Photo Credit: Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein

Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away late last month, was a brilliant jurist (having served as an associate justice on the United States Supreme Court for the past thirty years), an acerbic wit, a kind gentleman, and a devout Roman Catholic.

He was a strict constructionist of the American Constitution, often stating that the simple language of the Constitution should not be reinterpreted and twisted in order to render decisions that conform to current mores and political correctness.

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He famously called opinions written by many of his liberal colleagues “haberdashery” or “applesauce.” He was a pugnacious questioner of those who appeared before the court and his sharp intellect and brilliant analysis of constitutional issues impressed all, even those who consistently disagreed with him. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, his ideological polar opposite, claimed him as her best friend on and off the bench of the court.

Scalia was a deeply religious man who operated in the realm of separation of church and state, which is the bedrock of American constitutional democracy. He avoided unnecessary publicity, both personal and familial.

He was a strong voice for tradition, morality, and the old-fashioned value systems of America and was out of tune with much of the liberal policies and legislation that currently rule American society.

His passing will impact the Orthodox Jewish community in the United States. It is no secret that the current dominant culture in America is completely out of tune with Jewish tradition. The relaxation of all sexual mores and restraints, the atmosphere of violence that dominates American television and movies, the hedonistic goals of much of America’s youth, the obsession with personal technology and communication, all impact negatively on the maintenance of a traditionally Jewish way of life and Torah observance.

Justice Scalia had the courage and the bully pulpit to point out that this restructuring of America was in many ways unconstitutional and morally dangerous.

It is unlikely that there will be another voice as strategically placed and influential as was Scalia’s And that will certainly make it culturally, if not even legally, more difficult for an Orthodox Jewish society to maintain the gains made over the last half-century in America.

What happens in general society always profoundly affects the Jewish world, sometimes directly, often indirectly. But it surely affects our world even if most of us are consciously unaware or even uncaring about what the outside non-Jewish political world is interested in or doing. And that type of head-in-the-sand attitude is very dangerous in the long run, as the twentieth century should have proven to us.

The Orthodox presence in Israeli society is larger and more politically potent than it is in the United States. But it is also affected and influenced by the general society, which in turn is strongly influenced by American popular culture.

The shrinking world wrought by advances in technology has effectively destroyed any bulwarks of cultural isolation here in Israel as well. So what the American Supreme Court decides, amazingly, affects Bnei Brak too.

There is great importance to who sits on the Supreme Court. The fact that many in our community may choose to ignore this fact, either out of a belief that what happens in the general world is unimportant or out of a simple misunderstanding of the issues involved, is a great danger to our ability to retain a traditional Jewish life style in the Jewish state.

We have to hope and pray that somehow another champion of moral values will arise in American society.

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Rabbi Berel Wein is an internationally acclaimed scholar, lecturer, and writer whose audiotapes on Torah and other Jewish subjects have garnered a wide following, as have his books, which include a four-volume series on Jewish history. Formerly an executive vice president of the Orthodox Union and rabbinic administrator of the OU’s kashrus division, he founded Yeshiva Shaarei Torah of Rockland in 1977 and moved to Israel in 1997.

4 COMMENTS

  1. R Berel Wein has glorified intolerance, condoned religious coercion, and given his seal of approval to an arch-ideologue who would impose on a pluralistic, democratic society the theology of a minority of arch-conservative.

    Orthodox Judaism might well share some of the specific social values of the religious right of American Christianity; but we don't believe in government's right to coerce such values or to impose them on a diverse civil society; for if we did, we'd wind up be the "coerced" rather than the "coercing" in those many instances where religious practice and belief among Jews is highly divergent from that which is believed and practiced by mainstream Christianity.

    Better we should be allowed to practice our faith voluntarily and not seek to impose our value on others, lest others – more numerous – seek to impose their values, beliefs, and practices on us.

  2. Mr. Hoffman…you fatuous blowhard with no justification for any value you hold…what about forcing people to participate in "gay marriages" or else suing them into starvartion? I bet you wouldn't stand for such a tactic against some "oppressed out group" like Black Fundamentalist Baptists or traditionalist Hispanic Catholics (you know, every secular liberal's favorite honorary non-Xians).

    Judaism (which means what you call "Orthodox Judaism," though some Mizrachim might disagree on technical grounds) is objectively the one and only true religion. Religion is not ethno-cultural mythology. It is like mathematics–either true or false. There is no need for Jews to invoke religious subjectivism or "separation of church [sic] and state" when only the Revelation at Sinai is self-vindicating among all the thousands and thousands of religious revelation claims in history). There isn't even any reason for a non-Jew to dispute this, much less a "proud Jew" such as yourself. Every appeal to "religious freedom" as an excuse to observe Torah is incredibly wrong-headed.

    (By the way, the Big Bang appeared unto me in a dream and told me to inform you that you're not what it had in mind for the Iron Laws of History on their inevitable march to the magic utopia at the end of history. I suggest self-flagellation as an atonement.)

  3. Roy Neal Grissom there's nothing like starting your comment with an ad hominem attack to make you sound like your real message is just hatred..

    Like it or not, while we live in a pluralistic society, the predominant religion is Christianity, and its strong believers or adherants have amassed an surfeit of political power; and the excercise of such power can only inure to the detriment of other religions or of non-beievers.

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