|Occupation||American author, political activist, and rabbi associated with the Jewish Renewal movement|
Education and early career
Waskow was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He received a bachelor's degree from The Johns Hopkins University in 1954 and a Ph.D. in American history from University of Wisconsin–Madison. He worked from 1959 to 1961 as legislative assistant to Congressman Robert Kastenmeier of Wisconsin. He was a Senior Fellow at the Peace Research Institute from 1961 through 1963. He joined Richard Barnet and Marcus Raskin and helped to found the Institute for Policy Studies in 1963, and he served as Resident Fellow until 1977.
In 1968 Waskow was elected an alternate delegate from the District of Columbia to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. His delegation was pledged to support Robert Kennedy, and after Kennedy's assassination, Waskow proposed and the delegation agreed to nominate Reverend Channing Phillips, chair of the delegation, for President, the first Black American so nominated at a major party convention.
Waskow was a contributing editor to the leftist Ramparts magazine, which published his "Freedom Seder" in 1969. The "Freedom Seder" was the first widely published Passover Haggadah that intertwined the archetypal liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Ancient Egypt with more modern liberation struggles such as the Civil Rights Movement and the women's movement.
Through the 1960s, Waskow was active in writing, speaking, electoral politics, and nonviolent action against the Vietnam War. Since 1963, he participated in sit-ins and teach-ins and was arrested many times for protests against racial segregation, the Vietnam War, the Soviet Union's oppression of Jews, South African apartheid, and the Iraq war. In 1967, he was the co-author, with Marcus Raskin, of "A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority," a widely influential manifesto in support of those who resisted the military draft to serve in the Vietnam War. In 1968, he signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
Since 1969, Waskow has taken a leadership role in the Jewish Renewal movement. In 1971, he helped found the Fabrangen Havurah in Washington, DC. The Torah discussions at Fabrangen inspired Waskow's book Godwrestling (NY: Schocken, 1978).
He founded The Shalom Center in 1983 and serves as its director. In its inception the Shalom Center primarily confronted the threat of nuclear war from a Jewish perspective, emphasizing the story of Noah and the imperative to save the world from "a flood of fire". As the Cold War abated, the Shalom Center turned its focus toward ecology and human rights issues, describing itself as a "A prophetic voice in Jewish, multireligious, and American life." From 2002 to 2008, it pursued shared action among Jews, Christians, and Muslims; opposition to attacks on American Muslim life and opposition to the US War in Iraq. From 2005 on, it has especially focused on the dangers of "global scorching" and the climate crisis.
From 1982 to 1989, Waskow was a member of the faculty of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, where he taught courses on contemporary theology and practical rabbinics. He has also taught in the religion departments of Swarthmore College, Temple University, Drew University, and Vassar College.
Waskow was ordained a rabbi in 1995 by a transdenominational beth din (rabbinical court) made up of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, with Lubavitch Hasidic lineage; Rabbi Max Ticktin, ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative); Rabbi Laura Geller, ordained by the Hebrew Union College (Reform); and Dr. Judith Plaskow, a leading feminist theologian.
Waskow's best-known books include Godwrestling (1978), Seasons of Our Joy (1982), Down-to-Earth Judaism: Food, Money, Sex, and the Rest of Life (1995), Down-to-Earth Judaism, and Godwrestling — Round 2: Ancient Wisdom, Future Paths (1996). With Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, and Murshid Saadi Shakur Chisti, he co-authored The Tent of Abraham (2006). With Rabbi Phyllis Berman he has co-authored "Tales of Tikkun: New Jewish Stories to Heal the Wounded World"; "A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven: The Jewish Life-Spiral as a Spiritual Journey"; and "Freedom Journeys: Tales of Exodus and Wilderness Across Millennia." He was the managing co-editor of Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B'Shvat Anthology, and he edited Torah of the Earth: 4,000 Years of Jewish Thought on Ecology(2 vols, Jewish Lights).
In 2010, Waskow joined in founding the Green Hevra, a network of Eco-Jewish organizations, and served on its stewardship committee till 2013. In 2012 he became a member of the steering committee of Interfaith Moral Action on Climate. He wrote the monograph on "Environmental Ethics: Adam and Adamah" for the Oxford Handbook on Jewish Ethics and Morality (Oxford University Press, 2013).
Views and public honors
Waskow has taken pioneering roles in supporting the full presence and equality of women and of GLBTQ people in all aspects of Jewish life and religion, including same-sex marriage; in mobilizing opposition in the Jewish and general communities to the Vietnam and then the Iraq wars; in urging a two-state peace settlement between Israel and Palestine; in treating the planetary climate and other environmental crises as a profound concern of Torah, necessitating action by the Jewish community; and in urging the Jewish community to treat the increasing concentration of top-down power by small minorities of the ultra-rich and by giant corporations as the reappearance of "pharaoh" in modern American life. In 2011, he (with Daniel Sieradski) co-inspired the creation of "Kol Nidre in the Streets" as a part of "Occupy Wall Street." Since spring 2012 he has been a member of the Coordinating Committee of the US National Council of Elders, a network of veteran activists of the crucial justice and peace movements of the mid-20th century who are continuing their nonviolent social action and are partnering with the new movements of the 21st century, such as the Occupy movement.
Waskow pioneered in the development of Eco-Judaism in theology, liturgy, daily practice, and activism—through his books Seasons of Our Joy; Godwrestling – Round 2; Down-to-Earth Judaism; Trees, Earth, & Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology; and Torah of the Earth: 4,000 Years of Ecology in Jewish Thought; as author of a pioneering essay on “Jewish Environmental Ethics: Adam and Adamah,” in Oxford Handbook of Jewish Ethics and Morality (Elliot N. Dorff and Jonathan K. Crane, eds.; Oxford University Press, 2013); through the Green Menorah organizing project of The Shalom Center; through the Interfaith Freedom Seder for the Earth and a number of climate-focused public actions drawing on traditional liturgies for Tu B’Shvat, Passover, Tisha B’Av, Sukkot, and Hanukkah; as a candidate for the World Zionist Congress on the Green Zionist Alliance slate; as a founding member (2010-2013) of the stewardship committee of the Green Hevra (a network of Jewish environmental organizations); as a member of the coordinating committee of Interfaith Moral Action on Climate; and as a practitioner of nonviolent civil disobedience who has been arrested in climate protests in the US Capitol, at the White House, and at Philadelphia conclaves of fracking corporate leaders.
In 2007, Newsweek named him one of the fifty most influential American rabbis. In that year also, the Neighborhood Interfaith Movement of Philadelphia presented him its Rev. Richard Fernandez Religious Leadership Award, and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation presented him its Peace and Justice Award. The Forward named him one of America's "Forward Fifty," creative leaders of American Jewish life. In 2014 he was honored by T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award as a Human Rights Hero. In 2015, The Jewish Daily Forward named him one of "America's most inspiring rabbis".
Waskow has taught as a Visiting Professor in the religion departments of Swarthmore College (1982–83, on the thought of Martin Buber and on the Book of Genesis and its rabbinic and modern interpretations); Temple University (1975–76 on contemporary Jewish theology and 1985–86, on liberation theologies in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam); Drew University (1997–1998, on the ecological outlooks of ancient, rabbinic, and contemporary Judaism and on the synthesis of mysticism, feminism, and social action in the theology and practice of Jewish renewal); Vassar College (1999 on Jewish Renewal and Feminist Judaism); from 1982 to 1989 on the faculty of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (contemporary theology and practical rabbinics); and in 2005 on the faculty of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion (the first course on Eco-Judaism in any rabbinical seminary). Beginning with his first arrest in 1963, in a walk-in to end racial segregation by a Baltimore amusement park, and continuing till (t least) an arrest at the US Capitol in 2016 in a protest calling for far more democratic election processes in the US -- getting Hyper-Wealth out of election campaigns and ending voter suppression aimed at disfranchising especially racial and ethnic minorities, the poor, the young, and the old -- he has been arrested about 24 times. Each carried out a protest against racism, militarism, scorching or poisoning the Earth, or shattering democratic process. He claims each as a public honor and religious act, in the spirit of the remark by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel after the Selma March for voting rights: "I felt as if my legs were praying."
- The Limits of Defense (Doubleday, 1962).
- The Worried Man's Guide to World Peace: A Peace Research Institute Handbook (Doubleday Anchor, 1963).
- America in Hiding: The Fallout Shelter Mania (with Stanley Newman, Ballantine, 1963)
- The Debate Over Thermonuclear Strategy (D.C. Heath and Company, 1966).
- From Race Riot to Sit-in, 1919 and the 1960s: A Study in the Connections Between Conflict and Violence (Doubleday, 1966; Doubleday Anchor, 1967).
- The Freedom Seder: A New Haggadah for Passover (Micah Press, 1969; Holt-Rinehart-Winston and Micah Press, 2d edition, 1970).
- Running Riot: A Journey Through Official Disasters and Creative Disorders in American Society (Herder and Herder, 1970).
- The Bush Is Burning (Macmillan, 1971).
- Godwrestling (Schocken, 1978).
- Seasons of Our Joy (Bantam, 1982; 2d ed., Summit, 1985, Beacon, 1990; 3d ed., Beacon, 1991; 4th ed with major new section on changes in festival observance in the last thirty years, Jewish Publ Soc, 2013.
- These Holy Sparks: The Rebirth of the Jewish People (Harper and Row, 1983).
- Before There Was A Before (with David Waskow, and Shoshana Waskow, Adama Books, 1984).
- "Preface" and "The Rainbow Seder," in The Shalom Seders, gathered by New Jewish Agenda (Adama Books, 1984).
- Becoming Brothers (with Howard Waskow; Free Press, 1993).
- Down-to-Earth Judaism: Food, Money, Sex, and the Rest of Life (William Morrow, 1995).
- Godwrestling Round 2 : Ancient Wisdom, Future Paths (Jewish Lights, 1996)
- Tales of Tikkun: New Jewish Stories to Heal the Wounded World (co-author . with Rabbi Phyllis Berman; Jason Aronson, 1996)
- Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B'Shvat Anthology (Jewish Publication Society, 1999).
- Torah of the Earth: Exploring 4,000 Years of Ecology in Jewish Thought (Jewish Lights, 2000).
- A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven: The Jewish Life-Spiral as a Spiritual Journey (co-author with Rabbi Phyllis Berman; Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2002).
- The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, & Muslims (with Sister Joan Chittister OSB; Murshid Saadi Shakur Chisti (Neil Douglas-Klotz); and Rabbi Phyllis Berman; Beacon 2006).
- Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness across Millennia (co-author with Rabbi Phyllis Berman; Jewish Lights Publishing, 2011).
- “Jewish Environmental Ethics: Adam and Adamah,” in Oxford Handbook of Jewish Ethics and Morality (Dorff & Crane, eds.; Oxford Univ. Press, 2013).
The Rest of Creation, illustrated by Avi Katz (Albion/Andalus, 2016). The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives Who Gave Birth to Freedom (co-o with Phyllis O. Berman, illustrated by Avi Katz; Albion/ Andalus, 2016).
- Green Menorah Covenant Coalition: Personal, Congregational, and Public-Policy Changes to Avert Global Scorching, Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE), 2001
- A Paradoxical Legacy: Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's shadow side, with Sarah Bluestain, Lilith Magazine, March 31, 1998.
- What is the Sacred Text for Yom Hashoah? Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility, Vol.24/no.472 1994.
- Transarmament: A Jewish Nuclear Strategy, Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility, Vol.15/no.297 1985.
- Arthur Waskow: Full Biography and Selected Bibliography
- "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" January 30, 1968 New York Post
- Kessler, E.J. (Nov 25, 2005). "Zionist Election Has High Stakes, Strange Pairings". The Forward.
- Mobius (Jan 14, 2006). "Elect Your Reps for the 35th World Zionist Congress". JewSchool.
- The Top 50 Rabbis in America, Newsweek, April 2, 2007.
- "T'ruah's Annual Gala". Retrieved 2016-09-10.
- Cohen, Anne; Efrem, Maia (March 24, 2015). "America's Most Inspiring Rabbis: 33 Men and Women Who Move Us". The Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved March 31, 2015.