Thursday, September 18, 2008


The first ever Jewish Social Justice Program has been developed not at a Jewish school, but at Jesuit run University of San Francisco. It replaces a program in Jewish studies that had been focused on religion according to an article at Jewish in St. Louis:

Erin-Kate Escobar, a political science major at the University of San Francisco, had never been interested in her school’s Judaic studies program.

“It was Judaism as religion,” she says.

But when classes resumed last month the old program, with its theological and historical emphasis, had morphed into The Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice, a reconfigured minor aimed at teaching students what it means to be a Jewish social justice activist.

The program offers classes in Judaism, Jewish culture and thought, Jewish-Muslim and Jewish-Christian relations, and Hebrew and Arabic, as well as two core courses dealing with Jewish ideas about social justice.

Escobar signed right up.

“When I think of Judaism, I think of social justice and tikkun olam,” says the 21-year-old senior, who was raised Jewish in Santa Cruz, Calif. “This is something I’m willing to put my name to.”

Jewish social justice has been a growth industry for at least a decade. The field is bursting with new organizations, from the Progressive Jewish Alliance in Los Angeles to Jewish Community Action in St. Paul, and established groups such as the American Jewish World Service that are directing more of their energies to hands-on social justice work.

Continue reading...

Tikkun olam, of course, is repairing the world and rescuing the scattered sparks of God, a concept associated with the Lurianic Kabbalah.

According to the article:

Two of the four students who have enrolled for the new minor are Catholic...

One has to wonder about a Catholic student at a Catholic college enrolling in a Jewish Social Justice program, especially given that Jewish Social Justice includes the right to an abortion. That point of view is described in a review of the book RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION: A JEWISH CALL FOR JUSTICE, by Rabbi Or N. Rose, Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, and Margie Klein, editors, where the Jewish position on abortion is spelled out:

The book also gives Jews some ammunition against anti-choicers who use religion and morality to shut down arguments about abortion and stem cell research. Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff points out that “[d]uring the first forty days of gestation, the fetus, according to the Talmud, is ‘as if it were simply water,’ and from the forty-first day until birth it is ‘like the thigh of its mother.’” This means that, from a Jewish point of view, an embryo is not a human being; furthermore, even when the pregnancy is advanced, the fetus is still part of its mother’s body.

However, Dorff explains that late-term abortions are “generally prohibited” because the mother would be doing harm to her own body (just as if she tried to cut off a thigh). But if the thigh needs to be cut off - just as late-term abortions are virtually always necessary procedures, not flighty changes of mind - then she’s obligated to do what it takes to protect her health and wellbeing. (This may seem like a loophole, given the “generally prohibited” clause, but I think we can read it as an assertion that the woman is the best judge of what she and her body need.) Similarly, if embryonic stem cell research will save lives, then we’re obligated - indeed, commanded - to do whatever it takes to save those lives.

How are the Jesuits at USF handling this disconnect? Is it a slick way to introduce these forbidden topics to young Catholics? Given that the current enrollment in the program is half Jewish and half Catholic, I tend to think the answer is yes.

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