From “Jewish renewal” to Transformative Judaism

Yesterday, Reb Arthur Waskow wrote this letter to the ALEPH Members and Clergy. What’s your take?

Dear chevra,

Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Rabbi Arthur Waskow

At the beginning, about  45 or 50 years ago, “Jewish renewal” unleashed the sacred fire of Jewish passion in prayer and action (from the Freedom Seder to the Shabbat siddur to the call for a taanit tzibbur, communal fast, in time of impending war or famine) that had been reduced to embers by centuries of fear and hopelessness. Jewish renewal helped stoke those Jewish fires with sacred feminism, meditation, nonviolence, political action, dance, musics, breathing, yoga, chant, and other practices that we relearned from other communities and then realized also had Jewish roots.

At that point, the goal was chiefly to revivify and renew Judaism for the sake of a fuller life for Jews.

But now we know that we are living in the midst of God’s universal, multidimensional earthquake — a planetary crisis. What we need now is a Judaism focused not on renewing ourselves for our own sakes alone, but renewing Judaism to transform the world. (As Reb Zalman told me once, that was always at the heart of his vision of “Jewish renewal” — but many of us either never knew or have forgotten.)

If we are indeed a “movement,” we need to keep moving.

How would Transformative Judaism, drawing on the Four Worlds of Kabbalah, seek to heal adamah and adam — our wounded Mother Earth and her suffering and domineering newborn human earthlings?

Since human action has endangered the web of life on earth, human action can heal it.

And the religious and spiritual communities of our planet have the wisdoms and the tools to do the healing.

Judaism is especially relevant because, unlike most world religions, we preserve the teachings of an indigenous people in the biblical tradition –- the spiritual wisdom of shepherds and farmers.  And yet as a world people, we can now apply the earthiness of our origins to the Whole Earth.

That does not mean simply repeating the ancient practices. For instance, the ancient code of kosher food does not take into account that we now “eat” coal and oil and crucial minerals like lithium. Is there an “eco-kosher” way of eating them, as well as caring for vegetables and fruit and kosher animals in ways traditional kashrut did not? Can we shape our ways of celebrating Sukkot and Pesach and Tu B’Shvat and life-cycle ceremonies so that they embody social action as an aspect of spiritual deepening?

This transformation in our reality calls for action in the Four Worlds of reality  —  Atzilut (Spirit); Briyyah (Creative Intellect); Yetzirah (Relationship—ethics & emotion); Asiyah (Action, Physicality):

  1. Spiritually, the creation of new forms of prayer, meditation, and celebration that draw us into fuller awareness of the interweaving of all life: for instance, “pronouncing” and understanding the Sacred God-Name “YHWH” as YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Interbreathing of all life –- rather than Lord or King.  For instance, shaping our conscious observances of the festival “seasons of our joy” to clarify their authentic roots in the seasons of Earth, Moon, and Sun.
  2. Intellectually, the absorption of ecological science into what we teach and learn as sacred Torah, just as Rambam integrated the best science and philosophy of his day into Torah. Ecology takes seriously both each distinctive niche of each life form and the flow that connects them.  It does what Kabbalah yearns toward: reintegrating the two Trees of Eden — the Tree of Flowing Life and the Tree of Distinction-making —  into One.
  3. Relationally, our recognition of the varied ethical, religious, and spiritual life-paths as necessary and valuable unfoldings of the varied “organs” of human civilization and planetary life – as different from each other and as equally necessary to each other as the brain, liver, heart, and lungs in a single body. Just as our bodily organs not only “dialogue” with each other but actually work together —  to heal our planet in the present crisis, we will need to draw on the wisdom and commitment of every human culture. So we need to move beyond interfaith dialogue into the pursuit of interrelational work toward the active making of peace and justice among the different communities.
  4. Vigorous action to confront the modern Carbon / Churban Pharaohs that are bringing plagues of  drought, flood, war, and famine on the Earth and all Humanity – action that might include lobbying, voting, rallies, vigils, nonviolent civil disobedience, organizing counter-institutions like coops, organic farms, etc., and economic action to Move Our Money/Protect Our Planet (MOM/POP) –- moving our money from corporate investments and banks that endanger Mother Earth to companies, banks, coops, etc. that protect and heal her. We need as well to address the closely related issues of corporate power, overwork, consumerist addiction, and extreme economic inequality.

As we move forward in all these aspects of the world, we create a Judaism that heals and transforms itself in order to heal and transform the world. We learn anew what ancient Torah teaches: – “Sh’sh’sh’shma!  Hush’sh’sh’sh and Hear, all you who wrestle with the Ultimate —  Hear the still small sound of almost-silent breathing: the Breath of Life is ONE.”
If we are indeed a “movement,” we need to keep moving.

Shalom, salaam, sohl; pax, paz, peace; namaste