Va-era, Exodus 6:2-9:35
Jewish Liberation Theology
and the Presidential campaign

5 January 2008

The political season (as of 5 January 2008) is in full swing. Iowa had its caucuses Thursday. New Hampshire will have its primary on Tuesday. In 48 hours, Philadelphia will have a new mayor.

Today’s portion gives guidance on one approach to politics..

As a preface, about 24 years ago, I worked for Hank Salvatore, a state representative from Northeast Philadelphia. Hank was a master politician, interested in power more than ideology, preferring deals to fighting. I was the firebrand on his staff. In the midst of a partisan battle, Hank took me aside and explained, “Don’t make enemies of your adversaries. You may need them some day.”

In the course of my work as a legislative aide, I meet activists pushing policies and ideas, many of which I do not agree. I have learned to take Hank’s lesson, one step further.

1. Talk with people with whom you disagree.
2. They are probably nice people.
3. They can be a source of information.
4. They can offer good analyses.
5. Some of their ideas can be shaped into good policy and legislation.

Accordingly, I will discuss a view to which I do not subscribe, but find interesting and useful.

In today’s portion, God through Moses gives a call to the Children of Israel:

“I will take you out from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage.
I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments, and I will take you to be my people and I will be your God.”

(Exodus 6:5-7).

Rabbi Toba Spitzer, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and a congregational rabbi from Massachusetts, sees this call as Jewish Liberation Theology. I will discuss her article posted in

As I understand it, Liberation Theology arose in the 1960s and 1970s in Latin America. It argues that Catholic social teachings should be the basis to support radical and revolutionary social and political movements. Liberation theologists have gotten into trouble with the Vatican.

The actor and activist Ed Asner, explains
Jewish Liberation Theology as (1) engaging our spirituality to liberate people worldwide and (2) identifying a new privileged class------children, the sick, the hungry, the oppressed, the starving and the imprisoned. According to Asner, Jewish Liberation Theology flows from Hillel’s second question, “If I am only for myself, what am I?

Rabbi Spitzer says that God outlines for Moses four stages of liberation:

1. To be “
taken out” ------- being removed or removing oneself from physical oppression.

2. To be “
delivered” ------- dealing with internalized oppression.

3. However, liberation must go beyond the individual. Even if one achieves freedom for oneself, oppression remains for others. “
Redemption” means working with others to root out the causes of oppression, enslavement and degradation.

4. The Israelites were freed FROM slavery. They were also freed FOR the holy work of serving God. “
And I will take you to be My people” calls for personal and communal freedom. Serving God means working for the physical well being and spiritual fulfillment of every human being.

Rabbi Spitzer links the freeing of humanity with Godliness. She concludes, “
Through the unfolding experience of liberation, the Israelites will come to truly know God, will have a new awareness of and connection to the Source of Life. God becomes known in that place where all of us can be free.”

How can Jewish Liberation Theology relate to presidential politics?

In my view, it boils down to a question of vision.

In evaluating candidates, go beyond the rhetoric, the pandering and the specifics of legislation. Every candidate will have a tax plan and every candidate will have a health care plan.

Jewish Liberation Theology relates to vision.

Woodrow Wilson was about setting up a new order in international relations. Franklin Roosevelt was about changing class relationships and preventing upheaval. Ronald Reagan was about restoring a conservative balance to society.

Jewish Liberation Theology challenges the presidential candidates to address oppression and injustice.