Exile and the prophetic: A state of moral emergency

This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

‘Few are guilty, but all are responsible.’  It’s from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a prophetic figure, who died in 1972. I’m still meditating on his statement.

Heschel was outrageous.  He comparedthe American Judaism he experienced in the 1950s and 1960s to a beauty parlor – all fluff and little substance.  ‘Beauty Parlor Judaism’ – ‘Upward Mobility Judaism’ – Heschel spoke the truth.

What would he say about Gaza?

After the 1967 war, he visited Jerusalem and wrote a book lauding the Jewish ‘return’ to the city.  His writing was deeply moving.  He wrote in a poetic spirit that evoked the ages.  In the background was the Holocaust. Though he had escaped, through Germany, England and the United States, Heschel lost most of his family in Poland. 

For Heschel and many Jews of his generation, Israel’s victory in the 1967 war and its taking of Jerusalem was a sign of redemption.  It had been a long and arduous journey from Auschwitz to Jerusalem.

What would Heschel say about what has transpired in Israel in the last forty years?

During his life, Heschel’s understanding of the Arab-Israeli situation was much like the Jewish mainstream. On other issues he was out in the lead. Would Heschel’s understanding of Israel have changed over the years?  Would he step out in the lead today?

We know that another Holocaust personage and a friend of Heschel’s, Elie Wiesel – at least publicly – hasn’t changed his views.   He’s backed or been silent on Israel’s policies, endorsed America’s war in Iraq and supports sanctions and war in Iran if necessary – all for the sake of Israel.

If Heschel were alive today would he have a public disputation with Wiesel?  Would he condemn what we as Jews are doing to Palestinians?

Look at the telegram Heschel sent President Kennedy in favor of African-American civil rights: 

TO PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY, THE WHITE HOUSE, JUNE 16, 1963.
I LOOK FORWARD TO PRIVILEGE OF BEING PRESENT AT MEETING TOMORROW AT 4 P.M. LIKELIHOOD EXISTS THAT NEGRO PROBLEM WILL BE LIKE THE WEATHER. EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT IT BUT NOBODY DOES ANYTHING ABOUT IT. PLEASE DEMAND OF RELIGIOUS LEADERS PERSONAL INVOLVEMENT NOT JUST SOLEMN DECLARATION. WE FORFEIT THE RIGHT TO WORSHIP GOD AS LONG AS WE CONTINUE TO HUMILIATE NEGROES. CHURCHES SYNAGOGUES HAVE FAILED. THEY MUST REPENT. ASK OF RELIGIOUS LEADERS TO CALL FOR NATIONAL REPENTANCE AND PERSONAL SACRIFICE. LET RELIGIOUS LEADERS DONATE ONE MONTH’S SALARY TOWARD FUND FOR NEGRO HOUSING AND EDUCATION. I PROPOSE THAT YOU MR. PRESIDENT DECLARE STATE OF MORAL EMERGENCY. A MARSHALL PLAN FOR AID TO NEGROES IS BECOMING A NECESSITY. THE HOUR CALLS FOR HIGH MORAL GRANDEUR AND SPIRITUAL AUDACITY. 

In this spirit, would Heschel email this message to President Obama with reference to Gaza? 

TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, THE WHITE HOUSE, NOVEMBER 20, 2012.
I LOOK FORWARD TO PRIVILEGE OF BEING PRESENT AT MEETING TOMORROW AT 4 P.M. LIKELIHOOD EXISTS THAT ISRAELI SANCTIONS AND AGGRESSION IN GAZA WILL BE LIKE THE WEATHER. EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT IT BUT NOBODY DOES ANYTHING ABOUT IT. PLEASE DEMAND OF RELIGIOUS LEADERS PERSONAL INVOLVEMENT NOT JUST SOLEMN DECLARATION. WE FORFEIT THE RIGHT TO WORSHIP GOD AS LONG AS WE CONTINUE TO HUMILIATE PALESTINIANS AND DENY THEM THEIR FREEDOM. CHURCHES SYNAGOGUES HAVE FAILED. THEY MUST REPENT. ASK OF RELIGIOUS LEADERS TO CALL FOR NATIONAL REPENTANCE AND PERSONAL SACRIFICE. LET RELIGIOUS LEADERS DONATE ONE MONTH’S SALARY TOWARD FUND FOR PALESTINIAN HOUSING AND EDUCATION. I PROPOSE THAT YOU MR. PRESIDENT DECLARE STATE OF MORAL EMERGENCY. A MARSHALL PLAN FOR AID TO PALESTINIANS IS BECOMING A NECESSITY. TELL ISRAEL TO STOP OCCUPATION OF PALESTINIAN LANDS AND WITHDRAW TO THE 1967 BORDERS.  THE HOUR CALLS FOR HIGH MORAL GRANDEUR AND SPIRITUAL AUDACITY.

 ‘A state of moral emergency’ – can that be for African-Americans then and not Palestinians now? 

A Marshall Plan for the deprived in America – deprived because of a history of exclusion and racism by American whites.  Can that be demanded for deprived African Americans and not for deprived Palestinians?  After all, Palestinians have been deprived because of a history of exclusion and racism by Jews in Israel, aided and abetted by Jews in America.

Palestinians expose the fault line of the Settler Judaism we have adopted.  We speak justice for others when it doesn’t damage our own interests.  When it comes to our specific responsibility for justice – Israel – we clam up.  Or yell at the top of our lungs – ‘How dare you criticize Israel!’

‘THE HOUR CALLS FOR HIGH MORAL GRANDEUR AND SPIRITUAL AUDACITY.’ 

Indeed.  But where is it to be found among our Jewish leaders?

 

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of Future of the Prophetic: Israel's Ancient Wisdom Re-Presented.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 4 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. seafoid says:

    I guess

    the prophet Isaiah (Chapter 58)
    is just for shul and Yom Kippur, not the real world
    and the Gazans when they voted for Khamas they asked for it

    “2 To be sure, they seek Me daily,
    Eager to learn My ways.
    Like a nation that does what is right,
    That has not abandoned the laws of its God,
    They ask Me for the right way,
    They are eager for the nearness of God:
    3 “Why, when we fasted, did You not see?
    When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?”
    Because on your fast day
    You see to your business
    And oppress all your laborers!
    4 Because you fast in strife and contention,
    And you strike with a wicked fist!
    your fasting today is not such
    As to make your voice heard on high.
    5 Is such the fast I desire,
    A day for men to starve their bodies?
    Is it bowing the head like a bulrush
    And lying in sackcloth and ashes?
    Do you call that a fast,
    A day when the Lord is favorable?
    6 No, this is the fast I desire:
    To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
    And untie the cords of the yoke
    To let the oppressed go free;
    To break off every yoke.”

  2. pabelmont says:

    Israel in Palestine? Israel expelling Palestine? It is a constant emergency, since 1948, the slow boiling of a frog. But the frog is being boiled and sometimes makes to jump out of the pot.

    In this matter, Jews and Americans generally are all responsible and some are guilty.

    Those who refuse to know what’s going on have a particular sort of guiltiness (what shall we say of those who refused to know about the Holocaust when it was happening?) and those who know and refuse to act (what shall we say of those who knew about the Holocaust when it was happening and refused to act?).

    As to those who have been misled, well, let’s save our deepest contempt and fury for those who have deliberately and knowingly misled anyone here. (Have some hasbara, m’dear?)

    We also know — we all know today, after friend Sandy’s recent visit — about global warming and many of us know the seriousness of it and how it threatens (or, rather, promises) a Holocaust of the earth, of mankind and the other living species (God’s creation, what he saw was good, and what he put together and mankind is busily putting asunder). And here too we know and we should act, and here too the frog is slow boiling (or so it seems to those who cannot assess the speed of the boil).

    I think we should all be sending your (and Heschel’s) telegrams to President Obama, on all the topics of all the frogs slow boiling and fast boiling so unacceptably.

  3. Betsy says:

    URGENT INTERFAITH CALL FOR CEASEFIRE — PLEASE SIGN & CIRCULATE TO FAITH COMMUNITIES AROUND THE WORLD!

    (Avaaz only has 345 signers — let’s increase that number)
    link to avaaz.org

    Dear brothers and sisters in faith,

    Our hearts are breaking.
    We cannot eat and cannot sleep.
    We lament the loss and suffering of each and every person trembling from the trauma and destruction unleashed by Operation Pillar of Defense.
    End Operation Pillar of Defense Immediately!

    As people of faith we are pleading for an end to this terrible violence.
    As people of faith, we believe that every human being has a right to live in peace and unafraid.
    As people of faith, we are united in a shared understanding that militarism is ungodly and profane.
    As people of faith, our traditions teach us that peace is achieved through the establishment of universal standards for human rights.

    We believe that military occupation, targeted assassination, firing rockets on civilians, illegal land appropriation, administrative detention, mass incarceration, enforced closure, blockade and siege, military targeting of civilian infrastructure, torture; denial of access to clean water, health care and education; forced separation of families, destruction of homes, farm land and property and the use of military weapons to enforce these actions amounts to sinful behavior. We are fasting as a witness to tragedy that the people of Gaza are enduring.

    End Operation Pillar of Defense and let Operation Hopeful Future begin!

    An Urgent Appeal from Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb and
    The Fellowship of Reconcilliation

    TAKE ACTION UNTIL A CEASEFIRE IS DECLARED

    1. Sign this petition to call for a ceasefire
    2. Join the Interfaith CEASEFIRE FAST by giving up at least one meal per day and donate zakat/tzadakah/tithe to ANERA for Gaza Relief – see Jewish Fast for Gaza
    3. Wear a green ribbon that says CEASEFIRE NOW
    4. Create an Interfaith Satyagraha Ceasefire Fast vigil in public and engage in prayerful action.
    5. Post your action on the Fellowship of Reconciliation facebook page.
    6. Contact your government representatives immediately and ask for a ceasefire and an end to the Blockade of Gaza!

  4. seafoid says:

    another money shot

    link to haaretz.com

    It is not at all clear that Lakein, who is not even registered yet as a reservist, will even be needed for service. But this does not seem to faze him. Tomorrow, he says, after a night in Jerusalem at the home of friends, he will go to the induction center, and ask to be allowed to head to the front lines of the offensive. “The Lubavitch rebbe said that ‘whoever serves in the IDF gets his place reserved in the world to come.’”