The Jewish community seems to have the most pro-Israel and Jewish supportive president in United States history. After decades of false promises by previous presidents, President Trump courageously acknowledged Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish homeland. On the global stage, the current administration regularly denounces the hypocrisy and biases of the United Nation’s treatment of Israel, even threatening to withdraw U.S. funding. Just several weeks ago, the president commuted the draconian sentence of Sholom Rubashkin and to this day his closest and most trusted advisers and family members are Jews.
Who could ask for anything more?
Ultimately, the answer to the aforementioned question relies on how one sees the role of the Jew in the postmodern world. Do we choose to model ourselves after the biblical prophet, Noah, who is called “righteous” in his following of God’s command? Noah is safe, comfortable in his ark, confined to the world around him, insulated from the outside though neglectful of the suffering of others. Or are we heirs to the Abrahamic heritage? Abraham’s journey begins by leaving the comfort of his own home, immediately engaging with the other. While Noah built an ark that blinded him to the world’s chaos, Abraham constructed a tent with no walls.
“A person cannot be religious and indifferent to other human being’s plight and suffering.” – Heschel
The elder sage of the Talmud, Hillel, taught: “If I am not for myself who will be for me?” He responded, “but if I am only for myself what am I?” The timeless challenge is to hold both sentiments simultaneously however dissonant they may seem. As Martin Luther King Day approaches, it is behooving for us to revisit his legacy. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Holocaust refugee and close colleague of Dr. King, saw the plight of African Americans in the U.S, as a burning bush of our time. “A person,” Heschel wrote, “cannot be religious and indifferent to other human being’s plight and suffering.”
In 2018, does our Jewish community live up to these moral charges?
We fear that overwhelming portions of both the American Orthodox community and Israeli public at large are in danger of isolating ourselves in an ark of moral indifference and religious hypocrisy. As Orthodox ordained rabbis we question our place within a movement that often fears engaging multifaith families and women clergy more than it does climate change, refugees and immigrants.
We fear that overwhelming portions of both the American Orthodox community and Israeli public at large are in danger of isolating ourselves in an ark of moral indifference and religious hypocrisy.
How does the Orthodox community reconcile the Talmud’s dictum that one who publicly shames another is equivalent to shedding blood with its support of a man who has repeatedly degraded women, transgender people, the disabled and political opponents?
What if the travel ban against nations with majority Muslim populations were taking place in the 1930s targeting Eastern European countries that countless Jews called home?
How do we teach positive sexual ethics when the leader of the free world boasts about uninvitingly grabbing women’s genitalia and then dismisses it as “locker-room talk”?
How do we uphold the Bible’s charge to tend and care for the Earth when our president removes the United States involvement from a climate change accord that virtually every other nation on the planet has signed?
What do we say to future generations who chant “Never Again” when Neo-Nazis flooded the streets of Charlottesville in 2017 crying “Jews will not replace us” and the president equivocated in his condemnation, creating a false moral equivalency between Neo-Nazis and counter protestors?
Imagine for a moment that the majority of NFL players were Jewish (as difficult as that may be). Instead of protesting police brutality against African Americans, they knelt to show outrage at the rise of anti-Semitism and systemic Jewish targeting by the police force. How might the Jewish community respond then to the president of the United States referring to a protesting Jew as a “son of a bitch”?
The sages of the Talmud teach that the character of a leader is determined by its generation.
The presidential campaign is over and has been so now for over a year. This is no longer about political affiliation between Republicans or Democrats, progressives or conservatives. The concerns surrounding job security, health care and tax reform are legitimate grievances but the soul of our people hangs in the balance. The sages of the Talmud teach that the character of a leader is determined by its generation. Are this man’s values representative of our religious sensibilities and who we are as a people?
Remaining silent is an admission of acquiescence. Heschel wrote, “In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” In order for Judaism to remain relevant in contemporary times, its leaders and communities needn’t be unafraid of engaging in a conversation on the moral duty of this moment.