Forty five US rabbis identified with the leftwing of the Orthodox movement — two of them women who received ordination — on Friday issued a statement titled, “Orthodox Rabbinic Statement Against Hateful Rhetoric and Principles,” in which they condemn Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for his attacks on Mexicans and on Muslims.
“In the current presidential election, we have been deeply troubled to hear proposals that condemn whole groups and which are justified by pointing to evil behaviors by members of that group or religion,” the rabbis wrote. “Wholesale condemnations—such as the proposal to ban all Muslim immigration into the United States—violate the principle of individual responsibility and violate the fundamental religious principle of ‘love thy neighbor as thyself,’ which is one of the greatest commandments of Judaism (see Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:4). These proposals violate the biblical prohibitions to spread hatred or slander about groups and individuals and violate the oft-repeated biblical command to love the stranger.”
The quote from the Yerushalmi is the famous note by Rabbi Akiva that “Love your friend as you would yourself” is a great Torah principle. It is, but it refers exclusively to Jews, as can be easily discerned from the complete verse: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against the people of your nation (B’nei Amecha), and love your friend (Re’acha) as you would yourself, I am God.” Of course, there are universal interpretations of this verse, but as it happens, the Yerushalmi chapter the group cited actually emphasizes one line earlier the idea of the verse referring to the people of your own nation, meaning Jews.
Frankly, even if one does not support Trump’s xenophobic attacks on “Rapist Mexicans” and “the Muslims,” a group of 45 learned rabbis could have come up with a more convincing, perhaps intellectually challenging argument, especially since they present the Trump proposals on banning—temporarily—Muslim immigration without context, as if the candidate just picked a fight with a billion and a half peaceful people who are minding their own business just worrying about grazing their camels and perfecting their hummus.
The 45 rabbis also say they were “shocked by the disrespect shown to parents who suffered the greatest pain—losing a son who died in the service of our country. The Torah commands us always to comfort mourners. The fact that the parents criticized a candidate does not justify harsh and hurtful retaliation.”
This time they didn’t go to the Yerushalmi to support their “always comfort mourners” point. It’s probably not true, as can be seen in the commandments regarding the beautiful war captive, where comforting her as she is mourning her killed parents is distinctly not part of the Jewish soldier’s obligations.
They also attack Trump for his “authoritarian tendencies” and “personal vendettas that come across as a dismissal of constitutional rights and legal processes.” They’re about a year late in comforting Prime Minister Netanyahu, who suffered from the personal vendettas of the current US president. Maybe there’s something in the Yerushalmi about that.
Finally, the Jerusalem Post ran its report of the announcement with the headline “40 New York Orthodox rabbis condemn Trump’s ‘hateful rhetoric’” illustrated with a picture of Satmar Hassidim, which is probably discussed at length in the Yerushalmi, concerning the prohibition on Gneivat Da’at (intellectual deceit).David Israel