This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Sometimes the news is too good to be true. The trauma accumulated over the years makes one pause.
Is it time to take a deep breath and be open to a future you thought closed? At the end of Jewish ethical history as we have known and inherited it, I wonder if I still have the strength – and vision – to be open to a future different than the one contemporary Jewish life presents to the world.
This is how I greet the announcement of a new religious venture, Tzedek Chicago, headed by the rebellious, anti-Zionist and Psalmist, Rabbi Brant Rosen. Truth be told, in my recent conversations with Rabbi Rosen, I knew this was in the works. Nonetheless, the Facebook announcement of the new Jewish religious space took me by surprise.
Initially, I was elated and shared it with my Facebook friends. I promised to join the venture. The next morning, I had second thoughts. At this late date, with the violence and racism of Jewish power I continue to experience in my public and personal life, could this opening be real? Do I want to take another chance?
I doubt I am alone in this elation and hesitancy. Many Jews of Conscience are wary of Jewish symbolism and institutions and for good reason. Even progressive congregations and rabbis have often betrayed us. Shall I – we – venture out once again?
Tzedek Chicago is just beginning. Its unfolding will occur over the coming years. Here is how they describe themselves:
…a Judaism beyond borders:
We celebrate with a Judaism that builds more bridges, not higher walls. Our community promotes a universalist Jewish identity – one that seeks a greater engagement in the world around us. Within our congregation, we view our diversity as our strength. Membership is not restricted to Jews or those who are partnered with Jews; our community welcomes all who share our values.
We advocate for a world beyond borders and reject the view that any one people, ethnic group or nation is entitled to any part of our world more than any other. Guided by the values in Jewish tradition that bids us to care for the earth that we share with all peoples and all life, we promote personal behaviors and public policies that will ensure preservation of our planet’s natural resources and its survival for future generations.
…a Judaism of solidarity:
We are inspired by prophetic Judaism: our tradition’s sacred imperative to take a stand against the corrupt use of power. We also understand that the Jewish historical legacy as a persecuted people bequeaths to us a responsibility to reject the ways of oppression and stand with the most vulnerable members of our society. We emphasize the Torah’s repeated teachings to stand with the oppressed and to call out the oppressor.
We actively pursue partnerships with local and national organizations and coalitions that combat institutional racism and pursue justice and equity for all. We promote a Judaism rooted in anti-racist values and understand that anti-Semitism is not separate from the systems that perpetuate prejudice and discrimination. As members of a Jewish community, we stand together with all peoples throughout the world who are targeted as “other.”
…a Judaism of nonviolence:
We honor those aspects of our tradition that promote peace and reject the pursuit of war as a solution to our conflicts. We openly disavow those aspects of our religion – and all religions – that promote violence, intolerance and xenophobia.
Our activism is based upon a vision of shared security for the world; we support the practices of nonviolence, civil resistance, diplomacy and human engagement. We take a stand against militarism and colonialism, particularly when it is waged in our name as Jews and Americans.
We oppose all forms of communal, family and interpersonal violence and support organizations working to strengthen community health, and peaceful, supportive coexistence. In all aspects of our communal life, we expect our members to treat each other with respect, engagement, and openness to the differences among us.
…a Judaism of spiritual freedom:
We promote spiritual exploration and encourage our members’ diverse beliefs. Some of our members adhere to more traditional views of the divine while others view God as a human expression of our highest, most transcendent aspirations. Others do not define themselves as religious, but identify with the humanist and cultural aspects of Jewish tradition.
We honor the inherent integrity of all faith traditions and reject all forms of religious exceptionalism. We actively partner with other faith communities in ways that celebrate our shared values and common humanity. In our activism, we actively work for religious freedom in our country and throughout the world.
…a Judaism of equity
In accordance with Torah’s imperative that there should be no needy among us, we work in solidarity with those who assert that poverty has no place in a civilized and moral society – and that all people have the right to safe food and water, safe living spaces, health care and education.
We are committed to transparent and egalitarian governance and decision-making in our congregational life. We value the contributions of all members equally, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, wealth or social standing.
…a Judaism beyond nationalism
While we appreciate the important role of the land of Israel in Jewish tradition, liturgy and identity, we do not celebrate the fusing of Judaism with political nationalism. We are non-Zionist, openly acknowledging that the creation of an ethnic Jewish nation state in historic Palestine resulted in an injustice against its indigenous people – an injustice that continues to this day.
We reject any ideology that insists upon exclusive Jewish entitlement to the land, recognizing that it has historically been considered sacred by many faiths and home to a variety of peoples, ethnicities and cultures. We oppose Israel’s ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people and seek a future that includes full civil and human rights for all who live in the land – Jews and non-Jews alike.
Quite a mouthful for sure and certainly beyond the progressive Jewishness that held the dissent redline in Jewish life for the past decades. As Tzedek Chicago’s leader, Rabbi Rosen knows the progressive ropes well. He voluntarily left that scene when the contradictions became too onerous. He could no longer square his Jewish faith with the redlines of Jewish communal life.
We have arrived at the end of Jewish history and now another, prophetic, opportunity presents itself. Life is strange that way. Why worry about a failed future when the abyss we Jews inhabit is so obvious?
So fare forward, Tzedek Chicago. The deep and treacherous Jewish waters you ply are uncharted.
Or are they? Another way of being Jewish in the world is a return to our prophetic origins.