Jewish American publications were coalesced to run the same article on their front pages this past Shabbat, responding with one voice to the Pittsburgh massacre, emulating three UK Jewish publications which did something similar in response to the rising anti-Semitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.
The letter, signed by Jane Eisner, Editor-in-Chief of the Forward, and Dovid Efune, Editor-in-Chief and CEO of The Algemeiner, was sent out to the Jewish Week, JNS, Jewish Journal, Jewish News of Northern California, Washington Jewish Week, Baltimore Jewish Times, Moment Magazine, Hadassah Magazine, and – alas – The Jewish Press.
Opening with a reference to the British Jewish papers, Eisner and Efune wrote: “Today we have found a mournful occasion to follow in their footsteps,” which is a strange line, implying that they had been waiting for an opportunity to run this wall-to-wall endeavor. But that could be merely an example of inarticulate prose, the hallmark of Jewish-American writing since the days of the Bintel Brief.
Next there was condemnation of anti-Semitism (they’re against it) – and “all deadly acts of hate,” which just made good sense.
Then came the dog whistle segment: “We also condemn the climate of hate that has been building for some time now […] from irresponsible political leaders who engage in hateful speech and who are abetted by the silence of others.”
Yes, that was a big payoff, one of the real goals for this entire project: to get respectable, right-wing Jewish newspapers to condemn President Donald Trump – on whom the left has been pinning the responsibly for Pittsburgh the moment the last bullet had found its intended victim.
I believe it’s absolutely OK for Jewish American newspapers to condemn the president’s behavior. But to lure unsuspecting Jewish editors on the busiest day of their production cycle—Tuesday, on a week when they know their readers are hungry for touching and comforting coverage of the Pittsburgh murders – that’s just vile.
At which point Eisner and Efune pulled out their second dog whistle:
“The gunman who invaded a sanctuary on Shabbat did not distinguish among his victims. To him, they were all Jews.
“We are all Jews. Let this horrific massacre be a moment of redemption as well as grieving. Let us argue with each other as Hillel argued with Shamai — with civility. Let us acknowledge our common humanity with other Americans who have been subject to unconscionable violence, too.”
Innocent enough, as statements go, right? What’s more reasonable, even beautiful, than recognizing that, in the end, we are all Jews – better yet, that we are all human?
The dog whistle is in the Hillel and Shamai comparison.
The Pharisees, forefathers of Rabbinic Judaism, invented a wise method of resolving the severe disputes between those two academies of halachic rulings, stating: “These, and these, too, are the words of a living God.” Both schools strongly argued with one another “leshem shamayim,” for the sake of heaven. Which is why both schools’ rulings were adopted into our Rabbinic law.
Not so in the case of the Reform movement, which rejects halacha altogether, and not in the case of the Conservative movement, which has taken its latest version of halacha in a direction no self-aware Orthodox person would follow.
Any Jew on the planet is free to engage in whatever communal life they choose, but do you think the editors and owners of Orthodox newspapers were aware that they were endorsing a letter comparing the rift between Orthodoxy and the non-Orthodox movements to the leshem shamayim disputes between Hillel and Shamai?
Using the Jewish blood from a recent pogrom to gain religious equivalency, even legitimacy, from an Orthodox newspaper like The Jewish Press was immoral and reprehensible. Both Eisner and Efune should be ashamed of themselves.
Finally, the obvious moral of the story: Orthodox Jewish editors, next time you get an email from the Forward – read it a couple of times before you send it to the printer…