Posts Tagged 'Religion and Politics'

Just Judges: Shoftim and Kamala

Last week Joe Biden announced Kamala Harris as his running mate. Soon after President Trump attacked Harris for being “extraordinarily nasty” to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings. It is true, Harris did aggressively question Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct allegations during the justice’s heated 2018 confirmation hearings. In her line of questioning she also touched on abortion laws and Trump’s reaction to the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Trump said, “She was extraordinarily nasty to Kavanaugh, Judge Kavanaugh, now Justice Kavanaugh. She was nasty to a level that was just a horrible thing the way she was, the way she treated now-Justice Kavanaugh. And I won’t forget that soon.” I am curious why Trump thinks her line of questioning of Judge Kavanaugh was a bad thing.

Brett Kavanaugh Struggles To Answer Kamala Harris' 'Simple ...

I was thinking about this in the context of him proudly holding a Bible.

The Bible is not a prop': Religious leaders, lawmakers outraged ...

Has Trump ever read the it? It is not just a prop, something to bring into class for show-and-tell, or a weapon to brandish.

I do not bring it up not just because Kamala Harris’s nomination was an important moment in our country’s history or that this week is the DNC, but because this week we read Shoftim, this week’s Torah reading. And yes the Torah, Five books of Moses, is in that Bible in the President’s hands.

Here in Shoftim Moses instructs the people of Israel to appoint judges and law enforcement officers in every city. There we read:

You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not set up a ashera– idolatrous tree —any kind of pole beside the altar of the Lord your God that you may make—or erect a stone pillar; for such the Lord your God detests. (Deuteronomy 16:18-22)

The Bible takes the appointment of judges and the human process of pursuing justice very seriously. But what do we make of the juxtaposition of the idea of creating a justice system to this ashera tree by the alter?

To answer this question we go to the Rabbis of the Talmud. There we learn:

Reish Lakish says: With regard to anyone who appoints over the community a judge who is not fit, it is as though he plants a tree used as part of idolatrous rites [ashera] among the Jewish people, as it is stated: “You shall make judges and officers for yourself” (Deuteronomy 16:18), and juxtaposed to it, it is written: “You shall not plant yourself an ashera of any kind of tree” (Deuteronomy 16:21). By implication, appointing unfit judges is akin to planting a tree for idolatry. (Sanhedrin 7b)

In Jewish thought the pursuit of justice and selection of good judges is central to our religious expression.

Why complain about Kamala Harris? As a former prosecutor she was doing her job and doing it well. She was faithfully fulfilling her mandate from the Bible to grill of Kavanaugh.

The Trump administration wants to hide behind a book. Those who support him because of the Bible are no different than Trump himself. What is the difference between devotion to a book made of wood and never opened and planting the ashera tree? They are all idol worshipers.

I wanted to invite all of the God-fearing Trump supporters to break from Trump’s doctrine of bullying and realize the religious importance of law. We must uproot the idolatry in our midst. Kamala Harris has proven that she will make sure that we have the right judges. We need to vote for Biden and Kamala. They will get our country back on track.

Let My Voice Know No Bounds: An Unorthodox Lesson in Race and Respect

I have only very fond memories of Esther Meyers z”l. She was an African American housekeeper who came to our house in the suburbs every day from her home in Southwest Philadelphia to take care of me. She was always kind, caring, and nurturing. She raised me as she raised my three siblings. And before working for my parents, she had worked for my Oma and Opa, German grandparents, raising my mother and my aunt in West Philadelphia. To the best of my memory, I believe Esther was the daughter of a sharecropper from South Carolina. But my memories are incomplete, being the youngest of my generation.

One of my earliest memories growing up is something that Esther said to me. I could not have been older than seven at the time. She had prepared egg salad on rye bread as she did throughout my childhood. I was about to eat and she called out, “Put that thing on your head. Show some respect up in here sugar.”

Today I am an Orthodox Rabbi with my requisite beard, four-cornered garment, and of course the signature head covering. I can quote you many ancient, medieval, and modern texts to explain why a Jew should wear a Kippah, a traditional head covering. But to be honest, it is not the voice of my tradition that I hear commanding me to wear a Kippah, rather it is Esther’s sweet voice calling me to “put that thing on my head”. Over 30 years has passed since Esther said these words to me, but to this day it is the proud voice of a god-fearing African American woman telling me, a white boy of privilege, how to show respect that influences how I see the world and, in turn, how the world sees me. Esther’s voice commands me to show respect by recognizing the privileges I have. I may or not be conscious of it, I have race, class, education, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity, all on my side. I understand that it means I have a great deal of responsibility in our fractured society. Am I, as a German Jew – – am I white? I find the question of Jews being white or not to be largely academic. If I want, I can closet my identity to ensure that I do not lose my white privilege. But, choosing to wear a Kippah essentially problematizes the pristine racial construct of being white in America. I decide to reveal this about myself every day.

This makes me think about the biblical character of Joseph. At beginning of Parshat Vayigash, this week’s Torah portion, where we read of Joseph’s reconnecting with his brothers after they had sold him into slavery so many years previously. There we read:

Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried: ‘Cause every man to go out from me.’ And there stood no [Egyptian] man with him, while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he [Joseph] wept aloud; and the Egyptians heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard. (Genesis 45:1-2)

It was not just that Joseph passed for an Egyptian, he married into the priestly class of Egypt and his brothers did not recognize him. In his closeted identity, he enjoyed every privilege in Egypt. Joseph cleared everyone out of the room, but that did not include his brothers. Despite his being the second to the king, he had internalized the xenophobia and felt that he needed to clear the room to share his hidden identity. When Joseph did find that voice, it could know no bounds. Everyone heard about it.

In all of my world travels, when I meet someone else with a Kippah I experience a filial bond. But I am not satisfied with this being a sign of my religion, group pride, or nationalism; rather I want our head coverings to reveal both the positive and negative lessons of Joseph. During the years of famine under Joseph’s administration Pharaoh sold the stockpile of food to the Egyptian people. First Joseph took their money, then their cattle, then their land, and ultimately themselves as slaves (Genesis 47:15- 26). Essentially, Joseph created a large class of Egyptian sharecroppers. Only the Israelites and the Egyptian priestly caste were spared.

We cannot be complicit with a system of oppression in order to give our brethren preferential treatment. As we learn from Joseph and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Ultimately the system of slavery that Joseph helped create came back around to enslave his descendants. I want my Kippah to remind me and others of our joint responsibilities to our people and the larger world. In wearing a Kippah I aspire to be a dreamer like a young Joseph before he experiences his own slavery. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” I wear a Kippah to create a certain kind of consciousness. I want to identify with and be identified by the holy calling “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”.

There is a lot of work to be done to repair the racial divide in this country. This is not a black problem. I know that I can always put my Kippah in my pocket or under a hat; Esther could never hide her skin color. Those of us with privilege need to be vigilant about standing up for those who are marginalized and oppressed. Like Joseph we need to find our hidden voice and courageously speak out for freedom and justice for all.  All I know is when I fail to cover my head with a culture of consciousness I am not showing the appropriate respect. Thank you Esther.

 


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