Commentary Magazine


“Occupy Shabbat” Offensive to Tradition

Occupy Wall Street’s observance of the Jewish festivals last month got quite some publicity – there were ‘Occupy Yom Kippur’ services, a Sukkah (tabernacle) for ‘Occupy Sukkot’, and ‘Occupy Simchat Torah’ celebrations (Rejoicing of the Law).

But these festivals, as with ‘Occupy Shabbat’ this week, were not routinely observed because they happened to coincide with the protests, but rather were misappropriated for political ends.

On Yom Kippur, they asked, “But is fasting and beating our chests really the best we can do to redeem ourselves?” and answered that really we should undertake our fast “by joining the demonstrators in Zuccotti Park, and holding our Yom Kippur services there amongst the oppressed, hungry, poor and naked.”

They understood Sukkot as representing “shelter in a time of crisis, the halfway point between slavery and liberation,” with the sukkah serving “not only…as a metaphor for the shelter of the Israelites. It will be a space to challenge economic injustice, racism, oppression, displacement, and exploitation that so many in our country and world face.”

And similarly for Simchat Torah.

And similarly for Shabbat this week, which will function as a “weekend of nationwide solidarity, learning and reflection around food justice. The learning and exploring of Global Hunger Shabbat is designed as a springboard into meaningful action over the following weeks and months, as we mobilize the American Jewish community in the fight for food justice. The issue of food justice is deeply entwined with the issue of economic justice being pursued by the protesters at Occupy Wall Street and at occupations around the nation and the world.”

I have written elsewhere about the misappropriation of the Jewish tradition for political ends, particularly when tikkun olam is involved. Sometimes the politics are worthy, but should not come at the expense of the integrity of the Jewish tradition. More often though, the politics are nefarious, even contrary to the dictates of Jewish law, and, in their disingenuous distortion, offensive to the tradition. Sadly, “Occupy Judaism” seems to instantiate the latter.


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