An article I wrote for Moment Magazine about racism can be read here.
An article I wrote for Moment Magazine about racism can be read here.
I was accosted recently on the Staten Island Ferry by a large fish.
Well, not exactly. It was actually a large photograph of a fish, on a poster carrying the legend: “I’m ME, not MEAT. See the individual. Go vegan.”
Yes, “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals,” or PETA, has taken its efforts to the high seas. And, although some of the other animals featured on similar posters in the “I’m ME” campaign elsewhere are not particularly charming – it’s hard to make a cow or chicken (much less a lobster) look friendly – the fish whose gaze met mine as I took a seat on the boat and looked to my right was decidedly endearing.
Because he (she?) was smiling.
Or appeared to be. That’s because the sea creatures Hashem created include not just astoundingly colorful and morphologically remarkable species but some that have what strike humans as expressive, almost human, faces. Some look angry, others perplexed – others, like the one on the poster, happy, friendly.
None of those faces, though, in fact reflects any of those human traits, any more than a smiley-face sticker means the sticker is happy. We might be able to tell when a dog is pleased, but when we imagine animals expressing truly human emotions, we are unconsciously anthropomorphizing them – attributing quintessentially human traits to creatures lacking them. There are photographs of “smiling” sharks too.
Of course, trying to convince people that, as PETA’s founder and president Ingrid Newkirk once famously put it, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy,” is the group’s raison d’être.
It even went so far, in 2003, to promote what it called its “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign, comparing the meat processing industry to Churban Europa. The traveling exhibit juxtaposed World War II death camp photographs with scenes in animal slaughter facilities.
Emaciated men were shown next to a gaggle of chickens; pigs behind bars, beside starving children behind barbed wire; mounds of human remains beside mounds of cow carcasses. In one panel, above the legend “Baby Butchers,” mothers and children in striped garb were shown staring through the barbed wire of a concentration camp; alongside them, a similar shot of caged… piglets.
Ms. Newkirk once commented that “Six million Jews died in concentration camps, but six billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughterhouses.” Try wrapping a normal brain around that comparison.
A half-hearted “apology” eventually came, but only for the “pain” the exhibit may have caused. Ms. Newkirk expressed her surprise at the negative reaction. She had “truly believed,” she wrote, “that a large segment of the Jewish community would support” the exhibit, and was “bowled over by the negative reception.” Disturbingly, she laid responsibility for the ill-advised campaign on “PETA staff [who] were Jewish.” Ah, the Jews.
A longtime and still employed slogan of the group, in fact, is “Meat is Murder.” But it’s not. Meat is food. At least since the Mabul, the Torah not only permits meat-eating, it encourages it on Shabbos and Yamim Tovim as a means of enjoying and hence showing honor to holy times.
Few if any religious cultures are as concerned with animals as our mesorah. Not only were two of the three Avos, not to mention Moshe Rabbeinu, caring shepherds, but there is a halachic prohibition of tzaar baalei chaim.
And in actual practice, observant Jews are exquisitely sensitive to animal well-being. I recall as a young boy how my father scooped two injured birds from a street and brought them home to care for them. In my own home, even insects are captured and released rather than killed. (I won’t subject readers again to the menagerie of pets – the goat, iguana, tarantula and assortment of rodents – the Shafran family has hosted. Sorry, guess I just did.) I am careful, as per the Talmud’s exhortation regarding animals, to feed my own tropical fish before I sit down myself to dinner.
But the Torah is clear that animals are for human use. We can hold them captive, we can work them and we can eat them. We can, indeed must, when there is a Beis Hamikdash, bring them as korbanos.
The “PETA Principle,” paralleling animals with humans, subtly lies at the root of much that is wrong with our world. But humans alone make moral choices; animals do not. And conflating the two worlds shows disdain for the specialness of the human being.
A rat may be, in a way, a pig, and a pig a dog.
None of them, though, is a boy.
And fishes don’t smile.
© 2018 Hamodia
Hamodia opted to not publish my column submission for this week, so I post it here instead.
The two thirds of the American populace that objected to the policy of removing children from their illegal immigrant parents at the southern border emitted a collective sigh of relief last week. President Trump, in a stunning turnabout, signed an executive order intended to stop the practice.
Although there are logistical and legal issues still to be resolved and subsequent presidential tweets to try to reconcile with the executive order, the president demonstrated the courage to publicly jettison his repeated claim that he was powerless to act, that only a larger action by Democrats in Congress could end the separation policy. He deserves credit for that move.
Before his reversal, though, the administration’s policy was to treat people who entered the country illegally as felons rather than civil violation offenders (first-time illegal entry is a misdemeanor). Children, even very young ones, were taken from their parents against their will, and the policy was broadly decried. Among the decriers was Agudath Israel of America, which expressed its “deep concern and disappointment” over the resultant “profound suffering and pain to both parents and children.”
The Agudah statement acknowledged that the “problem of illegal immigration is a serious one, and we support reasonable efforts by the administration and legislature to effectively stem the flow of would-be immigrants who have not been accepted through the legal immigration system.” But it contended that “seeking to enforce our statutes does not relieve us of [our] moral obligation” to prevent “the extreme anguish, fear and trauma born of separating undocumented immigrant family members, which is particularly harmful to children.”
The reaction to Agudath Israel’s statement was broad and diverse. There were many expressions of gratitude for its issuance, from both members of our community and others. But there were a number of negative reactions too. I serve as the Agudah’s liaison with the media and public, and so those reactions landed in my inbox, some with quite a thud.
They confirmed something that (as regular readers of this space well know) has pained me for years: the prevalence of gross, fervent and unthinking partisanship.
A legitimate question asked by several people was why the Agudah felt the need to comment on the situation at all. The organization does not, of course, regularly comment on events that lack direct impact on the Jewish community.
The knowledge, though, that wailing children were being taken from their parents was wrenching not only to a broad swath of the larger American public but to a wide swath, too, of Klal Yisrael – rachmanim, after all, bnei rachmanim. So, it was not inappropriate for us to register our pain. And, with scores of religious groups registering their own protests of the policy, some of them quite harshly, it was felt that, should the Agudah say nothing, it would be assumed to approve of the policy.
Striking, though, was the lack of information that underlay some other (often vociferous) complaints. Several people, “informed” presumably by news sources that richly deserve the adjective “fake,” insisted that “the law” requires family breakups, and that the policy of considering unlawful entrants to be criminals had been in place under previous administrations.
When I explained that there was and is no such law, and that the policy of automatically considering illegal entrants to our country deserving of incarceration and the seizing of their children was mere weeks old, they seemed taken aback.
Others apprised us that a “deep state” plot, or Democratic Party conspiracy, was clearly at play; others were upset that we dared “attack” a sitting president, although we took care in our statement to not even mention the president or attorney general, and lamented only the upshot of an unfortunate policy. When, in past years, the Agudah issued statements critical of the Obama administration for joining the U.N. Human Rights Council or fostering the Iran Deal, no complaints, to the best of my memory, were registered.
Some correspondents, seemingly having read only part of the statement, interpreted the Agudah’s expression of humanitarian concern as advocacy for “open borders.” As if there are only two options: wrenching kids from their parents’ arms or having the country overrun by a horde of Aztec invaders.
The acutely politicized, black-and-white, “us-and-them” and often woefully misinformed mentality in parts of our world is lamentable. Intelligent, informed opinions on current events cannot be gleaned from talk radio hosts or blatantly partisan news organizations. Astuteness requires middos tovos, the consideration of different points of view and the application of that most important of skills: critical thinking.
And their lack poorly serves the mission of Klal Yisrael.
© 2018 Rabbi Avi Shafran
A piece I wrote for Forward about today’s US Supreme Court ruling in the case of the Masterpiece baker’s declining to create a cake for a same-sex couple can be read here.
In the course of a public roundtable discussion about immigration and crime, a few days before Shavuos, President Trump made a comment that provoked some outrage.
“You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” he said, about certain illegal immigrants. “These aren’t people, these are animals.”
The president was immediately assailed for what critics assumed was a crass dehumanization of foreigners. Stress on “immediately” and “assumed.”
Because had the critics taken the time to examine Mr. Trump’s comment in its context, they could have based what comments they had on facts, not assumptions.
But, no doubt recollecting some of presidential candidate Trump’s harsher campaign declarations about Mexicans, Muslims and others, some of those who see him as a danger to democracy didn’t look at what he actually said but, rather, chose to suppose.
“We are all G-d’s children,” scolded House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum declared that “Stalin, Mao, Hitler and Pol Pot all called their opponents ‘parasites’ or ‘vermin’ or ‘animals’. Dehumanization is what you do to unwanted social groups before killing them.”
The Trump-Hitler comparison became a meme of the moment in certain parts of the social media planet.
The president took delight in exposing the overreaction, since his “animals” comment was clearly made with reference to violent criminal elements, some of whom have committed unspeakable acts of murderous, cruel violence. Earlier at the event, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims had referred to the violent criminal gang MS-13. While the gang started in Los Angeles and includes many American citizens, its members are ethnic Central Americans, and the need to prevent suspected members from coming across our border illegally is a no-brainer.
But I still have an objection to the president’s characterization of violent criminals.
It’s unfair to animals.
My family has played host at various times to a goat, an iguana, assorted rodents and a tarantula. (Witnessing the large spider’s shedding of its skin to emerge with a new, radiant one is an unforgettable experience.) I exult at watching the inhabitants of my aquarium (we recently welcomed new brood of baby guppies and mollies – mazel tov!), and the birds, squirrels and deer that pass our way are always appreciated.
I recently watched a carpenter bee excavate a perfect circle on the underside of the wooden maakeh on our deck, knowing that she will abruptly turn at a right angle to continue her tunnel horizontally, and create a tunneled-out bedroom for her progeny.
The wonders of the world Hashem created are ceaseless, and the amazing behaviors of the countless creatures He placed on earth, if viewed with honest eyes, must astound.
And each of those behaviors is ingrained in the species. To be sure, some are violent; Tennyson’s observation of nature’s being “red in tooth and claw” holds true. But animals who kill do so for food or survival, and act out of instinct, not as a result of choice.
Unlike humans, who can never be deemed innocent of horrific crimes on the claim that they were compelled by their nature. The specialness of the human lies in his ability to resist base inclinations, to use the astonishing gift we have been given: free will.
Calling a human who has made a choice to act cruelly or to wantonly maim or kill others an animal does an immense disservice to the animal kingdom, whose members do what they do because it is their immutable nature. And, worse, it subtly muddles the meaning of the outrage we should feel at human acts of violence or cruelty.
We live in times when some contend that there is no qualitative difference between an animal and a human being, that we are as hard-wired and predictable in our behavior as any lion, tarantula or carpenter bee. The upshot of that view is a world where there is no more meaning to right and wrong than there is to right and left.
That amoral philosophy stands in the starkest contrast to what the Torah teaches us: We are not animals but choosers, owners of our actions.
President Trump was riffing, of course, not philosophizing, at the recent public roundtable. And his point, no matter how one may feel about immigration policy, wasn’t to sow hatred for foreigners, much less to dehumanize any “unwanted social groups before killing them.”
He was just trying to express the depth of his contempt for people who have made the choice to profit from the torture and murder of others. The truest description of such people, though, isn’t “animals” but “choosers of evil,” something more heinous by far.
© 2018 Hamodia
Winston Churchill famously cited the sentiment that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Indeed, while majority rule might in fact be the best system, it can’t be denied that democracy, for all the happy results it has delivered, has also birthed some horrific offspring. It was a popular vote in 1932 that made the Nazis the largest party in the German parliament. And lesser evils have been offered up by majorities in many countries since.
And even leaving aside that a body politic can include majorities with malevolent inclinations, the fact that money seems so crucial to political campaigns’ successes – that, in other words, enough partisan, prejudiced advertisements can effect victories – is itself a major chink in democracy’s noble armor. If large numbers of people are susceptible to the sort of inducements that convince people to buy a particular brand of perfume or beer, what does that say about the electorate’s intelligence?
And then there is a particularly disturbing ailment that seems to have broadly infected political advertising, at least in these United States.
I have in front of me, as I write, two pieces of glossy campaign snail mail ahead of the June 26 Congressional primary election, each from a Republican candidate. (I’m a lifelong registered Republican, thus their vying for my vote.) Candidate A cites Candidate B’s conviction a while back for tax and employment-related offenses, and his flyer bears the large legend “THE RISE OF THE CORRUPT CONVICT CONGRESSMAN FROM THE DEPTHS OF THE SWAMP.”
The other flyer, from the fellow referred to in those all-caps, sports its own capitalized declaration, that a vote for his opponent “IS A VOTE AGAINST PRES. TRUMP” – a most awful insult in my Staten Island district. And, amid other opprobrium, that the other guy “CO-SPONSORED 2 LIBERAL AMNESTY BILLS.” For shame.
The latter candidate also elsewhere slurred his opponent with a truly dreadful insult (children, please stop reading here), coyly suggesting that people vote for “[Candidate A] – Democrat for Congress!”
Before Shavuos, in the West Virginia Republican primary, one candidate, though unsuccessful in his bid, issued a campaign spot accusing “Swamp Captain Mitch” – that would be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is married to a Chinese-American woman – of having gotten rich off of his “China family,” and creating millions of jobs for “China people.”
We are greatly relieved that no Jew people were involved.
Negative campaigning, of course, is nothing new. Although candidates didn’t do active campaigning in those days, during the lead-up to the 1800 presidential election, Thomas Jefferson’s camp accused President John Adams of having a “hideous… character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” In return, Adams’ men called Vice President Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” Adams was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was branded a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward.
But, at least over more recent campaigns, mudslinging has been on the rise. In every presidential election cycle from 2000 to 2012, campaign advertising was for the most part more negative than in the previous one.
As Mitchell Lovett, associate professor of marketing at the University of Rochester once explained, “It stays around because it works.” Were I a tweeter, that observation would merit an all-caps “SAD!”
As anyone involved in marketing or advertising knows, repeated exposure of a message leads people to accept it as fact. Whether or not it happens to be.
Combine that with an actual fact, that most people know very little about politics – only about two thirds of people can name their state’s governor, about half know that there are two U.S. senators from their state, and less than half can name their congressional representative – and it’s not hard to imagine how democracy might yield disaster.
I’m not advocating, any more than Churchill was, some other system of government. But each election year I wonder what would happen if candidates for office were limited in what their campaign literature and ads could say, if the only information permitted was about the merits of the candidate, not the failings of his or her opponent.
Campaign seasons, in that fantasy world, would be more enlightening and less misleading. But they would also be less interesting, or, at least, less entertaining.
Which is why that scenario isn’t likely to ever become reality. The electorate, I suspect, wouldn’t stand for it.
© 2018 Hamodia
Tablet asked me for a Jewish perspective on assisted suicide, in light of a recent California court ruling. The piece can be read here.
Dr. David Goodall is no longer with us.
The 104-year-old scientist travelled to Switzerland from his home in Australia last week, weary of life and in a wheelchair, but not otherwise disabled or seriously ill, and ended his life. Assisted suicide is legal in the Australian state of Victoria, but only, to Dr. Goodall’s vexation, for the “terminally ill.”
In Switzerland, though, anyone of sound mind can opt to dispatch himself, and Dr. Goodall was assisted in his suicide plans by the groups “Lifecircle,” “Eternal Spirit” and “Exit International,” all dedicated to helping people achieve their demises. A representative of the latter group accompanied him on his trip.
Exit International also, it was reported, launched a funding campaign to help upgrade the scientist, presumably at his request, to business class.
That last, seemingly irrelevant, detail got me thinking. A man is done with the world, about to end his life. But he’d like more legroom.
At first thought, hey, why not? But on second one, his preference struck me as oddly relevant to the issue of assisted suicide itself, which has been legalized in several states, and which a bill before the New York State legislature proposes to do in the Empire State.
Needless to say, we must oppose such “progress.” While it is hard to argue against personal autonomy, permitting people to enlist doctors to end their lives opens a Pandora’s box of horribles.
Among them, as my Agudath Israel colleague Rabbi Mordechai Biser recently testified before the New York State Assembly Health Committee, are pressures patients would feel from doctors or family members to choose suicide; the inequalities of health care delivery systems that tend to discriminate against the poor, handicapped and elderly; the psychological vulnerability of the severely ill; and the risk of misdiagnoses.
He also spoke of “the historical disapprobation of suicide… one of the pillars of civilized societies throughout the generations”; and noted that, in many cases, better treatment of pain or depression could dissuade a patient from seeking death.
All true, of course. But I find myself pondering… that business class upgrade. I think it signifies – at least in this case – an attitude about life that is the antithesis of the Jewish one.
I remember once being asked by a reporter about Judaism’s stance on a certain “woman’s right.” I explained that Judaism isn’t about rights, but responsibilities. There could be no more basic a Jewish truism, of course, yet the reporter found it astonishing, admitting that she had “never thought of life that way.”
I tried not to let my own bewilderment at that statement show, but the fact that so fundamental a Jewish concept had been eye-opening to the reporter was, well, eye-opening to me.
It shouldn’t have been. The operative principle of so many people’s lives today is the pursuit of possessions, comforts and, yes, rights. They ask not, to paraphrase JFK’s speechwriter, what they can do with the gift of life, but rather what the gift of life can do for them.
And so a man about to end his life is understandably concerned, even until that end, with extra legroom. Chap arein.
Rav Noach Weinberg, zt”l, once recounted the saga of a young Jewish man who, in a swimming accident, became a quadriplegic.
The handicapped man had told Rav Weinberg how the first twenty-odd years of his life had been spent enjoying athletics, and how his fateful accident had seemed at the time more devastating than death.
Now he was hampered by his condition not only from swimming but from so much as scratching an itch on his own. He could not even, he discovered, kill himself, which he desperately wanted to do. And no one would help him achieve his desire.
Frustrated by his inability to check out, he was forced, so to speak, to check in – inward, to a world of thought and ideas. Pushed from a universe of action, he entered one of mind.
If his life is indeed now worthless, he reflected, then was swimming and scratching literal and figurative itches really all that defined its meaning before?
That question led him to the realization that a meaningful life is independent of a physically active one. And he was led, in time, to his forefathers’ faith. Later, he mused that his paralysis had been a gift; for without it he would have remained a mere swimmer.
Dr. Goodall never realized what the ex-swimmer did about life, and was gratified to be able to spend a few of his final hours in business class.
© 2018 Hamodia
Indiana Republican Congressman Todd Rokita is calling on the House of Representatives to condemn “Nation of Islam” leader Louis Farrakhan.
Most of us are familiar with the racist demagogue Mr. Farrakhan’s more memorable rantings, like “The white man is a devil by nature”; “Hitler was a very great man”; “We know that Jews are … plotting against us as we speak.” The calypso singer-turned-“reverend” has denied the Holocaust, blamed Jews for the 9/11 attacks, and said that white people “deserve to die.”
And just to make sure no one thinks he may have gone soft (or sane) in his dotage, just last month he railed that “powerful Jews are my enemy… responsible for… filth and degenerate behavior.”
As it happens, a resolution similar to the one Mr. Rokita proposed was passed overwhelmingly back in 1994 by a Democrat-controlled House. What motivated Mr. Rokita now was the fact that several current House Democrats – including Democratic National Committee Deputy Chair Keith Ellison, Danny Davis and Gregory Meeks – attended a dinner where Farrakhan was present or expressed respect in the past for the hatemonger.
Politics, though, is an unpleasant business, and associations of a sort with abhorrent people who have sizable followings is more common than the more innocent among us may realize. A photo of then-Senator Barack Obama posing for a “grip-and-grin” with Farrakhan in 2005 recently came to light. It took a while for presidential candidate Donald Trump to finally disavow the support of David Duke.
What’s more, part of the American black community looks at Farrakhan and sees only a preacher of self-reliance and black pride. The man’s ugly hatred of others is, to them, just static. No, that should not be, but “should not” doesn’t change an “is.” That segment of the populace, moreover, bristles at being chastised for embracing whom they do, even when the embraced is morally decrepit.
As long-time Representative Charlie Rangel, a friend of the Jewish community – he flew to Israel when he was 85 for Shimon Peres’ funeral and headlined a 60th anniversary bash for Israel at Harlem’s Apollo Theater – put it in 1985, Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism is “garbage,” but “there is a lot of concern among a lot of blacks that they don’t want to be told what to do.”
The aforementioned Mr. Obama for years attended the church of a Farrakhan-like character, the infamous preacher Jeremiah Wright. When some of the latter’s more offensive oratory came to light in 2008, the then-presidential candidate disavowed his relationship with the preacher, left the church and called Wright’s comments “ reprehensible,” saying they provided “comfort to those who prey on hate.”
Messrs. Ellison, Davis and Meeks likewise all eventually condemned Farrakhan’s hateful rhetoric.
Mr. Ellison, who defended Farrakhan back in the 1980s and 1990s, has long expressed regret for doing so, calling it, as he titled a 2016 op-ed, “The Mistake in My Past.”
“These men organize,” he wrote of Farrakhan’s group, “by sowing hatred and division, including anti-Semitism…”
“They were and are anti-Semitic,” he once stated, “and I should have come to that conclusion earlier than I did. I regret that I didn’t.”
And Mr. Ellison has in fact enjoyed good relationships with his Jewish constituents and with Jewish members of Congress.
For his part, Mr. Davis said “Let me be clear: I reject, condemn and oppose Minister Farrakhan’s views and remarks regarding the Jewish people and the Jewish religion.”
The touchiness that Mr. Rangel referenced, though, was evident in Mr. Meeks’ comments. While he called Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic messages “upsetting and unacceptable,” he added that he is “still waiting for [right-wing blogs] to condemn [President] Trump’s racist remarks.”
Whatever one may think of the current occupant of the White House or his policies, though, he has never called any faith a “gutter religion,” praised a genocidal mass murderer or referred to any ethnicity as “bloodsuckers.” Mr. Meeks is free to criticize Mr. Trump all he wants. But placing him in the same universe as Farrakhan is madness.
Jewish-black relations have generally improved over the years. And on many domestic issues, the two populations are natural allies. Growing any relationship, though, requires a determined, honest effort to see through the eyes of the other. We Jews need to try better to understand why some in the African-American community could be temporarily oblivious to an ugly radical’s hatreds; and to raise our children to see people, not melanin.
And the black community needs to recognize and openly espouse, as the former president and the current House members have done, the grave injury done – not just to Jews but to humanity – by the presence of demagogues in its midst.
© 2018 Hamodia
I began haphazardly collecting the advertisements a number of years ago. The first, which appeared at the end of Tammuz in a Jewish periodical, touted an eatery. It was apparently aimed at carnivores troubled by the restrictions of the imminent Nine Day period of mourning over the Bais Hamikdash’s destruction. Beneath a photo of a full plate of food was the legend: “Siyum Nightly for Meat Lovers!” Really.
More recently, I was struck by a full page come-on just around this time of year featuring a bottle of kosher for Pesach potato-based vodka over the legend: “Finally, shulchan oreich is a pleasure.”
Finally? I dunno. Somehow, my family’s sedarim have been immensely pleasurable, even vodka-free.
Between those offensive bookends I incredulously encountered many other Jewishly tone-deaf ads, in print or pixels. Like one advising how you can “steal the show” with some fancy table adornment or another; another one that proudly announced an all-you-can-eat “Fleishfest!” (though for a worthy cause); yet another letting the reader know that there’s a way to “Experience the real simchas yomtov,” by spending Pesach at a particular hotel. (Who would want a fake simchas Yom Tov, after all?)
And then there was the ad (for another away-from-home holiday locale) assuring us that “The only thing you should have to give up for Pesach is chametz.” Presumably, the message was that one shouldn’t have to spend his hard-earned free time – the holiday, after all, celebrates freedom, no? – cleaning, changing over the house and cooking for Yom Tov.)
And Sukkos really seems to bring out the best (so to speak) in Jewishly clueless marketing.
One late summer ad for a labor-free temporary tabernacle offered to end, once and for all, the dreaded “hassle of sukkah”; another dangled the lure of a getaway to a Florida Keys hotel featuring its own “air conditioned Sukkah!” (Good she’eilah there: If the AC is too strong, is one considered a mitzta’er?) And yet another invited readers to a glatt kosher vacation for the Yom Tov in the Bahamas, assuring them that “Sukkot Never Got This Good.” (After inviting Ushpizin, one supposes, he can, as the ad continued, “swim with dolphins!”)
That particular advertisement went on to modestly self-identify as “the most luxurious and extraordinary resort on Planet Earth.” Remind you of “So that your generations may know that I made the Bnei Yisrael dwell in sukkos when I brought them out of Eretz Mitzrayim” (Vayikra 23:43)? Me neither.
We Jews in America today are beneficiaries of Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s kindness beyond measure. We live in a time and place where we are not persecuted, have freedom to practice our faith and to engage in professions and businesses without hindrance –seldom if ever the case in our previous sojournings in galus.
But with plenty come plenty of challenges. The Shabbos before last we read in shul of the egel hazahav, the Golden Calf. It was said in the yeshiva of Rabi Yanai that Moshe attributed that sin to Hashem’s having bestowed much gold and silver on the people (Berachos 32a). It’s hard to be poor, but wealth carries dangers of its own.
I don’t want, chalilah, to injure any Jew’s livelihood, and have nothing against meat (though the less of it one eats, it’s increasingly clear, the better) or vodka, kosher for Pesach or otherwise; I’ve been known to occasionally splash a bit in my grapefruit juice myself. And there may well be people who, nebbich, need to spend Yomim Tovim in hotels.
But none of us should covet any of those things – or seek to stir covetousness for them in our fellow Jews. And, no less than we care about where our children receive their educational instruction we should care about the “chinuch” they receive from the pages of the periodicals we welcome into our homes. And we shouldn’t be sheepish about letting advertisers know when we feel their blandishments have crossed lines.
Yes, yes, I know that advertising is part and parcel of contemporary business, and what keeps Jewish papers and magazines afloat. But there is a stark, qualitative difference between ads that offer information, opportunities and products, on the one hand, and those, on the other, that shamelessly exaggerate – or, worse, that promote values that are, politely put, less than consonant with Torah-informed values. Or, worse still, that promote violation of one of the Aseres Hadibros’ “Thou shalt not”s (see “steal the show,” above).
There is ample room for creativity – photographic, linguistic, humorous and otherwise– in producing memorable advertisements for most anything. A Jewishly responsible ad doesn’t have to be bland.
But it should be becoming.
© 2018 Hamodia