Shefa's Rabbi Blog List
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Monday, April 16, 2012
|4/11/2012 11:33:00 AM|
Learning the lessons of history
by Rabbi Jack Moline
Special to WJW
We are all too familiar with the rhetorical currency of anti-Semites. Jews control the human and material resources of every society in which they are found, they say, no matter how few in number. They maintain an international conspiracy. They meet secretly, presenting a pleasant and cooperative face to the world, but using hidden teachings of their sacred books to plot the overthrow of societies they consider hostile. They say one thing publicly and the opposite in private. They have learned how to "pass" in society, but even the most "assimilated" Jew may be an operative in disguise. They are quick to cry bigotry, but ignore the teachings of contempt within their own synagogues, schools and sacred books. They never criticize each other. And, of course, they wish to frustrate the public expression of faith by goyim.
Are these tropes true? Anyone inside the Jewish community would laugh at the suggestion. Presented with "evidence" (including the occasional refugee from Jewish life turned anti-Jew), we deploy defense organizations, scholars and private citizens to debunk the claims that Jews pray for the disappearance of other faiths, terrorize innocent dissenters, teach their children that other people are inferior (so it is therefore permissible to deceive them) and insist that a Jew who turns on his people may be murdered. The fact is you can find such practices and values in some expressions of modern Judaism; the fact is also that most Jews and most expressions of Judaism explicitly reject them all.
Yet anti-Semitism and all of these canards persist. Why? The uncomfortable answer is that some people choose to believe them. Sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of an unpleasant personal experience, sometimes out of hostile teaching and sometimes out of stubbornness, the blanket stereotyping of Jews and Judaism lives in the hearts of some individuals. So convinced are they of the truth of their beliefs that they persuasively present them to sow the seeds of doubt among others. They employ the trappings of scholarship and academia, the skills of effective communication and, overwhelmingly, the incestuous resources of websites and social media to nurture bigotry, all the while protesting that they have nothing against any particular Jew - they are merely exposing Judaism and its corrupt proponents.
I make an assertion now that is beyond the scope of my professional training, but not my 30 years of experience as a rabbi: people who elect to believe hateful affirmations about others mostly reveal their own human shortcomings.
(And I won't deny the other versions of that statement, including that people who elect to believe any generalized affirmation about people, God or the material world reveal their own insecurities. Guilty as charged.)
Does it mean that anti-Semites should be dismissed as mere neurotics? Of course not. Jewish history is replete with examples of collective madness that resulted in murder and mayhem committed against our children. Even today, many human beings who have never met a Jew or encountered anything organically Jewish support and encourage the homicidal and genocidal rage of hate mongers. Absent our attention to their intentions and, more importantly, absent the attention of non-Jews of conscience to the intentions of home-grown anti-Semites, Jews will die unnatural deaths. I hope every reader finds that result unacceptable without exception.
It is easy for Jews as intended victims to maintain a sensitivity to those out to do us harm. Perhaps we may be accused of hypersensitivity. We need and expect constant reassurance that the non-Jews of the world are prepared to address the anti-Semitism in their midst. No matter how well-armed or well-outraged we are, when an angry bigot sets out to act on his hatred, it is almost always too late to prevent disaster. Expressions of regret and contrition after the fact are cold comfort. Better a child who grows into an indifferent Jewish adult than who is the subject of a moving and meaningful memorial.
So what are we to do when we discover the Jews in our midst who are practicing the same kinds of misanthropy as those who hate us? At what point in their rhetorical representations are we as Jews to challenge them publicly and even read them out of a place among our leadership?
I am not referring to extreme anti-Zionist Jews who offer their credentials to the enemies of the state of Israel. When they present themselves as "experts" to advocates of BDS or the dissolution of the country, and even the more so when they run guns to terrorists, we have no trouble whatsoever repudiating them to our people and to others. It doesn't matter whether they are darlings of the political left or the (literal) religious beards for anti-Zionism from the far right; we are united in our rejection of their authenticity.
I am instead alarmed at the willingness of our community to tolerate and even celebrate the leaders, advocates and, to my great shame, rabbis who encourage a systemic form of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry among Jews and others.
I do not much use the term "Islamophobia," just as I reluctantly employ "Islamist" to distinguish between good Muslims and bad Muslims. Compartmentalizing objectionable behavior and ideas removes the necessary imperatives for Muslims to tend to their own bad guys. I hope that we never offer even a temporary pass to any society, including Muslim societies, from addressing anti-Semitism and Jew hatred.
Thus the rabidly anti-Muslim Jews in our midst must be ours to claim as well. Their claims about Islam and its adherents fit the same pattern as the anti-Semitic representations mentioned previously. There is just enough legitimacy in their rhetoric to sow the seeds of doubt among Jews who do not know many Muslims, and just enough in their disclaimers to allow them the cover speaking generally rather than specifically. "Of course, not every Muslim is a terrorist," is the usual introduction. "But you never know who is." The statement is clear: don't trust any of "those people."
Most of the advocates of these anti-Muslim positions claim to have read a book. Some of them have actually written a book about the evils of Islam, exhaustively researched though, of course, to justify a pre-existing conclusion. The only legitimate sources of information are those that prove the point, especially those that come from ideologically rigid think tanks and websites that feature "advocacy journalism," breathless exposes of vast conspiracies and nefarious infiltrations. They all claim to blow the lid off of the great Muslim deception, and highlight as mainstream and immutable the objectionable principles present in every faith tradition, but somehow inherent only in Islam.
Here, for example, is the use of the notion of taqqiyah. The practice of religious dissimulation (lying about your religious beliefs) is indeed rooted in some forms of Islam. It has been used by Muslims who concealed their allegiances to protect their own lives, and it has been promoted in some circles as a tactic to conceal malicious intent. Anti-Muslim advocates have elevated taqqiyah to a central characteristic of the faithful Muslim's spiritual life. So, the logic goes, the more authentic the Muslim, the less reliable is anything he or she says.
Now imagine this Catch-22: a Muslim terrorist murders innocent Jewish children. A horrified American Muslim issues a public letter of condolence and renunciation. But the response from an "educated" rabbi is this: either he's not an authentic Muslim leader or he is practicing taqqiyah. Actually, don't imagine it. It really happened.
Our anti-Muslim advocates have also become proficient in character assassination and guilt by association. In the wave of investigations after 2001, there was barely a Muslim American institution that was not painted with the broad brush stroke of being labeled a haven for fellow travelers. In some cases the phrase "unindicted co-conspirator" was attached; in other circumstances, religious lectures on Islamic law were excerpted to place the epithet "jihadist" on the speaker; and in many cases people with dangerous ideas who held positions in mosques and Islamic centers tainted everyone who attended worship or social events as an enemy of the United States and Israel.
(I take no issue with the results of those government investigations, by the way. To the credit of most Muslim organizations, they were cooperative with authorities, and from local mosques to national organizations they undertook internal inventories of their shortcomings.)
But just let a Jewish leader engage in public activities with any Muslim who was alive in 2001! If the Muslim ever belonged to any group, before or since, not only is the Muslim a suspected terrorist, but the Jew is either a dupe or a self-hater or both. Rabbis in American cities large and small have been excoriated in well-funded publicity and anonymous whisper campaigns for the crime of interfaith dialogue.
And where does the anti-Islam, anti-Muslim rhetoric of Jewish advocates lead?
Well, that's a question that remains unanswered. If we can't trust them, if we shouldn't talk to them, if they're out to get us and if there's no way to dissuade them, then what is left? I haven't heard a suggestion from those advocates with which they will publicly associate themselves.
I am going to say it explicitly, but you do not need me to do so. We know where that rhetoric took the anti-Judaism, anti-Jew advocates of the last century. We know where it took the anti-Japanese advocates of America in the 1940s.
What is left is to eradicate that flawed, incorrigible and false religion called Islam. And if its adherents refuse to give it up, then we have to deal with them, too. And the horse they rode in on.
I have named no names in this essay. Our first responsibility is to offer unequivocal reproof to the purveyors of anti-Islam, anti-Muslim prejudice within our community. We should do so through local engagement, not through shaming or vigilante actions. Truth and faith in partnership, when practiced consistently and collectively, are always stronger than demagoguery and deception. The same approach is necessary among Muslims and Christians and Hindus and Sikhs and a hundred other communities with rabid tendencies, and we ought to demand it. But for Jews it is necessary first among Jews.
Rabbi Jack Moline is the spiritual leader of Agudas Achim Congregation.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
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Wednesday, April 4, 2012
RABBI ED FEINSTEIN AND RABBI NOAH FARKAS
Power corrupts. But so too does powerlessness. The narrative of powerlessness, of perpetual helpless victimhood, corrupts moral vision. In his cover story, Rabbi Wolpe does a masterful job of diffusing the political arguments of Peter Beinart's book, The Crisis of Zionism. But he does not address the fundamental and disconcerting questions at the heart of Beinart's concern: How has the narrative of victimhood warped contemporary Zionism and American Jewish identity? How has it distorted our collective discourse? What new narratives are made possible by sovereignty in Israel and political power in the US? And what shall we do with all our power? Like the Wicked Son of the Haggadah, Beinart is castigated, but his question goes unanswered.
The apposition of Rabbi Wolpe and Peter Beinart echoes an old controversy: At the First Zionist Congress in 1897, Theodor Herzl stood at the rostrum in all his messianic glory and moved the conference with a stirring opening address. Vicious anti-Semitism, he declared, is a permanent feature of European culture. Jews will never live in safety until they gain power, construct a state of their own, and take responsibility for their own political destiny. Far in the back of the hall sat the curmudgeon, Ahad Ha-Am, scribbling in his notebooks. Beware of statehood, he wrote, for power and its emblems are a drug that will distract us from the critical work of rebuilding Jewish culture and twist the Jewish spirit. What we need most, Ahad Ha-Am declared, is not a state for Jews or a state of Jews, what we need is a truly Jewish state.
They were, of course, both correct. Zionism is an expression of collective responsibility. We took power so that we might protect the Jewish people. But the exaltation of power and the pursuit of material survival has never been the aim of Jewish life. Zionism always expressed a Jewish ethical aspiration. We were liberated from Egypt not solely to live without chains, but to aspire to a vision of a holy people. We founded Israel not solely for our own survival, but to gain the capacity to realize our dream of a just society. Within Beinart's political argument, questionable as they may be, is a powerful yearning for a rebirth of ethical aspiration within the Zionist conversation. Argue his politics. But do not ignore his question or neglect this yearning.
Between Herzl and Ahad Ha-Am, between Wolpe and Beinart, for that matter, between AIPAC and J Street, there is room for a new Zionism, a third way. Their debate makes room for a Zionism that speaks from the sacred center of historical Jewish tradition, from the values and visions of Jewish history and faith, but at the same time, a Zionism that holds, with uncompromised tenacity, our hard-earned realism about the world and its evil propensities, and our responsibility to protect our own. Somewhere in the tension between Wolpe and Beinart, that third way of Zionism is waiting to be born.
On our Seder plate, there will be an ample portion of bitter Maror, in remembrance of our enslavement. But only one portion, not six. And it will be mixed with sweet Haroset, mellowing the bitter with the sweet. That's the flavor of Jewish liberation. That is the foretaste of a new Zionism.
Universal health care: A Jewish moral imperative
This week's Supreme Court hearings on the president's health care plan will likely generate this court's signature decision of a generation. That but a few of the complex matters pertaining to our country's long debate over health care should finally come before the court is no surprise. As de Tocqueville observed about American courts in the earliest days of our republic: "Few laws can escape the searching analysis of the judicial power for any length of time." It was inevitable, therefore, that one of the most significant laws concerning health care to ever be passed in the United States would be subject to Supreme Court scrutiny.
The resolution of the issue of the constitutionality of the individual mandate by the Supreme Court, however, will not resolve the deeper issue of whether American society views itself as an "American community." If we are a community, then we are faced with two fundamental questions: First, do we believe that there is some minimal level of care for physical wellbeing to which every member of that community is entitled and second, how do we go about deciding how much that basic level ought to be?
A means to addressing these questions is well-established in Judaism, whose guiding ethical principles are animated by fundamental assumptions of the interdependence of the human family. Because many of the basic commandments require as many as ten people in order to fulfill them, Jews must live in community in order to meet the obligations of Jewish religious life. Hence, the basic necessities for sustainable community are enshrined in our tradition.
The Talmud, a far-reaching collection of Jewish law and principles, lists 10 public services that a community must provide, three of these relate to basic public health and sanitation - public baths, public toilets and a doctor. The others include a court of justice, a charity fund, a house of worship, a schoolmaster, a notary and experts to oversee ritual matters. The 16th century compilation of Jewish law, the Shulhan Arukh, states that where doctors reducing fees to care for the poor is not sufficient, the community must provide a fund. Consistent with this and many other related dicta in Jewish tradition, the Rabbinical Assembly, the international community of 1600 Conservative rabbis passed resolutions on health care in 2002, 2008 and at our last convention in March 2011 in support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.
This issue was also noted many times by the late Dr. Lowell Eliezer Bellin, who served as Commissioner of Health of New York City from 1974 to 1976. Dr. Bellin, who also happens to be my father-in-law, was the first director of the Medicaid program in New York City, the largest in the country. Almost, fifty years ago, he spoke of the unavoidable need for a system of coverage that would provide health care to all. To read his papers and articles you might think that time has stood still. We are still wrestling with the same basic issues of health care delivery he confronted at the advent of the Medicaid and Medicare programs, the first government-funded national health care plans, outside of the military, in the United States.
A practitioner of internal medicine in the days before Medicaid and Medicare, he rejected both as a matter of experience and as a matter of public policy the notion that the private sector and charitable works by health care providers, no matter how well-intentioned, could ever successfully address such a sweeping moral and demographic problem as the provision of health care. Dr. Bellin's forceful moral voice in public health and strong willed ability to produce results might have pointed him towards Washington. He never got there. At the age of 52, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease with which he suffered for 17 years. The struggle with such a debilitating and long- term illness brought home to the family the rectitude of his principled stance.
I brought my nine year old son, Noam Eliezer, named for his grandfather, on a brief trip to Washington recently. We spoke about the legacy of his grandfather and the opportunity that we have in an open democracy to convey Judaism's call for justice in a nation where it might be heard and heeded. Judaism teaches, "it is not upon you to finish the task, nor are you free to desist from it." My father-in-law saw the moral obligation and the practical urgency for a system that would provide health care for all. "I feel very grown up," Noam Eliezer told me. Be it sooner or later, if Americans are to live as a community, we will all need to act more "grown up" and to face the difficult decisions required to realistically face this problem. We cannot let 50 more years pass, a universal system of health care is a moral mandate that a society seeking any measure of justice must have.
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld is the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly.