Human Rights Shabbat:  A Growing Epidemic of

“Domination Disease”[1]

Shabbat Inspiration by Rabbi Yocheved Mintz,

Congregation P’nai Tikvah, 5 December 2015



Human Rights Shabbat: A Growing Epidemic of “Domination Disease”[2]

Shabbat Inspiration by Rabbi Yocheved Mintz

This Shabbat is designated as Human Rights Shabbat, and how I’d love to tell you that there are no issues to discuss, but that would be not only disingenuous but totally wrong.  Sadly, there are many areas of concern to those of us who care for human rights, both here and in Israel.  It is, what I will call, we might call a growing epidemic of “Domination Disease.”  And there is no vaccine for its cure.

Let’s start with the current situation in New York, Cleveland, and Ferguson.  I look to“Ella’s Song,” a song of the 60’s, composed by Bernice Johnson Reagon, honoring Ella Baker, one of the key teachers and leaders within the Freedom Movement.  It’s lyrics reads:

We who believe in freedom cannot rest;
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes:
Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons,
Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons.

With demonstrations and riots breaking out across the land, we also must remember what the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., said, on March 14, 1968, three weeks before he was murdered:

“A Riot is the Language of the Unheard . …It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the conditions — intolerable conditions — that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention.”

We don’t know what took place in the weeks in which the Grand Juries were convened in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York; but we do know that the outcome has drawn cries of disbelief and frustration.  We do know that there is a sense of lack of accountability for what appears to be police brutality.  Was the grand jury in New York acting as they did because, as Rabbi Arthur Waskow suggests, a district attorney beholden to a white-majority choke-hold on Staten Island did not encourage them to do their job.  How is it possible, even in the face of videos we all have seen that they could not find “probable cause “ of a crime, so that a real trial could be held in open court.  Why didn’t they even charge the policeman for a lesser offense like “reckless endangerment,”  if they could not bear to charge a white policeman for murder of a Black man.
Here in the United States, Domination Disease is not limited to racism, but we see evidence of it when the military allows superior officers to rape women and men under their command, and when a university allows football players to gang-rape a woman at a party, and when a corporation convinces the Supreme Court that its corporate “religious beliefs” trump the real-life religious beliefs of real-life human beings, its women employees. All of this has been front and center in our headlines over the past few months.

And we are all affected by Domination Disease.  As Rabbi Waskow, a well-known human rights activist tells us:  “It afflicts us when we high-powered politicos ignore the urgent outcry of the Sioiux Nation, who are warning us that a decision to build the Tar Sands Pipeline will be a Declaration of War against the Sioux Nation.

Are we all in a choke hold?

Despite Dr. King’s warnings the “riots are the language of those who are

And Domination Disease is not just here in the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.”  Wherever people abuse power…and get away with it, wherever justice is averted, wherever human rights are subjugated…there are those who suffer from the ravages of Domination Disease.

Here in the United States, what will cure us of the Domination Disease is not a techie solution.  Cameras on police helmets may not matter if, as we have already witnessed, we ignore what the cameras record.
Despite Dr. King’s truthful warning that “riots are the language of those who are unheard,” the shouts and tears will fall on self-deafened ears and the cure surely won’t come through riots.  But it will come from community.  A unified, outcry from people of good will can overcome Domination.  Community can bring change; can bring reforms in the policing of our society; in the halls of higher institutions; in the locker rooms of college campuses.  When neighbors gather at a local coal-burning plant, wearing gas masks and sitting in the gateways to force an end to the epidemics of coal-dust asthma that becloud our poorer, blacker, disempowered neighborhoods.  Community organizing has brought new laws to the land.  We did it here in Nevada, through the Nevadans for the Common Good’s perseverance to get laws passed against human trafficking and we can …and must…continue to confront Domination Disease until it is eradicated.

As Jews we are duty-bound to be alert for this disease wherever it breaks out, and we have seen it not only in the United States, but even in our beloved Israel.  Did you know that in Israel, the Orthodox Rabbinate has a vice-hold on those who can marry there?  Whom does this affect?  Only many of our young people, most of the Russian olim, and others whose mother or grandmother is not halachically Jewish.  Despite the fact that close to 80% of Israelis would prefer to have equality in marriage, the current state of affairs does not allow for marriage unless it is supervised and conducted by an Orthodox rabbi.

Why should this bother us?  Well, when it affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis and many of the very people that Birthright brings over, it is very much of concern to us.

As a greater worldwide Jewish community, we’ve had some success in fighting Domination Disease in Israel, with our response to and solidarity with the Women of the Wall in their efforts for equal opportunities to pray.  One of the organizations leading the push for policy change in Israeli marriage equality is Hiddush, headed by Rabbi Uri Regev.  I recently had an extensive conversation with him and have brought this issue to the attention of our local Board of Rabbis.  I want to share with you a statement that has been approved by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, the National Council of Jewish Women, the American Jewish Committee, and hopefully our own Board of Rabbis here in Southern Nevada:

Resolution on the Right to Marry in Israel

We love the State of Israel. We want it to succeed in every way possible. This includes, of course, its security and economic prosperity, but it also includes its ability to live up to its own stated values.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence ensures freedom of religion and conscience to all. This does and should affect many aspects of life in Israel, but the specific concern of this resolution is the right to marry.

The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews – 80% according to a recent poll — support freedom of choice in marriage. In this Israelis are in accord with the rest of the world’s democracies, all of which make marriage possible through the alternatives of civil or various religious options for marriage.

At the moment, though, in the State of Israel the only avenue for legal marriage is religious.  Civil marriage is not available to anyone, whether Jewish or non-Jewish. Furthermore, Jewish marriages are legally recognized in Israel only if the officiant is an Orthodox rabbi approved by the Chief Rabbinate and only if conducted by Orthodox interpretations of Jewish tradition.

As a result, hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens are denied the right of marriage solely for religious reasons – these include:

1)    Approximately 350,000 Israeli citizens (who gained citizenship under Law of Return) from the Former Soviet Union whose mother or grandmother is not halakhically Jewish;

2)    All Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews-by-Choice who are eligible to obtain Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return but are, nevertheless, not recognized as Jews by the Chief Rabbinate and, therefore, cannot marry;

3)    Any couple in which the bride is a divorcee and the groom’s name is derived from the traditional priestly caste (e. Cohen, Katz;, Kaplan, Azoulay, etc.);

4)    Individuals who have been declared mamzerim (illegitimate by a Religious court, such as children born from a second relationship after the first marriage was not terminated by a halachic get (writ of divorce);

As a consequence, every year, thousands of Israeli couples who wish to have the status of being legally married, choose to leave Israel to marry civilly.

Moreover, there is a dramatic rise in couples cohabiting without marriage, whether because the Rabbinate will not marry them or because the couples are unwilling to subject themselves to Orthodox, non-egalitarian strictures.

Finally, the failure of Israel to provide for civil marriage and to recognize Jewish marriages under the auspices of rabbis from the other streams of Judaism has alienated many Diaspora Jews to the State of Israel precisely at the time when all Jews everywhere must unite in supporting the State of Israel against efforts to undermine its existence militarily and economically and to question its character as a democratic state. 

Therefore, be it resolved that we, the Board of Rabbis of Southern Nevada, committed to the spirit of respect for democratic values and civil liberties articulated in Israel’s own Declaration of Independence and in many of its laws, urge the government of the State of Israel to take immediate measures to create a mechanism for civil marriage in Israel and to recognize Jewish marriages within Israel by rabbis of all steams of Judaism. These measures will not only deepen respect for Jewish religious diversity and enhance the principles of democracy in Israel; they will also strengthen the ties between Israel and world Jewry.

When Domination Disease is rampant, wherever it may hit, the cure comes not through riots, but through thoughtful, persistent, community insistence on bringing about change.

May this year bring us closer to the cure…

Shabbat Shalom

[1] Inspired by an e-mail from Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center and a conversation with Rabbi Uri Regev of Hiddush.

[2] Inspired by an e-mail from Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center and a conversation with Rabbi Uri Regev of Hiddush.