Learn how the Momentum Campaign is reconstructing Judaism → 

K’doshim and our Ethical Commitments

Every week, Rabbi Alex Weissman, director of Mekhinah, and cultural and spiritual life at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, emails members of the college community with words of Torah. Here’s his email from May 10, 2024.

Dearest Possums,

The end of the semester is nigh! Just a couple days left of class before heading into our summer “diaspora,” for CPE, for camp, for travel, for rest, and (let’s be honest), those incompletes. And while our community will be more dispersed than usual, I know our hearts will continue to be heavy with the weight of the hostages and the continued military violence against Gaza. 

This has been a particularly trying time to hold both a universalist, ethical commitment to justice as well as a particularist, ethical commitment to the Jewish people. In so much of contemporary, American discourse and activism, many people are choosing one or the other. I wonder instead about holding these two poles in productive tension, that recognize that both matter, and that we can dream of peace and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis. 

This tension is present in this week’s parasha, K’doshim, in some of its most famous p’sukim. Lev. 19:17-18 reads,

You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart, and you shall carry no sin on their account. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against members of your people. Love your fellow as yourself--I am HaShem.

 Commentators have spilled much inky wisdom on these p’sukim over thousands of years, and while worth spending time with, I think the best commentary I can offer in this moment takes narrative form. 

A friend and colleague shared with me about a recent trip to Israel. In her time in Jerusalem, she attended a large vigil and protest demanding the release of the hostages being held by Hamas. As it ended, the gathering split into two groups. About half went on with their evening and did whatever they did next. The other half went a few blocks away and started a pro-democracy, anti-Netanyahu, and anti-war action.

I found this model so heart-opening and hopeful–to be able to come together for what we can agree on, and to peacefully part ways for where we diverge. This model takes K’doshim seriously, to love and to rebuke, to not seek vengeance, but not to let off the hook either. If Israelis, including family members of those being held hostage, can hold this level of complexity in relationship and action, what is holding us back? 

With Yom Ha’Atzmaut around the corner, I wonder if we can approach the day with this dialectic of ethical commitments. To hold particularism without chauvinism, and universalism without self-effacement. What this practically looks like for us, I admit I’m not entirely sure. And, I would love to dream with you about the possibility. My door is open. 

Shabbat Shalom,

The Reconstructionist Network

Serving as central organization of the Reconstructionist movement

Training the next generation of groundbreaking rabbis

Modeling respectful conversations on pressing Jewish issues

Curating original, Jewish rituals, and convening Jewish creatives

The Reconstructionist Network