Tag Archives: Jewish

Eichah: The urgency of “How?!”

daniel swartz and marjorie bermanco-authored by Rabbis Marjorie Berman and Daniel Swartz

Judaism marks a number of minor fasts, but only two that run from one sunset to the next: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av, which commemorates the destruction of both the first and second Temples in Jerusalem, as well as later catastrophes. [artwork] (Tisha B’Av starts on the sunset of July 31st this year.) Yom Kippur gives individuals the opportunity to reflect on their actions over the past year so that they can do “t’shuvah,” that is, turning to their better selves in the coming year.

Because Tisha B’Av seems on the surface to be centered on mourning ancient losses, many people fail to recognize that it too is about T’shuvah.  But in the case of Tisha B’Av, the turning we need to accomplish is not individual but societal.  The Book of Lamentations, traditionally read on Tisha B’Av, begins with a question, “Eichah?”  How?  “How can it be that she sits alone, the city that was once great with people?” (Lamentations 1:1)  And this question implies others:  How did this come about? In what ways are we responsible?  What can we do differently to prevent such tragedies from recurring?How does the city sit alone? LM_PAFA_Panel_05

According to traditional Jewish understanding, one of the root causes of the destruction of the First Temple was that people turned from worshipping the God of all creation and instead worshipped gold and silver, power and wealth.  By the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, the problem was no longer idolatry but sinat chinam, baseless hatred.

But the early sages do not stop there.  They take the Jewish historical experience of the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem and universalize it in both time and scope.   For them, the holy Temple in Jerusalem also served as a reflection of the broader holiness of the whole earth.  And as for that cry of Eichah, we read in Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 19:9 (a homiletical commentary on the Book of Genesis) that the first Eichah was actually addressed to Adam and Eve, when they violated the Garden of Eden: “You transgressed My commands. I decreed exile and I lamented: ‘Eichah?’ How?” (The sages are using wordplay here – the text in Genesis literally says that God calls out Ayekka – where are you – but the spelling in biblical consonantal Hebrew is identical to Eichah)

The sages of Bereishit Rabbah are using this pun to make a point: the experience of destruction and exile is not just about the Temple in Jerusalem.  It has been with us since the Garden, that is, since the beginning of civilization.  And, just as in the days of the Temple, we too cause destruction through the worship of riches and power and through baseless hatred.

Today, humanity as a whole is violating the Garden that is our beautiful, blessed world.  We are quite literally giving rise to fires of destruction through greed and casual disregard of others.   Through the wasteful and unsustainable burning of fossil fuels, we threaten the very future of civilization and of countless species all across the global Garden.  And if we do not turn away from this behavior, the havoc that climate change will wreak will give rise to howls of Eichah far more desolate than any that have ever been uttered.

But Tisha B’Av teaches us that when we remember and listen to the lessons of history, when we mourn that reality, we can be inspired to change.  The second to last sentence in the Book of Lamentations reads:  “Return us to You, Eternal, and we will turn.  Renew our days as of yore.”  In other words, if we really take in the urgency of “how,” if we truly face up to what we have done, we can change.  We can shape a future with justice for everyone and sustainability for countless generations to come. We can make our world into a new Eden, a sacred Temple once again.

(Authors’ Note: the ideas of this essay have grown out of more than 20 years of conversation about Tisha B’Av with Rabbi Arthur Waskow.  We are deeply indebted to his teachings.)

Religious Leaders Condemn Trump’s Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

President Trump’s announcement on June 1, 2017 that he will withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement has inspired a diverse chorus of condemnation from religious leaders and organizations in the U.S. and across the globe. If your tradition or denomination has issued a statement that you don’t see listed below, please let us know. And if your tradition or denomination has not yet released a statement, ask your leaders to do so—and send them this page of religious statements for inspiration!

COP21Religious Statements Condemning U.S. Withdrawal from Paris Agreement

But wait…there’s more! Religious Statements in Support of Paris Agreement and/or Climate Action

A Jewish Teaching on Esau’s Birthright and Climate Action

On November 15, 2015, Board Member Susan Frant offered the following d’var (sermon) at a board meeting of Congregation Beth David in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. The Torah portion for that week was Toldot, Genesis 25:19-28:9. In Susan’s teaching, she focuses on Genesis 25:27-34, which centers on Esau spurning his birthright. How does this relate to climate disruption and our need to act? Read on to find out.

Beth David logoWhen Isaac’s twins grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man, who stayed in camp. Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the open, famished. Many translate this as “tired” or “exhausted,” not “famished.” And Esau said to Jacob, “Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down, for I am” tired. Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” So he sold his birthright to Jacob. Jacob then gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and he rose and went away. Thus did Esau spurn the birthright. (Genesis 25:27-34)

Certainly there were benefits associated with the birthright, but there were also responsibilities. From Rashi we learn that Esau’s exhaustion is more spiritual than physical. He is tired of the obligations of family life, tired of the responsibilities associated with Jewish living, and weary of the limitations placed on him daily by his pledge to the future. Would it not be easier simply to ignore tomorrow and live only for today? And so, with the stew as collateral, Esau abandons his future.

Many commentaries point out that Torah admonishes us not to live exclusively for the moment lest we forget that tomorrow will bring new challenges and new blessings. The Torah portion Toldot highlights the struggle between this instant and the thousands of tomorrows that follow.

I relate this Torah portion to the very serious issue of climate disruption where birthright is a sustainable, livable—that is, inhabitable, G-d given planet. Related to this we could talk about farmers who allow fracking to “save the farm” when fracking leads to contaminated water and earthquakes. We could cite drivers who buy gas guzzling vehicles when driving them leads to an increase in greenhouse gasses that contributes to climate disruption. We could point to eating red meat where it was reported in 2012, that the world’s 1.5 billion cattle contributed nearly 18% of all greenhouse gases, more than cars, planes and all other transportation put together. We could talk about powering our digital, electronic world with fossil fuels where wind and solar power do not emit greenhouse gasses and therefore, the total cost to humankind is much less than burning fossil fuel.  We could go on. But I won’t.

Rather, let me conclude by asking you to raise your hand if you believe you are a contributing member of the society. Look around. We are the people that are referred to in the statement that says: we are the FIRST generations to witness and feel the effects of climate disruption AND the LAST generations to be able to take actions that will have a significant impact on mitigating the magnitude of what is to come. Let me repeat: the first to witness the effects and the last to be able to take significant action.

I hope when our children or grandchildren ask what we did to change the trajectory of global climate disruption, to preserve their birthright of a sustainable, livable, beautiful G-d given world, I hope our answer doesn’t include that we were busy eating stew!   Thank you.

___________________________

Things to read and to watch:

This Changes Everything* by Naomi Klein

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Colbert

Merchants of Doubt* by Eric M Conway and Naomi Oreskes

Laudato Si by Pope Francis**

*also a movie

**on YouTube

OpEd – “The better angels of our nature” … why Pruitt is wrong for EPA

daniel headshotOpEd by PA IPL board president, Rabbi Daniel Swartz, published in the Scranton Times-Tribune on January 10, 2017.

It’s a basic animal instinct to protect self-interests — your food sources, your life and your offspring. Especially at this time of year, we aspire not to mere base instinct, but rather to the “better angels of our nature” that President Abraham Lincoln spoke about. It’s a common theme of most religions: the moral course of action is to go beyond ourselves to protect those in need.

What is true for us as individuals is also true for societies and countries. A great and moral nation doesn’t just protect self-interests. It builds systems and institutions that protect the weak, the vulnerable and the powerless. One such institution in our country is the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA protects our health, especially of the poor, who suffer first and most from the effects of environmental degradation.

So it is profoundly distressing to look at the record of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald J. Trump’s choice to head the EPA. Mr. Pruitt has taken every opportunity to sue the EPA to stop the agency from acting to protect public health and natural resources.

For example, he sued unsuccessfully to stop standards for reducing soot and smog pollution that crosses state lines, pollution that increases asthma, lung disease and even reduces life spans, particularly among the very young and seniors.

Worse, he sued, also without success, to head off rules to reduce releases of mercury, arsenic, acid gases and other toxic pollutants. Even tiny amounts of mercury can cause birth defects and permanent brain damage. In these and other cases, Mr. Pruitt ignored the scientific evidence, backed by health experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association, and the American Public Health Association. He supported the positions of fossil fuel companies.

Mr. Pruitt’s opposition to health and safety protections could have particularly serious repercussions for Pennsylvanians, including the 300,000 children who suffer from asthma and the many older Pennsylvanians who suffer from respiratory conditions. According to the American Lung Association, Pennsylvania already pays $9.4 billion in pollution-related health care costs each year. A Pruitt-run EPA also could abandon clean water safeguards protecting thousands of miles of Pennsylvania streams, which are sources of drinking water, fishing, and recreation.

Mr. Pruitt has demonstrated an … –-> continue reading at the Scranton Times-Tribune –>


Download Rabbi Daniel Swartz’ text study of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Sî, including 1- or 2- session discussion options, and excerpts from Laudato Si with facing-page Jewish texts (scripture to present).  Written for Yom Kippur study, but appropriate for study by people of any faith, at any time of the year.

8 Days of Hanukkah, my True Love said to me:

“Please Heal My Earth”

This year, Christmas and Hanukkah converge for the first time in nearly four decades.  Both Christians and Jews will light lights in the darkness tonight, on December 24.  Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center suggests a re-visioning of the menorah as a symbol of our ability to do all of what we need with only 1/8th of what we thought we needed, and suggests eight days of actions which we all can embrace.  Let them inspire you to action, whether these very actions, or some others, rooted in your own faith, wisdom, and traditions.  Reb Arthur: 


Hanukkah brings with it again this year three crucial teachings about healing our Mother Earth from the ravages of global scorching.

The Green Menorah, a Tree of Light that is a fusion of human craft and Earth’s growth. On this Shabbat we read the Prophetic passage from Zechariah (2:14 to 4: 12) that emplaces the Temple Menorah as part of a tiny forest of olive trees that give forth their oil straight into the Menorah.

We breathe in what these Trees of Light breathe out; they breathe in what we breathe out. We Continue reading

LUNCHTIME TALK: Laudato Si and the Jewish Sages: Reflections on Climate Justice

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This lunchtime talk at Villanova University is the final event in a series that included a multi-faith roundtable conversation with Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council on Justice & Peace, and a number of Philadelphia PA IPL members.

This event takes place in the St. Rita Community Room.

PA IPL Board President Rabbi Daniel Swartz is the featured speaker.  A light lunch is provided, so an RSVP is a must. 

daniel headshotDownload Rabbi Daniel’s study with excerpts from Laudato Si in facing-page “conversation” with Jewish wisdom and scripture, ancient to the present.  Both one-session and three-session supports are included.