boy Scout Troops with clear, enforced non-discrimination policies.

Amplifying the progressive religious voice is hard work. As the New York Times’ headline writer suggests, our endeavors often garner “little attention.”

This week, I experienced the power of our collective rabbinic voice. On Monday, I had a phone call from a friend who works for Planned Parenthood. Her voice was filled with frustration, even loneliness, as she articulated the pain of being accused of gross inhumanity. Later that same day, our Reform rabbinate issued a statement, “CCAR Condemns Deceptive Campaign against Planned Parenthood.” I sent it to my friend. She was deeply moved that a group of clergy had rushed to Planned Parenthood’s defense. Not Jewish, and not being religious at all, her principal association with religion is in the claim of many that God hates Planned Parenthood, its work and its advocacy. Suddenly, a group of clergy has rushed to Planned Parenthood’s defense, boldly asserting “truth” to combat the lies that threaten to cripple women’s reproductive liberty.

In its 2015 session, the Arkansas Legislature, like many before it, resolved to welcome tablets of the Ten Commandments to stand on the grounds of our State Capitol. While I oppose doing so, in this week of reading Parashat Va’etchanan, which includes those Ten Commandments, I would suggest that the very people behind such efforts have much to learn from those commandments. When they claim that God commands that we discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, they take God’s Name in vain. When they charge that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for profit, they bear false witness against their neighbors.

When I posted the CCAR’s Statement about Planned Parenthood to Facebook, one of my friends asked whether mainline Protestant groups had made similar declarations. I don’t know the answer, but I’m not aware of any. What I don’t do is take the bold truth-telling of the CCAR for granted.

Whether the issue is racial justice or gun violence, religious freedom in the United States or Israel, LGBT rights or reproductive liberty, we may be grateful that our CCAR President, Rabbi Denise Eger, and our Chief Executive, Rabbi Steve Fox, among other leaders, are prepared to raise the collective rabbinic voice to bear true witness: God loves all, created in the Divine image; and God demands truth.

And let us pray that, some day, no longer will a headline writer for the Times or anyone else have to say that our collective religious voice for truth “gets little attention.”

Rabbi Barry Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas. 

Categories
CCAR on the Road General CCAR Pesach Statements

Rabbi-Hacking IV: Hacking Our Teaching

One of our colleagues wrote a humorous and thoughtful “rabbi’s” version of the ahl cheyt. One of them was “for the sins we have committed by relying on ‘Rabbi Google’ rather than the sacred texts in our study.” I can relate. The extent of Jewish teaching resources available online is extraordinary. Websites for texts, commentaries, and community continue to grow. A contemporary Kohelet could say, “Of the making of websites there is no end.”

How do we separate the wheat from the chaff? Personal preferences play a role. So denomination and ideology, along with usability and relevance. We all know of the excellent URJ site. What follows are some of my favorites. Please leave some of your favorite resources in the comments section so we can all benefit.

1. rabbisacks.org: Jonathan Sacks recently retired as Chief Rabbi of Great Britain. Yet, he has maintained a website filled with Torah commentaries, essays and lectures, and it is filled with wonderful ideas and chomer l’drush.

2. sefaria.org: A lay leader brought this to my attention. It gathers texts from the Tanach to Maimonides to Midrash Rabbah in Hebrew and English, in a format where one is able to create a teaching source sheet. The site is still developing, and the available texts are a bit haphazard. Yet, this site is beginning to prove eminently useful.

3. on1foot.com: Maintained by the American Jewish World Service, this site has a similar concept as Sefariah, but is more developed and focused on social justice. It also has the benefit of providing users with access to source sheets put together by others.

4. jta.org: JTA is a great source for Jewish news, opinion and blogs.

5. huffingtonpost.com/religion: I am biased, as I blog regularly for the Huffington Post, but the range of writers and topics is phenomenal. I’ve found many good ideas for lunch and learn and other adult education classes on the site.

6. mosaicmagazine.com: Mosaic is the successor the Jewish Ideas Daily. Though its selection has a clear conservative bent, Mosaic offers articles on topics in Jewish thought and history difficult to find elsewhere. Its articles lend themselves to good discussion.

7. tabletmag.com: Tablet is a bit more pop-culture orientated than Mosaic, but it also offers excellent essays on Jewish life and thought, and it is frequently updated.

8. michaelhyatt.com: This site has nothing to do with Judaism or Jewish life. In fact, its author is a devout Christian and former head of a major Christian-orientated publisher. But the insights on leadership and productivity are better than can be found anywhere else. He gives insights into blogging, organizational leadership, and how to get more done in less time. That’ Unknownsomething we can all use.

 Rabbi Evan Moffic is the rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park, IL.

Categories
Ethics General CCAR Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice Statements

Reform Movement Welcomes Ruling in Marriage Equality Cases

Reform Movement leaders issued a statement today in response to the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on marriage equality in the cases Windsor v. United States and Hollingsworth v. Perry. The following statement comes from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Steve Fox, chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Rabbi Marla Feldman, executive director of Women of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:

Today’s Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality is a significant victory for the protection of Americans’ civil rights. No longer will lesbian and gay couples remain invisible to the federal government; no longer should there be doubt about the legal legitimacy of these partnerships.

 

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which we vigorously opposed when it was first considered, has been an offensive and discriminatory measure since its passage in 1996. Since then millions have been denied fundamental rights because of the impact of this ill-advised law. Though that law still stands, today’s ruling in Windsor v. United States promises to lessen some of its most damaging effects. By striking down Article Three of DOMA – a section of the law that the Obama Administration stopped defending several years ago – the Court has enabled legally married same-sex couples to receive the same federal benefits, rights and responsibilities as married heterosexual couples.

 

Sadly, too many couples across America are still denied the fundamental right to marry. The Court’s ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry effectively expands that right to tens of millions more Americans. The Court missed an opportunity to take a stronger stand for marriage equality today, yet it is a step toward greater civil rights for millions of Americans.

 

There is no more central tenet to our faith than the notion that all human beings are created in the image of the Divine, and, as such, entitled to equal treatment and equal opportunity. Many faith traditions, including Reform Judaism, celebrate and sanctify same-sex marriages. Thanks to the Court’s decision, the federal government will now recognize these marriages as well, while still respecting the rights and views of those faith traditions that choose not to sanctify such marriages.

 

Inspired by our Movement’s longstanding commitment to civil rights, we joined in amicus briefs to the Court in both the Perry and Windsor cases. We look forward to the day when full civil marriage equality is the law throughout the country, reflecting our nation’s historic commitment to the civil rights of every individual. In the meantime, today’s decisions will inspire us to continue to seek justice for all.

 

Categories
Ethics General CCAR News Reform Judaism Statements

Arming Rabbis? Not in My Time, I Pray.

Yes, I have fired a gun on more than one occasion; most recently at a training range on a Kibbutz in Israel* in 2009 and early on as a teenager at target practice with a friend and his dad.  The experiences unnerved me; the echoing boom, the kick of the weapon and even more, the thought that the gun I fired, no matter how small, had the potential to take a human life.

Mourning in Newtown, CT
Mourning in Newtown, CT

My limited experience with weapons affirms for me the sentiments I have been hearing these past two weeks from my colleagues, friends and so many grieving families across the nation.  Guns are far too easy to use — and misuse — and we must continue to demand from Congress reasonable regulations for guns and assault weapons.

The “solution” suggested last week by the NRA- placing armed guards in schools- is beyond absurd. Even since Newtown there have been other mass shootings, including in a church, to which Gail Collins of the NY Times said in context of the NRA’s comment, “We will await the next grand plan for arming ministers.”

Not in my time, I pray- may we not see armed ministers, rabbis or school security guards.

For decades the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) has decried “the power of the NRA in controlling the debate on gun control” (2000) and called upon “the U.S. Congress to eschew the support of the NRA and to vote their support of stringent gun-control legislation”(1987).

Our resolution has not changed; we continue to support meaningful gun control legislation that will stem these senseless episodes of mass violence.  In the CCAR’s recent public statement about the Newtown shootings, we expressed our condolences to whose who suffered losses, sympathies for those wounded, and fear that the NRA will continue to thwart not just legislation, but even conversation, about the need to stop the gun violence.

But expressing these feelings is not enough.

Reform Rabbis who are on the front lines of Jewish communal life can join together, and with clergy of other faiths, to advocate in support of meaningful gun control nationwide and in their own communities- (studies indicate that “states with strong gun laws and low rates of gun ownership had far lower rates of firearm-related death”).  At the CCAR we remain committed to providing rabbis with resources on ways that they may advocate and organize, such as in partnership with Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center.

Importantly, the CCAR also provides our rabbis personal support and resources as their communities turn to them for religious and pastoral comfort in time of tragedy.  Our volunteer Rabbis on Call and Rabbinic Hotline, as well as CCAR’s Rabbinic Staff, support rabbis who themselves offer prayer and comfort to their communities.  We also provide resources grounded in Jewish text, theology, and philosophy on subjects ranging from the sanctity of life to the abhorrence of violence.

Our rabbis also benefit from the strength of partnership.  At the end of last week, the CCAR joined forces with the Rabbinical Assembly (the Conservative Rabbis), and the Religious Action Center to provide hundreds of rabbis the opportunity to learn from other leaders in our faith; including one of our rabbis who is serving Newtown as the Director of Spiritual Care at Danbury Hospital; a rabbi and advocate for Faiths United Against Gun Violence; and from the Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

In the CCAR’s latest statement, we expressed our understanding that comprehensive laws cannot stop all gun violence.  But we must continue to act in the words of our tradition: “one who saves one life saves a whole world.”

*Important footnote:  As to the incorrect statements made last week by the pro-gun lobby, Israel is actually a country with strict control over weapons in the civilian population.

 

 

 

 

Categories
Israel News Reform Judaism Statements

Reform Movement Response to United Nations

Photo By Bill Aron

The Central Conference of American Rabbis has joined with the Union for Reform Judaism, ARZA and ARZA-Canada to issue a Reform Movement statement about the United Nations decision to upgrade the status of the Palestinians as a “non-member observer state.”
http://ccarnet.org/joint-statement-un-palestinian-status/

A CCAR Mission of Reform Rabbis is currently in Israel.  Follow our Rabbis as they show our support for Israel and as the CCAR leads our communities in engagement with Israel by visiting Israel.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Israel News Reform Judaism Statements

Reform Movement Response to
United Nations

Photo By Bill Aron

The Central Conference of American Rabbis has joined with the Union for Reform Judaism, ARZA and ARZA-Canada to issue a Reform Movement statement about the United Nations decision to upgrade the status of the Palestinians as a “non-member observer state.”
http://ccarnet.org/joint-statement-un-palestinian-status/

A CCAR Mission of Reform Rabbis is currently in Israel.  Follow our Rabbis as they show our support for Israel and as the CCAR leads our communities in engagement with Israel by visiting Israel.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Israel Statements

The Path to Peace

The CCAR continues to express our long-standing commitment to peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors. We believe that the only way to achieve peace is a negotiated settlement with two states for two peoples.
The path to peace lies between Ramallah and Jerusalem, not in New York or Washington or the Netherlands.

CCAR member rabbis represent a diverse range of opinions as to the best ways to move forward, but we are united in our desire for peace, and our support and love for Israel.

The CCAR’s Mission to Israel begins today, with our rabbis arriving in Jerusalem now. The trip has two core purposes — to express our support for Israel and take provide an opportunity for more recently ordained rabbis to engage in conversations and learning as to how best lead their own communities into an engagement with Israel by visiting Israel.

We are engaging in conversation with other leaders of the Movement in CCAR Board of Trustee discussions and at the URJ Board meeting now in progress as to how best to respond to the myriad of issues presented and we will continue to coordinate our efforts for the benefit of Israel and peace in the Middle East.