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January 30, 2015 / 10 Shevat, 5775
 
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Title: Principles Of Spiritual Activism

Title: Principles Of Spiritual Activism
Author: Rabbi Avi Weiss
Publisher: Ktav Publishing, Hoboken, N.J.

 

Rabbi Avi Weiss has become legendary for his heroic activism on behalf of Jewish causes where others are content with private lamenting. This 200-page collection of essays dating back more than a decade demonstrate the concise thinking behind Rabbi Weiss’ public extravagances and persona.

In seven sections, Rabbi Weiss explains the nature and purpose of his Jewish activism. In doing so, he has produced a book that is both a textbook for Jewish activism as well as an exposition of some of his many exploits.

Weiss bemoans the fact that American Jewry proceeded too cautiously during World War II to save European Jewry during the Shoah. He feels that too often, we become our own victims. He recalls the famous joke wherein two concentration camp prisoners who are about to be shot by a firing squad are asked for a last request. When one of them starts yelling in protest, the other quietly admonishes him: “Shah, don’t cause trouble!”

Rabbi Weiss warns that while we cannot always immediately accomplish our objectives, a bit of “noise” will help alert our fellow Jews to imminent danger.

As he expresses in one of the essays, “Principle Eight,” very few congregational rabbis have been involved in activist causes. Most synagogues expect their rabbis to dwell only in the “spiritual realm,” and to leave activism to lay persons. He, on the other hand, feels that activism should be an integral part of the rabbinate, as when Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched for civil rights in Selma, Alabama, together with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Not everyone is blessed with a personality that can absorb abuse and invective, both from the targets of their activism and often from members of the Jewish community who disagree with activist behavior. Whether he is pursuing Nazis or advancing political causes, Rabbi Weiss acts as a conscience for those of us who are less public in our behavior. And indeed, history has proven the necessity of going public when shining a light of exposure can help defuse danger and ameliorate injustice to the Jewish community.

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