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American Jewry’s New Religion


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Rabbi Daniel Lapin has this rather refreshing habit of going against the Jewish establishment’s liberal grain. He’s also quite obviously unafraid of taking on even the most cherished folkways of American Jewry, perhaps most notably its obsession with the Holocaust – an obsession he views as nothing less than detrimental to the spiritual health of the community.The president of Toward Tradition, a politically conservative organization dedicated to fighting the corrosive effects of secularism in American society, Rabbi Lapin has long decried the iconic status the Holocaust has assumed among Jews, inevitably as a secular substitute for vibrant religious observance.

‘It’s interesting to reflect,’ he observed last month, ‘that we Jews are, after all, inheritors of a religion that instructs us to ‘choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19). ‘Yet our community leaders are constantly choosing to assail us with images of death, as if Judaism were some weird death cult. And they charge us for it!

‘I wish the Holocaust was remembered as it should be, on Tisha b’Av. Then all that money could be spent on something genuinely life-promoting, like teaching young Jews about Judaism.’

It should come as no surprise that Rabbi Lapin exhibits little enthusiasm for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. In fact, Toward Tradition has called for ‘a complete defunding’ of the institution by the Federal government, which currently foots 60 percent of the museum’s budget.

In a press release issued last February, Rabbi Lapin’s organization noted that ‘In just the past four years, the museum has come under fire for showing visitors a film that blames Nazism on Christianity – a libelous distortion; seeking to appoint as director of its Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies a scholar who had compared the election of President Reagan to the rise of Nazism; celebrating a book that charged Israel with ‘ethnic cleansing'; and sponsoring a panel that accused the CIA of ‘genocide.’ ‘
As for the museum’s most recent embarrassment, the press release took note of the fact that the chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, Rabbi Irving ‘Yitz’ Greenberg, had written a letter to then-President Clinton – on museum stationery – in which Greenberg declared that to allow the fugitive Marc Rich to return to the U.S. free from fear of prosecution would be ‘one of the most G-dlike actions that anyone could ever do.’As the statement wryly pointed out, ‘The G-dlike President Clinton accepted this advice (along with generous contributions from the ex-wife of Mr. Rich).’ The statement also made mention of published reports that ‘a philanthropic interest linked with Rabbi Greenberg had received from Mr. Rich some $5 million.’

The press release concluded with a statement from Rabbi Lapin: ‘As time goes by, it becomes increasingly hard to see how one might explain to, let us say, a wheat farmer in Iowa why his tax dollars should go to support such an institution. Nor is it as if the United States had anything whatever to do with the Holocaust, a fact that made the museum a questionable object of federal largesse to begin with.’

In a timely piece appearing this week on NationalReviewOnline, Rabbi Lapin gives a broader context to his dismay with how the cult of the Holocaust has displaced Judaism in American Jewish life, comparing the observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day with that of Shavuot.

‘In the former case,’ he writes, ‘enthusiastic Jews young and old crowded synagogues, temples, and Jewish Community Centers around the country….Community leaders of every denomination warned us not to forget our history.

‘And yet, just a few weeks later, on Shavuot, the day commemorating the giving of the Torah, when the people of Israel became a nation, most Jews [preferred] to forget history. Year after year, in spite of its centrality to all of Jewish existence…Shavuot is trumped by Holocaust Remembrance Day.’

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at jmaoz@jewishpress.com.


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