Activists Push for New Religious Politics

By Jennifer Siegel

Published January 09, 2008, issue of January 11, 2008.
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A coalition of Jewish activists is working to inject the presidential race with “values voters” — from the left.

Dubbed the “Righteous Indignation Project,” the newly launched campaign has Jewish social justice groups in 10 cities trying to mobilize liberal Jews to participate in broader voter education and registration drives in 2008. Organizers say they’re aiming not only to jumpstart Jewish electoral activism but also to encourage Jewish and secular liberal groups to get more comfortable with speaking the language of morality and values.

“People are hungry for meaning, which has greatly contributed to the success of the religious right and the Republican Party,” said Rabbi Or Rose, who is associate dean of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in Boston and a leader of the project. “Well, we have values that are spiritual and ethical, but we’ve failed at communicating those values to people both within our ranks and beyond who are searching for meaning.”

Rose’s initiative includes a newly released anthology of essays, titled “Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice,” as well as an upcoming conference for Jewish activists, slated for Boston in May.

The project comes at a new cultural and political moment, when both liberal activists and Democratic politicians are increasingly embracing the language of faith.

But, some observers note, the project’s greatest challenge may be the long-standing habits of progressive Jewish activists, some of whom are motivated personally by notions of tikkun olam but still experience talking about faith and politics as a taboo.

“The core belief of American Jewry is that there should be a high and strong wall of separation between church and state,” said Alan Mittleman, director of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies and professor of Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary. “And while I think that is, strictly speaking, a legal principle, American Jews have made it a kind of a pillar of their political philosophy.”

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