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Voices of the Religious Left: A Contemporary Sourcebook

Voices of the Religious Left: A Contemporary Sourcebook edited by Rebecca T. Alpert, Temple University Press, $27.95

Voices of the Religious Left: A Contemporary Sourcebook is chock-full of politically engaged, theologically and textually grounded essays. For a Jewish reader, the challenge and payoff are tripled: Some essays are written by Jews from a specifically Jewish point of view, some essays, though written by non-Jews, use our “half” of the Bible as sacred proof text, and some, as with Robert Allan Warrior’s “Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians,” invite us to see our old familiar stories with new eyes and insights—for instance, from the perspective of the Canaanites whose land was conquered by the Israelites in the Exodus story.

This, I think, is part of the agenda of the anthology’s editor, Temple University professor Rebecca Alpert—to show how our sacred texts ask more of us, intellectually, spiritually and politically, than we may have guessed. In “Pesach and the Palestinians,” Rabbi Arthur Waskow asks, “What would it mean to respond to Hagar and Ishmael . . . with neither expulsion nor an effort to subject them to Israeli rule?” and then outlines several very concrete ways by which both individuals and the Israeli government might be able to consider an answer. The reader is prompted to think, spurred into action—or often, I think, both.

Many of the essays also provide serious spiritual ammunition. Three examples: “Jews, Money and Social Responsibility, interpretations of the Leviticus laws against “lying with a man as with a woman”; and a brilliant look at the ways in which the Torah’s Jubilee year could help regenerate our current economic and environmental crises.

Voices illuminates the ways some people have taken their sense of religious duty out into a broken world and infused their in- the trenches tikkun olam with a relationship to the bigger picture. The magic here is both in the details—for instance, how the contemporary prison system violates the imperatives of Psalm 79:11—and in the sweeping sense that we are all, in fact, working toward the same goals from, as somebody once said, a thousand points of light. Until we can get there, Voices of the Religious Left offers indispensable, high-octane edification and inspiration – just what we ‘ll need along the way.

Danya Ruttenberg the editor of Yentl’s Revenge: The Next Wave of Jewish Feminism, and a Contributing Editor of Lilith.