Rabbi Sid Schwarz, Judaism and Justice: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World (Jewish Lights, 2006) pp. 258-260.
The Purpose of Religion Life is a journey through a wilderness filled with much pain and suffering, injustice, and inequality. Religion has the power to move us toward the messianic future. It is no coincidence that many of the most important movements for justice in the world have rallied around religious personalities whose leadership was deeply rooted in their respective faith traditions. Mahatma Ghandi used Hindu teachings to rally Indians against an unjust British occupation of their land. Dietrich Boenhoeffer used Protestant theology to articulate Christian opposition to Adolf Hitler. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a minister who used his pulpit to stir the conscience of America against the evils of racism. Desmond Tutu invoked Christian teachings about forgiveness and reconciliation to keep South Africa from plunging into a cycle of violent revenge after it succeeded in ridding itself of the white minority apartheid government. Elie Wiesel went from being a chronicler of the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust to an international voice of conscience in the world, speaking on behalf of people experiencing oppression in every corner of the globe. These are examples of people whose lives bear witness to the incredible power of faith to stand up to evil and oppression and to rally people of conscience to a given cause. There are thousands of other such religious role models for social justice. We wonder: What has given these individuals, what has given us, the strength to be, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “drum majors for justice,” in a world filled with poverty, oppression, and selfishness? Good religion gives people just such strength. A person of faith believes that good can triumph over evil despite the injustice they see in the world and lives his or her life in a way to make that belief true. Social justice is to religion what love is to family. One is the institution; the other is a quality that makes the institution worthwhile. Just as a family without love is dysfunctional, so is a religion dysfunctional when it does not teach and manifest a deep commitment to social justice. It is a religion that has lost its way… … Today, more than ever, religions are challenged to bring the wisdom of their respective traditions to bear on the moral crises besetting the human community. Religious leaders must challenge their adherents to respond to the same call that Abraham heard in the desert. Every human being has the ability “to extend the boundaries of righteousness and justice in the world.” It needs to become the litmus test of true and good religion.

Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. Do you think that religion is a force for good in the world or do you think that the world would be better off if there were no religious differences between people?

2. How do you explain the fact that so many crusaders for peace and justice have been men and women of deep religious conviction?

3. What role might you play to see to it that your religion becomes an exemplar of righteousness and justice?

Time Period: Contemporary (The Yom Kippur War until the present-day)