My latest post on the Open Zion blog at The Daily Beast
Sitting in a cafe on Pico Blvd. in West LA that is way hipper than I am, there seems nothing further from this cultural moment than fasting. Yet, we are on the brink of one of the two most significant fast days on the Jewish liturgical calendar. The better known of those fast days is Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, which is a day of prayer and forgiveness. It is also, at least in the eyes of the tradition, not only a holy day but a holiday, a day of celebration. Celebreating the possibility of renewal and atonement. The possibility of piety and holiness.
The day that is upon us in the heat of the summer is the fast of the Ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. This is a day of unrelenting sadness and mourning, a day of lamentation for the many, many evils that have befallen the Jewish people through the ages—the shattering of the Tablets in the desert, the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem, even the expulsion from Spain and the “final solution.”
The question some raise is understandable. They ask: How do we—sitting in cafes in Los Angeles or in Tel Aviv—relate to this holiday? Jews as a people are not in any existential danger now. The opposite is the truth. The State of Israel, though facing challenges, has the strongest army in the region and is allied with the strongest power on the planet. The American Jewish community is probably the most affluent and politically powerful Jewish community to have ever existed on the planet. Why do we don the sackcloth and ashes of the eternal victims?
read the rest of the post here
A few weeks ago, I was in a meeting discussing an upcoming ballot initiative which would eliminate the death penalty in favor of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Everybody in the room was opposed to the death penalty. The discussion was about the strategy that should be employed to convince voters to make the proposition law. The campaign’s tactic was to argue that the death penalty was more expensive than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LWOP). This is, of course, true. As the LA Times reported:
[An] examination of state, federal and local expenditures for capital cases, conducted over three years by a senior federal judge and a law professor, estimated that the additional costs of capital trials, enhanced security on death row and legal representation for the condemned adds $184 million to the budget each year.
However, sitting in that room, engaging in that conversation, I suddenly got very depressed. I realized how we had all been impacted by the culture of greed that has overwhelmed our country.
I want to make clear that I think that we urgently need to stop our country’s machinery of death and to begin the hard work of justice—reforming our prisons, making victims and/or their families whole, allowing for transgressors to repent and atone (as I argue here). I think that replacing the death penalty with LWOP is a good and important step on the way to accomplishing this. I was reacting to the fact that the parameters of the debate (cheaper is better) are not ones that I agree with and are destructive to the moral fabric of our country and society. Let me explain. Continue reading
The machinery of death roared to life again last week, killing two people. Of the guilt of one of the dead, Troy Davis, doubt beyond the reasonable had been raised, though not heeded. Seven of nine witnesses recanted their testimony. Why do we as a society continue to kill to demonstrate our disdain for murder? Do we think that capital punishment is an appropriate, nay an essential tool in creating a just society? What can we learn from the Jewish tradition about these questions.