At the height of the attacks by Hamas on Israeli cities—and at the same time that Arabs have marauded and randomly attacked Jews, particularly in mixed cities throughout the country—a group of some 90 American non-Orthodox rabbinical students published an open letter on May 13 castigating Israel for its “violent suppression of human rights,” and yes, engaging in “apartheid” policies.
There is no mention of Hamas; no mention of the death and destruction being wrought on Israel; no mention of random violence being directed at Jews—only “tears” at what Israelis are wreaking on the Palestinians.
The gist of the missive takes the form of a series of questions: “What will it take for us to see that our Israel has the military and controls the borders? How many Palestinians must lose their homes, their schools, their lives, for us to understand that today, in 2021, Israel’s choices come from a place of power and that Israel’s actions constitute an intentional removal of Palestinians?”
In other words, while the nation is reeling, these latter-day Jeremiah wannabes have decided that the real crux of the issue is the land dispute over the houses in Shimon HaTzadik, part of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem.
If there were a prize for misplaced sanctimony, surely this letter would win. It is a breathtaking display of a lack of empathy, not to mention sympathy, and a frightening lack of awareness of what it means to be part of a people, specifically the Jewish people.
In and of itself, this should forever disqualify these students from leading a Jewish congregation or community. Sadly, of course, it will not. In some quarters, these narcissists with their CliffsNotes Jewish education will be praised for their willingness to “speak truth to power.”
But a look at Jewish tradition would quickly result in condemnation of their behavior. The many admonitions against lashon harah, “evil speech,” such as slander, and the calls for unity among the Jewish people should have stifled the outrageously self-obsessed, preening and utterly disconnected behavior of the signatories.
The letter speaks of the “tears” of the writers, that their distress should somehow justify their lashing out. But in classic Talmudic fashion, one should read their “tears” not as nouns relating to crying, but rather as a verb describing their behavior, which “tears” the Jewish people apart.
Incidentally, and ironically, these are the same people who decry being left out of decision-making when it comes to Jewish affairs in Israel. But why would anyone in Israel—rabbi or layperson, ultra-Orthodox, national-religious, traditional or even Israeli Reform—want to include such people at the Israeli table? If anything, this letter has brought us all together in revulsion.
The just-released updated Pew Research Center survey on the state of American Jewry finds that there is still a strong level of support for Israel by the rank and file, though clearly, it is less among younger people. Nevertheless, there continues to be among the American-Jewish people a sense of solidarity and affinity with Israel that is completely lacking in these putative future leaders.
These self-proclaimed future leaders have opted for woke purity over Jewish peoplehood. They clearly believe that Israel is the bad actor, that Palestinians are oppressed, that Jews are usurpers and, despite not a shred of context or detail, that Israel is engaged in unspeakable human-rights violations.
Their need to be lumped together with Israel’s power-hungry oppressors sullies their own self-image as Jews. All these self-appointed guardians of moral purity will succeed in doing is to alienate more American Jews from their tradition. There will be those who will follow their lead and turn away from the whole enterprise of being Jewish.
However, there will likely be even more who will conclude that, if these people are what pass as Jewish religious leaders, it’s their tradition/stream of Judaism that’s flawed.
Either way, the seminary signatories will have succeeded in creating a great hilul hashem, a desecration of God’s name, by disparaging, demonizing and libeling their own brethren. Shame on them.
Douglas Altabef is chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.