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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘American Jewry’

JStreet’s Hagel ‘Victory’ is on American Jewry

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

The Jerusalem Post reports today that JStreet, the only lobby dedicated to opposing and putting pressure on Israel, is claiming Hagel’s confirmation as U.S. Secretary of Defense a “victory.”

That’s funny, because JStreet is probably one of the Jewish organizations whose stance mattered least of all, and Hagel is a Secretary of Defense who’s approval was filibustered and who received the most nay votes in all of American history. If this is a show of JStreet power, then those of us who are actually pro-Israel have something to be thankful for.

And what was the battle that was won? JStreet lobbied for the President’s policy. Opposing the president in foreign policy is always an uphill battle. It doesn’t take an Israel lobby to get the president’s nomination through, especially when his party controls the Senate. (Though I admit, it’s useful to have Jews telling Americans to override their natural moral perspective on Israel-related issues).

But there is a victory in there somewhere – perhaps for clarity.

JStreet supported the president in his Israel policy, just as most of American Jewry has done since the days of FDR, when the American government did nothing to save millions of Jews, took part in an informal global conspiracy not to grant fleeing Jews refuge, and by acquiescing in British requests not to do anything which would force the British to let Jews into Palestine.

Jews like then ZOA president Stephen Wise did their best to defend Roosevelt against the “extremists.” Today those extremists include, ironically, the Zionist Organization of America, as well as the neoconservative Emergency Committee for Israel. Even more ironically, those whom the respectable Jews tried to silence were the Jabotinskyite Hillel Kook & Co., a group which included Irgun commander Yitzchak Ben Ami, the father of JStreet head Jeremy Ben Ami.

Take U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer’s support for Hagel. A word from Schumer, a senior Democratic senator, could have forced Obama to withdraw Hagel’s nomination. A word from AIPAC, which remained silent, could have forced Schumer to oppose the nomination or at least not publicly announce that all of his fears had been calmed in a short meeting with Hagel. AIPAC was silent because they need to work with the government – the classic Diaspora Jewish explanation for going along with anti-Zionist policies. Schumer put up no opposition – who knows why? Because he too wanted the President’s support for something? Because of party loyalty? Because he was duped with assurances that from now on Obama would leave Israel alone.

What should be clear now is that while JStreet may be a minor group, it is only doing what most American Jewish leaders already agree to, putting the president’s policy ahead of what common sense and Israel’s obvious interests dictate. American Jews support Democratic presidents. American Jews support Palestinian statehood. American Jews support all other sorts of Israeli concessions because they would rather have the moral high ground than the actual high ground. American Jews criticize Israel to show they are fair observers.

So congratulations, JStreet, you won before you even started! Perhaps you can save your breath, energy and George Soros’ and God knows who else’s money and go home.

A Time for Zero Tolerance and a Time for Tolerance

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

I have never been sexually abused. I therefore have no real way of identifying with the pain suffered by victims of abuse. All I can do is take the word of the victim about the pain they suffer. And of course observe the tragic consequences when the depression a victim falls into as a result of both the abuse the reaction to them by their community. Those consequences are sometimes so severe that they end up in suicide for the victim.

Recent events here in Chicago have once again resulted in a resurfacing of this issue. I am not going to name names. Full disclosure requires me to say that I know and admire some of the people involved. But I am not in a position to interview them. Nor am I in a position to judge them since I do not know all the details of the case. But based on what has surfaced so far in the public square I feel the need to speak out so as to be consistent in my approach to sex abuse.

Here is what I know so far.

An 18 year old female victim who is a student at a religious school here in Chicago posted on her Facebook page about the sex abuse she suffered. When officials at the school discovered this, they asked her in a very insensitive way to remove it as that violated the school’s code for use of social media. She was severely reprimanded for this violation and unless she removed the ‘offensive’ content from her Facebook page she faced a possible expulsion.

The outrage from some in the “victims’ advocates” community against officials of the school came fast and furious… defending the victim’s right to express her pain in any way she saw fit. They condemned the official response of the school. Some are even asking heads to roll. That is the way some see it – calling it a no tolerance policy. I call it ‘slash and burn’ policy.

I completely understand a no tolerance policy when it comes to sex abuse and fully support it. The question arises when such a policy is extended to secondary concerns – important though they may be.

Should there be a slash and burn policy in every case where an official errs in how they handle the pain of a victim? Should the welfare of a fine institution with exceptional leaders be destroyed because someone made a mistake? Should the career and good name of someone who has contributed so much – and many decades of service – be instantly destroyed because of a few poorly chosen words – hurtful though they may have been?

I don’t think that’s right.

Personally, I do not think the response was appropriate. There is little doubt that victim was hurt beyond anyone’s imagination by the abuse she received. And she was once again hurt here. Based on what is public knowledge about this case – this should not have been done. The response seemed cruel to me.

In defense of the institution, they have every right to set a policy for the use of social media and demand that it be followed. And I fully support a school’s right to carry out whatever consequences they spell out in their literature for violations of that policy.

On the other very legitimate hand, doing so in this case – especially the way in which it was done – was using very poor judgment in my view. A school’s right to carry out its policies does not mean they can’t use discretion when it is warranted. When it comes to victims of abuse, there is no better time to use that discretion. What was warranted here was compassion.

I do not fault the school for telling the victim that she should not have used social media to express her pain. This does not stifle her from expressing it. All it does is limit who will have access to it. No matter how much pain a victim suffers, it does not give them the right to use a shotgun approach to disseminating it to the world. There are other – far better ways to do that. Like speaking with parents; or counselors who are experienced in these issues; or a sympathetic teacher; of even a group of intimate friends.

Anti-Semitism as ‘Civil Rights’

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

A New York City department called the New York City Commission on Human Rights has sued a group of religious store owners in Brooklyn. What terrible “crime” have these Torah Jews committed? They require modest clothing to be worn in their stores and do not allow shorts or bare feet, etc.

As with recent state aggression in other countries against shechita and b’rit milah, this lawsuit is anti-Semitism under the guise of lofty social interest. Instead of “animal welfare” or “children’s rights,” the state’s claim is now “equality” and “anti-discrimination.” The bottom line is it’s anti-Semitism in each instance because the government seeks to crush the fulfillment of Judaic values and duties.

Concerning the New York lawsuit, there is also a broader attack against a cornerstone that transcends any religious context: the rights of private property. Simply put, those store owners in Brooklyn could just as well require cowboy boots as prohibit shorts; it’s their business and corresponding right to transact based on these proprietary preferences. As James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers, “Government is instituted no less for protection of the property, than of the persons of individuals.” As former attorney Rabbi Steven Pruzansky similarly notes in a discussion of the 2005 Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London, “It’s well-established that private property…is respected and even celebrated in Torah life.” (See 21:50 here.)

Such protection goes both ways. If wealthy Jew haters want to exclude us from their yacht clubs, it’s both obnoxious and ridiculous to pursue state action against them.

In 2013, America is acutely alienated from these founding principles. “Civil rights” today has become a mechanism by which federal, state, and local governments trample on property rights to further assorted ideological ends. As the legal scholar Richard Epstein has observed vis-a-vis the aftermath of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act:

In the modern context it [civil rights] has become a term that refers to limits on freedom of  association. It has thus repeated the fundamental official mistake of earlier generations  [imposing segregation, for example] by sanctioning active and extensive government  interference in private markets. Civil rights  quickly assumed an imperial air. It now allows the  state (or some group within the state) to force others to enter into private arrangements that  they would prefer to avoid.

New York’s lawsuit extends this imperial, coercive machinery. “The enemies of the Torah are working overtime,” Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt”l remarks in his perush to the Hovot HaLevavot. Now their hostility masquerades as human rights. Defense of both Torah and American values demands opposition to such tyrannical forces.

Protecting Religious Freedom

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Recently, I voted against legislation to allow the federal government to provide cash grants to rebuild houses of worship damaged by natural disasters. Many have asked me to explain why, given my long record of promoting religious liberty, I felt I had to vote “no.” Simply put, my objections went precisely to my determination to protect the rights of the Jewish community and other religious minorities.

The Constitution defends the rights of minority religious communities through the twin mandates of the First Amendment – the guarantee of the free exercise of religion and the prohibition of a government establishment of religion. While I was, of course, tempted to support grants that might provide some relief to a number of shuls, I decided that I simply was not willing to trade that potential short-term benefit for the likelihood of real long-term harm to the religious freedom protections upon which the Jewish community depends. And I certainly wasn’t willing to risk such harm without a single hearing to examine the serious constitutional questions the bill raised.

Some argue that denying these particular grants amounts to a form of religious discrimination. In fact, the Constitution treats religion differently precisely to protect religious minorities from government meddling. Government involvement with religion, while potentially conferring short-term benefits, has historically resulted in governmental interference and favoritism – and that has inevitably worked to disadvantage minority religious communities like ours. The people who wrote our Bill of Rights understood this because they had experienced it, and they, therefore, insisted on the separation of religion and government.

The Supreme Court has been very clear that the core principle of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause is that government may not directly fund religion or religious objects. So, while the courts have permitted government funding for religious institutions’ buildings used for hot lunch programs and for math books used in yeshivas, the courts have consistently rejected using taxpayer money to pay for the types of things this bill would authorize – spaces reserved for religious worship and religious articles such as Bibles, Torahs, and Korans. The record is clear: the Supreme Court has rejected every single case brought before it that attempted to provide the type of funding made available in this bill. So, while the bill may be a nice political gesture, it is highly unlikely that any shuls will ever see any actual funds from it.

And the Supreme Court has ruled this way for good reason. Experience shows that once government starts funding religion, it starts demanding a say in how its money is spent. That has been true of every governmental expenditure. There have even been frequent attempts – which we have worked to beat back – to tell religious institutions how they must spend their own money and to impose governmental oversight of these institutions’ finances. For minority religious groups, including the observant Jewish community, that is a dangerous vulnerability that history has shown can – and will be – exploited by unfriendly outsiders.

The frum community knows government meddling all too well. It is no secret that there are those who are hostile to core Jewish religious practices. There have long been efforts to outlaw shechitah, ban or severely restrict bris milah, and prevent observant Jews from settling in communities where they haven’t previously lived. We have largely prevailed in these fights because of the twin guarantees of the First Amendment, which work together to preserve minority religious rights.

I have fought to preserve those protections because I believe in them, and because I know how the observant Jewish community can be abused without them.

One of my first acts in Congress was to fight for passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act(RFRA), which provides stronger safeguards for religious practices when they conflict with federal governmental requirements – like the right to have kosher food in federal prisons, or to be protected from autopsies.

When the frum community fights attempts by local governments to use zoning laws to block shuls, mikvehs, and shtibelach, or by local residents to block an eruv, it relies on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which I helped write and got passed into law. The mere threat of a RLUIPA lawsuit often makes local governments back down.

Well Intentioned, but Wrong to Condone Homosexuality

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

It seems that the gay marriage is becoming ever more acceptable in society. From an NBC news website:

In a move described by one scholar as “inconceivable” just two years ago, 75 Republicans have signed the brief to be filed in the case of Proposition 8, a California law banning same-sex marriage, The New York Times reported. The nation’s high court will hear arguments on the law in late March.

Four former governors, including Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, and members of President George W. Bush’s cabinet, such as former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, signed the brief, the Times reported. Some of those, such as Meg Whitman, who ran for California governor in 2010, had once opposed same-sex marriage.

I have stated my position on this issue many times. Even though it seems inevitable that it will become the law of the land – I am opposed to legalizing gay marriage. This has nothing to do with how to treat people who have same sex attractions. My position on that is clear. They should be treated as equals among us. And there ought not be any discrimination or disparagement of them. Nor should we judge them. It is not our job to judge what other people do in the privacy of their own homes. Even if we suspect sinful behavior. What two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home is between them and God.

When it comes to interacting with openly gay people, we have an obligation to treat them with the human dignity that every one of God’s creations deserve. They are no less created in God’s image than people who are attracted to the opposite sex. Who we are attracted to does not define who we are. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, we ought to judge people by the content of their character. Being gay is not a character issue.

But that does not make gay sex permissible or excusable. The Torah is very clear about that too. It is a very serious violation of biblical law. There is no way around that no matter how compassionate we try to be. It is for this reason that I oppose gay marriage. Because the implication of that is to place a public imprimatur on behavior that is sinful. It is in effect koshering a forbidden lifestyle. Making gay marriage not just value neutral but something positive.

This ignores the underlying sinful behavior – completely removing it from the category of sin. By definition marriage gives a societal blessing a gay couple implying that that gay sex is as moral as heterosexual sex. We are saying via legislation that we approve equally of both types of behavior. Gay marriage does not only permit gay sex – it virtually endorses it as a completely legitimate alternative to heterosexual sex.

I don’t blame gay people for wanting to be treated as completely normal in every way possible. No one likes to be stigmatized – even a little bit. The homosexual community wants the world to look at them in the same way as they look at heterosexuals. As complete equals living a sin free lifestyle – same as heterosexual.

Much as I feel for their plight and their desire to be treated as normal, treating gay sex a sin free sex is not what the Torah intended by forbidding it.

This has nothing to do with how to treat gay people. But it has everything to do with how we treat gay sex. We cannot say it’s OK to have gay sex when it is not.

I know there are people who disagree with me on both sides of the issue. I have little patience for bigots who would deny human rights to a gay person and refuse to grant them any human dignity. But on the other side of the issue – sometimes one can have too much compassion and end up completely rationalizing away sex between two men. There is no doubt in my mind that it is a biblically forbidden act no matter what the circumstances are.

And yet well intentioned people are trying to rationalize the sin away entirety. This is the case with Rabbi Zev Farber. About a year ago he wrote an essay wherein he came up with a novel approach to gay sex that would completely take away any culpability for sin by two gay men engaging in it.

While acknowledging that there has been an evolution of sorts even among Haredim with respect to treating gay people with compassion, he felt that both an Agudah Statement as well as an RCA statement fell short of treating gay people fairly. The implication of both statements is that gay sex is still forbidden and that they must live celibate lives to avoid sin. Here is how he stated his problem:

I once suggested the following thought experiment to a colleague: “If, for some reason, it became clear that the Torah forbade you to ever get married or to ever have any satisfying intimate relationship, what would you do?” My own reaction to this question is: although part of me hopes I would be able to follow the dictates of the Torah, I have strong doubts about the possibility of success, and I trust that my friends and colleagues would be supportive of me either way.

His point of course is that it is unnatural if not impossible to ask a human being to deny his sex drive no matter what his sexual orientation is. And yet gay sex is a forbidden act according to the Torah. The vast majority of educated opinion is that gay people cannot change their sexual orientation. His solution is to apply a Halachic principle called Oness (pronounced Oh-Ness) Rachmana Patrei. If one is forced to commit a sin, the Torah exempts him from any culpability. The obvious question is, why should a voluntary act of sex (of any kind) at any given moment be considered forced?

Rabbi Farber argues that when there is no Halachic outlet at all to satisfy one’s natural sex drive then at some point that drive takes over and must be satisfied. That makes it an Oness – forced. When a gay person succumbs – he therefore is absolved of any guilt. He is in effect forced by his own God given nature to act in a way that would be forbidden to heterosexual men.

The problem is that this argument eliminates the sin of gay sex in it’s entirely. Heterosexual men would hardly violate that law. And gay men are exempt from it. So why would the Torah even mention it? Furthermore this argument can be used for pedophiles too. It is well known that pedophiles too cannot not control their attraction to children either. Oness Rachmana Patrei! There are of course reasons to forbid sex with minors. But the Onesss is still there… and we should not discriminate based his sexual orientation. Is there a soul anywhere that would agree with that?!

To Rabbi Farber’s credit, he does not advocate gay marriage in Judaism:

To be sure, calling something oness does not make the action halakhically permitted; it is not. Moreover, adopting the oness principle does not mean that halakha recognizes same sex qiddushin (Jewish marriage) – it does not.

The bottom line for me is that I think he errs in his use of the Halachic device of Oness Rachmana Patrei. And I also believe that he errs in suggesting we encourage “exclusivity and the forming of a loving and lasting relationship-bond as the optimal lifestyle for gay Orthodox Jews who feel they are oness and cannot be celibate.”

It is completely wrong to encourage a lifestyle that is conducive to sinful behavior. But I agree that we ought not be judgmental about it when we see it.

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Can a Gadol Resign?

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

The Pope’s resignation has generated responses from many in our community about the lessons we can learn from that. Here is the way Professor Lawrence Kaplan put it: “The main reason (the Pope’s resignation) is relevant is that many of our octogenarian and nonagenarian Gedolim might take a lesson from the Pope.”

I think this is an error. The two are not comparable. The Pope has an official position in the Church from which he can resign. A true Gadol has nothing official to resign from. He is a Gadol because of his achievements… and because he has recognition from his peers and community about those achievements. You can’t resign from achievements.

The fact that a Gadol might be a member of an organized group of peers is irrelevant to his actual status as a Gadol. One can be a Gadol without belonging and one can resign from that group if he does belong. But one cannot resign from being a Gadol.

If on the other hand a Gadol becomes demented because of an age related illness (Alzheimers for example) – it will be noticed, and his opinions will no longer be accepted. That does not lessen our responsibility to honor him. It is just a recognition that he is no longer of sound mind… and shailos (halachic questions) should no longer be asked of him.

That in theory is the ideal. But the reality is not like that, I’m afraid.

What I believe happens today is that some elderly Gedolim are so sheltered by their handlers from the public, that if they ever do become demented, no one would know but the handlers. And they’re not going to tell anybody for two reasons: (1) They believe it would dishonor him for people to know that he suffers from dementia, and (2) they can still use him to “Paskin” (rule) for them on their issues by surmising what he would have said had he been in full control of his mental faculties.

The problem with that is twofold as well.These handlers often have their own agendas which color their beliefs about what a Gadol would say… and the fact is that they are lying to the public.

The question arises quite frequently in our day when so many who are considered Gedolim are well into their 90s. Yet people still go to them for advice.

Age alone should not disqualify anyone from being of sound mind. Dementia is an illness common to old age, but not every old person becomes demented. For example those who were privileged to speak directly to Rav Elyashiv even as he entered and passed his 100th year on earth can testify to the man’s soundness of mind… and ability to render a decision. To have asked him to resign from being a Gadol is like asking a man or a woman to resign from their gender.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. Even if a Gadol is of sound mind – he can sometimes be misused and misquoted by his handlers. Access to him may be limited and controlled. Decisions on public policy can be said in his name even if he did not actually say them. Or he can be misled and make public policy decisions based on misinformation.

Should that completely disqualify him? Should he refuse to ever render another decision? I don’t think so. The solution is not to resign from your “Gadlus” but to fire your handlers when you find out they are misleading or misquoting you. Even if their intentions are honorable.

There are those who would say that if a Gadol could be so easily misled and he knows it – he should ‘abdicate’ his role as a Gadol. The truth is that a lot of damage can be caused if he continues dispensing advice or making edicts in these circumstances. One need not look further than Rav Elyashiv’s ban on Rav Nosson Kamenetsky’s book Making of a Gadol.

Others might say that if he continues to function as a Gadol and giving advice knowing that sometimes he is misled – that is too great a flaw in his character to even be considered a Gadol.

But I don’t agree. Gedolim are not perfect. They are human, just like the rest of us. A true Gadol will always try to do the right thing. And the public should not lose out because of occasional errors. Not availing oneself to the mind of a Gadol would be a loss to the world, too. The best way to avoid error is personal contact. Asking a Gadol to stop giving advice is an unnecessary loss of a valuable option.

How the World Sees Men in Black

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Last Friday night, the TV series Blue Bloods had a Hasidic themed episode. A segment of that episode that was filmed in Boro Park by an onlooker was uploaded to YouTube.

Now that I’ve seen the actual episode, (…it can be viewed online) I can comment on it. The storyline involved the death of a Hasidic Rebbe in what looked like Williamsburg. He knew he was dying and had to choose which one of his two sons would inherit his Hasidic dynasty (shades of Satmar.)

The rest of the plot involved the highly unlikely circumstance where one of the two brothers was murdered… a brother that had an affair with a non Jewish woman. (Although it is not unheard of that a Jewish religious leader has ended up committing adultery even on a biblical level). As police dramas go it ended up as a who done it… where in the end we find out who the perpetrator was.

But the storyline and plot are not the issue of this post. What is at issue for me is how Jews and Judaism are portrayed in Hollywood. There have been many such portrayals in the past. Most of them inaccurate… often making us look like people of great faith but nonetheless fools that reject the far better ways of a modern and enlightened society. Thus living archaic and unnecessarily primitive lives. Especially Hasidim. The portrayal of the rabbi as a doddering old fool in Fiddler on the Roof comes to mind.

But in recent portrayals the image has been improving and is much more accurate. That was the case here. Leaving out the ridiculous storyline – I could not really find fault with the behavior as depicted on the screen. Which was not all that flattering.

The Hasidic Rebbe was portrayed with great reverence and sensitivity. But the depiction of some of his Hasidim reflected the reality of how many of them relate to non Jews. Especially the police. It is to the credit of the writers that the lead characters in the show did not end up hating Jews… and realized that every society has its problems as well as people with bad attitudes.

As an aside it is also interesting to note that Hollywood now realizes that Hasidim are not representative of all observant Jewry. They are just one segment of us. That too is an improvement over the past where religious Jews did not get broken down into varying different types. The religious Jew as Hollywood saw him was a kind of conglomeration of all religious Jews rolled into one. Modern Orthodox Jews were not on Hollywood’s radar until relatively recently. Thank you Joe Lieberman, Michael Mukasey, and Jack Lew.

Which brings me to an article in the Jerusalem Post by Rabbi Shumley Boteach. I do not always agree with him on the issues. In fact sometimes I find him to be an outrageous self promoter. Other times I find him just plain embarrassing. But at the same time I find that he often he makes a lot of sense. In most of this article, that was the case.

His point was one that I make quite often here: That as a people we have been falling far short of the Torah’s mandate to be an Or LaGoyim – a light unto the nations.

Rabbi Boteach considers catastrophic the notion that Jews are no more moral than anyone else. I think that the depiction of Hasidim on that show demonstrates this point. They are made to look and act like anyone else. With the same prejudices and lack of ethics. The only difference between them and the rest of society being their clothing, long beards, and claims of piety. It isn’t that hard to understand why that is the case. But rather than paraphrasing let me quote what he said… words that I have said many times myself in various different contexts:

Simply put, if learning and honoring God’s will doesn’t make us better people, then most will choose to discard Judaism as an empty relic of a superstitious past. PICTURES OF five handcuffed New Jersey rabbis had already rocked the American Jewish establishment when the even more gory news of a double murder in a gay Tel Aviv community center gave Orthodoxy an even greater challenge.

Orthodox Judaism has reached a moment of truth. Many people no longer believe that Jewish learning and observance make you a better person. They no longer believe there is any correlation between keeping Shabbat and keeping honest, between wearing tzitzit and avoiding adultery, or between lighting Shabbat candles and seeing the light of God’s grace in every human being. And we Orthodox have no one but ourselves to blame. We are often “religious” without being spiritual, prayerful without being humble and ritually precise without displaying the same punctiliousness in business… Orthodoxy without morality and basic humanity is a religion without God. It is cold, harsh, an abomination.

This is so true. Nonetheless it is a truth too often ignored by far too many people who call themselves religious. I happen to believe, as does Shmuley, that most religious Jews are ethical and moral. That we do have our heads screwed on straight. That we do act in ways that reflect in ourselves the image of God. But there are too great a number of religious Jews who do not. And as I have always said, the fault is in how we educate our children. There is simply way too much emphasis on the minutia of Halacha and not enough emphasis on ethical and moral behavior. It is ethical and moral behavior that makes us a light unto the nations. Not wearing our Tztzis out. Or having a long beard. I don’t think I can say it any better than Shmuley does:

Our children must be taught not only the rituals that will make them good Jews, but the underlying values that will make them good people. Children in yeshiva should learn not only the correct blessing before eating an apple, but that the purpose of all such blessings is to instill gratitude. That when a boy with tzitzit and a yarmulke passes a soldier in uniform, he should thank him for protecting him and allowing them both to live openly with their faith. When our sons don yarmulkes, let us remind them that it’s not only a symbol of identity but a reminder of constant supervision. God is watching us at all times, even when the FBI is not – especially when the FBI is not. To that I say – Amen!

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Finding the Jewish Billy Graham, the Israeli Martin Luther King

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

The Jewish people can be characterized as a noble and distinguished nation who have excelled in nearly every area but sports and messaging. We can cite but a handful of Jews who have won an Olympic medal, caught a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, or hit a home run in the World Series. And we can cite even fewer who have succeeded in countering the prevailing notion of the Jews as Christ-killing political subversives who have cynically sucked the economic life out of the nations that have been gracious enough to host them.

The failure at sports is forgivable. If the Jews do not hoist the Vince Lombardy trophy their peoplehood might yet survive. The failure at PR, however, is fatal. The catalogue of accusations that have been hurled against the Jews without a proper riposte boggles the imagination and has led to mounds of dead Jews.

Two thousand years ago we were accused of murdering the man Christians believe was the creator’s son. A thousand years later we were drinking the blood of all Christian sons. A few hundred years and we were now poisoning the wells of Europe. And in modern times we are bombing innocent Palestinian children, cutting down their olive gardens, and evicting them from their homes.

My recent Congressional race was against an opponent who had signed a letter accusing Israel of collective punishment against the Palestinians in Gaza. Many pro-Israel groups said they would support him nonetheless because words did not matter so much as actions and Bill Pascrell had repeatedly voted to support Israel aid. The same is now being said of Chuck Hagel whose accusations against the Jews run the gamut from intimidation to “keeping Palestinians caged up like animals.” But he is kosher because he voted for American military aid to Israel. The rest is but commentary.

But of what use are American helicopter gunships that were given to Israel as a result of these votes if they cannot even be deployed because of the deligitimization that resulted from harmful words hurled by lawmakers? You can have the strongest army on earth. But if it can’t be used because a CNN camera is trained on it amid false accusations of atrocities over legitimate defense then that military force may as well not exist.

What I’m really saying is that PR is nearly the whole ball game and we Jews have lost the battle not just in modern times with Israel but throughout a long and tragic history. A nation charged with being a light unto the nations has singularly failed to communicate the humanity of its character, the generosity of its lifestyle, and the holiness of its ways.

In mid-century America evangelical Christianity was seen as extreme, fundamentalist, unsophisticated, and backward. Evangelicals believed in a faith-filled revival but the results were dismal. Then, a great charismatic spokesman arose in the son of a dairy farmer named Billy Graham. The focus on communication, messaging, and mass-market public relations turned the tide. Today, an astonishing one out of every five Americans calls themselves a born-again Christian.

Charismatic spokesmen likewise turned the tide of the civil rights movement. In 1955 black men and women were required to move to the back of the bus in many cities of the South, including Birmingham, Alabama. A black child kicking a soccer ball in the oppressive summer heat of Selma could not drink water from a white fountain. Rising to the occasion to protest this humiliating injustice, Martin Luther King, Jr., all of 25 years old, found the words to combat the monstrous prejudice and convince the masses to march. His stirring words haunt us still today. “There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair.”

But one searches in vein for the Jewish Billy Graham or the Jewish Martin Luther King. Where are the great spokesmen of our people to teach the world of Jewish charity, Jewish education, and Jewish values? Why are we not training a generation of media and press Ambassadors to expose and reverse the fraudulent accusations against Israel that are daily occurrences at the U.N., the BBC, and the Arab press?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/america-rabbi-shmuley-boteach/finding-the-jewish-billy-graham-the-israeli-martin-luther-king/2013/02/13/

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