I have the privilege of getting to work with Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., as part of my job at Reconstructing Judaism, the central organization of the Reconstructionist movement of Judaism. The current landscape of antisemitism is toxic in ways that demand clear thinking and a willingness to make our struggle – the Jewish people’s struggle – interconnected with the struggle for justice and equity for all.
Rabbi Mira Wasserman currently serves as director of the Center for Jewish Ethics at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. LINDA JIMÉNEZ of RadioSefarad.com interviewed her recently, and Rabbi Wasserman offered a concise and clear portrait of the movement of Judaism that trained me as a rabbi and that is my spiritual home base.
In a free society, all of us are rebels against something. In a society where freedom of religion is part of the social contract, every adult chooses which ideas, which denomination, which philosophy, which tribe they want to align themselves with. And in doing so, each of us rebels against somebody else’s self-proclaimed authority. For some in the Jewish community, I am a rabbi. For others, I am a “rabbi.” For still others I am a heretic.
The same can be said for any clergy person of any faith tradition. Ask a passionately devout Sunni to describe the heresy of Shi’ism and the threat it poses to the true understanding of Islam. Then ask a devout Shia to describe how Shi’ite Islam represents the true revelation of the faith. Each narrative rebels against the other.
This week’s Torah portion tells the story of Judaism’s most famous rebel, Korach.
Korach, along with two other tribal leaders, Datan and Abiram, challenge Moses and Aaron’s authority over the Israelites. “You have too much power. The entire community are holy, all of them, and the Eternal One is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Eternal one’s assembly?” The rabbis of the Jerusalem Talmud depict Korach as having great skill in Jewish law. They describe him initiating a long, drawn out debate with Moses over detailed points of Jewish law, in which Korach tries to entrap Moses using legislative slights of hand.
Korach is a rebel who has come on the scene prepared for a coup d’etat. He’s organized 250 leading figures to stand with him, and the first time he brings his grievances he does so in public, at a staged event designed to rally the people behind him and topple the regime. He is seen by the tradition as the rebel with the gift of demagoguery. He claims to be standing up for a noble value – spiritual equality – as he tries to paint the established leaders as unfair and hypocritical. Korach presents himself as a righteous whistle blower, and yet tradition holds him up as a fake.
First, for those unfamiliar with Philly slang, this.
Okay. This is me archiving this piece that Keshet and My Jewish Learning ran a few years ago, being re-shared now in case it’s useful to someone.
“Among LGBT Jews & their allies, Leviticus is a dirty word”
Among LGBT Jews and their allies, Leviticus is a dirty word. And not just because of its two famous homophobic verses. There are many challenging issues with Leviticus. For instance, while we support gender equality, Leviticus establishes an all-male system of ritual leadership. While we affirm the equal worth of people with physical disabilities, Leviticus excludes them from the priesthood. And of course, while we celebrate the blessing and beauty in loving same-sex relationships, Leviticus prescribes the death penalty for gay men who have intercourse.
So how do we work with a sacred text that is at odds with some of our deepest values–values that other parts of Torah affirm (like every person being created in God’s image)? For me, it starts with an approach to sacred texts that views them as human-created documents. Consistent with my Reconstructionist philosophy, I view the Torah as a record of our Israelite ancestors’ best efforts to describe their experiences of God and Truth.