Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Why Our Congressman is Wrong About the Libyan Mission in Englewood
Has Congressman Steve Rothman forgotten whom he works for?
In a January 4th press release he spends three full pages attacking me and defending the “rights” of the Libyan Ambassador to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, to reside next door to me in the New Jersey suburb of Englewood. Rothman bases this opinion on agreements between the Libyans and the State department in 1982 – agreements brokered by none other than… Steve Rothman.
Is my Congressman seriously suggesting that I have to abide by a 27-year-old deal that was struck behind close doors and without the consent of the people of Englewood? Does he seriously believe that the honest, hard-working residents of this city, who came out so forcefully to oppose Kaddafi moving in last September, want to see his Ambassador move in with his Libyan security force and intelligence personnel? Will he really defend the right of an envoy of a terror-sponsoring government to live in our midst, spending millions of dollars on his home while refusing for more than a quarter of a century to pay even one dollar in taxes? And would he have me tolerate a neighbor who cut down my trees and removed my fence but has refused to respond to a single call?
Congressman, it’s time to stop living in the past. In the 27 years since you made this arrangement quite a lot has transpired, including a little thing called 9/11. The representatives of terror-sponsoring states have no business living away from the United Nations and here in New Jersey.
Shalgham is the same Ambassador who recently disgraced the UN Security Council by spontaneously bringing in a slide show that showed Israeli soldiers purportedly mutilating Palestinian civilians. He runs a mission that last year trivialized the holocaust and created a grotesque blood libel against Israel by comparing Gaza to a concentration camp. He is the foremost representative of a government that just threw a Mardi Gras-style celebration on international TV honoring the cold-blooded Lockerbie bomber, and is the personal representative of a terror-funding dictator who has bombed American servicemen and said in October that the Palestinians should be given nuclear weapons.
Is it fair that Congressman Rothman would inflict this man upon me and my nine children? Is the Congressman serious when he tells the press, “I hope everyone will be appropriately good neighbors”? Is he not aware that the Libyan property also abuts one of New Jersey’s leading Jewish day schools, Moriah? Why would he push his 1982 agreement with the Libyans on hundreds of unsuspecting Jewish children from our neighborhood who, along with my children, are now at risk? Perhaps Congressman Rothman ought to amend the agreement so that the homeless Libyan Ambassador can move next door to him.
Rothman’s statement that I, and presumably Moriah, always knew that the Libyans lived next door is a travesty of the facts. As everyone who resides in Englewood knows, the property was a derelict, communal eyesore for years. Being vacant, no one feared it. But now that the Libyans have, over the last few months, deployed an army of workers to upgrade the property to palatial standards, tried to move Kaddafi in, and moved in its Ambassador as a permanent resident, you bet we’re concerned. I now have the Libyan flag flying ten feet from my property and can shortly look forward to my children negotiating with Libyan security personnel every time they hit a baseball over the fence.
Earth to Congressman Rothman, you represent the concerned citizens of Englewood, not the oil-rich dictatorship of Libya. Kaddafi’s stolen billions have given him plenty of people to defend him. But we the residents of Englewood have only you and our other elected officials. Please try and remember that you’re not in Tripoli but among the constituents of New Jersey’s ninth district which sent you to Washington to fight for our interests.
Finally, it would behoove our Congressman to be more gracious toward his brave constituents in giving them their due credit for having pushed Kaddafi out. The movement to bar Kaddafi from our city garnered international headlines precisely because of the broad coalition that came together to keep him out. Everyone from our Mayor to local Rabbis and pastors to ordinary citizens to our Congressman to our Senators and Governor created such a public furor in the media and in public demonstrations outside the Libyan mission that its government had no choice but to capitulate to the will of the people. This was a victory of the people. It is my fervent hope that Englewood’s noble citizens continue the fight against Kaddafi’s personal Ambassador even if our elected officials do not.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network, which works to heal families in need and bring values to the media and culture. He is the author of many books including his most recent ‘The Blessing of Enough: Rejecting Material Greed, Embracing Spiritual Hunger.’ www.shmuley.com
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December 22, 2009 | 2:37 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Like many people these days, I am a busy man. But that did not stop me from taking off several weeks of my professional life to fight Muammar Kaddafi’s plan to take up residence directly next door to me this past August and September. Together with my friend and Mayor, Michael Wildes, and the support of the entire Englewood, New Jersey, community, we pushed Kaddafi out. Sad to say, it was a pyrrhic victory. Last month, with great stealth and with the cooperation of the State Department, our otherwise brilliant police force, and the silent acquiescence of our elected leaders, his Ambassador to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, moved in and took up residence as my immediate next door neighbor. Every time my kids hit a baseball a bit too far, it goes into Libyan territory and on to the lawn of a man who last week disgraced the UN Security Council by showing a gruesome slide show featuring images of mutilated Palestinians with Israeli soldiers as the culprits. His condemnation of Israel in Gaza made no mention of the thousands of Hamas rockets that had been fired without provocation at Israeli children.
These are the same Libyans who in August welcomed a mass murderer – Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber – with great fanfare into Tripoli (Megrahi, who was released by Scottish authorities on humanitarian grounds because he only had three months to live, is miraculously still alive.). They are the same Libyans whose leader called in October for the Palestinians to be given nuclear weapons. And they are the same Libyans who have shown our city undisguised contempt by refusing over a quarter century to pay even a single dollar in taxes and who cut down my fence and trees that separate my property from theirs without so much as a courtesy phone call, thereby forcing me to sue them in Federal court.
From the age of sixteen all I ever wanted to be was a Rabbi, someone who brings healing to broken lives and values to a needy culture. But for the first time in my life I find myself contemplating a run for elective office. The reason is simple. The Talmud declares, “In a place where there are no men stand up and become one.” The fact that our elected officials allow the representative of state-sponsors of terrorism to live in our community is scandalous. When I read that my own Congressman and friend Steve Rothman, who fought so hard against Kaddafi, had now told the New Jersey Jewish Standard that an agreement had been reached 25 years ago allowing the Ambassador to take up residence and that therefore “I hope everyone will be appropriately good neighbors,” I was beside myself. Is he seriously asking me to borrow a cup of sugar from a man whose government murdered American servicemen while they danced at a disco?
Without sounding paranoid it’s time that we in the Jewish community face some facts. Across the globe it’s open season on the Jews. Few of us would have believed that a country like Britain that gave the world parliamentary democracy would be guilty of attempting to ban Israeli professors from academic conferences, would have a magistrate issue an arrest warrant against Israel’s former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, would require a label on products from the West Bank as being made by Jewish settlers, and would have its Supreme Court dictate to the Jewish community who its members are.
Then came the news, reported in the New York Times, that Pope Benedict XVI is moving ahead with plans to canonize Piux XII, the man known as Hitler’s Pope who made a Concordat with the Fuhrer and who, as the world’s foremost spiritual figure refused even once to condemn the holocaust. This is the same infallible leader who on 16 October, 1943, watched quite literally as more than a thousand Jews of Rome were rounded up in trucks, within 300 feet of the his Vatican Window, to be deported to Auschwitz where they were gassed within a few days. Even then the Holy Father remained utterly silent. The Church’s allegations that Pius helped Jews in secret is as cowardly as Pius’s actions. When it comes to stopping abortion the Church blasts its global megaphone. But when it came to saving Jews it could only be done when noone was looking? Many righteous Catholics saved Jews in plane sight and were martyred for their courage. But Pius, who even after the war ordered the mass kidnapping of hundreds of thousands of Jewish children by refusing to hand them back to their rightful Jewish guardians, disgraced a great world religion.
Here in the United States we have had to contend with the Obama Administration’s canard that Israeli settlements, rather than Palestinian terrorism and Arab political oppression, are the main obstacles to Middle East peace. And it’s more than a little disappointing that the Netanyahu government has endorsed this fraud by instituting a ten month freeze on settlements, thereby unjustly identifying some of Israel’s most patriotic citizens as its most intransigent.
Why is all this happening? Some would say that antipathy toward Jews is a law of physics. I disagree. It is happening because we allow it. Can anyone imagine the same British Supreme Court dictating to the Anglo-Islamic community whom a Muslim is? President Obama received nearly eighty percent of the Jewish vote. When you have numbers that overwhelming, you can be forgiven if you take the constituency for granted.
Our community must make its voice heard. We are a powerful global economic market and we must seriously consider boycotting the products of countries whose shameful behavior mistreats Jews. Britain is out of control and a serious conversation about whether or not to vacation there or buy its products should now occur. And our community must make it clear to our Catholic brothers and sisters that calling a man who lost his voice while six million Jews died a saint will irreparably harm Catholic-Jewish relations.
More committed Jews must begin considering running for office. Rather than merely relying on friends to represent us, we must also begin representing ourselves. I wish to remain a Rabbi who informs and influences politics from the outside. But if Kaddafi’s envoy remains my next-door neighbor with the tacit blessing of my elected leaders, I will do my best to unseat them by every legal means necessary.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. His most recent book is ‘The Blessing of Enough’ and ‘The Michael Jackson Tapes.’ Follow him on Twitter (RabbiShmuley) and on his website Shmuley.com.
December 14, 2009 | 6:47 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
On a recent debate about marital infidelity on CNN a fellow panelist was adamant that Tiger Wood’s unfaithfulness was both predictable and unpreventable. ‘As a famous guy you meet a lot of beautiful women. You feel attracted to them, they feel attracted to you, and you end up in bed. It’s not more complicated than that and there’s no way to stop it.’ Men cheat. Get used to it. Case closed.
Such shallow drivel has been the level of discourse ever since the story broke that Woods may have had enough mistresses to staff a female softball team. Firstly, if there is no way to guarantee male faithfulness, why are we all scandalized by Tiger’s behavior? And second, a whole parade of powerful men – Eliot Spitzer, John Ensign, Mark Sanford, John Edwards – are destroying themselves and their families with acts of infidelity. And we can’t come with any cause other powerful men have a sense of entitlement?
What impedes any deep understanding of infidelity is the public’s natural assumption that husbands have affairs for sex. In fact, the vast majority of husband’s affairs have no physical component. They are cyber affairs that take place over the internet. They are conducted over the phone and are never consummated. And even when they do get physical it is often very bad and unsatisfying sex, as Monica Lewinsky shared in the Starr Report and as a multitude of JFK’s mistresses alleged as well.
In truth, men have affairs not for physical reasons but for emotional ones. They cheat not out of a sense of confidence but out of a state of brokenness. Not out of a sense of how desirable they are but out of a sense of what failures they are. And this is especially true of men like Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton who live in a hyper-competitive environments where they realize that they are only special to the extent that they keep on winning. Men like these are particularly broken, living as they do just one failure away from obscurity. They know that their value as human beings rests entirely in other people’s hands. And they live in permanent and painful insecurity. They constantly question their self-worth and they turn to women both to feel desirable and sexy and to comfort them from their pain.
Yes, I know. Men like Tiger Woods appear to the public as cool-as-a-cucumber. But beneath the calm veneer is a man who has been trained to believe that his value as a human being rests entirely on a never-ending game of human one-upmanship. Those who have made their names in sports and politics live with unimaginable insecurity. And rather than deal with these insecurities in a healthy way by having deep emotional conversations with their wives about their fears, it is easier to simply paper them over by turning to strangers who make them feel special. The attention of other women brings a momentary silencing of the inner demons who constantly taunt them with whispers of their own insignificance. And the more prized the woman is by other men, the greater the validation these men feel. Coupled with this is the intuitive gravitation by men to the healing powers of the feminine. Men who are in pain use the caress and the care of a woman as a salve to sooth their broken egos. Having a woman care for you and make herself available to you – not to mention tell you how wonderful you are – becomes a like a drug that makes you feel instantly better. Of course, the healing is ephemeral and unfulfilling based as it is on a highly artificial sense of intimacy.
The obvious question, now, is this. If a man who feels deeply insecure looks to a woman to make him feel special, then why doesn’t he turn to his own wife? Because any man who suspects deep down that he is a loser is going to look at the woman dumb enough to marry him as a loser squared. She has allied herself with failure and is part of the same loser package. And if she has no value, how can she confer it on someone else?
The public makes the mistake of assuming that powerful, successful men are the most confident, that elite sport stars like Tiger Woods are unflappable. Precisely the opposite is true. Everyone who seeks the spotlight, whether in sports, television or politics, does so to compensate for some inner feeling of inadequacy, as Aristotle made clear more than two millennia ago. Every ‘successful’ man is inwardly broken in some way. If not, why would they spend their lives seeking a place in the public’s heart?
Many will argue with me. Adultery is about sex. It’s about powerful men behaving arrogantly. But then why is the most common refrain of the adulterous husband to his mistress the very infamous, ‘My wife doesn’t understand me,’ meaning, My wife can’t take away my pain, but maybe you can. My wife can’t make me feel good about myself. Even in my marriage I still feel so insignificant. But being with you makes me feel special.
I was not at all surprised to hear Tiger’s alleged mistresses saying that he told them he loved them and was unhappy with his wife. Cheating husbands always say things like this. And at the time, they mean it. Monica Lewinsky said that Bill Clinton told her he would leave Hillary and marry her, which again is common with the unfaithful spouse. They’re expressing their inner misery and blaming their wives for their unhappiness when really they are solely responsible for their low self-esteem which will carry over into every relationship until he finally decides to fix himself.
This is why we see philandering husbands so often having many, as opposed to just one mistress, like Tiger Woods. No woman can make a broken man feel good about himself. So he becomes a wanderer, obsessively traveling from woman to woman hoping that at least one will provide the magical salve he seeks.
Many have said that husbands like Tiger Woods are sex addicts. But then why aren’t they addicted to sex with their wives? Why does it have to come from another woman?
But from understanding the cause we can create a solution. Men who learn to talk to their wives about their deepest fears slowly become immune to an affair. Infidelity, it turns out, often provides a starting point for couples to address the void in their relationship which usually consists of the lack of truly intimate communication about life’s anxieties and apprehensions. A man’s deepest fear is of failure. And the person he most masks this from is his own wife because she is the person whose opinion matters most. I know husbands who have been laid off from their jobs in this recession who still put on a suit every day and leave the house so that their wives never find out. So called ‘successful’ men harbor the same fears. And rather than destructively address the fear by becoming a stud to other women, he can purge from himself a dependency on strangers by learning to confide fully in his wife.
The number one complaint of wives in marriage is that their husbands don’t talk to them about their feelings. When a philandering husband is trying to win his wife back after cheating on her, what better way than to finally open up to her about the reasons for his unfaithfulness. It was never a rejection of her. It did not happen because she did not give him enough sex, or that she didn’t go to the gym, or wasn’t emotionally available. Those are the excuses of a coward. A boy blames others for his failures. A man takes responsibility for his actions. Rather, it was because he falsely thought that someone other than his wife could make him feel good about himself. And now he has learned that those feelings of self-confidence are the preserve of only one woman.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is author of many books on relationships, including ‘The Kosher Sutra,’ ‘Kosher Sex,’ and ‘Kosher Adultery.’ www.shmuley.com
December 8, 2009 | 3:49 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Visiting Zimbabwe can be a heart-wrenching experience. It is a beautiful land of warm and soft-spoken people. But hovering over the landscape at all times is the specter of extreme poverty and political oppression. The poverty is merely tragic. But the political oppression is brutal, murderous, and criminal. Most of the people I met went quiet with fear on the subject of Robert Mugabe, afraid that a stranger may be a government agent and any criticism can make you the next target of his thugs.
One innocent victim was Ben Freeth, a sunny Christian farmer who, after publishing an article in the Western press about the illegal and murderous farm seizures being carried out by Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) party, was savagely beaten and later watched as his farm was burnt to the ground. When I met Freeth in Harare last week he described to me and my friends from the Christian relief organization ROCK of Africa who were hosting us how, in the midst of the assault that fractured his skull, he suddenly reached out and touched the feet of his assailants and said, “Bless you, bless you.” My Christian counterparts were deeply moved by this quintessential story of Christian love for one’s enemy. I, however, was aghast.
Ben is a hero who, at the risk of his life continues to serve as a spokesman for the thousands of white families who have been brutally dispossessed of their land and many of whom have been killed. But I could not help but challenge this aspect of the story. “Every ounce of blessing we have in our hearts has to be reserved for the all the AIDS orphans that I saw dotting this once-proud land. These wretched thugs deserve not our blessing but our contempt, not our love but out hatred.” A debate broke out in the room. I alone maintained my position. My dear friend Glen Megill, a saint who founded ROCK of Africa, said, “Shmuley, Jesus told us to love our enemies.” Yes, I said. But your enemy is the guy who steals your parking space. G-d’s enemies are those who murder His children. And Jesus never said to love G-d’s enemies. To the contrary, the book of Proverbs is clear, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” Psalms reinforces the point. “Those who love G-d hate evil.”
This is something that has always puzzled me. My Christian colleagues at ROCK of Africa are angels. In ten days we distributed corn seed to the poorest villages, gave out mosquito nets, hugged and prayed with AIDS victims, and put on large feasts for hundreds of hungry villagers and children who dwell in mud huts. We colored pictures with orphans in Harare and gave them toys and presents. The hearts of evangelical Christians are enormous repositories of loving-kindness. But why must the heart be so wide as to extend to Mugabe’s killer henchmen? What place have murderers earned in our hearts? The same is true of my many Christian brothers who have told me that their faith commands them to love Osama bin Laden.
My fear is that such distortions of Christian teaching undermine our resolve to confront evil regimes. When Jesus enjoined to ‘Turn the other cheek,’ he meant to petty slights and humiliations. Does any sane person really imagine that he meant to ignore and overlook mass murder?
Mugabe has brought a reign of terror to Zimbabwe, making its name synonymous with wholesale slaughter, political intimidation, brutalization of opposition elements, and illegal land grabs. The country is now the poorest nation on earth, with an annual per capita GDP of just $200. Donor agencies estimate that more than 5 million Zimbabweans, representing almost half the population, currently rely on food handouts. The stores are half empty and last year they were completely empty. The ATMs often have no cash. Many of the gas stations have run out for the day. Even Victoria Falls is nearly bereft of tourists.
The black population is noble, extremely welcoming, and exhibit the nobility of spirit of those who have suffered much but complain little. A white population of approximately 4000, down from about 250,000, still remains. They seem to love Zimbabwe, consider it their home, and insist on staying.
They are, of course, hopeful signs, especially the new unity government which has brought Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara into shared power with Mugabe. I interviewed Mutambara, a 43-year-old former Rhodes scholar whom I knew from Oxford and is now the country’s deputy Prime Minister (the full interview is available on my website). A compelling man of vision, eloquence, and academic brilliance, he is convinced that within two years Zimbabwe will be completely ready for free and fair elections. I hope he is right.
But farm confiscations continue and Mugabe’s gangsters still terrorize political opponents. And the only hope for Mugabe to be completely and utterly marginalized is if the international community comes together to push him off the scene. This will not come if the man does not chill our bones. We must not bless but curse his rule.
I don’t do well with tyranny. I have undisguised contempt for tyrants and knowing that I was staying just a few miles from Mugabe’s house spooked me throughout my stay in Harare. As you drive by his home you are told that you are not allowed to look for fear of attracting suspicion and being arrested. Highly-educated locals told me there is a law that says that you cannot stare at his motorcade either and that his guards have been known to fire on those who do. Is this a man whom my Christian friends tell me I must love?
No, I refuse. I will go further. Anyone who loves the wicked is complicit in their wickedness. Anyone who blesses the cruel is an accomplice to their cruelty.
I choose to bless the courageous people of Zimbabwe rather than the tyrant who has slaughtered and impoverished them. I choose to bless a country like America which fights to liberate the weak in Iraq and the oppressed in Afghanistan rather than the Saddams and the Taliban who have brutalized them. Most of all, I choose to bless people like Ben Freeth that one day the long arm of justice will catch up to his tormentors and they will discover that while G-d is indeed a long-suffering G-d, for those who continue to slaughter innocents He is also a G-d of justice.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of This World: The Values Network was on a relief mission to Zimbabwe with Rock of Africa. To read his blogs and see videos of the visit, go to www.shmuley.com.
November 23, 2009 | 7:19 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
For the first time in his presidency Barack Obama has, according to a Gallup poll, fallen below a fifty percent approval rating. It’s not hard to see why. No, it’s not because he’s spending too much money. There seem to be many Americans who want him to boost social programs. Less so is it because people perceive him as accomplishing little because if he pulls off health care reform that is a big thing indeed. No, the principal reason Obama, who became President by electrifying the electorate, has fallen to earth is that he has become boring. Humdrum. Can anyone recall any important line the President has uttered since assuming office or a single dazzling speech?
And lest we make the mistake of believing the President has become boring because his speeches are not up to par, let me be clear that I think the boredom is only partially related to failure to excite with inspired oratory.
Rather, the twin factors behind the President’s monotony are these: ubiquitousness and perfection.
This president does not seem to understand the power of mystery. At any given time, he is in China, Japan, Egypt, in the Rose Garden, at the UN, on your television screen, and on your radio. He does not believe in holding back. The net result has been to make him all-too available and utterly ordinary. The same is true of his propensity to prostrate himself – quite literally – in front of world leaders like the Saudi King and the Japanese Emperor. The issue is not that he belittles his office but that he comes across as a supplicant. What is about our president that propels him to seek others’ approval at every turn? And why can he not pace himself so that something of himself is left in reserve so that the people later want more?
Much more importantly, however, the President has become boring because he is way too perfect.
Last week I convened the first International Conference on Jewish Values. It featured most of Judaism’s foremost living personalities, including Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Michael Steinhardt, Joseph Telushkin, Richard Joel, Alan Dershowitz, and Dennis Prager (full video of the entire conference is available at Shmuley.com). The last, and most important, of the seven universal Jewish values we focused on was struggle.
Where most of the world believes in perfection, Jews believe in struggle. Jesus was perfect, as was Muhammad. Any insinuation as to Jesus even getting lonely and requiring the love of a woman, as Dan Brown suggested in The Da Vinci Code, would greatly offend the sensibilities of Christian brothers and sisters. And an insinuation that Muhamad had any faults – even if the suggestion is made in a humorous cartoon – can and has let to riots in cities around the world.
But it’s not just religions that make the mistake of promoting perfection. I remember as a young American boy being taught that George Washington never told a lie and that Abraham Lincoln walked miles to return a single penny.
But the Jewish Bible has not a single perfect person. All are flawed. Abraham demonstrates a lack of faith, Jacob favors a child, and Moses often complains and then refuses to perfectly carry out G-d’s instructions for which he is denied entry into the promised land. David, the father of the Messiah, is so riddled with flaws that he must live through the open rebellion of his beloved Absalom. So if these people were so imperfect, why do we look up to them as heroes?
The answer, of course, is that Judaism has no time for perfection. Perfect people are monolithic, predictable, often judgmental, and, worst of all, boring. That’s the main reason why Americans did not develop a populist passion for books about the founding fathers until about twenty years ago when authors finally starting writing the truth about how complex and flawed these men who had been sold to us as statues actually were. Joseph Ellis wrote American Sphinx and shared with us, in vivid detail, the fact of Jefferson’s slaveholding and his sexual relationship with Sally Hemmings. In His Excellency Ellis reveals George Washington’s uncompromising ambition for wealth and social status. And in Lincoln’s Melancholy Joshua Wolf Shenk reveals the great president as a man so suicidal that his friends often feared leaving him unattended.
So why do we revere these men if they were less than perfect? Because the truly righteous man is not he who never sins but rather he who, amid a predilection to narcissism and selfishness, battles his nature to live a virtuous life. The truly great man is not he who slays dragons but he who battles his inner demons, he who struggles with himself to improve and ennoble his character
Israel means ‘he who wrestles with G-d.’ It was the name of Jacob who wrestled with a brother who sought to kill him and a father-in-law who sought to enslave him. Most of all, he wrestled with an angel, a symbol of his earthly and G-dly nature locked in battle for ascendancy.
I would personally choose the man who has wrestled and struggled any day over the trust-fund baby who has never struggled. Those whom have been given gifts often lack empathy and risk becoming conventional and uni-dimensional.
Which brings us back to Barack Obama, a man was raised without a father who had to wrestle with major challenges in order to succeed. So why does he insist on coming across as perfect? Why will he not leave the teleprompter and give an off-the-cuff speech where he can showcase his humanity? Why does he take such long pauses in responding to all questions to ensure that only perfection stems from his lips? And why is everything in this White House a perfectly calibrated photo-op?
Sure, during the campaign America may have wanted a Messiah figure. They saw messy wars and a collapsing economy and wanted a savior. But as President they want someone real, someone who struggles like them.
Even in the worst moments of the Monica Lewinsky scandal President Clinton’s poll numbers never dipped below fifty percent. Most Americans saw a flawed man and identified with his lack of perfection.
Barack Obama is far more disciplined for such unfortunate choices and I respect him for it. But don’t be afraid to show us Mr. President that, as in the title of George Stephanopoulos’ book about President Clinton, that you also are All Too Human.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of This World: The Values Network, is author most recently of ‘The Blessing of Enough’ and ‘The Michael Jackson Tapes.’ www.shmuley.com.
November 9, 2009 | 2:22 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Every once in a while, a story comes along so jolting that it is scarcely believable. One such story appeared in The New York Times, of all places, this past Sunday, about how the Jews’ Free School in London has been ordered to admit a child whose mother had a non-orthodox conversion after the child’s parents sued.
I will not enter here into the ongoing and bitter divide in England between orthodox and progressive Jews. It was a battle that I witnessed and worked hard to mend through countless essays and public forums over the 11 years that I lived in the United Kingdom. Less so will I address here the very pressing questions of Jewish status as determined by conversion on the part of Judaism’s three major branches. I am a passionately orthodox Jew who is equally passionate about Jewish unity. Our divisions must indeed be addressed and healed. But this shocking story in Britain raises something far more pressing that is of equal concern to orthodox and non-orthodox alike.
What is mind-boggling is that a British court of appeals, which ruled against the school, said that the Jewish community’s ancient tradition of deciding Jewishness through parenthood is ethnically based, discriminatory, and therefore unlawful.
“The requirement that if a pupil is to qualify for admission his mother must be Jewish, whether by descent or conversion, is a test of ethnicity which contravenes the Race Relations Act,” the court said. Whether the reasons were “benign or malignant, theological or supremacist makes it no less and no more unlawful.” In an astonishing ruling, the court said that if the child practiced Judaism, then he is Jewish. But to base the decision on his parents was an unlawful emphasis on ethnicity, rather than on religious faith. One can immediately understand the implications for Jews who are not at all observant. Presumably the British government would not consider them Jews.
Now, let’s put aside for a moment the unbelievable infringement of government on the affairs of a religion and focus instead on the court’s rationale. If you are living in Britain, you become a citizen automatically if your parents are British. Even if you don’t behave particularly British, or hate the country of your birth, the UK cannot take away your passport. Likewise, if you’re an American living abroad, your children automatically acquire American citizenship. I should know because six of my nine children were born in Britain, and even though only one of their parents was American, and was living in Europe to boot, they automatically became Americans.
Even if you never celebrated the Fourth of July or have ever heard of Abraham Lincoln, you and your children are as American as George Washington himself. So is it really that difficult for British judges to understand that peoplehood is conveyed through a parent? The Jews are first and foremost a people and only secondarily a faith. We were the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before we received the Torah at Mt. Sinai and began practicing Judaism’s tenets.
Peoplehood comes first and is completely independent of any kind of religious affirmation. Jewishness is not something that can be lost and it is not something that can be renounced. In this sense, Judaism is radically different from Christianity, which requires a conscious act of affirmation.
While there cannot be atheist Christians, there are plenty of atheist Jews. I am gobsmacked that a British court is challenging this. In my 11 years living in Britain, I never heard anything so outrageous. This ruling constitutes a legal assault on the very integrity of the Jewish religion as practiced in Britain and is a watershed moment in modern Jewish history. And with all the recent stories of British academics seeking to bar their Israeli counterparts from conferences and the rise of anti-Semitic incidents in the British Isles, it will only further cement world opinion that Britain is a country that is becoming hostile to Jews.
Being a people does not make us a homogenous ethic group. There are black Jews and white Jews, European Jews and Asian Jews. Converts of every ethnicity can of course join us at any time. But in so doing they are not adopting a faith but a people. They do not become merely practitioners of the Jewish fait but part of the Jewish family. A convert is transformed from an outsider into a Jewish brother or sister. But the process must of course have standards. To be a British citizen is not an arbitrary act. It takes approximately 10 years of residency. Likewise, my Australian wife’s naturalization as an American citizen took many years of residency and required passing a test of American knowledge. Now just imagine how absurd it would be if the United States told Britain to alter its residency requirements, or vice versa, and you can begin to understand the chutzpa of British judges trying to alter the identity requirements of a three-and-half thousand year faith that is the precursor of Christianity.
Next week, my organization This World: The Values Network will sponsor the first-ever conference on Jewish values. It will feature some of the world’s leading Jewish personalities, including Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Yeshiva University President Richard Joel, Alan Dershowitz, Dennis Prager, Michael Steinhardt, AIPAC president David Victor and Marianne Williamson. Among of our religion’s principle values are community and peoplehood. For thousands of years, dispersed throughout the world, Jews have always looked out for one another. You could turn up in any city, and, regardless of level of observance, you would be invited to someone’s home for the Sabbath and made to feel like family, even though just moments before you were a complete stranger. In light of this outrageous British legal challenge to this time-honored principle of Jewish peoplehood, we will be adding an entire plenary devoted to explicating the special Jewish value of identity and peoplehood and hope that it will assist British Jewry in knowing that they are not alone in this critical battle.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. To register for The Jewish Values Conference, taking place in NYC on Nov. 17 and 18, go to www.thisworld.us.
October 19, 2009 | 2:48 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Last night our organization, This World: The Values Network, hosted a fascinating discussion entitled, “Values to Heal America” featuring Prof. Elie Wiesel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Mehmet Oz, America’s doctor, and Mayor Cory Booker of Newark.
What an event it turned out to be! Truly, one of the finest dialogues I have ever been involved with. I structured the evening by presenting to the panelists with the seven greatest social ills that I believe are plaguing America. I then offered a Jewish-values based solution to each and asked the panelists to react. We dealt with depression, the terror threat and foreign wars, broken families, materialism and greed, the growing gap between rich and poor, and other pressing concerns.
To have three guests, each of whom is a world-leader in their field, was spectacular and I strongly encourage each of you to go on our websites and watch the full program. The questions from the audience were equally riveting.
John Gosselin, from Jon and Kate Plus 8, joined us in the audience and asked the panelists what were the most important values by which to raise good kids. We alighted upon respect (Oz), setting a good moral example (Booker), and teaching them to love learning (Prof Wiesel). I spoke to Jon publicly about the need to use fame and celebrity to highlight a cause larger than oneself, without which fame can become a curse. He was very receptive and I commend him for having the courage to get up in front of everyone and ask his question. His family clearly needs healing and I have been speaking to him about changes he must make in his life. Again, he is always very receptive. There is much good in him and he has, I believe, a sincere desire to correct the many mistakes he has made as he has been carried away with fame, as have so many others in our culture.
Indeed, the obsession with celebrity was one of the most interesting parts of the conversation and Mehmet Oz said that his wife Lisa, as well as raising four children, keep him grounded amid his own skyrocketing celebrity.
But the greatest treat for all of us was hearing Elie Wiesel, a living legend, share his inspirational wisdom with us. Prof. Wiesel has lectured to my organizations now for twenty years. Each time it is memorable, uplifting, and historic. There is none like him.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. He has just published ‘The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation.” www.shmuley.com.
October 19, 2009 | 12:43 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Speaking at a Rabbinical Conference in the American South this week, I made myself instantly unpopular by pointing out how irrelevant we Rabbis have become. How many parents push their kids to be Rabbis? Sure. If the kid flunked science and math. Perhaps. But to choose it over law or a job at Goldman Sachs?
And how many people turn to a Rabbi aside from the obvious life-cycle events like Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, or, more ominously, during tragedies like illness and funerals. And to the extent that we Rabbis are becoming more popular with our communities it seems to be precisely when we act as though we’re not Rabbis but just one of the boys. How often have I heard friends tell me, “We have the coolest new Rabbi. We call him by his first name. He plays poker and basketball with us. He’s amazing.” All of this is, of course, quite kosher. But this kind of popularity is hardly the stuff of leadership.
And if we’re becoming less relevant in the Jewish community, we never had any real relevance outside our community to begin with. While evangelical pastors like Rick Warren have an appeal well beyond Christians, Rabbis remain almost completely unknown in the United States beyond their Synagogues. Not that popularity or renown is any kind of meaningful barometer of success. It’s not. But as a gauge of the degree to which Rabbis are impacting the mainstream culture, it’s clear that we remain mostly marginalized.
And it’s our own fault. We have relegated ourselves to mainstream irrelevance by allowing ourselves to mostly become synagogue quarterbacks and ritual rule-givers. The Rabbi is the man who runs the Synagogue service. He makes announcements like, “Will the Congregation please rise” and “Please turn to page 250.” He is the person you come to with questions like “What time do Kol Nidrei services begin” and “Are my tefillin still kosher?” Now, let’s not trivialize these absolutely vital functions of the communal Rabbi. Let us also, of course, never trivialize the importance of every person whom Rabbis affect, comfort, and inspire, each of whom, according to our Talmud, is an entire universe. But let us also not pretend that any of these functions will ever bring Rabbis or Judaism to have a mainstream impact on a culture crying out for redemption.
What could change all this? A radical transformation in how Rabbis view themselves and how they are viewed by their communities. The principal purpose of a Rabbi is not to present a leather-bound Bible to a Bar Mitzvah boy or even to eulogize a righteous grandmother upon her passing. Rather, the Rabbi’s main objective is to serve as a guide for life to his congregants. Simply put, as a supreme repository of the splendid wisdom contained in Judaism, as Rabbi is the ultimate lifecoach.
The Rabbi once was, and should again be, the main person you come to when you want advice as to how to make your marriage passionate, how to learn to talk to your teenage kids, how to wean yourself off materialism and greed, and how to learn to become a deeper and wiser person. But when these question pop into our heads the personalities we turn to are Oprah, Deepak Chopra, Dr. Phil, and Marianne Williamson.
But aren’t rabbis wise? Are they not students of an ancient tradition that kept families intact and communities whole for generations? Are we not the teachers who can best explain how Joseph learned to forgive his brothers and are we not the heirs of Hillel who practiced patience even through the most outrageous provocations? So why are we teaching so little of this? We Rabbis ought to have owned the self-help revolution that had millions searching for mastery over their lives.
This past Sunday night I was joined on a panel by Elie Wiesel, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and Mayor Cory Booker to discuss Jewish values that can heal America. Each of the panelists spoke with great eloquence. Joining in the audience of over 1000 was John Gosselin from TLC’s ‘Jon and Kate Plus Eight’ whose life has become a tabloid parody but who is now searching for redemptive purpose and asked a very important question about values he can employ, as a single father, to raise healthy children. Mayor Booker said ‘Be a moral example to your children.’ Dr. Oz said he must teach his children to always show others respect. And Prof. Wiesel, eloquent as always, said education was key and his children must love learning. I advised him to wean his children off the attention that comes from TV viewers and substitute it instead with the kind of unconditional love that can only come from focused parenting. But the significance of the exchange was that a man whose family has been significantly damaged by the all-American obsession with celebrity is searching for meaning within the well of Jewish values.
About a year ago I had a meeting with a television executive about a family values program. I was warned ahead of time that although the executive was Jewish he was extremely secular and I should be careful not to bring up religion. Yet, as soon as I walked in he asked me, “Do you watch Joel Osteen?” I said that I did, on occasion, and found him to be an effective and inspiring communicator.
As I walked out it occurred to me that his question was somewhat tragic. Not because the Jewish executive watched a Christian pastor to receive spiritual uplift. Rather, the tragedy lay in the fact that Osteen mostly quotes from the Hebrew Bible as opposed to the New Testament. His sermons focus on the Jewish patriarchs, Moses, King David, Jeremiah, and Isaiah for guidance. What he doesn’t do is announce ‘Will the congregation please rise’ or content himself with quarterbacking a service. Rather, he provides guidance for life. And he does it from our Torah. Surely we Rabbis who devote our lives to its mastery can recapture our historical occupation of sharing its wisdom with those who seek to lead lives of moral grandeur and spiritual purpose.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. He has just published ‘The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation.” www.shmuley.com.