Call to Justice

A compendium of righteous indignation

If you’re already holding Lilith in your hands, the idea that Judaism is compatible with progressive social action will probably not surprise you. But even you may feel overwhelmed — and excited — by the sheer multitude of voices that come forth from Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice (Jewish Lights, $24.99), a new volume edited by Rabbi Or Rose, Jo Ellen Green Kaiser and Margie Klein. This book, a veritable Who’s Who of current Jewish progressivism, contains 40 concise articles on a wide variety of issues, both global and focused more within the Jewish community. (It also includes a strong introduction by Rabbi David Ellenson, who mentions Abraham Joshua Heschel’s work in civil rights, the spirit of which seems to hover over — and sometimes within — many of these accounts.)

The contributors to this volume focus on issues as diverse as Judaism and sustainable culture, embryonic stem cell research, transgender inclusion, public schooling, AIDS activism, Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and much more. A conversation between Danya Ruttenberg and Rabbi Rebecca Alpert addresses Jewish feminism head on (it’s dealt with specifically as well in a piece on marriage — same-sex and otherwise — by Martha Ackelsberg and Judith Plaskow). At the same time, it’s remarkably refreshing to see feminism and feminist issues presented in such a matterof- fact manner, alongside other progressive issues. The dual assumptions that progressive individuals value feminism, and that feminists care about social justice issues of all stripes, properly befit a book as entrenched in the movement as this.

One point that is made in nearly all these essays is the important clarification between social action and social justice. While praising the work done by “service” social action, each and every author argues in favor of a deeper, more structural change. As Rabbi Jane Kanarek explains in her article, “The focus is not so much on the power of an individual to effect change, but rather on the power of the law to correct systemic justice.” Kanarek delineates tikkun olam, macro or structural change, from hesed, micro or “individual acts of kindness.” All of these writers acknowledge that this type of change — a switch of focus from micro to macro, individual to systemic — will require more effort from the Jewish community at large, but the other basic point here is that this work, too, is part and parcel of Jewish identity, culture and religious practice. It is most definitely a Jewish call for justice.

Both an educational tool and an inspiration to action (check out Aryeh Cohen’s tour-de-force drash on hearing the voices of the poor), this book has the potential not only to inform Jewish readers of social justice causes that deserve their attention and support, but to bring those working in the social justice movement who are not currently comfortable identifying their work as Jewish into a more inclusive understanding of how Judaism, too, can be a tool for righteousness.