ROR Shabbat Shuvah Study_DRAFT_36
Stories that Turn Us Around In Our Tracks
A Shabbat Shuvah Study Seeking Racial Justice
On Shabbat Shuvah we sit with our hearts open to a New Year and our conscience aware of our
vulnerabilities from the year that passed. 5775 was a year that shined the light on racial injustices in
America. We pray that Shabbat Shuvah empowers our communities to help make 5776 a year of increased
compassion, increased awareness and increased justice.
Bryan Stevenson, Founder and Director Equal Justice Initiative, addressed the Reform Movement at the
Consultation on Conscience in March 2015. His words inspired this study. We have adapted four steps
toward seeking racial justice as our guide. See the full speech at this link: https://youtu.be/y5xF7A0ibxM?t=49m A Note to facilitators who will be using this text study . . .
This study was inspired, in large part, by Bryan Stevenson’s talk at the
Consultation on Conscience last spring. There, he gave his prescription
for addressing racial injustice: Get Proximate, Change the Narrative,
Protect Hopefulness, and Choose to Do Uncomfortable Things. To see
the talk, go to the URL provided above or on the first page of the study.
For purposes of this text study, we have changed the order and language
of his prescription a bit to: Hearing the Stories that Change Us, Getting
Proximate, Choosing to do Uncomfortable Things, and Protecting
If you will be teaching this in a group of more than ten folks, some of the
questions can be asked and answered in chevrutah. In settings such as
this, we suggest looking at the Jewish texts in a large group to gain an
understanding of the frame and substance of each text. Many of the more
personal questions are good to discuss in chevrutah and then you can
bring the group back together to discuss some of the major themes/
experiences that were discussed in smaller groups.
Rabbis Josh Brown, Shoshanah Conover and Jessica Oleon Kirschner
Stories That Turn Us Around In Our Tracks
A Shabbat Shuvah Study Seeking Racial Justice
On Shabbat Shuvah we sit with our heart open to a New Year and our conscience aware of our vulnerabilities from the year
that passed. 5775 was a year that shined the light on racial injustices in America. We pray that Shabbat Shuvah empowers
our communities to help make 5776 a year of increased compassion, increased awareness and increased justice.
Bryan Stevenson, Founder and Director Equal Justice Initiative, addressed the Reform Movement at the Consultation on
Conscience in March 2015. His words inspired this study. We have adapted his four steps toward seeking racial justice as
our guide. See the full speech at this link: https://youtu.be/y5xF7A0ibxM?t=49m Step 1: WE MUST HEAR THE STORIES THAT CHANGE US
We are not going to make progress until we start talking about the things that are the elements of the
problem. I think we actually have to talk about slavery. We have never really talked about slavery in
America. . . . We haven’t talked about lynching in America. Lynching was profound, it was terrorism.
Older people of color come up to me sometimes and say . . . .“We grew up with terrorism. We had
to worry about being bombed and lynched and menaced our whole lives. It shaped the way we
As Jews, we have a long tradition of retelling our stories without glossing over the painful ones. To what
degree is this also an American value? Given the racial environment in our country during our year of 5775,
what stories need to be told today in order to effect change?
HAFTARAH SHABBAT SHUVAH - Hosea Asks For Change - Hosea 14:2-10
: י ְהוָה אֱֹלהֶיָך, עַד, יִשׂ ְָראֵל, ב שׁוּבָה2 Return, O Israel, to ADONAI your God; for you have stumbled
ַבּ ֲעוֹנֶָך, ָשׁלְתּ
ַ כִּי ָכ. in your iniquity.
וְשׁוּבוּ, ג קְחוּ ִע ָמּכֶם דְּ ב ִָרים3 Take with you words, and return to ADONAI; say: 'Forgive all
תִּ שָּׂא ָעוֹן- כָּל,י ְהוָה; ִאמְרוּ ֵאלָיו- אֶלiniquity, and accept that which is good. Instead of bulls we will
ְ ,שׁ ְלּמָה פ ִָרים
ַ ְ וּנ,טוֹב- ְוקַח. pay the offering of our lips.
סוּס ֹלא- עַל,ד ַאשּׁוּר ֹלא יוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ
,נ ֹאמַר עוֹד אֱֹלהֵינוּ- וְֹלא, נ ְִרכָּב4 Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; no
longer will we call the work of our hands our gods; for in You
י ְֻרחַם,בְָּך- ֲאשֶׁר--ְל ַמ ֲעשֵׂה י ָדֵ ינוּ
the orphan finds mercy.'
: נְדָ בָה,א ֹ ֲהבֵם-- מְשׁוּבָתָ ם, ה א ְֶרפָּא5 I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for I have
ִממֶּנּוּ,כִּי שָׁב ַאפִּי. turned My anger away.
יִפ ְַרח, ו ֶא ְהי ֶה ַכטַּל ְליִשׂ ְָראֵל6 I will be as the dew to Israel who shall blossom as the lily, and
ַכּ ְלּבָנוֹן,שׁנָּה; ְוי ְַך שׁ ָָרשָׁיו
ַ ַכּשּׁוֹ. cast forth its roots as Lebanon.
; הוֹדוֹ, וִיהִי ַכזַּי ִת, יֹנְקוֹתָ יו, ז יֵלְכוּ7 Its branches shall spread, and its beauty shall be as the olive ַכּ ְלּבָנוֹן,ו ְֵרי ַח לוֹ. tree, and its fragrance as Lebanon.
8 They that dwell under its shadow shall again make corn to
יְחַיּוּ דָ גָן,שׁבֵי ְבצִלּוֹ
ְ ֹ ח יָשֻׁבוּ י
grow, and shall blossom as the vine; its scent shall be as the
ְכּי ֵין ְלבָנוֹן, ְויִפ ְְרחוּ ַכ ָגּפֶן; זִכְרוֹ. wine of Lebanon.
לִּי עוֹד ָל ֲע ַצבִּים; ֲאנִי- מַה, ט ֶאפ ְַרי ִם9 Ephraim [shall say]: 'What have I to do any more with idols?'
-- ֲאנִי ִכּבְרוֹשׁ ַר ֲענָן,ֲשׁוּרנּוּ
ֶ ָענִיתִ י ַואAs for Me, I respond and look on him; I am like a leafy cypress פּ ְֶרי ְָך נִ ְמצָא, ִמ ֶמּנִּי. tree; from Me is your fruit found.
: נָבוֹן ְוי ֵדָ עֵם,י מִי ָחכָם ְויָבֵן ֵאלֶּה
ְוצַדִּ קִים יֵלְכוּ,יְשׁ ִָרים דַּ ְרכֵי י ְהוָה-כִּי
}ש. י ִ ָכּשְׁלוּ בָם,שׁעִים
ְ ֹ וּפ,}בָם
10 Whomever is wise will come to understand these things,
whomever is prudent will come to know them. For the ways of
ADONAI are right, and the just do walk in them; but
transgressors do stumble in them.
What do you notice about the imagery and tone of the Hosea text? What does Hosea believe
will convince the people that they should stop “stumbling in their iniquity” and “return to God”? Thinking again about this past year in our country, what were the moments that caused you to
stop in your tracks and turn toward racial justice? Were you motivated by the stories that
highlighted the problem or by the ones that presented a hopeful vision for the solution?
תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא בתרא דף ז עמוד בBaba Batra 7b
כופין אותו לבנות לעיר חומה ודלתים. לא כל החצרות ראויות לבית שער: כופין אותו לבנות בית שער ודלת לחצר; רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר.'מתני
הרי הוא כאנשי העיר מיד- קנה בה בית דירה. כמה יהא בעיר ויהא כאנשי העיר? י"ב חדש. לא כל העיירות ראויות לחומה:ובריח; רשב"ג אומר
והא ההוא חסידא דהוה רגיל אליהו דהוה משתעי, דבית שער מעליותא היא, למימרא.'גמ
ואי בעית. הא מבראי, הא מגואי: עבד בית שער ותו לא משתעי בהדיה! לא קשיא,בהדיה
הא והא: אבע"א. הא דלית ליה דלת, הא דאית ליה דלת: ולא קשיא, הא והא מבראי:אימא
הא: אי בעית אימא. הא דלית ליה פותחת, הא דאית ליה פותחת: ולא קשיא,דאית ליה דלת
הא דפותחת דידיה מבראי, הא דפותחת דידיה מגואי: ולא קשיא,והא דאית ליה פותחת
לא משתעי בהדיה
HE DID NOT CONVERSE WITH HIM ANYMORE
because it stopped the cries of the poor
and their voices could not be heard.
MISHNAH: He (a resident of a courtyard) may be compelled to contribute to the building of a gate house and a
door for the courtyard. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, however, says that not all courtyards require a gate house.
He (a resident of a city) may be compelled to contribute to the building of a wall, folding doors and a cross bar.
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says that not all towns require a wall. How long must a person reside in a town to be
counted as one of its residents? Twelve months. If, however, he buys a house there, he is at once considered as
one of the residents.
GEMARA: to the building of a gate house... This would seem to show that a gate house is an improvement. Yet
how can this be, seeing that there was a certain pious man with whom Elijah used to converse until he made a
gate house, after which he did not converse with him anymore? There is no contradiction. In the one case we
suppose the gate to be inside (the courtyard), in the other outside. Or if you like I can say that in both cases we
suppose the lodge to be outside, and still there is no difficulty, because in the one case there is a door and in the
other there is no door. Or again we may suppose that in both cases there is a door, and still there is no difficulty,
because in the one case there is a latch and the other there is no latch. Or again I may say that in both cases
there is a latch and still there is no difficulty, because in the one case the latch is inside and in the other outside.
Step 2: Getting Proximate
Proximity is important because without getting closer to the problem we are going to make the wrong
judgments about what that problem truly is. We are going to make the wrong judgments about what
the solutions are. You can’t make good policies; you can’t make good decisions from a distance. You’ve got to get proximate.
Stevenson believes that proximity directly effects judgment, “without getting closer, we make
the wrong judgments”. Both the Gemara and Rashi invoke the Prophet Elijah in their concern
that we too easily distance ourselves from the conversations we should be having. Rashi
specifically believes that distance prevents us from hearing the “cries of the poor”. Why does
proximity seem to be so important to how we may judge and treat others?
Why do you think the sages are wondering whether they have responsibility to build a gate?
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel pushes against the majority impulse. What point is he making? Where do you see the spirit of his challenge alive in our world? In your life?
Step 3: Choosing to do Uncomfortable Things
We will not create justice; we will not achieve the equality and fairness that we seek if we only do the
things that are comfortable and convenient. . . . It’s hard. The people who went to the South during
civil rights did uncomfortable things. The people working for peace in the Middle East are doing
uncomfortable things. It is the nature of what we must do. . . . When you do uncomfortable things you
will get broken, but I am here to tell you that it is in brokenness that we find the expression of our faith
in our lives. It is through our brokenness that we understand our humanity.
Rashi, the rabbis and Stevenson agree that doing the uncomfortable thing is an important choice
to make. What’s one uncomfortable step you have or would take to increase racial equality in
Step 4: Protecting Hopefulness
When you hear people saying “these people can never be ‘that’ and those people can never be ‘that’,
‘that can never be’ and ‘that can never be’ . . . .we need a community of hopeful people to say ‘it can
be if we choose it to be’. Bryan Stevenson
On this Shabbat Shuvah with Jews all around the world hearing the hopeful voice of Hosea
imagining what a divinely healthy society could look and feel like, what would our ideal society
today look like? Where do you feel hopefulness around racial justice? What could you or your
community do to create space for hope?