Author Archives: Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow

Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow

About Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow

Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow directs the Shalom Center and is the author of numerous books, including Godwrestling, Godwrestling--Round 2, Seasons of Our Joy, The Bush is Burning, and These Holy Sparks.

Applying Rabbinic Law on Tzedakah Priorities

This article looks at traditional Jewish precepts regarding the giving of tzedakah to test their value for our own society. The author poses several questions regarding the principles that guided the rabbis of classical antiquity and their spiritual heirs as they articulated tzedakah priorities, and how we might–and perhaps should–apply these principles in our time. The use of "the Rabbis" refers to the rabbinic sages of late antiquity whose teachings are recorded in the Mishnah, the two Talmuds, and other works of that period. This article is reprinted from pages 187-89 from Down-to-Earth Judaism, by Arthur Waskow. Copyright (c) 1995 by Arthur Waskow. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

What are the issues we might face today?

First: How much of our own income ought we to give in tzedakah?

To this the Rabbis replied that no one could avoid giving altogether. Even the desperately poor, who received all their own income from tzedakah, should give small amounts of tzedakah. At the highest level, one might give one fifth of one’s income, but no more than that, probably for fear that a too generous giver would end up becoming a charge on the community or would receive too much honor and power for the community’s good. Normal was giving one tenth of one’s income.

Second: How shall we choose to whom among the wide range of the poor we shall give?

The Rabbis replied that anyone who asked for food should receive it at once. Even a stranger whom one suspected of fraud should be fed. Hunger is a powerful emergency.

Those who were strangers to the community and asked for less urgent help should be queried. The community was responsible to give what they needed and therefore to make sure how much they needed. Yet no one who asked should be turned away utterly empty-handed.

Those who were known to the community, and whose needs were known, should not have their tzedakah delayed.

Giving should be extended in a series of concentric circles: first, to the poor of one’s own near relatives, then [those] of the extended family, then of the city, and then of other cities and countries.

Sabbatical and Jubilee Years as a Social and Political Vision

Waskow is a contemporary commentator whose teachings on Jewish civilization often reframe or revalue traditional categories and practices. Here, following a detailed survey of the laws of the sabbatical year and the jubilee year, he offers a survey of how the Torah’s laws might be understood by political theorists and economists today. Pages 151-152 from Down-to-Earth Judaism, by Arthur Waskow. Copyright (c) 1995 by Arthur Waskow. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

How does this whole pattern match up with anything that "modern" economists and politicians might say? It is quite different from all of them in any flavor: conservative, liberal, or radical.

On the one hand, the biblical pattern encourages getting ahead in the world through hard work, thrift, expansion, ownership, and putting lots of indentured employees on the payroll. Surely most modern capitalists would applaud this. Yet on the other hand, every seventh year this process pauses in midstride as people are forbidden to get ahead by working the land, and as those who have fallen into the pit of debt clamber out. Even more extraordinary, once a generation the Torah tries to dissolve "getting ahead" altogether, and affirms the social, economic, and political equality of all Israelites. Once a generation, it cancels out all success and all failure by sharing the most important element of the Israelite economy: land.

Most modern secular socialists might hail such a transformation as "the Revolution"–once and for all! The Torah does not. Instead, it expects and affirms that once equality is achieved, it will not and should not stay put. For then the process of "getting ahead" and "falling behind" will begin all over again. And it will keep on, with pauses every seventh year, for another forty-nine years.

The notion that ownership, working status, and money should all constantly change through a sacred cycle of time is a unique vision of biblical economics, different from anything that the modern age has proposed or carried out.

And the vision is not only economic, not only ecological, not only political. It is all of these–and through them "spiritual" as well. As Rabbi Max Ticktin points out, the Jubilee challenges ancient and modern ideas of making oneself immortal by piling up material goods. The Jubilee brooks no Pharaoh with jewels buried in a pyramid, no billionaire who believes that "whoever dies with the most toys wins."The Jubilee replaces "having more" with "going deeper," deeper into one’s own self as part of the One Self that unifies the world.

Was the vision carried out? Part of it was–especially the seventh-year Shabbat for the land and the annulment of debts. The fiftieth year’s wholesale redistribution of land was rarely, if ever, actually done. Yet the vision survived.

Early in the sixth century BCE,for example, Jeremiah demanded (chapter 34 [of the biblical book of Jeremiah]) that the people make a jubilee by freeing all their slaves. When they failed, he prophesied disaster. If they would not free their slaves, they themselves would all become slaves. If they would not share their land, they would lose it.

Yet Jeremiah also invoked the Jubilee vision as a vision of hope (chapter 32), even though the Babylonians were on the verge of conquering the land and he was prophesying their victory. At this dire moment Jeremiah, using precisely the legal form delineated in Leviticus 25, paid seventeen shekels to redeem a plot of land in his tribal village. He placed the deed of its redemption in a pottery jar, to remain buried until someday when the redemption could actually take place. And he proclaimed that someday the whole land would be redeemed as well, so that houses, fields, and vineyards could be bought and sold again.

Thus he affirmed that the great liberation of the jubilee applies both to each individual and to the whole people.

Does this vision from another age have any implications for our time?

In this vision, there is a coherent model of a "sustainable economy" in which the people are fed for many generations and millennia, and the land is not tortured into desolation. Today, ecologists and economists focus on how to create just such a sustainable economy. This is no abstraction: It is as personal as Jeremiah’s pottery jar. When people who are struggling over how to protect ancient forests and to use lumber resources properly define their battle in terms of "spotted owls" versus "logger jobs," that is what they are fighting over.

This vision contains a coherent model of how to encourage both entrepreneurship and equality. Political theorists and activists struggle over which of these values is more important, and how to balance them. When people battle over "safety nets" and "tax incentives," over "welfare" and "empowering the poor," those are the issues they are fighting over.

This vision is not only about the grand design of a society, it is also about the details of everyday life. It presents us a coherent model of how families and individuals should borrow from and lend to each other, how they should buy from each other, and contains many other teachings about interpersonal ethics over money, issues that we encounter in our lives every day.

Tzedakah Collectives: Sharing the Mitzvah of Tzedakah and More

The disappearance of landsmannschaften [societies of individuals from the same town or country in Eastern Europe] and the flattening out of the kibbutz movement have left the Jewish community almost bereft of face-to-face sharing of money and decisions about money. Even in the arena of tzedakah (translated as “charity,” but rooted in the Hebrew word for justice), most giving is organized like a modern corporation. 

Yet there are a few groups that may point the way to a renewed and revitalized process of pooling money and deciding together how to spend it, in the light of Jewish values.

In the past, the giving of tzedakah was a face-to-face action. Groups, called in Yiddish khevres, would gather within a congregation to visit the sick, bury the dead, or gather money for the poor.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s in North America, people who were dissatisfied with synagogues and other Jewish organizations began to form havurot (small, intimate, egalitarian, and participatory fellowships for prayer and Torah study). Then in the mid-seventies, some of these havurot encouraged the creation of tzedakah collectives, intended to bring to charitable money-giving the same kind of intimacy, participation, and equality.

These groups meet together, face-to-face, to discuss possible recipients of tzedakah. The participants agree in advance on what proportion of their incomes they will give–typically about 2 percent–and on a more or less collective process for deciding how to give it. The group may, for example, agree to vote on a list of acceptable recipients, and then permit individuals to give as much as they choose out of their overall donation to whichever groups they choose from the agreed-upon list. Or they may vote on collective amounts to be given from a general pool of all the donated money, leaving no funds for purely individual decision. Or they may balance the two modes, using the one and the other for different categories of giving.

Typically, the participants divide up responsibility for checking on projects that could be tzedakah recipients, and reporting their findings to the group as a whole. One member or another will lead a group discussion of a Jewish text or teaching about tzedakah, and then the group will discuss how to apply these teachings to the choices before them. The ambience is very different from writing checks to a national tzedakah organization such as the United Jewish Appeal [in North America; now called “United Jewish Communities”] or the Jewish Fund for Justice. Most of the participants plunge much deeper into learning both about the social problems that call for help through tzedakah, and what Jewish tradition teaches on tzedakah.

History of Bat Mitzvah

The first American bat mitzvah in 1922 initiated a ceremony that continues its development even today. Excerpted with permission from A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC).

For larger and larger parts of the Jewish people, girls at 12 or 13 years of age are undertaking exactly the same ceremony as boys. For American Jews, this process famously began in 1922 when Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionism, arranged for his daughter Judith to celebrate becoming a bat mitzvah at a public synagogue ceremony.Bat mitzvah girl

But in fact her ceremony did not involve a full aliyah to the Torah [going up to the Torah and reciting blessings over its reading], and was thus a much-diminished version of what boys did. It bore considerable resemblance to a way of celebrating this passage in the synagogue that some girls in Italy and France had begun even earlier, and Rabbi Kaplan may have used for his daughter’s rite what he had heard or seen of an Italian ceremony.

Elsewhere, too, in Jewish life, girls entering adulthood had begun to take part in a public ceremony. Late in the 19th century, Joseph Hayyim Eliyahu ben Moshe of Baghdad, Ben Ish Hai. wrote (as translated by Howard Tzvi Adelman):

“And also the daughter on the day that she enters the obligation of the commandments, even though they don’t usually make for her a seudah [celebratory meal], nevertheless that day will be one of happiness. She should wear Sabbath clothing and if she is able to do so she should wear new clothing and bless the Shehecheyanu prayer [for the One ‘Who gives us life, lifts us up, and carries us to this moment’] and be ready for her entry to the yoke of the commandments. There are those who are accustomed to make her birthday every year into a holiday. It is a good sign, and this we do in our house.”

Another bat mitzvah ceremony, in the synagogue, was celebrated in Lwow in 1902 by Rabbi Dr. Yehezkel Caro, “rabbi for the enlightened Jews.”

What gave long-term importance to Judith Kaplan’s moment was that American culture supported transfoming this hesitant beginning into wholehearted change. By the end of the 20th century, in almost all non-Orthodox congregations girls were celebrating their coming-of-age as b’not mitzvah through much the same ceremonies their brothers experienced.

The Gentle Heart in Israel Today

Reprinted with permission from “Torah, War, and the ‘Gentle Heart’ Today: Israeli Soldiers’ Refusal to Serve in the Occupation Army,” published by The Shalom Center.

The Torah teaches: “The officials shall go on addressing the troops and say, ‘Is there anyone afraid or gentle-hearted? Let him go back to his home, lest he melt the heart of his brothers, like his heart!'” (Deuteronomy 20:8)

More than 250 Israeli reserve soldiers and officers have publicly announced that they will serve in defense of Israel’s boundaries but refuse to serve in the army of occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. They have named themselves Omez Lesarev (Courage to Refuse).

Is there any connection between their decision and the passage of Torah in Deuteronomy?

This essay will examine the Torah-related and ethical questions involved.

First, the Biblical Exemptions

First, it is noteworthy that the biblical tradition has a place for individual exemption from national military service (Deut. 20:5-8):

“Then the officials shall address the troops: Is there anyone who has built a new home but not yet dedicated it? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another dedicate it.”

“Is there anyone who has planted a vineyard but has never harvested it? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another initiate it.”

“Is there anyone who has paid the bride-price for a wife, but who has not yet married her? Let him return to his home, lest he die in battle and another marry her.”

“The officials shall go on addressing the troops and say, Is there anyone afraid or gentle-hearted [= rakh halevav; also “disheartened,” or “softhearted”]? Let him go back to his home, lest he melt the heart of his brothers, like his heart!”

I Maccabees 3:56 reports that even in the moment of resistance to the Syrio-Hellenistic empire ruled by Antiochus, Judah Maccabee applied this passage of Torah and ordered back to their homes the newly married, the new homebuilders, etc., and those who were gentle-hearted.

Notice that this war was being fought against an imperial occupation of the Land of Israel, against an enemy that had desecrated the Temple and commanded idolatry.

Assertive Nonviolence in Judaism

Excerpted and reprinted with permission from “The Sword and the Plowshare as Tools of Tikkun Olam,” published by The Shalom Center.

What is a decent alternative to military action? The advantage of the biblical vision was that it was assertive, rather than passive. The advantage of the rabbinic vision was that it avoided violence. Is there a way to synthesize these virtues in the new era of Jewish peoplehood into which we have entered? Is there a way to create a Jewish path of assertive nonviolence? 

Let’s look at what may have been the most successful single use of nonviolent civil disobedience by the Jewish people since the midwives Shifra and Puah, even though we have almost never put the tag “nonviolent movement” on it. That was the Soviet Jewry movement.

Don’t Overlook the Soviet Jewry Model

With only one or two exceptions, it avoided the use of violence, and used assertive nonviolence to win freedom for Jews in the Soviet Union.

Dancing in the streets of Moscow on the night of Simhat Torah. Marches, demonstrations, boycotts. Sit-ins in the Supreme Soviet. I can remember when people thought, “Hey, a sit-in in the Supreme Soviet? All those folks will be dead in a week!”

peace rockBut they weren’t. Indeed, they won allies. Jews around the world, members of other communities as well. Allies. We did not need to stand alone.

Through years of struggle, this movement made some cracks in what to many had seemed a monolithic Soviet totalitarian state. Even before those cracks and many others brought the whole system down, millions of Soviet Jews either became free to leave or free to begin recreating a Jewish community and culture.

Why did we not think of this movement as Gandhian or Kingian? I think it was because we were deeply puzzled as to how to cope with such a way of understanding ourselves alongside the State of Israel during that same period. But the movement to free Soviet Jews was an assertive nonviolent movement. We should with joyful pride name this nonviolent victory as what it was, lift it up to our own awareness, celebrate it.

Civil Disobedience in the Bible

Excerpted and reprinted with permission from "The Sword and the Plowshare as Tools of Tikkun Olam," published by The Shalom Center.

If we look back at the history of biblical Israel, there are two very important strands from which we need to learn and with which we need to wrestle. One is the strand of constant willingness to challenge and disobey arrogant power, whether it’s located in Pharaoh or in a Jewish king. The other is the strand of willingness to use violence–sometimes hyper-violence–to advance the Jewish vision of a decent society.

Let us first take up the strand of resistance to unaccountable power. The story of Shifrah and Puah–the midwives who refused to obey Pharaoh’s order to murder Hebrew boy babies–is perhaps the first tale of nonviolent civil disobedience in world literature.

The process of liberation in the Exodus itself is woven with violence in the form of disastrous ecological upheavals and ultimately the death of Egypt’s firstborn. But the imposition of these plagues is ascribed to God and thus placed one giant step away from Israelite behavior. Indeed, the Israelites are specifically forbidden to leave their homes on the night when the firstborn die. The most active deed of the Israelites themselves is described as a nonviolent one: visiting the Egyptian homes to demand reparations–gold and jewels that will repay them for many years of slavery.

The Hebrew Bible also describes nonviolent resistance to Babylonian and Persian power. For example, Jeremiah warns against using violence and military alliances to oppose the Babylonian conquest, and argues instead that God will protect the people if Judah acts in accord with the ethical demands of Torah–freeing slaves, letting the land rest.

Daniel and his friends are famously cast into the lions’ den for nonviolently refusing to obey the king’s command to worship foreign gods. And, although the Book of Esther ends in violence, Esther herself demonstrates nonviolent civil disobedience when, in fear and trembling, she approaches the Persian king without having been invited so that she can carry out her mission to save the Jewish people from a murderous tyrant.

Well, we might say, it is not surprising that Israelite culture would celebrate resistance to foreign potentates. What about Israel’s own kings?

Here too there are tales of nonviolent resistance. There is a powerful story of an Israelite king, Saul, who had to deal with an underground guerilla whom he thought of as a terrorist, named David. And David, with a very small band of underground guerillas, went off, hungry and desperate, and found food and protection at a sacred shrine, where they asked the priests to let them eat the show-bread, the lehem [ha]panim, the sacred bread placed before God, because they were desperately hungry. And the priests fed them from the sacred bread.

When Saul heard about this, he said (more or less), "Anybody who harbors a terrorist is a terrorist!" (Do you hear an echo?) and so King Saul ordered his own bodyguards to kill the priests of Nov. But the bodyguards refused.

His own bodyguards, yet they refused to murder these priests. An act of nonviolent civil disobedience against an Israelite king, not an Egyptian Pharaoh.

The tales of the prophets are filled with moments of nonviolent resistance to illegitimate uses of power by Israelite kings. Jeremiah, for example, used "Yippy" acts of street theater to protest. He wore a yoke as he walked in public, to embody the yoke of God that the King had shrugged off and the yoke of Babylonian captivity that the King was bringing on the people.

The Torah also bears descriptions of how it would look to have power made accountable to the public and to the guardians of Torah. A passage in Deuteronomy describes a constitutional monarch who must write, day by day, those passages of Torah that restrict his own power. He must not multiply horses–the cavalry, tanks, and Apache helicopters of that day. He must not pile up money for his treasury. He must not send the people back into Mitzrayim, which didn’t mean sending them back to geographical Egypt, but meant sending them back to slavery. And he had to read the Torah, in public.

Imagine Richard Nixon reading the Bill of Rights on national television and having to listen to direct responses.

That’s one strand of ancient Torah. More familiar to us is the other strand, the one that, in its vision of creating a decent society in a little sliver of land on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, over and over again counsels violence, even genocide. The sense that creating a decent society could only be done by military means is a very strong strand of Torah.

Even within this approach, however, the biblical model of Jewish life preserved some limits on war. Even in wartime, the Israelite army was forbidden to cut down fruit trees, unless they were actually being used as bulwarks in defending against a siege. And the Torah provided for individual exemptions from the army for young people in the earliest journey of making a family, building a house, creating a vineyard, feeling fear of death in battle, or fearing to become a killer.

Eco-Kashrut: Environmental Standards for What and How We Eat

In recent decades, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and others have advocated a broadening of the concept of kashrut to include restrictions on consumption based on ecological considerations. Here, one of the Jewish Renewal movement’s most articulate spokespersons argues the case for eco-kashrut in the form of a commentary to the Torah portion Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47).This article is reprinted with the permission of the Jerusalem Report.

It reads, to modern eyes, like a cookbook. The Torah portion of Shemini begins by telling us to bring beef, mutton, and pancakes to the sacred altar at the transcendent moment of its dedication. It ends by making sure that on any ordinary day we do not eat whales, hawks, camels, or shrimp. For even in our ordinary lives, some foods are sacred.

And between these two celebrations of the sacredness of food, we witness the deaths of those who brought "strange fire" to the Holy One.

How did biblical Jews get in touch with God? By eating and choosing what to eat. Not by murmuring prayer; when Hannah did that (I Samuel 1:13), the priest Eli though she was drunk.

Why by eating? Because in the deepest origins of Jewish life, the most sacred relationship was the relationship with the earth. For shepherds, farmers, orchard-keepers, food was the nexus between adamah, the earth, and its closest relative, adam, the human. So ancient Jews got in touch with God by bringing food to the Temple. With our bodies we affirmed, "This food comes from a Unity of which we also are a part: from earth, rain, sun, seed, and our own work. It came from the Unity of Life; so we give back some of it to that great Unity."

In our most mundane moments, we affirmed through the rules of kashrut that what and how we ate was holy. And in our wildest poetic fantasies of the history of humankind, we thought that what went wrong was somehow wrongly eating–a mistake that brought upon us an earth that would bring forth only thorns and thistles for us to eat, as we toiled with the sweat pouring down our noses.

When the moment came for us to turn history around, we learned to rest. We learned Shabbat. Not from the thunderclap of Sinai, but from eating–from the manna–that sweet and flowing breast-milk of El Shaddai, the God of Breasts, All-Nourishing. From the manna, we learned that together with the earth, we rest. And rest was then extended from the seventh day to the seventh year, when the earth was entitled to rest and the human community that worked the earth was obligated to rest as well.

Today, most of us have shrugged away the bringing-near of sacred food, the sacred choice of foods we do not eat, the sacred pausing so that one-seventh of the time we do not grow our foods. We think that resting is a waste of time that could be used to make, invent, produce, do.

Indeed, in the last few hundred years, the human race has invented the most brilliant act of work in all of its history. We have affected the planet–its very biology and chemistry–in ways no species ever has before. And we have invented the Holocaust, the H-bomb, global warming. Strange fires, all of them. Fires through which a few people can now kill billions, a few corporations can now kill thousands of species.

What can we learn by renewing the ancient text? For shepherds and farmers, food was what they ate from the earth. For us, it is also coal, oil, electric power, paper, plastics, that we take from the earth. For shepherds and farmers, kashrut was the way of guiding their eating toward holiness. For us, eco-kashrut should do the same.

We should ask: Is it eco-kosher to eat vegetables and fruit that have been grown by drenching the soil with insecticides? Is it eco-kosher to drink Shabbat Kiddush wine from non-biodegradable plastic cups? Is it eco-kosher to use 100 percent unrecycled office paper and newsprint in our homes, our synagogues, our community newspapers? Might it be eco-kosher to insist on 10 percent recycled paper this year, 30 percent in two years, and 80 percent in five years?

Is it eco-kosher to destroy great forests, to ignore insulating our homes, synagogues, and nursing homes, to become addicted to automobiles so that we drunkenly pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, there to accelerate the heating of our globe? Strange fire indeed!

We can light a blaze to consume the earth. Or we can make a holy altar of our lives, to light up the spark of God in every human and in every species.

The Lesson in Abundance

In his description of the mystics’ Tu Bishvat seder–a ceremony modeled on the Passover seder–Rabbi Waskow offers a unique interpretation of the symbols used in this ritual. In the more common explanation, wine represents different seasons and the fruit and nuts symbolize different type of people. Reprinted with permission from Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology, edited by Ari Elon, Naomi Mara Hyma,n and Arthur Waskow (Jewish Publication Society).

Who could imagine a band of mystics choosing April 15–Income Tax Day [in the United States]–to make a festival for celebrating the rebirth of God?

Yet that is what the kabbalists [mystics] of Tzfat [Safed] did in the 16th century when they recreated Tu Bishvat. Tu Bishvat, the full moon of midwinter, had been important only in Holy Temple days [during the Second Temple period], in the calendar of tithing. It was the end of the "fiscal year" for trees. Fruit that appeared before that date was taxed for the previous year; fruit that appeared later, for the following year. [See Babylonian Talmud, tractate Rosh ha-Shanah 2a passim.]

The Talmud called this legal date the "New Year for Trees." But the kabbalists saw it as the New Year for the Tree of Life itself–for God’s Own Self, for the Tree Whose Roots are in Heaven and Whose Fruit is the World Itself and All God’s Creatures. To honor the reawakening of trees and of that Tree in deep midwinter, they created a mystical seder that honors the Four Worlds of Acting, Relating, Knowing, and Being. These Four Worlds were enacted with four cups of wine and four courses of nuts and fruit (moving from less permeable to more permeable, and after three courses of tangible fruit, ending with fruit so permeable that it was intangible–for the Fourth World of Being, Spirit).

The symbolic system of this seder held still deeper riches, echoes of generation and regeneration in the worlds of plants and animals.

-Nuts and fruit, the rebirthing aspects of a plant’s life cycle, are the only foods that require no death, not even the death of a plant. Our living trees send forth their fruit and seeds in such profusion that they overflow beyond the needs of the next generation.

Creation and Exodus: The Nexus

Reprinted from the entry “Rest” in Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought, edited by Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr, ©1986, Gale Group. Reprinted by permission of the Gale Group.

In the biblical traditions of the people Israel, there seem to be two strands of thought regarding shabbat–rest from work–in the sense not only of the seventh day, but also of social repose and renewal in the seventh month and the seventh year. One of these strands sees shabbat as a reflection and expression of cosmic rhythms of time embedded in creation. The other sees shabbat as an affirmation of human freedom, justice, and equality. The biblical tradition regards these strands not as contradictory but as intertwined; indeed, the second is probably a midrash on the first, which arose in a period of Israelite history when social conflict between the rich and poor was intense and the desire to see shabbat as an affirmation of social justice was strong.

creation and exodus on shabbatThe first strand, that of cosmos and creation, dominates the books of Genesis and Exodus. Perhaps its focus on birth, creation, and nourishing emerges from the birth experience of the Jewish people. The second is more characteristic of the books of Deuteronomy and the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Second Isaiah, which are probably connected with a period of internal social conflict; and the two are most effectively intertwined and come closest to fusion in Leviticus 25, which is possibly from the same period of social upheaval.

Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and the prophets felt no contradiction between the theme of liberation and justice and the theme of cosmos and creation. Cosmic creation and social re-creation were seen as analogous, even in a sense isomorphic. Rest, or shabbat, was seen as the action (or inaction) that expressed both. And Shabbat was closely related to the concepts of shemitah and d’ror, release and liberation.

What are we moderns to make of so tight a connection between the cosmic-natural and the historical-political, two areas of life we usually hold separate? What moderns call social justice is, in this biblical outlook, treated as one form of rest, as social repose or social renewal. Institutional structures of domination and control are themselves seen as a kind of work, not only because of the economic work they do, but also because of the “work” they are–simply by existing, simply by dominating and controlling. The structures themselves, not only the economic work they do, must be periodically dissolved for shabbat; the social-political and the cosmic fuse.

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