Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
It’s hard to believe that every day the news reports have Syrians dying like flies and noone seems to give much of a damn. The report yesterday that 80 students were blown to smithereens was particularly galling. They were studying at their University in Aleppo when, apparently, death rained down from the sky, either through a missile or a bomb. One image had a female hand with a pen still in it, dismembered from the rest of her body. She apparently died while doing school work.
I was a Rabbi at a University. If 80 students had died in a military attack it would have shaken the foundations of the academic world. Professors everywhere would have condemned this violation of the sacred halls of academia. But in Syria it’s just another day of indiscriminate slaughter.The United States is the world’s strongest nation with the loudest voice. Can’t President Obama speak out? I know we’re not ready to invade Syria or impose a no-fly zone. Americans don’t have the stomach for another war, or an invasion. But does that absolve us from simply condemning the slaughter in the strongest possible terms? What would it cost, in blood and treasure, for President Obama to fly up to New York and address the United Nations with a simple declaration: “President Assad, I’m here today to tell you that the long arm of international justice will catch up with you. Today you’re a brutal dictator killing men, women, and children in order to stay in power. But one day, in the not too distant future, we will catch up with you. You will be arrested for crimes against humanity and tried for your butchery and mass murder. It may not happen today or tomorrow. But I assure that you one day, in the not too distance future, in the dead of night when you least expect it, it will happen. Soldiers of civilized nations will apprehend you and take you to the International Court of Justice at The Hague where you will stand trial before the world for your cruelty. And you will be held accountable for your appalling crimes.”
Isn’t that what the UN is for? It’s bad enough that China, and especially Russia, are protecting Assad and refusing to allow international action against him. But the American president is the very symbol of democratic freedoms and human rights to the entire world. He dare not remain silent.Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg recently reported that President Obama said that Israelis don’t know what’s good for them. Bibi wants to build in Jerusalem but doesn’t realize that he is isolating Israel further in the international community.
I appreciate the President’s concerns. No doubt Israelis are especially grateful for the American President’s ability to divine Israel’s security needs even better than their chosen leaders. But perhaps our President should focus less on construction of apartments and homes and do something instead about the bombs and rockets that are killings tents of thousands of innocent Arabs. Syria is arguably the greatest humanitarian crisis that President Obama has had on his watch and he is, respectfully, failing miserably in doing anything about it.The Arab leaders have proven even less reliable. While President Morsi of Egypt decries Jews as descendants of apes and pigs, he seems fairly oblivious to the indiscriminate slaughter of his Arab brothers in Syria. But it’s become fairly obvious that it’s not the Jews who are the enemy but brutal Arab dictators who will kill as many Arabs as is necessary to stay in office.
The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, seems much more interested in forking over to Al Gore half a billion dollars to buy Current TV for Al Jazeera than taking out full page ads in the worlds’ leading publications alerting them to the Arab children who are dying in Damascus.In the book of Genesis God asks Cain where his brother Abel is. Cain has just killed him and in effort to protect himself famously asks, “Am I brother’s keeper?” God’s response is ferocious. “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”
We who witnessed the repeated genocides of the twentieth century –from Armenia and the Holocaust to Cambodia and Rwanda – will one day be called to account for our silence in the face of dead students and children.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just published his newest best-seller, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
This column is dedicated to the memory of Machla Debakarov, the mother of a close friend of Rabbi Shmuley’s.
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January 9, 2013 | 10:14 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
A few years ago I was out having dinner with my orthodox, gay, Jewish brother when a religious man walked over to me and asked if I was Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. From his aggressive posture I knew in my gut that I should not respond in the affirmative but was simply too tired to lie. So I said, yes, I was he. “I think you’re a dog and a disgrace to religion.” After offering a short, “Ruff, ruff,” I asked him what I had done to so offend him. He said, “You call yourself a Rabbi but you’re always out defending gays whom the Bible clearly says are an abomination.” I tried to reason with the man but his hatred for me was such that I had to let it go. What I experienced that day had happened often enough to me to kind of get used to it. But the irony was that my brother was sitting right there and he too has had to endure, since coming out in his late teens, the ugliness of some religious people treating him with vitriol. Still, he has held tightly on to his Jewish faith and its rituals and leads a charitable, compassionate life. He will not allow religious haters to tell him whether or not he is allowed a relationship with God.
This painful story came to mind when I read of former Senator Chuck Hagel’s radical opposition, in 1998, to James Hormel, President Bill Clinton’s choice to be ambassador to Luxembourg, on the grounds that Hormel was “openly, aggressively gay.” Here was a United States senator abusing his power and refusing to allow a nomination for an Ambassadorship to go ahead simply because the man was gay. And yes, I am well aware of the fact that Hagel has not apologized, albeit 13 years later, when political expediency would demand it.
Now, I understand that Luxembourg is an extremely vital diplomatic post and that our chief diplomat there is an essential cog in the larger wheel of national security. But just what was Hagel worried about?
If the issue was that Hormel was not living in accordance with Biblical teachings, then neither was the President of the United States in that fateful year of 1998. Besides, America is a country with separation of Church and State. So a man’s unwillingness to live in accordance with all the laws of the Bible should surely not weigh in any decision as to his worthiness for public office.
And unlike the President of the United States who was guilty of a moral infraction in deceiving his wife through infidelity, homosexuality is a religious sin that is not a moral infraction since noone is being lied to. The ban on homosexuality in the Bible is similar to the ban on lighting fire on the Sabbath. There is nothing immoral about it, but it contravenes religious law.
Perhaps Hagel was saying that, regardless, a man who openly defies the dictates of the Bible cannot be trusted in a public role. But then the Bible also says, regarding Israel and the Jewish people, “Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.” (Numbers 24:9). But that did not stop Hagel from referring to pro-Israel activists as “the Jewish lobby,” with its Protocols of Zion overtones of Jewish manipulation of world affairs, and offered the further slur of saying that “the Jewish lobby intimidated lawmakers.” We can only hope that their intimidation is not as severe as those who are openly, aggressively gay.
The Bible further says concerning Israel, “For thus said the Lord of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye.” (Zechariah 2:8) But that did not stop Hagel from voting against sanctions against Iran, even though Iran not only wishes to plunder Israel but wipe it off the map. As the New York Times noted, Hagel was only one of two senators to vote against the Iran-Libya sanctions act in 2001, “arguing that it would undercut efforts to engage with Tehran." Were these verses in the Bible less important to Hagel then those banning homosexuality?
Perhaps most famously the Bible says, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3) But that did not dissuade Hagel from his most unfortunate comment of being “not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator,” with its disgusting insinuation of the old anti-Semitic canard of Jews and dual loyalties.
Now, why would the Senator insist on the Biblical teachings regarding homosexuality but not those of protecting Israel?
While we should always try and judge people positively, it would seem that the only real explanation is that his opposition to gays is motivated not by religious convictions but just good old-fashioned homophobia. As to the State of Israel, we can only wonder what motivates his lack of sympathy.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” this week publishes his newest book, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.”