Thursday, December 8, 2011

"Who Stole My Religion?" -- rescuing Judaism from Right-wing politics

I haven't been blogging much the last few weeks, because my energy has been going into the final stages of publishing a book with Richard H. Schwartz, author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, as well as other works. Schwartz's new book is called "Who Stole My Religion?  Revitalizing Judaism and applying Jewish values to help heal our imperiled planet.  I'm in the process of doing the formatting and layout for self-publishing on   His regular publisher (Lantern Books) did not think they could get it out in time for the 2012 election, so we went the self-publishing route.  The back cover reads:

Richard Schwartz, author of
"Who Stole My Religion?"
"In the five decades since Richard Schwartz first became a religious Jew, he has watched the mainstream Jewish community shift more and more to the Right, often abandoning the very values that originally attracted him to Orthodox Judaism. In this soul-searching book, Schwartz examines the ways in which he believes his religion has been “stolen” by partisan politics, and offers practical suggestions for how to get Judaism back on track as a faith based on peace and compassion. Tackling such diverse issues as U.S. politics, Israeli peace issues, the misuse of the Holocaust, antisemitism, U.S. foreign policy, Islamophobia, socialism, vegetarianism, and the environmentalism, Schwartz goes where many Jews fear to go — and challenges us to re-think current issues in the light of positive Jewish values."

And yes, if you looked closely at the cover (which I designed, by the way) you will see my name there under his -- in much smaller print, because although I did help with a lot of research, editing and in some sections ghostwriting for this book, Richard Schwartz is indeed the primary author. We started out doing it co-authored in dialogue form (sort of the Jewish version of the "City Mouse and the Country Mouse" -- he has spent all his life in the New York City area) but that didn't work out.  So I decided to pull back and let it be his book, for the good of the project.  Still, he generously wanted to give me credit on the cover.   A couple of our original dialogues did make it into the Appendix area, along with a section on kapporot that we had previously co-authored.  And we did include both of our bios.

As for the cover, here's my explanation of the design:

The background photo (#ISS028-E-020072 from the NASA files) was taken aboard the International Space Station on July 31, 2011, when the sun was just below the horizon. When observed from space, the palette of gaseous layers of our atmosphere reminds us of the fragility and tenuousness of the thin cocoon that shelters life on Earth from the cold harsh vacuum of outer space. Without this precious envelope of air, life on Earth could not exist.

A thin crescent of the new moon appears to hang above the Earth, although in reality it is more than 238,855 miles away. On the Jewish calendar, the important holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which begins the High Holy Days season of repentance, always begins on a New Moon. Perhaps the message of this photo is to encourage us to think about how we are treating our planet’s fragile atmosphere, and to change our polluting ways before it is too late.

 Where to order:   

Who Stole My Religion?  is available in both print and ebook versions on  If you order the print version by February 17, use the coupon code FLIGHTLESS at checkout to get free ground shipping in the USA (and maybe elsewhere, too -- not sure about that, but give it a try):

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Due to the urgency of his message, Professor Schwartz has also made the PDF ebook version is available as a FREE DOWNLOAD (click here).  However, if you can afford it, you are encouraged to buy a download for $5 on to help support his efforts to help heal our planet.  Either way, in addition to getting your book super-fast, the download has the advantage of seeing the photos in color:

Support independent publishing: Buy this e-book on Lulu.

Will there be ebook versions for Kindle, iPad and Nook?

Not unless those programs are vastly improved for handling academic works.  Epub, the program used on iPad and Nook, completely reflows the text -- which means it does not respect page numbers, indented paragraphs for long quotes, footnotes, and other academic formats.  Every time the reader changes the font size, the pages are all renumbered.   Kindle does the same thing, plus the feedback on it's handling of footnotes is horrendous!  The fact is, these new e-reader formats are mostly suitable for novels and non-fiction works with plain prose text, but just can't handle the more complex layout of  an academic work.  Until such time as the program developers solve these problems, the format best suited to Who Stole My Religion? is PDF, which preserves the original layout and can be read on your desktop or laptop computer.


Lausten North said...

Looking forward to seeing this. I read John Shelby Spong's book on rescuing religion from the "right". It inspired me, but eventually I realized that I am too far left for just about any religion. Although there are many interpretations of the values expressed in the Bible, most who claim a religion, believe in some core miracle that "saves" them and puts everyone else outside of their group. We need to be rescued from that way of thinking.

Yonassan Gershom said...

Thank you for visiting my blog, Lausten. I think you will find both universalists and exclusivists in just about any group, it's not limited to religion. I am very leftist politically, but have never really felt very cocomfortable there socially, precisely because it is often so anti-religious. I have often felt as if I were caught in the crossfire.

Regarding being "saved," that whole idea is totally alien to Jewish thinking. Being Jewish is more like belonging to a native tribe, with strong cultural aspects as well as religious ones. And being "chosen" does not mean "better than." It is more like having a duty to fulfill.

Peace & blessings!

Yonassan Gershom said...

Book production has been held up temporarily due to some technicasl glitches, but Richard's blog is alive now at -- it's on Blogspot so it's easy to visit from here.

Anonymous said...

As a Christian I have often felt the same, that our modern society is in no way a Christian one as so many claim.

I see Biblical references to a eye for an eye, as command to keep responses proportionate not as a requirement for revenge.

Revelations 11:18 says something along the lines I will destroy the destroyers of the earth. I fear that means us.

Apologies for quoting a different faith at you, but it seems relevant.

Jenifar said...

As I am quiet new in Jewish, looking around for some Jewish information> Got something important here. Nice to get it.
Have you seen this video ? It helped me get over my internal anger.

Yonassan Gershom said...

Anonymous: I just now saw your comment on "eye for an eye" -- in Jewish law this NEVER MEANT REVENGE! It was meant to limit the claims a person could make for damages -- in monetary compensation. So, for example, the loss of a king's eye was not worth any more than the loss of a peasant's eye. (Compare this to some ancient civilizatons where ven TOUCHING the king meant death.)

There is no record anywhere in Jewish law of somebody's eye being poked out as "eye for an eye." The problem is, for 2000 years Christians wrote off Jews as "unsaved" and "Christ killers" and therefore it was heresy to talk with us about the original meaning of these words --as well as many other things in the Bible that have been badly distorted in Gentile circles.

Only in the mid-20th century did there begin to be any serious interfaith dialogue --and even today it is relatively rare to have real attempts at understanding instead of "dueling Bibles" shouting matches. Here in rural Minnesota where I live, my Christian neighbors rarely discuss religon with me -- they get very threatened when they find out that Jews are not the "Old Testament Hebrews" they learned about in Sunday school, and that we read the texts very differently.