An article I wrote for Forward on the targeting of statues of Confederate leaders and slave owners can be read here.
[photo credit: Rathkopf Photography]
If there were a contest for the most tasteless use of a slogan this summer, it would be hard to pick one out of several recent candidates reacting to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s disallowal of overnight camps in the state this year.
Two of the slogans are featured on signs being held by chassidic children in a photo that appeared online and in at least one respectable Jewish print publication. One sign reads “Kids’ Live Matter” [sic] and the other, “No camps, no justice.”
The third was part of a caricature in a Jewish magazine intended for young people. It portrayed Mr. Cuomo dressed as a police officer with his knee holding down a child wearing a summer camp t-shirt and crying out “I can’t breathe.”
What were the creative minds who thought those lines clever thinking? Did they not realize that equating the cruel snuffing out of lives with depriving children of a summer camp experience is obscene?
Please don’t misunderstand. Overnight camps are a very important part of many Jewish children’s lives and educations. Such camps provide some 41,000 young Jews with opportunities to grow physically, emotionally and religiously. Camps are particularly needed this summer, after months of children attending classes remotely and being denied the camaraderie and human interaction so vital for human development.
I fully realize that. And also that Mr. Cuomo’s edict was woefully wrongheaded.
He ignored a 17-page safety plan provided to him by a consortium of Orthodox Jewish overnight camps, signed by no less than nine nationally-recognized infectious disease doctors and medical professionals. It explained how precautions could be taken at overnight camps to minimize, if not eliminate, the risk of Covid-19 infections. The experts contended that children in camp environments would actually be safer in the protective bubble of isolated camps than they will now be if the edict stands.
But the cogent case for overnight camps doesn’t deserve to be sullied by outrageous, offensive comparisons.
Did the sloganeers consider for a moment how a black citizen, anguished by the seemingly endless parade of killings of unarmed black men and women by police, would perceive the “borrowing” of chants used to protest such carnage in the cause of demanding that… summer camps be opened?
Leave aside how a black American would feel. How should any thoughtful person feel?
And if it’s really necessary to bring the issue closer to home, how would any of us Jews feel if “Never Again!” was co-opted to describe some summer vacation resort’s pledge to not ever repeat the same entertainment experience? No need to even imagine. Just recall the howls of Jewish outrage last summer when Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referred (not even inaccurately) to detention facilities on the southern border as “concentration camps.”
More disturbing than the tone deafness of the offensive borrowings is the lack of empathy it reveals.
The Torah teaches us to treat our fellow Jews in special ways. We are family, after all, and family comes first.
But is the concept of tzelem Elokim limited to Jews? Does the word brios in mechabed es habrios (Avos, 4:1) not, on its face, mean all people? Did Dovid HaMelech not mean to include all human beings when he sang (Tehillim, 65:3) “You, Who hears prayer, to You all flesh will come”? Were korbanos not accepted from non-Jews in the Beis HaMikdash?
Is “darkei shalom,” for some reason, a lesser halachic ideal than others? Is not the goal of history, as our nevi’im prophesied, to bring all the earth’s inhabitants to recognize Hashem? Do we not then have to be concerned about them?
Back in 1964, Dr. Marvin Schick, a”h, writing in The Jewish Observer, asserted:
“It is our historical and religious heritage that compels us to sympathize with the plight of the Negro. It is unthinkable that a people so oppressed throughout history would not today rally to support the cause of the American Negro, now afflicted by the irrational forces of hatred and bigotry. Anything short of this by American Orthodox Jewry is to reject the principles that we have stood by through the millennia of persecution and to which we must remain equally faithful in a free society.”
Yes, there has been hatred for Jews among some blacks. I can testify to that from personal experience. Many experiences, in fact.
But I have also had enough interactions with black citizens of good will to know that the haters aren’t the norm. And all of us have witnessed more than enough in current events to know that being black in America remains a difficult, even dangerous, thing.
“Black Lives Matter” is a name that has been adopted by scores of organizations, some larger, most smaller. But Black Lives Matter is also an idea — essentially a reiteration of what was once known as the “civil rights movement.” That movement qua movement, as Dr. Schick wrote more than 50 years ago, is one that should resonate with us.
The concept of darkei shalom, if nothing else, should compel us to show black Americans, and all people, that Jews committed to living Torah-faithful lives are fully committed to the safety and equal treatment by society of all human beings, no matter the color of their skins.
© 2020 Rabbi Avi Shafran
The article below is from the website My Jewish Learning, and can be found at: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/understanding-the-sotah-ritual/
Each year, the Shabbat after Shavuot leaves some Jews who follow the day’s Torah reading puzzled, upset or embarrassed. A major element of the Torah portion Naso concerns the sotah, or “unfaithful wife,” and it entails something strange, and indeed unparalleled anywhere else in the Torah: an apparent trial by ordeal.
Many ancient cultures — and even less ancient ones, like the 17th-century Puritans who conducted the Salem witch trials — used ostensibly supernatural means to determine the guilt or innocence of someone accused of a crime. The accused was subjected to an unpleasant, or downright torturous, experience. Establishing innocence often meant just surviving the ordeal, but sometimes it meant not surviving it, in which case the verdict brought solace only to the accused’s survivors.
According to the Torah, the sotah law kicks in when a man suspects his wife of being unfaithful and warns her to not seclude herself with a particular other man. If it is established that she ignored the warning, she becomes subject to a ritual that involves her drinking a concoction of water, a bit of dirt from under the Temple’s marble floor, a bitter herb and the rubbed-off dried ink of the text of the Torah’s description of the sotah ritual, including God’s name.
If the woman is guilty, she and the man with whom she sinned will suffer a terrible death. The Talmud says that if the woman has great merit in fostering Torah study, she may not die immediately but only show symptoms at the time of a malady that will eventually take her life. But if she is innocent, she will not only suffer no ill effects, but will be blessed with children if she was childless and with healthy ones if previous ones were sickly.
The sotah drink ingredients are, if unpleasant, entirely innocuous. And so it would take a divine intervention to bring about the described punishment. Pondering those facts well is the beginning of understanding why the ritual exists and why, unlike every other law in the Torah, the sotah faces not a trial but an ordeal.
When a punishable Torah law was intentionally committed in ancient times, if witnesses attested to the violation, a court was empowered to mete out the prescribed punishment. If there were no qualified witnesses, then the crime was ignored by the court. In the Talmud’s words, “God has many messengers.” So if God chose to punish the violator, God could find a way to do so. So why is the sotah subjected to this ritual?
Well, actually, she isn’t subjected. If she chooses to simply dissolve her marriage and forfeit the financial support promised her, the husband is compelled to grant her a divorce and she suffers no other penalty. And therein lies the second key to understanding the strange law of sotah. The ritual is not intended to punish the woman if she is guilty. It is to absolve her if she is innocent, and preserve love and trust in her marriage.
The entire point of the sotah ritual, in other words, is to convince a husband who has every reason to be suspicious of his wife’s fidelity, since she secluded herself with another man. God is involved only to convince the husband that his wife is not adulterous. The husband’s jealousy will thus dissolve and allow him and his wife to resume their marriage in trust and love. The wife may have still done something wrong, but the husband’s worst suspicions have been divinely exploded.
One can imagine the reconciliation that would certainly follow. That is why the talmudic maxim most associated with the sotah law is, “So great is peace between a man and his wife that the Torah commands that the name of the Holy One, Blessed be He, written in sanctity, should be erased onto the [sotah] water.”
(c) 2020 MyJewishLearning
Yes, it would be a great name for a punk rock group. But the Adam in the title refers to the original one, the first man. And the eco-fascists are contemporary environmentalists gone wild.
Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden, famously, “to work it and to guard it” (Beraishis, 2:15). The latter phrase is regularly held aloft by some who are deeply concerned with humanity’s effects on nature. Preserving the state of flora, fauna and the landscape, they say, is nothing less than a Biblical mandate.
The Torah does in fact enjoin us elsewhere to not waste useful things, and that prohibition can certainly be applied to wanton destruction of any sort, including of animals and the environment. And we are charged, too, with preserving our health, so efforts to minimize harmful pollution are proper as well from a Jewish perspective.
But the Jewish religious tradition’s take on the words “to guard it” is radically different from conservationists who seek to draft it to support their cause. According to Midrash Rabbah, the “work it” refers to using six days of the week to earn our livings, and the “guard it” refers to ceasing work on Shabbos. The Zohar sees the “work it” as a charge to heed the Torah’s positive commandments, and the “guard it” as a warning to not violate its prohibitions. No true Jewish source interprets the verse as an ecological mandate.
Again, wantonly destroying nature is against the Torah’s guidance. But using nature, even destroying parts of it, for the benefit of humans is, well, precisely what nature is for. Man is no mere part of nature; he, as the creation with free will, is its lord.
Rejecting that reality underlies the ideology of the eco-fascist movement, which considers the supreme political model to be a world in which an authoritarian government requires individuals to sacrifice their own interests to the higher ideal of nature. Man, according to that conviction, is a mere fragment of nature, not its apogee.
Last week, Earth Day, the annual demonstration of support for environmental protection, was commemorated around the world.
Most who mark that day are simple conservationists, promoters of recycling and advocates for legislation to help ensure clean air and water. Some, though, are eco-fascists.
And this year, they celebrated the coronavirus.
As one particularly popular social media posting put it: “Air pollution is slowing down. Water pollution is clearing up. Natural wildlife is returning home. Coronavirus is Earth’s vaccine. We’re the virus.”
Another giddily gushed: “This isn’t an apocalypse. It’s an awakening.”
Others called attention to the wonderful “unexpected side effects” of the virus, like swans and dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice.
Leaving aside the fact that swans regularly appear in some of Venice’s canals and that an accompanying photo of “Venetian” dolphins was in fact taken at a port in Sardinia, hundreds of miles away, the thought of celebrating a deadly germ is mad. No, actually, it’s evil.
Most people don’t realize it, but contemporary radical environmentalism has its roots in an earlier fascism.
The Third Reich’s “Blood and Soil” propaganda campaign explicitly linked “non-Aryan” people on German soil with degradation of the environment. Hitler and his minister Hermann Göring were avid supporters of animal rights and conservation. Germans who violated Nazi animal welfare laws were sent to concentration camps.
Of late, white supremacists have adopted the Nazi “Blood and Soil” slogan, and it was chanted at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, by torch-carrying racists.
The gunman who murdered 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand last year disclosed that he was an eco-fascist concerned about the threats of climate change, overpopulation, and immigration. “They are the same issue,” he wrote. “The environment is being destroyed by overpopulation… Kill the invaders, kill the overpopulation and by doing so save the environment.”
The shooter who later killed 23 people in the El Paso massacre was connected to a manifesto that lamented the fact that “The environment is getting worse by the year,” and, addressing the public, continued: “Most of y’all are just too stubborn to change your lifestyle. So the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources.”
Returning to last century’s eco-fascists, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, in his private diaries, described Hitler as someone whose hatred of the Jewish and Christian religions in large part stemmed from the ethical distinction these faiths drew between the value of humans and the value of other animals.
Well, the führer was on to something there. The eco-definition of “to work it and to guard it” stands in stark contrast to the phrases’ true meanings.
Humans are qualitatively different from animals. Imagining otherwise might seem like a harmless conceit. In reality, it is a very dangerous one.
© 2020 Rabbi Avi Shafran
Surprisingly (he said with sarcasm), I’ve been giving some thought to the current pandemic.
Specifically, to the unprecedented closures of shuls and yeshivos. In the absence of a prophet, no one can claim to know “why” any challenge or adversity happens. But it is a Jewish mandate to introspect at such times, as per the Talmud’s exhortation about personal adversity (Berachos 5a).
Might there be some grounds for introspection about why the particular challenge we face today has resulted in the first-ever-in-modern-history closing down of Jewish places of worship and study, and the resultant confinement of many to their homes?
What occurs to me are two things, discrete but in no way incongruous.
The first is that we may not have been treating our places of religious gathering, particularly shuls, with the respect and gravity they deserve. While there are many shuls where services are conducted properly and there is no unnecessary conversing during davening, some shuls, unfortunately, are treated less like mini-Temples and more like men’s clubs, places to gather and schmooze before and after davening rather than holy places for communing with the Divine. Might our banishment from shul be a reminder to us all of what shul is supposed to be?
My second thought’s focus is not on where we have been exiled from but rather where we have been confined to: our homes.
Rabbi Moshe Sherer, in his book of essays B’shtei Einayim, brings a thought from the Reisher Rov, Rav Aharon Lewin, on the verse that states: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations” (Yeshayahu, 56:7.) Reading the word “for” as “to,” Rabbi Lewin remarked that a Jewish house, or home, will be seen by others as what they experience only as a house of prayer. In other words, the ideal Jewish home should be a place permeated with Jewish ideals and practices, a place, no less than shul, of worship.
There may be people who are “shul Yidden” in the sense of never missing a shul service, but whose behavior at home is less exemplary, something that is particularly deleterious to any children living at home. Such people, if they exist, might rightly reflect on their “home confinement” as a spur to self-improvement. And, of course, all of us do well to contemplate how we might make our homes not just places to, well, go home to, but holy spaces.
May our introspection lead to yeshuas Hashem kiheref ayin, the “salvation of Hashem” coming “in the blink of an eye.’
My Purim’s highlight was an interaction I had with two little boys, no older than 8 or 9. The shul I attend is often visited by a number of “collectors” asking for small donations, usually for the poor or needy institutions. Usually they are adults, with documentation backing the legitimacy of their quest for donations.
Sometimes, children approach people on behalf of their yeshivos or other charitable causes. On Purim, such undersized collectors abound. I must have been approached by little people 20 or 25 times. When my stash of dollar bills was down to one, wouldn’t you know, two youngsters approached me at the same time.
I smiled and showed them my last bill, identifying it as such. One boy, whose hand held more revenue that the other boy’s, unhesitatingly pointed to the other and said “Please give him.”
Which I did.
But the boy who directed me to the other one gave me something priceless, the story I just shared.
Politicians would serve themselves well to always keep in mind Rabi Yehudah Hanasi’s admonition: “An eye sees, an ear hears, and all your deeds are written in a book” (Avos 2:1).
Most public servants may not care that the Tanna was referring to a Divine “eye” and “ear,” and to an ethereal “book,” or that the advice was offered as means of avoiding sin. But it’s good practical counsel, too, for aspirants to governmental positions.
Many a candidate for public office has come to be haunted by some statement or comment made years earlier of which human eyes and ears took note and of which there is a record, if not in a book, at least in a recording or internet posting.
Like presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg, who has been confronted of late with comments he made about the “stop-and-frisk” police policy he advanced as mayor of New York.
The New York City Police Department began increasing its emphasis on stop-and-frisk – the accosting, questioning and superficial searching of people even without probable cause for arrest – in the mid-1990s, when Rudy Giuliani was mayor. But the stops of citizens soared during Mr. Bloomberg’s mayoral tenure – rising from about 97,000 in 2002 to about 685,000 in 2011.
And, reportedly, more than 80% of those stopped and frisked were black or Latino.
The resurrected comments, which Mr. Bloomberg made in 2015, after he left office, were a defense of the stop-and-frisk policy as a deterrent to gun violence. The ex-mayor contended that “ninety-five percent of murders” were the work of “male minorities, 16 to 25.”
“You can just take [that] description,” he said, “Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops.”
Whether one sees those comments as on-target (forgive me) or wide off the mark (ditto) might depend on your race.
Certainly, those who have been circulating the blunt words – mostly others vying, as is Mr. Bloomberg, for the Democratic presidential nomination – are hoping that many blacks and Hispanics will refuse the former New York mayor their support.
For his part, Mr. Bloomberg has, in no uncertain terms, disowned his words. “I was wrong,” he declared. “And I am sorry.”
In a refreshingly contrite confession, rather unusual these days, he said: “I got something important really wrong. I didn’t understand back then the full impact that stops were having on the black and Latino communities. I was totally focused on saving lives, but as we know, good intentions aren’t good enough.”
Not every black leader or pundit was buying it. Charles M. Blow, a New York Times columnist, indignantly asked: “How many people rightly complaining about kids in cages at the border are simply willing to overlook all the kids Michael Bloomberg put in cages as a result of stop-and-frisk?”
“These minority boys,” he went on, “were being hunted.”
The columnist, though, doth protest too much. No subject of stop-and-frisk was arrested, much less jailed, unless he was illegally carrying a weapon or enough illegal drugs to be felt over his clothing. And looking for suspicious behavior in crime-ridden areas isn’t exactly like hiding in a blind watching for deer.
On the other hand, Dayvon Love, director of public policy for the think tank “Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle” in Baltimore, says that some people living in high-crime neighborhoods would see some form of the stop-and-frisk strategy “as the best option available to them to meet their immediate needs.”
And Mr. Bloomberg, despite – perhaps because of – his efforts as New York mayor to fight crime, has been endorsed by four members of the Congressional Black Caucus and a number of black mayors across the country.
Aside from political concerns, also likely playing a role in Mr. Bloomberg’s change of heart and biting the bullet (sorry!) was the fact that, while crime fell precipitously during his mayoral tenure, when stop-and-frisks were phased out toward the end of his administration (after a federal judge ruled that the practice as implemented had violated civil and constitutional rights) and then were sharply curtailed under his successor, current Mayor Bill de Blasio, crime rates continued to plunge to new lows unseen since the 1950s.
So, many contend, stop-and-frisk was an ineffective means of fighting crime.
What occurs to me, though, is that there may be other explanations for the continued drop in crime in New York. In the now-infamous recording of his candid comments, Mr. Bloomberg also said: “The way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them. And then they start, ‘Oh, I don’t want to get caught,’ so they don’t bring the gun.”
Might it be possible that, after years of aggressive accosting of young men in areas plagued with drug dealing and violence, a residual effect persisted, and persists, with fear of stops continuing to cause fewer people to carry guns? And in fact, while the rules for stop-and-frisk have changed, the tactic still exists; where there is reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed or is being planned, a police officer can detain and even do a pat-down of a citizen.
So, Mr. Bloomberg’s mea culpa might not be as necessary as he (or his advisors) may think. And his clear intention for the erstwhile intense stop-and-frisk policy – to “get the guns out of the kids’ hands” – may even now resonate with black voters, an important Democratic constituency.
We will see.
© 2020 Hamodia
a piece I wrote for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, an international wire service, about the dovetailing of anti-Orthodox sentiment and violence against visibly observant Jews can be read here.
The well-known British doctor and pundit Jonathan Miller, who died last month, felt he had the solution to anti-Semitism.
He was quoted in a 1985 book as asserting that, to end Jew-hatred, “the Jew must constantly re-adventure and re-venture himself into assimilation.”
“I just think,” he continued, “it’s the nobler thing to do, unless in fact you happen to be a believer in Orthodoxy, in which case there are self-evident reasons to keep [living Jewish lives]. But, if it’s done for the sole purpose of making sure that in the future you’ll be able to say the prayers for the dead when the Holocaust is finally inflicted again, then I think it is a [cursed] device.”
The good doctor really should have realized that among the most assimilated Jews in modern times were much of German Jewry in the 1800s and the early part of last century, Jews who, in headstrong manner, adopted many of the practices and attitudes of their non-Jewish neighbors. And we all know how, despite those efforts to become “just Germans,” they were cruelly reminded of who in fact they were.
We “believers in Orthodoxy” could have explained to Dr. Miller that, au contraire, assimilation doesn’t prevent Jew hatred; it breeds it. We Jews are meant to be a people apart, and when we try to forget who we are, Hashem allows others to help us remember.
There is much talk these days, for good reason, about what practical steps can be taken to deal with anti-Semitism. In the wake of countless vandalisms of Jewish sites and cemeteries, physical attacks on Jews in Europe and here in America, and vicious verbal ones on the internet, various means of addressing the idiocy of Jew hatred are being put forward.
They are not without merit. Even though Chazal have revealed the law of nature that “Esav hates Yaakov,” there are efforts that can be made to counter both anti-Semitic acts and anti-Semitism itself.
Advocacy for security funding and increased police patrols are examples of the former. And educational efforts in public schools, of the latter.
There are, of course, chassidei umos ha’olam, people with an appreciation of Klal Yisrael; and then there are the aforementioned heirs of Esav. But there are also many people in our current (we hope final) outpost of galus who have as yet unformed attitudes about Jews. And so, educational efforts can be worthy means of fostering sanity and knowledge in young minds.
Another area in which our hishtadlus can help influence open-minded people to reject haters’ libels and imaginings is “upping our game” in our interactions with others.
All of us “visibly Jewish” Jews are aware that eyes are always on us; hopefully, we take pains to not act in any way that might be seen as uncaring or rude. We avoid cutting others off in traffic or raising our voices in public. We try to project the true image of a Torah-faithful Jew: modest, courteous and civil.
Sometimes, though – through no fault of our own – even our entirely proper restraint and reticence are misconstrued. Not only by people looking for anything they can “interpret” negatively, but even by “pareve” citizens who lack any pre-existing animus for us. Being reserved can be misunderstood as being “stand-offish”; avoiding eye contact can be misinterpreted as condescension.
Many of us who move among non-Jews during our commutes, or who work in non-Jewish environments, have found that being “proactive” in interactions with others can yield much good will.
An obviously observant Jew who enters a building and holds the door open for anyone behind him has likely, with that almost effortless act, left an impression.
An unsolicited “Good morning” to a fellow elevator passenger does the same. We have here nothing less than the testimony of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, that no one ever beat him to a greeting, as he was always first to offer one, “even [to] a non-Jew in the marketplace” (Brachos 17a).
Eye contact, when appropriate, is a statement of respect. And its lack, fairly or not, may be taken as the opposite. And a smile should be part of our faces too. Shammai tells us as much: “Receive every person with a pleasant countenance” (Avos 1:15).
Not long ago, a middle-aged African-American woman was waiting, as was I, for a bus that didn’t come. I phoned my wife to ask if she was free to pick me up at the bus stop, and she was. When she arrived, I offered the other would-be bus passenger a ride to her destination, a public housing project. Surprised but overjoyed, she accepted, and we took her home.
A few weeks later, waiting (I do a lot of waiting) for a ferry, I heard a loud, happy “Hi, Rabbi!” from behind me. It was she. And with her were her adult son and several grandchildren in tow. I returned her greeting (with a smile) and said hello to her family members.
End of unremarkable story. But it made me think about how the lady must have described my wife and me to her progeny. And how it might have influenced their picture of “Jews.”
Just as important – perhaps more so – than increasing security measures, police presence and educational programs is strengthening our efforts to show others who we really are.
© 2019 Hamodia
The state of political discourse in these United States today – unfortunately, including much of the American Jewish world (including our corner of it) – was well exemplified in the reactions to something Senator Chuck Schumer of New York did not long ago.
When Long Island Representative Peter King announced his retirement from Congress, some were pleased. Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, never one to hide her deeper feelings, tweeted, simply, “Good riddance.”
Mr. Schumer, however, although a Democrat, issued a warm tribute to the soon-to-be Republican retiree, who not only is a member of the other party but someone with whom the senator has strongly disagreed on a number of occasions.
Mr. Schumer tweeted that Mr. King, during his service in the House of Representatives, showed that he “fiercely loved America, Long Island, and his Irish heritage, and left a lasting mark on all 3.” The senator added, “I will miss him in Congress & value his friendship.”
How… how… how… DARE he?
Well that, at least, was the reaction of many on the livid left.
“Good grief,” read one of the milder social media responses. “Have you lost your mind?”
Most of the more than 10,000 replies to Mr. Schumer from his followers were decidedly negative, and many were quite outraged. Videos of thumbs-turning-downs, eye-rolling and heads shaking “no” flooded into the senator’s Twitter feed. Some commenters suggested that the former Congressman and current fourth-term Senator, as a result of his contemptible comity, should resign.
To be sure, many Democrats have had problems with some of Mr. King’s positions and statements. He voted to repeal Obamacare, opposed the redefinition of marriage and was a fervent supporter of the Patriot Act.
And he once complained that there are “too many mosques” in America, “too many people sympathetic to radical Islam,” and suggested that “We should be looking at them more carefully and finding out how we can infiltrate them.” He also compared football players’ kneeling in protest against racism during the playing of the national anthem to Nazi salutes.
But none of that prevented Mr. Schumer from giving him credit where he felt it was due.
The reaction to Mr. Schumer’s praise of a political adversary was a sad reflection of what plagues politics today, what might be called hyperpartisanosis.. It is no longer enough to disagree or even to engage in verbal duels with one’s political adversaries. They must be enemies – hated, derided, declared evil incarnate.
And the disease exists on both sides of the current political divide. One can, for instance, consider Bernie Sanders (or Barack Obama – remember him?) to be woefully misguided about what American policy toward Israel should be. One can reject totally the idea that a two-state solution – the outcome those two men embrace – is a path to peace in the Middle East. But disagreeing, even vehemently, with that contention, and opposing any move to try to bring such a plan closer do not, or should not, yield to vilifying its proponents or ascribing “Jewish self-hatred” or anti-Semitism to them.
Not every wrongheaded person, in other words, is wicked.
But, of course, the ascribing of wickedness is very much a part of the new blue/red American civil war. One sees it in the online anger and insults, in the bitterly sarcastic questions lawmakers pose to people “’from the other side” giving testimony, in the chants at protests and rallies. No longer do presentations of arguments and evidence suffice. Contempt and invective must be summoned.
It’s nothing entirely new, of course. American politics has long entailed a degree
of abuse and incivility. But it seemed
that, over the years, things were moving in a more genteel direction.
Alas, it was only an extended blip. Things are worse than ever.
And, as the Yiddish maxim has it, the way that larger society goes, unfortunately, is the way some Jews go as well.
Self-appointed arbiters of ostensible Jewish positions, in coffee rooms and chatrooms, comments sections and letters pages, preach about the unforgivable sins of this or that public figure or holder of a position different from the preacher’s own. There are only black and white; shades of gray are for sissies.
To be sure, there are indeed bad actors in public life, people who well deserve vilification because, well, because they are villains. But not every black activist is Louis Farrakhan; and not every democratic socialist, Joseph Stalin. What’s more: Not every candidate (like Bernie Sanders) with anti-Israel fans and not every candidate (like President Trump) with anti-Semitic ones is necessarily himself either anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.
We all know better than that.
Or, at least, we should.
© 2019 Hamodia