Rabbi Cat’s musings on Parsha Tazria

As a young orthodox woman, Jewish theologian and scholar Rachel Adler wrote an essay justifying the laws of impurity through a feminist lens of purity. Twenty years later, in Tikkun magazine, she bravely recanted her essay. But she did more than recant it, she wrote: 

Confronting my essay, I have had to ask myself what is the responsibility of a theologian who no longer believes what she taught to others as Torah? Merely to recant is insufficient, because theologians are not just theorists. They exemplify ways to live out Jewish commitments with integrity. What I owe those who read and were persuaded by theology is not merely to outline abstractly my revised conclusions but to tell a richly detailed story about a particular process of rupture and transformation in a specific time and place.”

This article, from the first time I read it to the present, resonates profoundly for me. Why? Because Rachel Adler did something that is so rarely done in our society and world. She reflected upon her thoughts and beliefs and not merely changed them, but publicly articulated both her changes and how she arrived at them.

As I think about what is happening today in Israel and Palestine, I think about the challenges we all face when we are confronted with stories different from those with which we were raised and that held a lot of meaning for us. I worry that we turn away because otherwise we just may collapse in sorrow and hopelessness. 

I grew up in a Zionist, secular home, surrounded by loving parents who taught me stories about Jews, “Arabs,”, Israel, Palestine, and the United States. They shared their perspectives and as most young children, I took them at face value and believed them to be the “truth.” Why would I think otherwise? 

In college and beyond, I was exposed to stories about the United States that did not comport with what I was told growing up. I learned about the government’s role in the Vietnam War, deepened my understanding of the history of racism in our country, and the genocide of Native American people. Dismantling and reevaluating what I had been taught regarding the United States was not particularly challenging for me. However, when I started to learn more about the history of Israel and Palestine, it shook my world.

I began to connect with Palestinians and hear their stories about the Nakba. I learned that in fact, Palestine was a land, culture, and community rich with people of diverse religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. It was in fact, not a land without a people. While Jews needed a safe place to go after the Holocaust, why was it Palestine? Why couldn’t they go back to their home countries? What about other countries welcoming them? 

Unlearning and relearning this history has been a life-long journey for me that continues to this day. As rabbi of Beyt Tikkun, I am committed to encouraging our community to embark on this journey. Why? Because as Rachel Adler articulated so beautifully, Rabbis, like theologians, “exemplify ways to live out Jewish commitments with integrity.” I do not know how to live out my Jewish commitments with integrity without questioning the fundamental teachings and beliefs about who we are as a people and what we stand for. This journey is not easy, I know because I embarked on it and continue to do so. It may well shatter your beliefs and shake you to your core. I make this promise, I and the Beyt Tikkun community are here for and with you. We will hold each other on this journey with deep compassion and care. We will both, as Abraham Joshua Heschel articulates, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” 

We began this journey with an initial discussion on questions about Zionism. We will return to that discussion and more. I will be speaking with Shaul Magid, a brilliant Jewish scholar, about his new book The Necessity of Exile. His book raises important questions that we will explore together. We will also begin a book group discussion. Our first book is going to be The Hundred Years War Against Palestine, by Rashid Khalidi. We will post information about these events so you can join us. 

As we approach Passover, a time for liberation and transformation, I want to bless us that we can, individually and collectively, open and eyes and hearts and hold ourselves tenderly so we can liberate ourselves from our historical traumas and misperceptions and thus openly and joyfully engage in liberation struggles of all peoples––because none of us are free till all of us are free.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Cat Zavis


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