Violence Begets Violence

We at Tikkun were glad to hear Senator Bernie Sanders unequivocally condemn the shooting by Bernie supporter, James Hodgkinson, who injured five Republicans, one of them a Congressman, who were part of the Republican Congressional group going to play a for fun annual baseball game with Democratic Congresspeople in Washington DC this morning, June 14th. In his statement, Senator Sanders said: “I am sickened by this despicable act. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society, and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only be obtained through nonviolent action and anything else runs counter to our most deeply held American values.”

We at Tikkun are fully aligned in our opposition to violence of any sort and condemn it in the strongest possible terms. We do so on spiritual, religious, and ethical grounds. Human life is sacred and should be protected and helped to flourish. This is a central teaching of the Bible and of Judaism through the ages. We also oppose it on strategic grounds. When anyone who could be seen as connected to liberal and progressive causes engages in violence, (against property even, but especially against human beings) he or she creates a new opportunity for the most reactionary forces in our country to pass new laws restricting free speech, to bring indictments against social change activists, to incite law enforcement to use excessive levels of violence, and to build popular support for new measures of repression.

While we agree with Sanders on most of what he said, we are also aware of statements made by others that have picked up  the notion that violence runs against American values or is in some way oppositional to what America stands for in the world. We will soon be celebrating Independence Day, July 4th, in which many Americans will celebrate the violent revolutionary uprising against the British and sing songs like the national anthem with its praise of “rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air” and set off firecrackers to relive that violence. The sad fact is that the United States of America has consistently used violence to achieve its policy aims, invading other countries with troops (Korea, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the list goes on), training South and Central American police and military at the “School of Americas” in Ft. Benning, Georgia, in the use of violence and torture to defeat populist movements challenging undemocratic governments, , the Obama and Trump administration’s’ bombing from drones or airplanes civilian populations (e.g. these past many months assaulting the people of Yemen as part of our growing alliance with the reactionary and repressive and human-rights-violating regime in Saudi Arabia), and the policy of the Obama presidency to select individuals to be assassinated by drones and without trial in countries around the world who are suspected of being or aiding terrorists (and in the process, murdering at least several thousand non-combatant civilians). It sickens us to listen to the hypocrisy of those in the media who talk about this latest (immoral) assault on government officials as if it is somehow outside the path of violence that has been part of American society and celebrated as such by many.

The current Congress is engaged in another kind of violence—what is reasonably called institutional violence—when they vote to destroy health care benefits to those who are sick but cannot afford to pay for care, when they vote to remove benefits that have helped provide food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless, when they remove environmental measures that have been put in place to slow down the violence future generations will face very soon from floods and rising water levels and from the weakening of global food production. These are violent consequences of acts this Congress and this President are taking, and they deserve to be punished along with other violent actors.

It is predictable that those who are destroying the planet, using violence worldwide to achieve their policy goals and to protect American corporate interests, will face more violence from random individuals incensed by the hypocrisy that they hear from elected officials and media personnel pretending that America is an exception to, rather than a perpetrator of, the violence that is poisoning our world. So when correctly condemning any acts of violence by those who protest the overt and institutional violence of our political and economic system, we ought simultaneously renew our critique of violence in all its forms and our mourning for and protest against the daily violence that is a central element in the way the U.S. has built and  maintains its global and domestic power. And perhaps even have a moment of compassion for the deeply misguided among us who, in moral outrage at the violence of this system, resort to violence rather than to the kind of empathic organizing that the (interfaith and secular humanist welcoming) Network of Spiritual Progressives has been offering (more info: as the most effective way to deal with the destructive and immoral policies of the Trump Administration and the daily suffering and deaths caused by the normal operations of our global system of selfishness, materialism and endless growth at the expense of Earth’s life support system. Yet this compassion must be tempered by our strong condemnation of all forms of violence, no matter how well intended.



Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun, co-chair with Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls in San Francisco and Berkeley, California. He is the author of eleven books, including two national bestsellers—The Left Hand of God and Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation. His most recent book, Embracing Israel/Palestine, is available on Kindle from and in hard copy from He welcomes your responses and invites you to join with him by joining the Network of Spiritual Progressives (membership comes with a subscription to Tikkun magazine). You can contact him at

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About Rabbi Michael Lerner

Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of The Left Hand of God: Taking Our Country Back from the Religious Right (Harper San Francisco, 2006), is rabbi of the Bay Area congregation Beyt Tikkun and editor of Tikkun magazine: a bimonthly Jewish and interfaith critique of politics, culture, and society. Tikkun is one of the most respected intellectual/cultural magazines in the Jewish world, but also one of the most controversial because of its stand in favor of the rights of Palestinians, on the one hand, which locates him in the minds of many as the leader and most prominent spokesperson in the United States of Jewish supporters of the Israeli peace movement, and on the other hand, because of his stand critiquing the anti-religious and anti-spiritual biases of the secular Left, insisting that they need to address the spiritual hunger of Americans as equally important to their material needs. He is the co-author with Cornel West of a book entitled Jews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin, and several other books, including Healing Israel/Palestine. He is also the author of another ten books including The Politics of Meaning, Healing Israel/Palestine, The Socialism of Fools: Anti-Semitism on the Left, Spirit Matters, Jewish Renewal and a 2006 national best-seller: The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right. For more information see:

4 thoughts on “Violence Begets Violence

  1. When Rabbi Lerner makes a blog, I only ask that be historically correct. We know that the US has made many bad mistakes, but Lerner seems to have made historic errors. The following are corrections

    Korea: The US did not invade “Korea”. The UN, with the US lead, authorized an armed response to the North Korean invasion of South Korea. 65 years forward, North Korea continues to act aggressively, including threats and aggressive provocations against both South Korea, and Japan.

    Lebanon: The US was part of a multi national peace keeping force. Iranian sponsored Amal, later to be come Hezbollah, attacked a Marine barracks with a truck bomb killing over 200 marines.

    Inaccuracies in this blog soils Lerners message.

  2. Yes… I agree completely. other examples… on free speech… the question is whose? FOR ALL or just progressives. (Let me say this first, I consider my always a progressive) Todays progressive have muzzled free speech… to the point that many are afraid to express opinions. Just saying that we want social justice?… but what is this? Have we destroyed the family, subjected many to defacto slavery with entitlements, wasted millions on programs that have failed for 50 years, such as education and poverty etc. Perhaps we should look at ourselves. We place “US” on the philosopher elitists throng… and claim was are great humanitarians “taking care of the Poor”, hence we can wash our hands, go on living our luxury life style saying, ” I did my part”.
    I’m talking about Hubris… Idealism when we need to be humble have humility and mano a mano empathy and support to empower not to enslave by useless rhetoric. St. Francis loved the poor, lived with them offer support and courage. He made a difference… man helping man… Instead we live in mac mansions, three car garages, and cars with 4000 square feet of space.
    The first 200 years this is how we lived. Neighborhoods looked after each other, We offered charity but expected empowerment, responsibility, accountability, and hard honest work. These alone only defines the greatest of man. We say, let someone else do this, let the government do it, who cares that the debt will create the failed culture, and the poor the poor will suffer the most while, we have to downgrade to a 900 square foot house, with three families sleeping in shifts. Rlh 6.26.17

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