Below are several texts that can be used for reflection and study in Congregation-Based Community Organizing (CBCO) settings.
You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.
- Exodus 23:9
Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
- Deuteronomy 16:20
Learn to do good: devote yourselves to justice, aid wronged, uphold the rights of the orphan, defend the cause of the widow.
- Isaiah 1:17
What does God require of you? Only to do justice, to love goodness, and to walk humbly before God.
- Micah 6: 8-9
These are the things that you shall do: speak every one the truth to your neighbor, execute the judgment of peace and truth in your gates; and let none of you devise evil in your hearts against your neighbor, and love no false oath, for these are the things I hate, says God.
- Zechariah 8: 16-17
For this reason was the human being created alone, to teach you that whosoever destroys a single soul, Scripture imputes guilt to him as though he had destroyed an entire world. And whosoever preserves a single soul; Scripture ascribes merit to him as though he had preserved a complete world.
- Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5
"Rabbi Hama... said: What does the text mean, 'You shall walk in God's paths?' Surely this does not imply that a person may actually walk behind the Divine presence. Rather the meaning is to walk after the attributes of
the Holy One. As God clothes the naked... so do you... clothe the naked; as the Holy One visits the sick... so do you visit the sick; as the Holy One comforts mourners, ... so do you comfort mourners; as the Holy One, buries the dead, so do you bury the dead."
- Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 14a
“According to the teaching of the Torah and the Prophets, the People of Israel was expecting to demonstrate its loyalty to God not merely by worshiping Him, but mainly by practicing justice and righteousness. These are called ‘the way of the Lord’ (Genesis 18:19). In the light of that teaching, failure to walk in that way has brought untold suffering on the People of Israel. Unrighteousness is the offspring of pride, which takes the form of rebellion against God, or playing the god. Translated into universal terms, that teaching implies that the religion of a people has to find expression principally in the practice of righteousness in its political, economic, and social affairs. That is the divine law for every people. Violation of that law is bound to lead to failure and disaster.”
- The Greater Judaism in the Making, Mordecai M. Kaplan, p. 477
“Reconstructionists seek to live in two civilization… this has led the movement to place social action high on its agenda. It is not only as individuals but also as Jews working together in our communities that Reconstructionists seek to improve the world. Tikkun Olam committees have promoted a wide range of such projects: internal programming to educate members about how to live in environmentally sound ways, political lobbying and demonstrating to protest genocide or welfare cutbacks, volunteering in inner city soup kitchens, turning synagogues into homeless shelters, declaring sanctuary for illegal immigrants fleeing political oppression, escorting women into clinics past violent anti-abortion protestors..
Many Reconstructionists have their most profound experiences of God through tikkun olam: working together, fighting injustice, acting to help others. It is not out of charity that they ally themselves with those who are oppressed or less fortunate, but rather out of the teaching that all human beings are worthy of respect and opportunity. If that is true, then injustice and discrimination deprive people of their birthright, and tikkun olam may be the most concrete and palpable way to make God’s Presence manifest in our world.”
- Exploring Judaism: A Reconstructionist Approach, Rebecca Alpert and Jacob Staub, p. 59-60
Order out of Chaos:
- A primary manifestation of the impulse to integrate the broken pieces - to clean up the mess, so to speak - is our instinct to transform experience into narrative. Memory is our perpetual organizer. It edits our inchoate experiences, selects discrete moments, links them with others, and places them in a sequence, an order revealing our provisional understanding of how the experiences relate to each other. Our psyches are constantly shuffling our memories, testing different plot-lines, weaving apparently unrelated people, places and experiences into a story.
By seeking a unifying thread that links our experiences, by seeing them as parts of a greater whole, these stories impute meaning to them. The process resembles assembling a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces, in isolation from each other, appear meaningless, but when fitted together create a picture conveying a message.
Our stories are structures of meaning we assemble out of the scraps of our lived experience. Through our narratives, we search out patterns, discern order, and construct purpose from the pieces of our lives. From a Jewish perspective, this narrative-making process is a profoundly spiritual exercise, perhaps the prototypical Jewish religious act. It shares the fundamental Jewish religious assumption that order may be discovered beneath the chaotic surface of reality. In becoming conscious of the connections between the fragments of our existence, and in weaving them into a narrative that reveals their coherence, we effect a tikkun, we "fix" the brokenness of our reality. The integrative process of narrative brings us into a profound encounter with God.
- Margolius, Marc J., “Spiritual Autobiography as a Path of Tikkun,” The Reconstructionist 61 (1) Spring 1996, p 37.
A magnetic needle, hung on a thread or placed on a. pivot, assumes of its own accord a position in which one end of the needle points north and the other south. So long as it is free to move about, all attempts to deflect it will not get it to remain away from its normal direction. Likewise, man normally veers in the direction of that which makes for the fulfillment of his destiny as a human being. That fact indicates the functioning of a cosmic Power which influences his behavior. What magnetism is to the magnetic needle, Godhood or God is to man.
- Kaplan, Mordecai M. Questions Jews Ask: Reconstructionist Answers. NY: Reconstructionist Press, 1956. pp. 83 84
I believe that it is the task of every rabbi and congregation to create whole Jews. To do so requires that the synagogue be inclusive enough to attract Jews who have one particular interest. An effective synagogue and rabbi will then help such a person fill in the gaps in their Jewishness and understand the other agendas. To entice Jews to embrace new dimensions of Jewish experience requires that we present such new agendas as complementary to, not competitive with their initial concerns.
There is a lot of work to be done to get our various tribal Jews into synagogues. Most of the Jews I meet in secular Jewish organizations find something missing in their Jewish lives, but their various attempts to find synagogues are invariably disappointing. For such Jews to make the jump from secular Jewish involvement to a religious lifestyle is not easy. It requires meeting these Jews “where they are,” even though we should not be content to let them just stay there. Unfortunately, most synagogues do not offer enough familiar touchstones to draw in such Jews.
- Schwarz, Sidney. “From Healing to Justice” The Reconstructionist 61 (1) Spring 1996, p7.
Life is not aimless and futile, not a mere play of blind and meaningless forces, but the manifestation of spiritual purpose, the unfolding of a plan for human cooperation and brotherhood.
- Kaplan, Mordecai M, Future of the American Jew, p 539.
To find life in the present worth living, men must have faith in the future. The ultimate in human tragedy is not suffering or even death, but hopelessness. This is the true meaning of damnation … It is the function of religion to save men from this hell.
- Kaplan, Mordecai M, Basic Values in Jewish Religion, p 23.
Men have attained to a profound and satisfying faith in God through experience rather than through reason.
- Kaplan, Mordecai M, Future of the American Jew, p260>
God to me is the process that makes for creativity, integration, love and justice. The function of prayer is to render us conscious of that process. I can react with a sense of holiness or momentousness to existence because it is continually being worked upon by this divine process.
I am not troubled in the least by the fact that God is not an identifiable being; for that matter neither is my Ego an identifiable being. Nor am I troubled by the fact that God is not perfect. He would have to be static to be perfect. Nothing dynamic can be perfect since to be dynamic implies to be in the state of becoming. - JANUARY 15, 1931
- Kaplan, Mordecai M. Communings of the Spirit the Journals of Mordecai M. Kaplan. Ed. Mel Scult. Vol. 1,1913 1934, Detroit, 2001
I learned to appreciate the Bible for what constitutes its true worth, an expression of human nature at its best, the most articulate striving of man to achieve his salvation or self-fulfillment, and an expression of his most conscious recognition that only through righteousness can he achieve it.
The alternative to the “God of miracles” and the “God of metaphysics” is the “God of experience” …. for brute nature by itself is too abounding in evil to permit man to pursue his goal of salvation without suffering occasional defeats and frustrations. Man needs the assurance, which only faith in God as the Power that makes for righteousness can give him, that his virtuous strivings are not in vain.
The function of the belief in God is to make us aware of the moral and spiritual context of our conduct, so that we come to move within the orbit of the “Power that makes for righteousness.” Judaism uses the belief in God to make Jews aware of the natural conditions that have to be established and the human relations that have to be maintained for the Jewish people, if it is to achieve salvation collectively and individually.
- Kaplan, Mordecai. “The Way I Have Come” in Mordecai M. Kaplan: An Evaluation., ed. by Ira Eisenstein and Eugene Kohn. New York: Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, 1952, pp 296, 297, 299.
Human beings are created in the image of God, so we are told in the first chapter of the book of Genesis. Therefore, it is in relationships with other people that we can have an immediate experience of divinity.
- Alpert, Rebecca and Staub, Jacob, Exploring Judaism A Reconstructionist Approach, p84
Jewish civilization is a means to greater ends – the fulfillment of the individual, the responsibility of individuals to treat others as reflections of the divine image, and the responsibility of each community to seek global justice and peace among all communities.
- Alpert, Rebecca and Staub, Jacob, Exploring Judaism A Reconstructionist Approach, p24
Jewish Religion maintains eventual triumph of justice over brute force as the very essence of the faith in God
- Kaplan, Mordecai M, Basic Values in Jewish Religion, p 43
O God, please forgive us:
For spending time helping the community, when our children and spouse need us at home;
For spending time with our family at home, when we are needed in the community;
For spending money to repair the world, when our family must do without;
For spending money on our family, when they already have so much more than so many;
For over-committing our time, money, and energy when we are already overburdened;
For saying "no" when our time, money, and energy could help a worthy cause;
For providing our love and compassion only to members of our family, when there are so many oppressed people in the world who could use that love and compassion;
For sharing our love and compassion with oppressed people in dangerous parts of the world, causing our family and friends worry and torment at home.
O God, please forgive us for spending another year in vain, attempting to find balance.
For all these, O God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.
V'al kulom eloha s'lichot s'lach lanu, m'chal lanu, kaper lanu.
Copyright © 1992 & 2003 by Jules Mermelstein