Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Judaism’s highest value is human life. Every life. There is no difference between a Jewish life and a Palestinian life. All are of infinite value before G-d. As a Jew and as a Rabbi I proclaim loudly and unapologetically that I see all Arabs as my brothers under G-d. We are all one human family and all are created equally in G-d’s image, just as the Jewish Bible declares.
As a Rabbi I was therefore deeply saddened at the outcome of the so-called ‘peace’ flotilla, which turned out to contain a large contingent of violent thugs whose only interest it was to provoke Israel. Still, nine dead is a terrible tragedy. We mourn this painful outcome.
But once again the world’s hypocrisy and double standards vis-à-vis Israel are on full display. In Kingstown, Jamaica scores of civilians have tragically died over the last few days as government forces battle violent killers intent on protecting a drug lord. In Mexico the government has been engaged in a nonstop battle to curtail brutal drug cartels and many civilians have died in the maelstrom. Would anyone suggest that these governments allow their soldiers to be mowed down by cartel killers?
In the Cuban missile crisis the United States declared a naval blockade against a government that had never attacked it but was receiving weapons that might. Would the world prevent Israel from its blockade of Hamas which has already fired approximately 10,000 rockets at its civilian population?
Like any government, Israel’s first priority is to protect its citizens from slaughter. It had no choice but to stop a flotilla of so-called humanitarians whose purpose it was not to deliver humanitarian aid – Israel and Egypt had already offered to deliver the aid over land routes – but, as they themselves declared, to destroy the naval blockade of Hamas. Is there one legitimate government on earth that would encourage Israel to allow the continued arming of one of the world’s premiere terrorist organizations? And once Israel intervened to stop the flotilla, which, it turned out, carried many individuals with ties to terrorist organizations as well as military equipment like bullet-proof vests, night-vision goggles, and gas masks – was it supposed to allow its soldiers to be lynched? Would any police officer in the United States, set upon by metal pipes, knives, and being thrown thirty feet down a building, not use his revolver to protect his life? Would we have expected that police officer to allow himself to be torn by a mob limb from limb? Facts are stubborn things and the videos of the assault against Israel’s soldiers are posted on the Internet for all to see.
This does not mean that I do not seriously question the effectiveness of Israel’s response to the flotilla. This was a trap, and Israel unfortunately stepped right into it. The flotilla, organized by IHH, an organization which the CIA linked to terrorists already in 1996, was itching for a fight or for martyrdom, a PR battle that Israel was to lose either way. Israeli intel seemed deeply flawed in not knowing the kind of people that were on board and how they would respond to the landing by Israeli commandos.
But amid this criticism, the justice of Israel’s cause can be established from the putrid regimes who now condemn it. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia said the attack “reflects Israel’s inhuman practices… and indulgence in killing innocent people.” This from a man who oversees, along with North Korea, what is arguable the world’s most repressive regime. The national Assembly of Sudan said “the parliament condemns the Israeli attack against international activists who were trying to deliver food for the civilians in Gaza.” Pretty rich from a government who for years has been engaged in genocide. Ahmedenijad of Iran called for a global boycott of Israel, which is a good diversion from the doomsday weapons he is building amid his stated intention of wiping Israel off the map. But the criticism of even civilized governments like Britain, whose new Prime Minster said that Israel’s actions are ‘unacceptable,’ are confusing. Would he have allowed an aid flotilla for the IRA at the height of ‘the troubles’ when bombs were going off in the streets of London almost daily?
But Hamas used the withdrawal not to build hospitals, universities, and schools but to turn Gaza into a terrorist state. It is a cruel and violent organization that regularly lynches, without even the semblance of a trial, Palestinians whom it accuses of working with Israel. It is a murderous gang whose commitment is not to helping Palestinians but to killing Jews. Israel must continue to ensure that no arms reach Hamas. And until such time as Hamas renounces their violent intent to exterminate the Jewish state, incidents like these, in which enemies of Israel stage violent demonstrations under the guise of peace will no doubt continue.
Many are now accusing American Jewry of blindly supporting the Jewish state. Nothing could be further from the truth. We did not support the Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein who murdered 29 innocent Palestinians. We called his actions an abomination against G-d and man. But incidents of Jewish terrorism are rare to non-existent. And if and when they occur the killers are treated not as heroes but as repulsive traitors to every value Judaism holds dear.
Israel is a country struggling for its very survival. No other country on earth is surrounded by enemies like Iran, Hezbollah, Syria, and Hamas each of whom are publicly sworn to Israel’s destruction. Should there be no international pressure on these groups to renounce their violent intent? Is it that hard to understand that American Jewry sees the act of always blaming democratic Israel while letting murderous Hamas off the hook as prejudiced and hypocritical?
I don’t want to wake up to news, as I did last week, that Israel has once again been forced into a terrible choice between protecting its citizens and soldiers and killing their assailants. But Jewish life is also valuable. And we should not expect twenty-year-old soldiers to stand by passively as mobs try and bludgeon them to death.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. His newest book, ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life,’ has just been published by Basic Books. www.shmuley.com.
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May 24, 2010 | 10:20 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Fearing that the Jewish community now perceives him as hopelessly unsympathetic to Israel, President Obama has launched a Jewish charm offensive. Last week alone 15 Rabbis and 37 Jewish members of Congress were invited to the White House. The Rabbis met Presidential advisers while the Congressmen and Senators, all Democrats, got the real deal, a pitch from the President himself.
An invitation to the White House is a big deal and can play all kinds of tricks on people’s convictions, which might explain why so many of those who visited emerged with newfound praise for the President even though the Administration has changed none of its positions on Israel. The President is still demanding that Jews build no new homes in Ramat Shlomo, a neighborhood that is entirely Jewish. He has yet to repudiate his Administration’s position that the Arab-Israeli conflict, and by implication Israeli intransigence, fuels the Taliban and other Arab extremists. And he has yet to apologize to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the humiliating treatment he dished out in March. Most of all, the President has not reversed his biased policy of apportioning the blame for the lack of movement in the peace process squarely on Israeli settlements rather than decades-old Arab refusal to accept Israel as a permanent and legitimate fact. We have yet to hear the President forcefully condemn the Hamas charter calling for the destruction of the State of Israel or the Palestinian Authority recently naming a public square after Dalal Mughrabi, who led 1978 Coastal Road terrorist massacre which killed 37 Israelis.
Still, some Rabbis seemed quite swayed. Rabbi Aaron Rubinger, for example, who runs a Conservative Synagogue in Orlando, said, “Our president is every bit as committed to Israel’s safety and security as any previous administration.” But those of us who have not yet curried enough favor with the President to be invited before his august presence can only but wonder what secrets were shared that might have won these leaders over as enthusiastic endorsers of Obama as Israel-friend-in-chief when there has been no discernable change in policy.
But even this praise pales beside the truly bizarre comments that came from, not unsurprisingly, Congressman Steve Rothman of New Jersey’s Ninth District. Rothman began by blaming the Republicans for misrepresenting Obama on Israel. “We discussed Iran, the situation in the Middle East, the efforts of the Republican Party to distort President Obama’s positions on Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” So the President’s contemptible treatment of Israel’s Prime Minister, which earned universal scorn from virtually every corner of the American Jewish leadership, turned out to be, according to Rothman, just a canard dreamed up by the Republicans.
But Rothman went further with a comment that brought Presidential brownnosing to new heights. President Obama is, Rothman maintained, ‘the best president on U.S.-Israel military and intelligence cooperation in American history.” No doubt even President Obama, who has done his utmost to demonstrate to the Arabs that he repudiates George W. Bush’s unconditional support for Israel, was scratching his head Rothman declaring him the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House. One wonders whom the good Congressman might name as first runner-up. Jimmy Carter, perhaps?
Rothman would have been better off following the wise example of Senators Lieberman and Schumer who attended the President’s meeting but issued no statements afterward. They understood how knee-jerk declarations of support, without any discernable change in Presidential policy, would simply cost them credibility in the pro-Israel community across the United States.
Rothman is, of course, the same lawmaker, now running for reelection, who admonished me publicly to accept the presence of the Libyan Ambassador to the United Nations, Kaddafi’s personal envoy Muhammad Shalgam, living tax-free next door to me, saying, “I hope everyone will be appropriately good neighbors.”
Just recently, Libya was elected to the United Nations Council on Human Rights, making the council as big a joke as its predecessor from which the Bush Administration courageously withdrew to protest the inclusion of repressive states. The Obama Administration’s reaction was a little bit different. Asked by the media to comment on the stomach-turning spectacle of one of the world’s most brutal regimes being elected to a body that is meant to supervise other nations’ conduct on human rights, Ambassador Susan Rice said that it would be unhelpful to condemn Libya. “It is preferable to work from within to shape and reform a body with the importance and potential of the Human Rights Council, rather than to stay on the sidelines and reject it.”
And herein lies the problem with the President Obama. Simply stated, the man does not seem to hate evil. He continues to believe he can charm wicked regimes into doing good, that personal charisma can persuade tyrants to lay down their arms and beat their swords into ploughshares. This was the policy that the President first pursued with Iran and Ahmedenijad. It of course yielded no results, other than to embolden a vile regime who promptly stole an election and began to slaughter their own people it the streets. The President turned up the charm with Hugo Chavez with the result that the Venezuelan dictator has now become one of the President’s most strident critics.
Will the President and his advisers learn that charm offensives can never take the place of moral policy? All the smiles, hugs, and bows in the world are never going to soften tyrants who seek not the favor of the President of the United States but unchecked power over their oppressed citizenry.
The American Jewish community should not be so naïve as be charmed by words that are not matched by changes in policy. If the President wishes to win over American Jewry, he should know that we are a religion that places action before speech and character before personality. It is not charm that moves us but a robust, moral posture. Equating a thriving and free democracy like Israel with the Arab tyrannies that surround it is a misguided policy that even a White House invitation cannot obscure.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. He has just published ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.’ www.shmuley.com
May 17, 2010 | 11:33 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Tempers are heating up in the New York City area over the plans by the American Society for Muslim Advancement and another Islamic group known as the Cordoba Initiative to build a $100 million, 13-story, Islamic cultural center and mosque just two blocks from Ground Zero. And if that were not inflammatory enough, the plan is to inaugurate the new center on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Other provocative aspects include the fact that the majority of the money will allegedly come from the Saudis and – you can’t make this up – the Ford Foundation. Furthermore, the Imam who helped found the Cordoba initiative after 9/11, Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf, is on record as telling CNN, right after the 9/11 attacks, “U.S. policies were an accessory to the crime that happened. We (the U.S.) have been an accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. Osama bin Laden was made in the USA.”
New Yorkers seem overwhelmingly opposed to the plan, comparing its insensitivity to the German government opening, say, a Bach appreciation museum right outside the Auschwitz death camp, or Toyota opening a car factory by the Arizona Memorial on the island of Oahu. On my radio show many families of 9/11 victims called in to condemn the plans as ‘a slap in the face,’ ‘highly insensitive,’ and ‘a despicable attempt to claim victory at the site where so many innocent Americans died.’
The issues at stake affect the very heart of American democracy. On the one hand it would be the height of insensitivity, not to say an outright provocation, for the Islamic community to build a giant Islamic shrine at the resting place of 3000 innocent Americans who were murdered by Islamic terrorists. On the other hand, America is a tolerant country that allows for the free worship of all its citizens and one bridles against the idea of preventing any mosque from being built.
I have a simple, elegant, and deeply moral solution. Let the Islamic Cultural Center be built. Let the mosque be included. But, the Muslim organizations building it should commit right now to making the principal focus of the building a museum depicting the rise of Islamic extremism, its hate-based agenda, and how it is an abomination to Islam. The museum would feature exhibits showing the major fomenters of Islamic hatred worldwide and the cultural and religious factors that have gained them so wide a following. It would have exhibitions on some of the terrible atrocities committed by these Islamic fundamentalists, focusing specifically on the slaughter at Ground Zero on 9/11. The Islamic Center would have a major exhibition on the evil of Osama bin Laden, detailing his crimes against humanity and the number of innocent people he has killed. Most importantly, the museum would repudiate these haters by showing how their actions are an abomination to authentic Islamic teaching and how every G-d-fearing Muslim has a responsibility to spit them out.
Who could possibly object to Muslims coming together to create a museum condemning growing Islamic intolerance and call Osama bin Laden, Hamas, and Hezbollah what they are – perversions of Islam that are defiling and destroying a great world religion.
If the groups building the Cultural Center and mosque are prepared to make this its focus they will have proven that they are not only enormously sensitive to the families of the victims who lost loved ones there, but that they are courageous voices who wish to take back their religion from the fiends who purport to represent it.
This is something that the German government has done extremely well since the holocaust. They have built memorials and museums that depict the rise of Nazism and how state organs such as the political establishment, the media, and business all facilitated and contributed to Hitler’s rise. Many of these government-sponsored exhibits go even further, exploring a German national character that was so subservient to and respectful of authority – and so dependent on strongmen to lead it – that it eagerly embraced the anti-Semitism of Hitler and became, in Daniel Goldhagen’s memorable phrase, ‘Hitler’s willing executioners.’
Without a similar degree of introspection, on the one hand, and widespread condemnation of Islamic terrorism on the other, Islam risks being taken over by fanatics who disgrace their faith by murdering in the name of Allah. Communities that are not self-critical always risk going off the deep end. They have no internal mechanism to weed out corruption. And an Islamic Center at Ground Zero dedicated to that deeply necessary and currently absent introspection would repudiate the terrorists who perpetrated the atrocity, honor the victims who died there, and serve as a powerful step toward G-d fearing and decent Muslims taking back their faith from the fanatics.
But it goes without saying that my opinion on the matter does not much matter. It is the victims’ families who must be consulted the Islamic groups on question first and foremost.
About fifteen years ago I visited the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp for the first time. I was taken aback by giant Christian crosses that dotted the deathly landscape. Wherever you looked there no Jewish symbols only Christian ones. I asked my close friend Prof. Jonathan Webber, one of the world’s leading authorities on Auschwitz and my guide at the camp, why there were so many Christian symbols when more than ninety-five percent of the people who died there were Jews. He explained to me that the Jewish response to Auschwitz was one of emptiness and silence. Something unspeakable and inexplicable had happened here. The horror was too great to capture, the meaninglessness of the act too profound to be justified with any kind of memorial. Jews did not want to give meaning to something so utterly meaningless. Indeed, Jewish theologians speak of the holocaust as a time of Hester Panim, the hiding of G-d’s presence. Hence, the Jewish community took the approach of leaving the slaughterhouse empty of symbolism or memorials. Christians might seek to redeem it, but some places remain unredeemable. The Jewish community discussed this with our Christian brothers and many of the Christian symbols were removed.
In the same way it behooved our Christian brothers to allow us Jews to choose to commemorate the extermination of our people in the manner we saw fit, it likewise behooves our Islamic brothers and sisters to approach the families of those who died on 9/11 and ask them how they wish the site to be commemorated. And if as a body they object to any kind of mosque being built there, then their wishes should be respected.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the founder of This World: The Values Network, has just published ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.’ (Basic Books) www.shmuley.com.
May 10, 2010 | 10:31 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Pity Jeremy Ben-Ami, the hapless head of J-Street, the we-condemn-Israel-constantly-because-of-how-much-we-love-it lobby.
In the recent tension between the Obama Administration and the Jewish state over Jews building in Jerusalem, the pro-Israel camp was represented by Elie Wiesel whose full-pages ads in major American newspapers criticized President Obama’s ban on Jews living anywhere in the holy city. The letter, as with everything Wiesel writes, was haunting, stirring, and deeply personal. “For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture and not a single time in the Koran. Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming. There is no more moving prayer in Jewish history than the one expressing our yearning to return to Jerusalem… The first song I heard was my mother’s lullaby about and for Jerusalem.”
The letter, by one of America’s most celebrated citizens, caused such angst in the White House that President Obama changed his schedule to invite the Nobel Peace laureate to a private kosher lunch in order not to appear out of sync with the Jewish prophet. Like Lyndon Johnson who panicked when he lost Walter Cronkite over Vietnam, Obama understood that losing Wiesel over his Middle East policy spelled almost certain doom.
But while the President behaved courteously, Ben-Ami did precisely the opposite. Not content with Judaism’s greatest living personality having the last word, the J-Street head quickly went into action and responded to Wiesel with full page ads of a bizarre editorial by Yossi Sarid, the former Meretz politician, utterly unknown to the American public whom Ben-Ami is seeking to influence. The man who Oprah travelled to Auschwitz with and chose his book Night as a main selection of her book club and whose novels are studied in the world’s leading Universities was dismissed by Sarid as being a writer ignorant of current events. “You know much about the heavenly Jerusalem but less so about its counterpart here on earth.”
Sarid was only getting started. Next he accused Wiesel of being naïve and easily misled. ‘Someone has deceived you, my dear friend.’ Sarid’s friendship would intensify two paragraphs later when he accused the man revered around the world as humanity’s most eloquent voice for the oppressed as a religious fanatic ‘imbuing our current conflict with messianic hues.’ Finally, not content with his dismissal of Wiesel as ignorant, naïve, and fanatical, he couldn’t help himself but conclude that Wiesel is not only confused but intentionally sought to mislead and misinform others. ‘It is unfortunate that a man of your standing must confuse fundamental issues and confound the reader.’
How unfortunate that Ben-Ami and Sarid were not able to forewarn the gullible American president not to invite the ignorant holocaust survivor to lunch and to instead send Air Force One to pick up the encyclopedic, peace-loving, temperate Sarid instead!
Which brings me back to Jeremy Ben-Ami, whom I would now like to address directly.
“Jeremy, my dear Jewish brother. Since the launch of J-Street not long ago you have tried hard, like any effective CEO, to make a name for your organization and capture headlines. The method you have used, however, appears to involve a cavalcade of insults and attacks. And while this has worked in the short term, knowing just a little bit about PR myself, I am fairly certain that it will backfire in the long run.
“Last September I wrote a column commenting on your quotations in a New York Times Magazine feature where you insulted all staunch American Jewish supporters of Israel as paranoids who believe that the world is filled with murderous anti-Semites. Surely that kind of character assassination is not only unnecessary but, I would argue, indicative of significant insecurity about your message. Not that I blame you. I realize that you have the most difficult job of any Jewish organizational head in the world, namely, running an organization that purports to be pro-Israel but invariably finds itself in the company of Israel’s worst enemies and critics.
“But even so I never believed that someone as media-savvy as you would make the mistake of spending your valuable money on full pages ads attacking Elie Wiesel. That, my brother, is pure suicide.
“I twice hosted Prof. Wiesel at Oxford University for public lectures where more than 2000 non-Jewish students hung on his every word. I took him to lecture at the Mormon Church in Utah where thousands more felt awed to simply stand in the same room as him, and just a few months ago I hosted him in New York City on a panel with my friends Dr. Mehmet Oz and Mayor Cory Booker of Newark at a seminar on values where you could hear a pin drop from the more than one thousand people who stood in line to hear him. In each of these forums people from all walks of life came to bask in the light of the man regarded as the most courageous living voice for victims of hatred and genocide. He is regarded by most as a living saint, and his books, especially Night, are among the most influential literature of modern times. You might as well take out full pages ads savaging Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and the Dalai Lama.
“I suggest that whoever is your PR consultant, my friend, be fired immediately and that you recalibrate your message to simply criticize Israel, which J-Street has done with considerable success, rather than attack the voice of the six million which has, predictably, brought an avalanche of condemnation of protest both in print and all over the internet.
“And Jeremy, my dear brother, please be advised that while my advice is free, Wiesel’s words are priceless.”
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of This World: The Values Network, is publishing, this week, his new book ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.’(Basic Books). His website is www.shmuley.com.
April 28, 2010 | 2:23 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
I had my meeting with the Pope today at his Wednesday audience. Let me first give you an idea of the setting.
There were approximately fifteen thousand people from all over the world gathered in St. Peter’s Square speaking an untold number of languages. The sun shone very brightly. The day was perfect. The Pope arrived in his pope-mobile to great excitement and fanfare. His vehicle was open-top. I assumed they didn’t need the protective bubble that has become so iconic on TV because there was security screening for each person present. As the Pope drove among the crowd they shouted ‘Viva Papa - Long live the Pope.’ There seemed to be genuine affection and excitement among the Catholic pilgrims who had gathered from all over the world.
The pope drove up the incline and arrived in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. The people who were there to meet him sat on both sides of his dais. There were clergymen from all over the world: Cardinals, Bishops, and priests from the Catholic Church. I sat next to three Anglican Bishops from the UK. With me was my friend Gary Krupp, head of the Pave the Way Foundation, who had arranged the visit and several of his officers.
The Pope read greetings in five languages and an American priest welcomed our group publicly from the Pope’s dais. The Pope waved to us.
When the formal ceremony, lasting about two hours ended, the Pope came off his dais and moved along the receiving line to greet us. Gary introduced me to the Pope warmly with my formal titles. I gave the Pope a special gift we had gotten for him. It was a beautiful dual-time Phillip Stein watch. The Pope lit up when he saw it and said, “Look, it has two faces on it,” which, as it happened, was the perfect introduction for me to share the issues I had prepared. I said, “Pope Benedict, it’s an honor to meet you. This watch has the times of Rome and Jerusalem on it, signifying the eternal friendship between our two faiths. I also hope that when you wear it the future of the Jewish people will always be on your mind, as Israel struggles with existential threats, like Iran, who threaten to wipe it off the map. You’re voice against these threats is essential, your holiness.”
He said ‘Yes,’ nodding his head in agreement, and I continued.
“In addition, Your holiness, the dual clock face is a symbol of my request that you please join us in establishing a global family dinner night which we call, ‘Turn Friday Night into Family Night.’ It involves what we call the triple two. Two hours of uninterrupted time that parents give their kids, inviting two guests, just as I am your guest today, and discussing two important subjects.”
While I said this Pope Benedict again nodded.
I concluded, “Your holiness, it’s so important that our two religions work together on this.” He said warmly, “We will work together. We will work together.” He held my hand while we spoke. The watch we gave the Pope as a gift has special resonance because the president of the company that made it, Will Stein, is an orthodox German who converted to Judaism.
I had invited my close friends David Victor, Chairman of the Board of AIPAC, and Rodney Adler, to the meeting with the Pope. Rodney emphasized to the Pope the importance of partnering with me on creating an international family dinner night and how much he believed in the idea. The Pope again warmly agreed. David then respectfully, but firmly, pressed the Pope on the need to address the Iran crisis, ‘a regime which denies the Holocaust and threatens to destroy Israel and is building nuclear weapons.’ The Pope said, “I have spoken about it and will continue to.”
As soon as the meeting was over, I was granted another meeting with Cardinal Walter Casper, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.’ Gary introduced me to the Cardinal and made a strong pitch for the importance of the worldwide Church partnering with us to create our international family dinner initiative. The Cardinal, a very pleasant priest from Germany who has been close friends with Pope Benedict for forty years, strongly endorsed the idea and related his memories of family dinners with his own parents.
I made the case to the Cardinal that the pedophile priest scandal has many influential American commentators skewering the Church for being an all-boys club, seemingly anti-family. It was essential, I argued, that the Church recapture its reputation as one of the world’s foremost champions of the family. He agreed emphatically and said he agreed that the Church should partner with us.
My friend David Victor then again brought up the threat that Iran poses to Israel. The Cardinal said that Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to the world. He asked David to write to him and Cardinal Bertone, the Cardinal Secretary of State, with suggestions of what could be done.
It was an exciting day. Five of my nine children were with me, as well as both my parents.
I’ll share more later, G-d willing.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. On May 14th he will publish his major work on Jewish values, Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. www.shmuley.com.
April 26, 2010 | 8:58 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Since the public announcement of my upcoming meeting with Pope Benedict this Wednesday at the Vatican, courtesy of my friend Gary Krupp, many of my close Jewish friends have expressed not approval but disappointment. ‘They blamed the pedophile priest scandal on Jews and compared the attacks on the Church to anti-Semitism. How could you, Shmuley?’ ‘The Pope was in the Hitler Youth and he wants to make Pope Pius XII, who never condemned the holocaust, into a saint.’ ‘The Church has always been anti-Semitic. You’re being used.’
Come now. Jewish insularity is the ultimate obstacle to the dissemination of Jewish values, while Jewish contempt for the non-Jewish world because of its past immorality and Jew-hatred is itself immoral and hateful. Pope Benedict is being kicked to the curb in nearly every part of the world. But I as a Jew do not forget that for all his failures in properly handing the abomination of pedophile Priests, for which the Church must atone and repent, Benedict has been a great friend to the Jewish community, visiting an unprecedented three Synagogues in four years as well as the State of Israel. And whom does it benefit to see a mighty Church fall? The millions of orphans the Church tends to worldwide? The schools it runs and the pupils it teaches? The hope its Priests give to the poor, especially in the third world?
I have been one of Pope Pius XII’s foremost critics in the entire world. But Benedict is not Pius and before we holler for his demise let’s recall that as the Cardinal Secretary of State he did more to extend the Church’s hand in friendship to other people’s and faiths than nearly anyone who preceded him.
There is much in Jewish law and tradition that could bring healing to the Church, beginning with the Jewish laws of modesty and sexual seclusion. In Judaism a man and woman who are not married are not allowed to be in a locked room together. When I was Rabbi to Michael Jackson I took this law and applied it his special circumstances. I told him that the only way he could rehabilitate his reputation, after the pedophile accusations against him, was to quite simply foreswear ever being alone with a child. I even grabbed Michael’s shoulders and made him promise me he would never seclude himself with a child not his own. And for the two years we were close to he stuck to the script. When he and I launched our initiative to help children, the focus was on working with their parents to prioritize their kids, rather than with the kids themselves. It wasn’t until Michael stupidly disregarded this simple advice and decided to share a bed – however platonically – with a young child and then brag about it on international TV that he was arrested and started the inexorable decline that ended in his death a few years later.
The Church should embrace the same straightforward rule. No priest should be allowed to be in alone with a child. Period. If a Priest needs to speak to a child alone, the door must never be locked and there must always be the possibility that they can be intruded upon by outsiders. If they walk in a park, it cannot be one that is empty of people. This way we’ll know that any Priest who breaks the guidelines will be punished whether or not they abuse a child. It would significantly curb the potential for any act of child molestation and might even discourage pedophiles from entering the priesthood in the first place.
But more importantly, it’s time for Jews and Catholics to work together to promote new values in America. While our country is gripped in an epidemic of materialism and an orgy of greed, the only values religion seems to talk about is opposition to gay marriage and abortion. But the emphasis on the negative is not going to create much that is positive. We need values that promotes family, strengthens marriage, inspires selflessness in children, and advances the cause of a purposeful life that makes us less obsessive about money and career.
This is why I wish to discuss with Pope Benedict the Catholic Church getting behind our ‘Turn Friday Night into Family Night’ initiative, the push for a global family dinner night. Imagine if all the world’s families – Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, Atheist, Agnostic – sat down every Friday night and embraced our ‘Triple Two.” Parents giving their children two uninterrupted hours every Friday night, inviting two guests to teach the children sharing and hospitality, and discussing two important subjects rather than a movie or celebrity gossip. And Friday night is the one evening that unites all. It’s sacred already to Jews and Muslims. Up until Second Vatican Council it was a night where Catholics were forbidden to eat meat. And for the non-religious it’s the beginning of the weekend and sets the tone the activities that will follow. If the family gets together on Friday night, chances are they’ll do more stuff together on Saturday and Sunday as well.
This is the right time for the Catholic Church to own a global family dinner night. The pedophile priest scandal has reinforced the conclusion of some that the Church is an old boys club that at best makes concessions to the weakness of human nature by allowing men and women to marry. The ideal, however, is celibacy and childlessness. The Church must return to its previous posture as a champion of family and what better way than to mandate that all Catholic families worldwide do as Jesus did. Put the worldly stuff away on Friday nights and consecrate it as an evening of holiness and togetherness.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. His major book on the universal Jewish values that can enrich the lives of every man and woman, Renewal, will be published by Basic Books on May 14th. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
April 20, 2010 | 1:36 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
I was horrified to hear that there were South African Jews objecting to Judge Richard Goldstone attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Blocking a fellow Jew, let alone a grandfather, from a family’s religious celebration because of his opinions on Israel is disgraceful. I recall once that the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that any Synagogue that bars a fellow Jew from entry ought to be shut down. We’re not Hamas, Hezbollah, or Fatah. We don’t summarily execute compatriots accused of collaborating with the enemy, as these terrorist organizations do to innocent Palestinians. We don’t character assassinate them either or banish them from our communities. Rather, where fellow Jews, like Goldstone, are harsh critics of Israel, we show them respect and deference and then destroy not them but their arguments in the cold light of fact and reason.
The Goldstone Report is a modern-day blood libel against the Jewish state and has been torn to shreds by expert international jurists, including Prof. Alan Dershowitz of Harvard and Prof. Richard Landes, Director of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University. Among the many compelling arguments against Goldstone is the fact that his report failed to focus on Hamas initiating the war by firing thousands or terror rockets against Israeli cities, intentionally using women and children as human shields in order to draw Israeli attacks and then accuse them of killing civilians, and how Goldstone granted near-complete credulity to all Hamas claims while cynically deriding those of Israel. As Dershowitz expressed it, the Goldstone Report is ‘to any fair reader, a shoddy piece of work, unworthy of serious consideration by people of good will committed to the truth.’
But that does not make Goldstone an enemy of his people. Rather, I believe, Goldstone, like so many others, reactively chooses the side of the Palestinians not because he is a self-hating Jew but because he boorishly assumes that the weaker party in any conflict is necessarily the aggrieved party. During Israel’s invasion of Gaza to stop Hamas’ murderous rockets it was easy to look at Israel’s tanks and helicopters and view the Palestinians terrorists as helpless victims. By the same logic, however, the awesome military invasion of a million soldiers on the beaches of Normandy made the Nazis into peace-loving innocents, and American shock-and awe over Baghdad made Saddam into a blameless target.
Goldstone is a foolish ignoramus rather than a traitor to his people. We have to stop believing that anyone who is anti-Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic. That misguided notion is what led Israel to have such abysmal PR in the first place, assuming as it did that since these critics have an innate hatred of Israel there was no reason to rebut their arguments. The toxic result is that Israel has tragically failed to promote the justice of its cause in a well-organized PR offensive and the Arabs, in the greatest PR coup in history, have somehow convinced the world that six million vulnerable Jews are oppressing five hundred million oil-rich Arabs.
Upon my last visit to South Africa on a book tour I was warmly embraced by the South African media who told me that ‘a Rabbi as open-minded and universal’ as me ought to be bold enough to criticize Israel’s ‘apartheid’ policies toward the Palestinians. Many black South Africans view Israel like the Boer and British Europenan colonizers who oppressed the indigenous population prior to Mandella’s presidency in 1994. I could have easily dismissed them as anti-Semites. But I knew in my heart they were decent, G-d-fearing people who had never heard a robust defense of Israel and I seized the opportunity on TV and radio to make Israel’s case.
The Jews are very similar to black South Africans, I told them. Long ago we too lived peacefully in our land, in Israel. The Holy Land, as the New Testament makes clear, had Jews and no Arabs. Then the Romans, a brutal, European occupier destroyed our Temple and took us as slaves to Europe where we lived under brutal oppression for millennia while praying thrice daily for a return to our ancient homeland. In the Arab countries where many migrated, Sephardic Jews lived under Arab governments where they were further treated like black South Africans, second-class citizens, denied basic human rights and required to pay jizyah, the Koran-obligated poll tax. My father who grew up in Iran, remembers the humiliation of having Islamic shopkeepers refuse to take money directly from his impure Jewish hands. Likewise, Ashkenazi Jews, like their black South African counterparts who were stuffed into townships, were placed into ghettos in Europe and forced to live apart. Finally, the flowering of modern nationalist movements enabled the Jews to begin leaving these lands en masse and returning to their indigenous, ancestral homeland.
But even amid the Jewish dispersion after Rome’s conquest, a minority Jewish population retained an uninterrupted presence is Israel for more than three thousand years. We did not colonize the land but were always a part of it. And when the waves of European Jews began returning to the land in modern times, the land was virtually desolate. The Zionist pioneers did the laborious work of draining the swamps and making the desert bloom.
Far from being a white, colonial settlement, the establishment of Israel is analogous to American blacks who had been forcibly removed from Africa and returned to create the nation of Liberia. The obscene comparison of Israel to apartheid South Africa also ignores the fact that Israel is the first country in history to airlift tens of thousands of black men, women, and children from Ethiopia to become free and full citizens within its borders.
Finally, I told my listeners, black South Africans who inspired the world with their capacity for peaceful coexistence could not be more different to the Palestinians who have tragically embraced hatred and terrorism. Nelson Mandela rose to become the foremost statesman in the world with his message of forgiveness and reconciliation. Yasser Arafat fathered international terrorism and stole millions of dollars from his poverty-stricken people.
In stupidly shunning people like Judge Goldstone we in the Jewish community are alienating those who need the light of Jewish values most.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. On May 14th he will publish his major work on Jewish values, Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. www.shmuley.com.
April 16, 2010 | 8:46 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
At middle age I have come to accept my limitations. Although I like to have an opinion on almost everything, I am conscious of the fact that I am not a legal scholar and do not understand all the complexities of the criminal case against Shalom Rubashkin, the former CEO of America’s largest kosher meat plant, Agriprocessors of Postville, Iowa.
But I am not a stupid man either. And I, and a heck of a lot of other fairly intelligent and educated people are scratching our heads as to why government prosecutors are requesting that Rubashkin, who has ten children, including an autistic son, and a reputation for enormous philanthropy, be given a life sentence in prison.
A life behind bars. The very words are ominous. Isn’t that reserved for society’s most heinous offenders? Life sentence has one conjuring images of rapists and murderers, international drug cartel kingpins and white-collar criminals guilty of gargantuan fraud, like Bernie Madoff.
What did Rubashkin do? After an INS raid on the plant that found hundreds of illegal immigrants, the company was pushed to the brink of bankruptcy and Rubashkin, who had already been arrested for employing illegals, was subsequently found guilty of defrauding a bank and producing false invoices in order to keep the business going. There is no insinuation that he did any of this for personal profit or gain. Unlike Madoff, he had no Hamptons estate, no fancy yacht, and no Manhattan penthouse. By all accounts he and his family lived in incredibly modest circumstances.
Obviously, the Rubashkin story has been an enormous embarrassment to the American Jewish community in general and orthodoxy in particular. The largest kosher meat plant in the country employing hundreds of illegal immigrants? Engaging in bank fraud in order to remain a going concern? Falsifying invoices and misleading lenders? These are serious charges that go against both terrestrial and celestial law and constitute actions that neither man nor G-d can condone. The expected flight of Jewish leaders and spokespeople from Rubashkin’s side ensued, whatever the injustice of his proposed sentence. We Jews are accustomed to run from scandal like the plague.
So let’s remove the smoke from this unsavory story and focus on truth.
Yes, we Jews unfortunately have our criminals. Yes, we orthodox Jews unfortunately have our felons. We’re human, too. We have people guilty of serious wrongdoing. And we too must confess our sins, repent of our actions, be punished for our crimes, and teach our children to always do better and never excuse our behavior. Our community need to know that no matter how important you believe it is for other Jews to eat kosher food, you cannot purchase that mitzvah at any price. You cannot be a good Jew if you are not an honest person. A religious obligation that comes through theft – even when your intention is to simply keep a business open so you can eventually pay off your loans – subverts all principles of religious morality.
Rubashkin is no hero. Whatever the nobility of his intentions, he is a poor example to religious youth. His behavior must and should be condemned. He has been found guilty of a crime and he must do the time.
But he is no monster either. Unlike Wall Street bankers, he did not bet the farm and other people’s deposits in order to buy himself a Ferrari. Unlike AIG executives, he did not cost the government billions in bailouts and then get a bonus. And while I, of course, understand that criminal conduct is infinitely more serious, so is prosecutorial overzealousness that borders on fanaticism.
The time that Rubashkin serves must be fair and just. This is America. Just as there is no room for toleration of criminal conduct, there is also no room for a lynch mob mentality. I realize I am not a lawyer. But I have enough sense to understand that a punishment of a few years in prison sets an unassailable example that criminal conduct is utterly inexcusable. Anything more than that for a crime of this nature gives the false impression that the American justice system is prejudicial and untrustworthy.
As for the outcry from the Hassidic community that Rubashkin is being treated unfairly and that his yarmulke and beard make for a prosecutorial bull’s-eye, I love America too much to believe any of it. This is the fairest, most decent country on earth. But I do believe it possible that when an overtly religious person perpetrates a crime – especially one that involves companies catering to religious needs – there is a feeling on the part of many that the hypocrisy mandates an even harsher sentence.
So let’s be clear.
This is not in any way analogous to other ugly religious stories dominating the news like pedophile priests. There is no suggestion that Rubashkin’s crimes be covered up. Less so is there any insinuation that Rubashkin be moved to another state where he can start up a new kosher meat plant. Rubashkin’s trustworthiness in the American Jewish community is finished.
But there is an insistence that he be treated like a human being. That it be taken into consideration that he has no prior offenses and that his company provided kosher meat to hundreds of thousands of people at affordable prices so that more Jews could observe their faith. That he and his family are legendary in the Hassidic community for their charitable giving, their hospitality, and their communal involvement. That Rubashkin himself devoted a substantial portion of his profits to funding a soup kitchen and supporting organizations like Collel Chabad that feed the hungry and the poor. To disregard all these considerations when it comes to sentencing is to disregard the universal belief that the good we do is not cancelled out by our horrendous mistakes.
I know my own limitations. Perhaps Rubashkin’s prosecutors ought to know theirs as well.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, host of TLC’s ‘Shalom in the Home,’ is the international best-selling author of 23 books, winner of the London Times Preacher of the Year, and winner of the American Jewish Press Association’s highest award for excellence in commentary. His website is www.shmuley.com.