Arthur Waskow

Reference: Wikipedia
Image courtesy of jayin via Flickr

Image courtesy of jayin via Flickr

Arthur Ocean Waskow (born Arthur I. Waskow; 1933) is an American author, political activist, and rabbi associated with the Jewish Renewal" href="">Jewish Renewal movement.

Education and early career

Waskow was born in BaltimoreMaryland. 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 Barnetand Marcus Raskin and helped to found the Institute for Policy Studies in 1963, and he served as Resident Fellow until 1977.[1]

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 person 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” Haggadah was the first widely published Passover Haggadah that intertwined the archetypal liberation of the Israelite" href="">Israelites from slavery in Ancient Egypt with more modern liberation struggles such as the Civil Rights Movement and the women’s movement.[1]

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 segregationthe Vietnam War, the Soviet Union‘s oppression of JewsSouth African apartheid, and the Iraq war.[1] 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.[2]

Religious initiatives

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 Philadelphia 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.

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 UniversityDrew University, and Vassar College.[1]

In 1993, Waskow co-founded Jewish Renewal" href="">ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. Between 1993 and 2005, he performed research, wrote, and spoke on behalf of ALEPH.[1]

Waskow was ordained a rabbi in 1995 by a beth din (rabbinical court) made up of a rabbi with Hasidic lineage, a Conservative rabbi, a Reform rabbi, and a feminist theologian.[1]

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), and Godwrestling — Round 2: Ancient Wisdom, Future Paths (1996). 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 Millenia.”

Waskow wrote the monograph on “Environmental Ethics: Adam and Adamah” for the Oxford Handbook on Jewish Ethics.

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.

In 2007, Newsweek named him one of the fifty most influential American rabbis.[3] 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.

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 faulty of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion (the first course on Eco-Judaism in any rabbinical seminary).


  • 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).
  • 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 and Murshid Saadi Shakur Chisti (Neil Douglas-Klotz); Beacon 2006).
  • Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness across Millennia (co-author with Rabbi Phyllis Berman; Jewish Lights Publishing, 2011).