Yesterday, in the Jewish tradition, was the “Sabbath of vision.” It is named after Isaiah’s bleak vision described in Chapter One of his eponymous Scripture. Isaiah, speaking, no, screaming at those who would sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem declares in the name of God: I am tired of your sacrifices, I am sated already with the fatted calves that you offer, your offerings are now abominations to me. I no longer wish for you to celebrate festival days and Sabbaths. When you reach out to me, when you raise your voices in prayer, says God, I will ignore you, I will turn a blind eye. Why? First you must “Learn to do well; demand justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
Finally, Isaiah turns to the city of Jerusalem and wails: “O! How the city full of justice, where righteousness dwelt, now dwell murderers!” It was not a true question, of course, it was the strangled scream of a prophet pointing to the everyday injustices, which led to the larger injustices, all hidden behind a veil of righteousness, of holy celebrations and fatted calves upon the altar and the smell of spices in the Temple.
As Sabbath finished and I performed the ceremony of differentiation with wine and candle and spices with my family, I turned on my computer to news of the acquittal in the George Zimmerman case. How do we answer Isaiah’s lament? What were the steps that led from there to here? From the quotidian racial injustices to the loosening of gun laws to the ignoring of the history of racial discrimination. Continue reading
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?
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