Shomer Shalom Shavuot and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Posted on: June 4th, 2014 by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

The struggle of ordinary people for equity, dignity, and fair treatment has given rise to a unique document that enshrines a new global consensus of what constitutes fundamental and inviolable rights. On Dec. 10th, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a collective vow to ‘never again’ permit the occurrences of atrocities like those that occurred during World War II. The rights enumerated in the Declaration’s 30 Articles define the fundamental freedoms which all societies must secure by enacting progressive measures.

The adoption of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a global ‘Sinai moment’ and the stories of ordinary people striving for freedom comprise the sacred narratives we recite to remind ourselves of the real human cost of violence and injustice. Stewardship of the rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights must be seen as a sacred obligation for members of the human family. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its preamble and 30 Articles, and the stories that inform its creation and ongoing application can be integrated into our collective understanding of what constitutes compassion, justice and peace.

In response to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international community has developed humanitarian laws and protocols that recognize the legitimacy of leveraging non-violent actions to secure fundamental freedoms. Securing and safeguarding human rights by waging nonviolent campaigns and employing nonviolent tactics such as public demonstration, strike, boycott, divestment, protection of a free press and many other forms of economic, political and social noncooperation has been taken up by hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.

Liberation from mass incarceration, deportation, forced dislocation, economic exploitation, health care and education deprivation, gender violence, militarization, environmental injustice, deadly conflict, autocratic rule and genocide is a matter of life and death. Revelation is not a one time event. It is ongoing. As the Jewish community stands at Sinai in the year 5774, let us receive a Torah illuminated by nonviolence. The values so beautifully and hopefully enshrined in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights carry the ancient struggle for freedom to new heights. They are reflected in the seven core principles of Jewish nonviolence as well. May these seven principles be studied by people staying up all night in order to reaffirm the sacred covenant of the Jewish people, as it is written: The Compassionate One desires the Heart.

Here are the Seven Middot/Core Principles of Shmirat Shalom to study on Shavuot:

  1. YHVH Ekhad: Life is sacred and inter-related. (Deut. 6:7)
  2. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Do not do to others that which is hateful to you. (Lev.19: 18; BT Shabbat 31a)
    דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד – זו היא כל התורה כולה, ואידך – פירושה הוא, זיל גמור.
  3. Great is human dignity. (BT Berakhot 19b)
  4. Nonviolently pursue restorative justice, truth and peace, as it is written, “By three things the world is preserved, by (restorative) justice, by truth, and by peace, and these three are one: if (restorative) justice has been accomplished, so has truth, and so has peace” (JT Ta’anit 4:2).
    רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר על שלשה דברים העולם עומד על הדין ועל האמת ועל השלום שנאמר (זכריה ח) אמת ומשפט שלום שפטו בשעריכם.
  5. Practice teshuvah: resolve conflict in the spirit of nonviolent reconciliation. (Deuteronomy 30:2)
    וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְשָׁמַעְתָּ בְקֹלוֹ, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ, הַיּוֹם: אַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשֶׁךָ.
  6. Do not envy a person of violence. Do not choose any of his (violent) ways. (Prov. 3:31)
    אַל-תְּקַנֵּא, בְּאִישׁ חָמָס; וְאַל-תִּבְחַר, בְּכָל-דְּרָכָיו.
  7. Refuse to cooperate with and resist structural violence, colonialism and war with nonviolence, as it is written, “Not with (military) might, and not with force of arms; Only by My spirit, says Adonai.” (Zecharia 4: 6) What is my spirit? My spirit is nonviolence.
    לֹא בְחַיִל, וְלֹא בְכֹחַ–כִּי אִם-בְּרוּחִי, אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת.
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