Category: Religion

Pharaoh’s Army Got Drownded! The Inevitability of Justice

Posted by – February 23, 2007

“Oh Mary Don’t You Weep”

I caught the wonderful old Negro spiritual “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” on this episode of The Steve Earle Show. His show is great because his diverse guests unearth little gems you’d never find elsewhere.

“Oh Mary Don’t You Weep,” from the new record Get On Board! Underground Railroad & Civil Rights Freedom Songs – Volume 2 by Kim and Reggie Harris.

Hearing this I was very moved. It’s an inspiring anthem about the inevitability of justice.

I assume since the theme is “Pharoah’s army got drownded” they’re singing about Miriam / Mary, sister of Moses, who was smited with Tzaarat (supernatural leprosy) after leaving Egypt. But regardless, the message is: don’t cry, because Pharoah’s army drowned. The oppressor was defeated. Injustice is an inherently illegitimate, unstable status, and it will be removed. Karma.

Be comforted. G-d’s justice will eventually even everything out.

It’s easy to see why the anti-slavemaster narrative and G-d’s promise of freedom would be incredibly relevent to black people, and how this spawned a uniquely-American brand of “Old Testament Christianity” (I could do an entire essay on this alone.)

“Pharoah’s army got drownded.” All oppressors are on the wrong side of history and will fall. No tyranny will be allowed to stand indefinitely.

Be sure and get on the riqht side of the Reed Sea….


Any Valid Social Contract Requires Universal Health Care

Posted by – February 21, 2007

Any Valid Social Contract Requires Universal Health Care

That’s Not Socialism, It’s Judaism

My last blog post, Vigorously Insisting On A More Perfect Union: Fighting Cuts, Demanding Universal Health Care garnered a good response over at MySpace and here at blogspot where I always simulcast the blog.

The first response I got was this:

Universal health care is socialism. As of now, this isn’t a socialist state. You want free health care, move to a socialist society. Leave our free enterprise alone. I don’t want the same government who gave us the response to Hurricane Katrina determining whether or not I can get medicine. If you were wise, you wouldn’t want it either.

I’m intimately familiar with this kind of right-wing lunacy. I remember when notorious (and now-indicted) Republican leader Tom DeLay stood on the House steps and told the media that “forced taxation” and “redistribution of wealth” through social programs for the poor was “socialism” that must be defeated. This isn’t just some marginal view, it is the core philosophy of the Republican party and it animated their campaign for tax cuts. It also spent the past three decades slashing, undermining and removing social programs. Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, FEMA, the Dept. of Education: that’s all “socialism” to them, suspicious, the enemy, to be stopped. And when we elect people for years who are openly against government, who think government is part of the problem and not part of the solution, we shouldn’t be surprised they’ve presided over dilapidated, underfunded agencies who cannot respond to our needs. This undercutting of government in turn forms a self-feeding cycle of the people hating government more and more and electing more anti-government politicians. Being in Alabama, I am intimately familiar with this idiocy.

This is so wrong, and I have to write a blog in response. We can debate the broad issue of socialism another time; but I must insist that universal health care is NOT socialism any more than public roads and schools are socialist; it is simply a necessary baseline of any civilized society. The whole point of forming a society, a government, in the first place is to accomplish what we cannot do as individuals. Since we (hopefully) moved beyond the “survival of the fittest” jungle, we formed a collective, a social contract, that if we elect some among us to govern, if we agree to send money (and sometimes soldiers) to support this collective, we, in exchange, expect the government of, by, and for the people (that isn’t some foreign imposition but IS us. an expression of our desires) to provide for each other’s basic needs, basic justice, basic morality. We expect safety and security. We expect safe and well-paved roads. We expect basic education. We expect not to die of disease just because we can’t fork over enough protection money to the latest health care robber baron. In short, we expect the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It is exactly the social contract Martin Luther King described in his famous I Have A Dream Speech:

“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.'”

What I am telling you is that America has also given their disabled people a bad check, a check that has bounced literally due to “insufficient funds.” They are shoving us into back room wards or simply onto sidewalks unattended due to insufficient funds. They are leaving people without help with basic hygiene for days because “sorry, budget cuts this year.” Tax cuts for ExxonMobil were more important.

The private sector is not interested in giving people free health care, and charities don’t even attempt the billions that it would require. Like roads and schools, this is something individuals can’t do and look to government to provide. Those who would label universal health care socialism would likely also label universal education socialism, and almost all government socialist. They believe government should not tax you to distribute money elsewhere, the very point of having a government. So they have left our infrastructure in tatters, our bridges unsafe, our children uneducated, our disabled left in their own feces. This ideology declares war on the social contract; it seeks to melt the very glue that binds society together, and has been frighteningly successful.

To those who do not believe in government helping people, and have left our citizens to the jungle, I say your ways have proven destructive, please step aside and let those who believe in government begin to repair the damage.

Giving people the care they need is not socialism, it’s Judaism. It’s Christianity. It’s Buddhism. It’s Islam. It’s mandated by nearly every religious tradition and moral code, going back to the Code of Hammurabi: “to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land… so that the strong should not harm the weak.” There is separation of church and state, but there should never be separation of decency and state, especially in a democracy, where the sovereign IS the people, and the government an expression of their will.

It was Moses who said “If there be among you a needy man, one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates, in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy needy brother; but thou shalt surely open thy hand unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need in that which he wants” (Deut. 15:7-8) it wasn’t Karl Marx who said that.

Moses with the Tablets, by Rembrandt

And government should never be a foreign body walled off from the pain of its employers, the people. The government should provide for the basic decency that morality demands, or we better change governments!

I yearn for the day that everyone sees as I do that we must abandon this immoral system that lets sick people die if they aren’t rich, this system that is essentially as violent as “give us more money or die.”

And I will not back down. I’ll keep calling out and speaking truth to the powerful belligerents against the social contract and toppling every tyrant and latter-day Pharaoh.

I’m from the tradition of Moses, who wasn’t afraid to say “let my people go, motherf**ker!”


U.S. Foreign Policy In Deep Shi’ite

Posted by – January 21, 2007

U.S. Foreign Policy In Deep Shi’ite

An in-depth analysis

In 2007, the dominant news story will be the ongoing bloodshed in Iraq. War is also the dominant spiritual and moral issue of my generation. It’s impossible for me not to blog about this.

The president has ordered a “surge,” or increase of 21,500 troops, which brings us to roughly 2004-troop-levels. This didn’t work in 2004, so it is unlikely to change things.

His saber-rattling regarding Iran and Syria is also unsettling. I liked that movie better the first time, when it was called Nixon Illegally Orders Crossborder Raids Into Laos and Cambodia Without Authorization.

But let’s cut past all the obvious problems, cut through the spin, and get behind the headlines to the underpinning issues.

Let’s talk about Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq.

Where is the Prime Minister coming from?
Nouri al-Maliki is from the
Dawa Party, the stringently Shi’ite political party.

The Dawa Party has been singularly running the Iraqi government since May.

Who founded the Dawa Party? Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr.

The fact that the father-in-law of militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr founded the ruling party in Iraq, tells you A LOT about what is behind the current upheaval.

What this means is, the Iraqi government is closely linked to the Sadrist movement at best, and, at worst, is its wholly-owned subsidiary.

When the Shi’ites lynched Saddam, they chanted “Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr! Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr!”

So we’ve had Sadrists running Iraq. They’ve ruthlessly cracked down on Sunnis. All but the entirety of the Sunni upper and middle class (an estimated 1-2 million Iraqis) have relocated to Amman, Jordan, transforming the makeup of Iraq and the makeup of Jordan. I see no indication those Sunnis will ever re-enter Iraq en masse.

We will continue to see that is Iraq is now a profoundly Shi’ite nation, unrecognizable compared to Hussien’s reign, with the Sadrists currently holding the power center. During Saddam, Shias were a majority, but now that they’ve disbanded his secular Ba’ath Party, lynched him and
1-2 million Sunnis have relocated, the Shi’ites are a super-majority in Iraq. With the U.S military keeping a lid on the Sunni insurgency, there’s no succeeding countervailing influence to total Shi’ite dominance. I’ve been following the news closely, and in recent years the Shias have remade Baghdad in their own image. It is now a Shia capital of a new Shia nation. It will continue to be profoundly Shia. And in these desperate times, moderate voices are a minority with no sway to speak of. I’m not saying that only militants and fundamentalists are left in Iraq. I’m saying that Shias, with their own strict brand of Iranian-bred Islam are now a super-majority in Iraq, and we are now dealing with an Iraqi nation that is more Shia-dominated, more fundamentalist, and more fractured and violent than ever expected . Jeffersonian democracy just ain’t in the cards.

Currently, the Dawa Party government (in short, Sadrists) are running the show, though they are fighting a nasty civil war against the Sunni tribesmen on their west and the Iranian-backed Badr Brigades on their east (Shias murdering huge amounts of fellow Shias) among many other groups that spring up or shift every week.

In medieval Europe, feudal lords raised militias (see Knights of the Round Table, The) to protect their territory and interests. Following Saddam, Iraqi sheiks, Ayatollahs, nutjobs and politicians have been raising militias to protect their territory or people or ideology, minus the chivalry, and adding in huge doses of terrorism and kamikazi warfare.

I studied the scholarly journals when I took a course on foreign policy in college two years ago, and learned all I could about Iraqi Shi’ites. Back then there were lots of articles arguing that Iraqi Shias are fiercely nationalistic, and because they are a culture, language and physical appearance that is drastically different from their Persian co-religionists (Iranian Shias) and had no qualms about slaughtering Iranians en masse in the Iran-Iraq war, we should not worry about Iraq’s Shias opening the door to Iranian hegemony in the region. Now the word from foreign policy journals is that Arab Shias have strong ties with their Persian neighbors, with Iranian seminaries underpinning the Iraqi theological class (I wonder how they navigate the huge language barrier?) and that there is serious danger of uncorked Shia dominance and Iranian influence spurring a region-wide Shia vs. Sunni civil war. Will Iraqi Shias join Iran in a new religious Persian Empire? I still lean toward the first theory, that Iraqis will kill Iranians more than collaborate with them. But my G-d, even the most scholarly among us don’t know where the loyalties of most Iraqis lie! And THAT is perhaps the best argument against this war that I have.

Iran will certainly TRY to become a new hegemon in the region, but, in all likelihood, I think they’ll continue to be killed by the Dawa / Sadr guys. Meanwhile, militia groups have splintered off and grown until Iraq’s become this diffuse, hallucinogenic whirlwind of chaos and violence reminiscant of that gruesome Vietnam book we read in college. The horrors continue to trickle in, stories too ugly to print here, as Iraq sets new lows in the grim history of human depravity.

Meanwhile, we are fighting to prop up a government that is of, by and for the Sadrists. Sadr himself is returning to Iraq’s government.

Can our U.S. troops make a difference? In the latest Newsweek poll, 53 percent of Americans don’t believe the “surge” will reduce the violence in Baghdad and 67 percent think it is either “very” or “somewhat” likely to lead to more U.S. deaths in Iraq without getting the U.S. closer to our goals there.

On the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer last week, President Bush said, “Look, I had a choice to make, Jim, and that is – one – do what we’re doing. And one could define that maybe a slow failure. Secondly, withdraw out of Baghdad and hope for the best. I would think that would be expedited failure. And thirdly is to help this Iraqi government with additional forces – help them do what they need to do, which is to provide security in Baghdad.

Helping prop up the Dawa Party?

When U.S. troops pull out of Iraq after too many more deaths, will the Sadrists still control things?

It is past time to vigorously question the “we cannot afford the consequences of withdrawal” line everyone is repeating like zombies. Hell, I’ve even parroted this.

Why not skip the unnecessary decade of bloodshed, declare victory we deposed Saddam, pull the F out, and let the Sadrists have it? What I was trying to establish is, the Sadrists already have it, and pulling out likely won’t change that.

I think Bush isn’t really scared of a new Persian Empire, but won’t pull out because it would leave Iraq to Muqtada al-Sadr, and he can’t bear the thought of 3,000 U.S. servicemen dying to lead to a brutal Shi’ite theocracy being installed. And I don’t blame him there; it’d be a terrible outcome. Brutal theocracy is what Sadr is all about. We would all turn on the TV to find Grand Ayatollah Muqtada al-Sadr presiding over women being beaten for not wearing hijab, women’s driver’s licenses being revoked, and anyone caught with a musical instrument getting summarily executed. But all these things are already happening! The Iraqi symphony orchestra already fled a few years ago after facing beatings and intimidation for practicing their music. We may have to take the bitter pill that a theocracy is what the remaining Iraqis want (most of the anti-theocracy people are now in Jordan).

And isn’t Iraqi self-determination better than continuing this absurdist charade of “IRAQ WILL BE FREE WHETHER THEY LIKE IT OR NOT! FREEDOM IS ON THE MARCH! YOU HAVE NO CHOICE! YOU WILL BE FREE!”

Isn’t it a way better option to just bypass the next 15-20 years of wasted blood and treasure?

What are the moral and spiritual consequences of continuing to play with this fire?

Thanks for reading my lengthy ramblings. This is a fascinating discussion. Iraq is the wildfire sucking the oxygen away from every presidential contender and every domestic problem, and, again, is the dominant spiritual and moral issue of our time.
I look forward to your comments.


Confronting The Absence of G-d

Posted by – January 10, 2007

Confronting The Absence of G-d

Filling the Gap Called Life

I was born with some weird, unknown muscular dystrophy (yeah, Jerry’s Kids Telethon *gag*) believed to be related to the metabolic cycle. On September, Friday the 13th, 1991, at age 9, I had back surgery to put rods in and supposedly straighten my spine (unnecessarily, really). I developed a horrible, raging pseudomonas infection. Prior to this, I was able to go to school by myself, feed myself, and use a manual wheelchair. Sometimes I could even stand up on my own. I was very independent and would drive around the house on a self-propelled three-wheeled motorcycle. Some people didn’t realize that I had any sort of disability. The post-op infection I got (and the surgeon wouldn’t treat) knocked me off the metabolic balance beam. All the abilities I had before I soon lost. I got down to 35 pounds. My muscles wasted away; my digestive, cardiac and pulmonary systems shut down as doctors continued to make one horrible mistake after another. I wasn’t expected to live, but after many terrible episodes, hospitalizations and near death experiences, I was infection-free by 1993. The infection made the metal rods not fuse, and for years they were unstable, moving and grinding metal against bone; the pain was unbearable, and to this day I have to take painkillers at least every four hours.

But anyhow, since getting a trach and ventilator in ’94 to breathe, my stamina’s improved and I have been relatively stable. Though my lack of muscle means I can barely move at all, can’t turn myself at night or eat without help, and need the machine for each breath, I get along fine with the proper help.
I can’t use a keyboard, lift my hands at all. I type with my thumb on a trackball mouse and click out text by hitting letters on onscreen keyboard software. Sometimes it takes me hours to type out something (nearing 4 hours on this one), but this also gives me time to consider my words and extract the best possible writing from myself. I was admitted to Spring Hill College at age 16, and from age 19-22 did the whole national campaign thing, speaking all over the country. Now I’m in the “WTF am I gonna do now?” phase.

I recount this difficult history not to self-flagellate, not to impress you, but to properly frame my spiritual struggle. To show you my path so far so you understand where I’m coming from.

I persevered and survived when several doctors said I couldn’t.

My faith didn’t survive.

Losing all physical ability in mere months crushed my belief in G-d. During my time of greatest anguish, with me a 10 year old child in ICU near-death with no father, the only religion I was exposed to was local Christians saying “it’s G-d’s will, ” or “everything happens for a reason.” I thought that G-d would never hurt me or use incompetent doctors as agents of His judgement, as that went against everything I had ever felt about G-d (e.g. that He is all good and all loving). Therefore, I concluded that G-d either does not exist, or He doesn’t control human actions. I rejected all religion for the next 10 years. I couldn’t even conceive of an Omnipotent Being under those terms, since it posited a divine torturer, so I recoiled in deep existential horror at any talk of G-d. The idea of a personal G-d was loathsome to me. I thought religion (at the very least) was passively assenting to a barbaric theology of a mass-murdering, evil, torturing Deity, and should (at best) be avoided, and (at worst) possibly denounced or ridiculed, because any Being responsible for the unendurable suffering I’ve seen is inherently illegitimate, and logically must be a lie, and all lies must be exposed for what they are. I was pretty sure a personal G-d could not exist, and I settled into a kind of content agnosticism for the intervening decade (“if G-d wants to exist, that’s His department! I’m not involved.”).

A kind of mournful, reluctant parting, isn’t it?

But my path in life cannot help but routinely scrape up against the limits of human rationality. And when the material world fails utterly, it is natural to seek answers from the spiritual. There is no real rational explanation for why the Jewish people (a distinct ethnic group that has no existence separate from its religion, Judaism) have survived against all odds. There is no good rational explanation for why I lived when I should have died, and still endure. There is no rational explanation for why I get awards and national media coverage, then am stuck in my room for three years. There is no good rational explanation for why I know deep down with such abiding passion that all disabled and elderly citizens MUST be secure if we are to have any semblance of a good society, it is just a deep spiritual truth I know. Because if there is only cold logic, the United States could achieve immense additional wealth (and the happiness freedom from taxation brings) if we euthanized every single disabled and elderly person. If there is no moral law, no soul connecting us, and I am just an inferior material product, why should I not be killed? There has to be something greater than ourselves, and whenever I advocate, I feel that pull toward this idea. Activism is most often pursued by those who don’t count on an all-controlling Being for salvation and think it is up to US to change the world, so the role of “do-gooder” has been increasingly filled by atheists and agnostics like I was, but activism for the downtrodden and oppressed is an innately, intensely spiritual act, even if I didn’t always know it acutely.

My work getting the law changed to save lots of disabled people from losing their care, in a sense, reconnected me to G-d. In recent years, I’ve embraced my mom’s Judaism and now am learning a lot, believing more and looking for answers. In 2006, I absorbed a massive amount of Jewish knowledge.

But the question of G-d’s role in every human action deeply troubled me, and often still does. If G-d is running the world, He’s not doing such a good job is He? It is this gripe, this apparent absence of G-d allowing unspeakable injustices and horrors to unfold, that for years animated my agnosticism and today spurs the skewering of religion from sites like and books like Richard Dawkins’ The G-d Delusion and Sam Harris’ The End of Faith.

Does G-d hate me? Why doesn’t G-d grow limbs back for amputees? I rejected G-d most of my whole life because I thought a G-d that would allow me to suffer so much couldn’t possibly exist. I was right, such a G-d does not exist. I, and those like Sam Harris, fundamentally misunderstand the nature of The Matrix we find ourselves in when we pursue that flawed line of inquiry.

The only way the world exists and the only way G-d exists is if G-d contracts Himself and is absent and allowing free will to shape (and f**k up) the world. This absence of G-d is implicit every day we experience and every page of scripture we read. Genesis has barely begun when Cain whacks Abel. In chapter 34, Dinah is raped. In chapter 38, Yehuda (Judah, the father of our nation) pays for the services of a Canaanite temple prostitute (his daughter-in-law Tamar) in exchange for one goat, his staff and ring, and he impregnates her with the son that becomes the Davidic (Messianic) line, then tries to have her executed. She evades being killed only by showing she still has his signet ring.

In this painting by Horace Vernet, Yeduha gives his ‘ho some bling.

And this is all in the first book! This book is not about perfect morality and serendipity; far from it!

I was recently asked, “if G-d exists, why doesn’t He shield us and provide for us like He did for the Jews in Exodus?” I said “Shielded? O Rly? Famine, disease and war were way MORE common in Moshe’s era than today! FAR from cuddled heavenly utopia, tragedy happened in spades to those led out of Egypt: plagues, wars, the earth eating people, angels of death smiting people; the first generations ALL DIED before entering Israel, including Moshe and Aaron…. The Five Books of Moses show us how important our mitzvos are, how even one good act can change the world and avert disaster, and one bad act can precipitate one. Some may see horrible hopelessness in the text. Judaism sees hope for meeting the challenge. The challenge of life is precisely how to navigate this certain gap, this absence of G-d portrayed in everyday life and the text of the Torah, the gap we must fill, that we must take responsibility for protecting our gifts, we must perfect the world, and Judaism provides the guidebook for doing just that with our Torah.

So the good folks over at are missing the whole concept of what G-d is all about. What is the point of the mitzvos (commandments) “do not blaspheme, do not kill, do not steal, do not amputate each other, etc.” if HE will intervene and fix it all for us? If He would always intervene, why have a covenant subcontracting out the work to mankind? The concept of commandments, by definition, mean that WE are responsible for this life; HE is not about smiting people, re-growing lost limbs, stopping wars, Holocausts, and so on. That is our task, our joy, and our tragedy.

As Rabbi Eliezer Berkovitz famously said, “G-d is mighty for He shackles His ominpotence and becomes powerless so that history may be possible.”

WHY Bad Things Happen to Good People Audio Series by Rabbi Benjamin Blech was a crucial resource for me to flesh this out. It does an amazing job giving the Jewish sages’ answers to these questions, explaining G-d and free will. I didn’t purchase any tapes, but they let you listen to half the lectures in the series free.

The jist is this: Hashem is all good and all powerful, but to preserve human freedom, without which we can have no real choice, and no relationship with Him, G-d limits His own intervention in our reality.

G-d performs many miracles, most of them we don’t even recognize, but most miracles WE have to do. He gave us the Torah and “thou shalt not murder” so that WE would stop the killing, so WE would stop Hitler, so WE would do righteousness. He didn’t give us the Torah so HE could do those mitzvos, He gave it to US to do them. So the Holocaust, and all suffering and death are the failures of humanity, not failures of G-d! If a perfect, omniscient G-d can exist, He is necessarily all loving, and incapable of failure.

WE are commanded the mitzvos, not G-d!
It is WE who have to make it right. Not G-d!

As Shakespeare wrote, “The fault, dear Brutus, lie not in our stars, but in ourselves…”

Life is the process of confronting this gap, this absence of G-d, and how we fill it.

May we do it well, and without arrogance.

I am still full of plenty of doubts, though the questions of where time began points me to theism, and the huge role of religion in providing organization to groups of unruly humans (and a Jewish identity that can never exist totally independent of Judaism) points me to theism, I still have questions.

Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, recoiling at the horrors humanity has wrought, have answers as certain as a fundamentalist, not just questions, and this lack of questioning, when conducted by anyone, can only stunt the search for truth.

Keep searching, and keep fighting to fill the gap called life G-d has left us; everything depends on it.


Amos Shoves G-d’s Social Justice Message In Your Face

Posted by – January 9, 2007

Amos Shoves G-d’s Social Justice Message In Your Face

Nick’s Commentary on the Book of Amos

All my life, I’ve had this yearning to repair the world and set right the injustices it is replete with. This drive has burned within me and spurred me to act and become an activist.

As I study scripture, I am increasingly aware that this inner voice demanding justice is inseparable from the outer voice of the prophets demanding justice, inseparable from the Jewish tradition.

I recently read the Book of Amos. As it is only nine brief chapters, it was a quick read. Everyone should read it, because its message is so central and so necessary for our current struggles; in his polemic against the status quo, Amos attacks economic inequality almost-exclusively, and regards greed as closely associated with idolatry.

I’ll quote from it heavily as I give you a run-down.

Amos Chapter 2

6. So said the Lord: For three transgressions of Israel, yea for four, I will not return them; For selling an innocent man for money, and (selling) a poor man in exchange for shoes.

Here Amos is attacking decadence. The children of Israel in the latest fashions of Gucci and Manolo Blahnik I’m sure. But the key phrase here is “selling a poor man” in exchange for shoes. G-d is saying you are selling the needs of the poor down the river for the sake of luxuries. If you are consuming extravagantly, you are inherently stealing. Whenever you have too much, someone else doesn’t have enough.

As it was written in Proverbs: “Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself, and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss. (Proverbs 22:16)

And as it is taught in the Talmud: “If a person closes his eyes to avoid giving [any] charity, it is as if he committed idolatry.” (Ketubot 68a)

But back to Amos…

7. Who aspire on the dust of the earth concerning the head of the poor, and they pervert the way of the humble, and a man and his father go to the maid, in order to profane My Holy Name.

Injustice against the poor is mentioned beside sexual immorality.

8. And they recline on pledged garments beside every altar, and the wine of the fined ones they drink in the house of their gods.
G-d is attacking excessive consumption, and it is very linked to idolatry. People are reclining on expensive garments that have been pledged to idols and drinking wine dedicated to idols, in houses devoted to idols.

9. And I destroyed the Amorites from before them, whose height is as the height of the cedar trees, and they are as strong as oaks, and I destroyed his fruit from above and his roots from below.
Hashem destroyed the Amorites / Canaanites because of idolatry, and gave the land to Israel. He’s saying “the Amorites were mighty as cedars and I cut them down; what, you think I won’t do the same to your weak ass if you follow in their idolatrous footsteps?”

10. And I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and I led you in the desert for forty years, to inherit the land of the Amorites.

11. And I raised up some of your sons as prophets and some of your young men as Nazirites; is this not true, O children of Israel?” says the Lord.

Hashem is like “what, the Exodus wasn’t enough for you ungrateful bastards?”

Moving on…a longer block of text…

Book of Amos, chapter 5:

10. They hated him who reproves them in the gate, and they despise him who speaks uprightly.

11. Therefore, because you have trodden on the poor, and the burden of grain you take from him, houses of hewn stone you have built but you shall not dwell therein, precious vineyards you have planted, but you shall not drink their wine.

12. For I know that your transgressions are many, and your sins are mighty; you who oppress the just, taking ransom, and turning aside the needy in the gate.

13. Therefore, the prudent at that time shall keep silent, for it is a time of evil.

14. Seek good and not evil in order that you live, and so the Lord God of Hosts shall be with you, as you said.

15. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; perhaps the Lord God of Hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

16. Therefore, so said the Lord God of Hosts, the Lord: In all the city squares lamentation, and in all streets they shall say, “Alas! Alas!” and they shall meet the plowman with mourning and lamentation with those who know to wail.

17. And in all vineyards [there shall be] lamentation, for I will pass in your midst, said the Lord.

18. Woe to those who desire the day of the Lord. Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light.

19. As if a man flees from the lion and the bear meets him, and he comes to the house and leans his hand on the wall, and a serpent bites him.

20. Is not the day of the Lord darkness and not light, even very dark, with no brightness in it.

21. I hate, I reject your festivals, and I will not smell [the sacrifices of] your assemblies.

22. For if you offer up to Me burnt- offerings and your meal-offerings, I will not accept [them], and the peace offerings of your fattened cattle I will not regard.

23. Take away from Me the din of your songs, and the music of your lutes I will not hear.

24. And justice shall flow like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

25. Did you offer Me sacrifices and meal-offerings in the desert forty years, O house of Israel?

26. And you shall carry Siccuth your king and Chiun your images, Kochav your god, which you have made for yourselves.

27. And I will exile you beyond Damascus, said He Whose Name is the Lord God of Hosts.

That’s right!! Amos is all “you spend on sandals and wine, and shove the poor aside from your gate. Hashem will be sending various plagues momentarily. Pwnage will flow like water. A reckoning is coming, and it will not be pretty for those who oppress the poor and venerate the image.”

The greedy and unjust are told where to jam it.

Activists for justice throughout American history, particularly those in the abolitionist and civil rights movements, have drawn heavily on the themes of Amos and the social prophets. Martin Luther King frequently quoted “justice shall flow like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream,” in his speeches, which emphasized the “day of reckoning” promised by the prophets.

In his new book The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy in the American Voice, Greil Marcus argues this tradition of calling Americans to account, challenging them to live up to their ideals and warning them if they do not, has become a unique “American Voice,” spoken by Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and even Bob Dylan. He’s right. But of course, the source of this voice of justice is the Hebrew Bible. Amos and the social prophets, especially when contrasted with ancient stories of the time, called out a radical change in the human narrative that has changed the world.

“A day of reckoning,” means evil and unjust practices cannot continue;
they are inherently illegitimate and will collapse from their own decay. Justice cannot be avoided. Prophets like Amos were sent to remind Israel not only that they must live up to their covenant, but that a living G-d will never forget the lost and oppressed. This is piece of LIVING TORAH brought down from Sinai by Amos. Living Torah means it is functional and applicable TODAY. Amos came to say Hashem will enforce Deut. 15:7-8, Exodus 22:21, and more, don’t think He ain’t ALL over this.

He is telling us:

Book of Amos, chapter 6:

4. Those who lie on couches of ivory and stretch out on their beds, and eat lambs of the flock and calves out of the stall.

5. Who sing according to the tone of the lute. They thought that their musical instruments were like [those of] David.

6. Who drink from basins of wine, and with the first oils they anoint themselves, and they feel no pain concerning the destruction of Joseph.

7. Therefore, now they shall go into exile at the head of the exiles, and the banquet of the haughty shall pass away.

The greedy will be removed from power.

And THE LIVING TORAH means HE is talking to all the fat cats and classist assclowns TODAY. No just in freakin’ 750 BCE, but 2007, and Hashem is confronting us. This isn’t some mushy, lovey dovey stuff, Hashem is being as confrontational and in your face as possible.

At Spring Hill College, Dr. Wilson would often emphasize that scripture is radical, and doesn’t line up at all with dispassionate, “civic religion” (people going to services as a kind of civic duty to listen to stale, non-confrontational sermons and still live their lives like everyone else). I’m not a Christian obviously, but Wilson was dead-on with that point.

How could anyone read Amos, and they not see how hardcore G-d is about the needs of the poor? How can it not dramatically change them?

Book of Amos, chapter 8:

4. Hearken to this, you who swallow up the needy, and to cut off the poor of the land.

5. Saying, “When will the month be delayed, so that we will sell grain, and the Sabbatical Year, so that we will open [our stores of] grain, to make the ephah smaller and to make the shekel larger, and to pervert deceitful scales.

6. To purchase the poor with money, and the needy in order to inherit them, and the refuse of the grain we will sell.”

7. The Lord swore by the pride of Jacob: I will never forget any of their deeds.

Amos shoves Hashem’s social justice message in your eye!


WOE UNTO YOU WHO VOTE FOR POLICIES THAT TRAMPLE THE WEAK AND THE POOR and think “oh, someone else will stand up for the poor.”

NO, HASHEM SAYS YOU MUST. A reckoning will come! As MLK quoted, “justice shall flow like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream!”

IT’S NOW 2007!

We are commanded to live up to our promise. In the recent Torah portions, we see the Jews living in slavery after they’ve sold their brother Joseph into slavery, and we see their path to redemption begin when the midwives refuse to kill the Jewish newborns because their allegiance is to G-d, not Pharaoh. We see from this that bringing holiness into their behavior is a choice, and one that had incredible ramifications.

It’s no less-so today.

Choose righteousness. Give tzedekah (charity) for example, but perhaps more importantly, STAND UP FOR THE POOR AND DISABLED in the public square as our rights and funding we depend on are continually attacked by politicians. The Academy of Sciences Reported that about 18,000 people die each year as a result of not having insurance. 1 in 6 Americans live in poverty. In the richest country in the world, that is unacceptable.

This cannot stand.

We must do the right thing. Redemption is a choice.

Make sure your loyalty is to something Greater than yourself, and something more than the next Pharaoh on his way to the dustbin of history.

As Amos taught us, a day of reckoning will come, injustice must be removed….



1. Amos illustration by Gustave Doré

And G-d Said "O Rly?"

Posted by – January 7, 2007

Pat Robertson is saying G-d spoke to him and said millions of Americans will die in a terrorist attack later this year.

When reached for comment, the Lord of Hosts said:

Superstition, Sorcery and Torah

Posted by – December 11, 2006

Superstition, Sorcery and Torah

The commandments to stay away from the occult, necromancy, sorcery, demonic forces and the like are explicit in the Torah. See Lev. 19:26 and Deut. 18:10, from which these mitzvos are derived.

There’s an interesting split among Jews regarding WHY we have these mitzvos.

Rambam says the mitzvah to stay away from them is because it’s all fake, all trickery, all BS, so stay away from it; it’s a deception.

RambaN, in the typical RambaN way, takes a different view from Rambam, and he says the mitzvah is because the dark side is very real and will eat you.

But all sides agree the Torah gives us a mitzvah to avoid it.

I heard a Lubavicher rabbi say there was a lost soul possessing somebody in a nursing home, and he said kaddish (mourner’s prayer) for that dead Jew and then she stopped possessing the patient. Out there? I don’t know.

Some Christians take this prohibition and run with it and go a bit too far. My brother Jamie had a middle school teacher of
his handing out comics to the kids that said Halloween is all about demonic influence and will send you to directly to Hell; the controversy made the front page of the local paper. You’ve got Becky Fischer of Jesus Camp, famously shouting that “if this was the Old Testament, Harry Potter would be stoned to death!”
Well yeah lady, except you’re missing the fact that Harry Potter doesn’t exist and you can’t convict anyone when wizardry isn’t possible.

It’s fiction. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment. And you can find Torah lessons in it as well, as you can in anything. NCSY Rabbi Jack Abramowitz even argues Harry Potter is Jewish.

The Torah prohibitions are clearly delineated by the oral law, and they are to never recognize powers in the universe other than Hashem, never get wrapped up in non-Hashem abilities (no trusting magic and astrology instead of G-d) and yes, to stop people from leading others off the derech (path) with trickery. Rambam also says Lev. 19:26 bans being superstitious generally.

Whether Rambam is right or wrong that supernatural forces don’t even exist, I haven’t observed enough to determine. Based on my experience so far seeing plenty of unexplainable phenomenon, I could go either way. I sympathize with both positions.

What do you think?

Here’s a great song: “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder set to clips from the Harry Potter movies, hehe….

Nicholas Midrashim: Ishmael

Posted by – November 22, 2006

Nicholas Midrashim: Ishmael

Ishmael means “G-d hears,” because Hashem heard the pleas of Hagar, his mother.

“And G-d was with the lad, and he grew, and he dwelt in the desert, and he became an archer.” (Gen 21:20)

Notice I’ve shown (or tried to show) Ishmael drawing the bow with his thumb, the method of the Medieval Islamic armies, not the European method of the three-fingered draw. I saw a historian on the History Channel saying it was due to this slightly more-powerful thumb draw that gave Muslim armies the slight edge in close battles that led to them defeating the Crusaders and taking back control of the Middle East.

Islam claims (and Jews agree) that Ishmael is the father of the Arab nation, and thus all Muslims.

I’m highlighting when he first left Abraham’s house, and became an archer, surviving in the wild. This stuff is so fascinating to me.

Here’s the passage in context:

Genesis 21

10. And Sarah said to Abraham,”Drive out this handmaid and her son, for the son of this handmaid shall not inherit with my son, with Isaac.”
11. But the matter greatly displeased Abraham, concerning his son.
12. And G-d said to Abraham, “Be not displeased concerning the lad and concerning your handmaid; whatever Sarah tells you, hearken to her voice, for in Isaac will be called your seed.
13. But also the son of the handmaid I will make into a nation, because he is your seed.”
14. And Abraham arose early in the morning, and he took bread and a leather pouch of water, and he gave [them] to Hagar, he placed [them] on her shoulder, and the child, and he sent her away; and she went and wandered in the desert of Beer sheba.
15. And the water was depleted from the leather pouch, and she cast the child under one of the bushes.
16. And she went and sat down from afar, at about the distance of two bowshots, for she said, “Let me not see the child’s death.” And she sat from afar, and she raised her voice and wept.
17. And G-d heard the lad’s voice, and an angel of G-d called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What is troubling you, Hagar? Fear not, for G-d has heard the lad’s voice in the place where he is.
18. Rise, pick up the lad and grasp your hand upon him, for I shall make him into a great nation.”
19. And G-d opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water, and she went and filled the pouch with water and gave the lad to drink.
20. And G-d was with the lad, and he grew, and he dwelt in the desert, and he became an archer.

Yaniv over at the Jew Is Beautiful blog has an excellent post on the subject of Ishmael, and the “Ishmaelites.”
The Ishmaelite Prophecies of Lech Lecha.

He focuses on the prophecy, “the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Behold, you will conceive and bear a son, and you shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard your affliction. And he will be a wild chamor (donkey, stubborn) of a man; his hand will be upon all, and everyone’s hand upon him, and before all his brothers he will dwell.'” (Genesis 16:11-12)

Yaniv tilts anti-Islam somewhat, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more detailed, intelligent analysis of Ishmael and his unique imprint on Islam. It’s a must-read.

He’s right that like Ishmael, Ishmaelites are aggressive, holy, monotheists.

And I think they have plenty to be proud of.


Morality And Government

Posted by – November 19, 2006

Morality And Government

Should Morality Stop At The State House Steps?

To get elected, candidates are increasingly talking about their faith. A judge here in Alabama a few years ago ran campaign ads saying he would “go by the book,” and it showed his hand on the Bible. Recently, Harold Ford campaigned for the U.S. Senate with ads showing him in a church.

But do their policies really reflect Biblical values?

Exhibit A:

This was an actual ad.

What Would Jesus Do? Somehow I don’t think it would involve spending $5,000,000,000,000 on war and harsher penalties on illegalimmigrants.

Above all, any philosophy that involves harming the poor and disabled cannot be justified with scripture. Scripture is uncompromising in its demand to care for the poor; it highlights exceptionally bad situations and comes out in favor of the poor and the underdog every time. It repeatedly castigates the rich who ignore or withhold from the poor. Part of the underpinning mythology of the conservative movement, the lie that reducing aid for the poor will lead to increased aid to the poor from the nonprofit sector, has devastated the poor and disabled in the South, leading to tragic consequences. The cruel irony is, the voters who prop up the perpetrators of this are often Christians, lured to the polls with Christian rhetoric.

George W. Bush has been pontificating from the pulpit while pursuing an unjust war (see, just war theory) and economic injustice at home and abroad. In the case of the Tennessee pols, Harold Ford and Governor Breseden were Jesusing it up while simultaneously ignoring / perpetuating medical deaths after 323,000 people were cut off of Tennessee Medicaid.

Morality can’t be left at the state house steps. If we’re going to prosper, we need a government that acts with fairness and justice in mind. If we’re going to prosper, wealth has to be shared with the poor and vulnerable, not only held by the elite few.

Maybe not all the politicians “let’s talk about faith” is hypocritical BS, because Representative Ted Strickland, a former Methodist minister just elected Governor of Ohio, has called out the false theology dominating today’s politics.

“There are those in Columbus and elsewhere who argue that the biblical mandates to love your neighbor and to work for justice are meant only for individuals and have no application to the political sphere. They dismiss the Democrats and those religious leaders who claim that our faith requires us to insist that governments and government leaders — not just private citizens — seek justice, love, mercy, and humbly work to help the least, the last and the lost in our society.”

I wish more of our leaders would speak the truth like that.

Regardless, my feverish commitment to social justice will never cool.

Smash the false idols of greed!


President of the National Association of Evangelicals Admits Gay Allegations

Posted by – November 7, 2006

President of the National Association of Evangelicals Admits Gay Allegations

Addendum to Hypocrisy

It seems my recent post, Hypocrisy, which noted the unavoidable, persistent phenomenon of gay men leading the anti-gay crusade, was all too prescient, as Ted Haggard, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, revealed Sunday that “I am a deceiver and a liar,” and that the allegations that he had meth-fueled sex with a male prostitute were actually true.

We can no longer avoid this persistent pattern that now has dozens well-known of instances and likely countless cases on the down-low: closeted men vociferously denouncing “the gay agenda” to prove to themselves and everyone else they aren’t really gay, and because they spend so much time every day lashing out in opposition to homosexuality, they become the leaders of the anti-gay movement.

Check out this video circulating everywhere of Ted Haggard preaching against homosexuality in the new documentary “Jesus Camp,” with Ted dropping a super creepy Freudian joke at the end.

Should constant, strong anti-gay rhetoric be a leading indicator of a self-loathing closet case?

I strongly empathize with what Haggard and most believers are saying about Biblical inerrancy, I do believe in the Torah. Leviticus says gay sex is abomination, every Jew knows this; it’s the Torah. The question is, how do believers then act on that information. My views on this are complicated and I hope to go into detail on this difficult issue in another post, but I’ll say this: I think Torah bans homosexuality because so often we Jews and our halacha are on the brink of extinction and we need to make more Jews, and it should always be put in this context. In order to ensure the survival of the Torah, marriage and big families are the priority of the Torah. But when people can’t do that, the priority should be love.

Maybe if there was more love, guys like Roy Cohn, mayor Jim West, Senator Larry Craig, Michael Savage, Jeff Gannon, Charlie Crist, Mark Foley and now Ted Haggard wouldn’t have had lash out at gays to try to cover up their true colors.