Jewish Journal


November 29, 2012

Gordis vs. Brous is not about ‘values’, and other notes



Senator Chuck Hagel and then-presidential candidate Barack Obama in Amman, July 2008. (Photo: Reuters)


If Israel is indeed somewhat nervous about a Secretary of State Susan Rice – as you can see here – it would be far more nervous about a Secretary of State or Defense Chuck Hagel. Josh Rogin reports that "Hagel is being vetted for a possible top national security post" and that he "could be in contention for either secretary of state or secretary of defense, people familiar with the vetting process say".

If previous surveys of the Israel Factor panel are any indication (and they are), Hagel is hardly the favorite of Israeli experts on U.S.-Israel relations. Back in 2007, when Hagel was contemplating a run for the presidency, our panel consistently ranked him bottom of every list:

He has received the lowest score from the panel for many months; one panelist explains that this is because he is "multilateral in his international approach." Others offer similar reasons: "He has a simplistic concept of foreign policy and the Middle East," "he is the least sympathetic to Israel," "his cold attitude toward Israel," "he is ready to accept countries that support terrorism."


There are many new stories to be read about the Obama-Romney share of the Jewish Orthodox vote – you can try this one (I had one story about the Orthodox vote a few weeks ago):

Mitt Romney won more than 90 percent of the votes in many precincts in Borough Park, Sheepshead Bay and the Chasidic neighborhood in Williamsburg. One example of what the Times calls “the deepest single bloc of Republican support in all five boroughs,” was the precinct in Gravesend, where Romney got 97 percent of the vote.


The battle of Gordis vs. Brous draws a lot of follow-up commentaries. David Suissa writes for the Journal:

There’s something compelling in each of these views. Gordis appeals to a type of familial loyalty that one feels especially when under threat. If Jews are like family, he seems to be saying, isn’t it OK to be a little overprotective? Can you blame him for not mustering any empathy for an enemy who’s bombing children’s bedrooms or trying to kill them on the battlefield? At the same time, Brous has a big enough heart to remember, even in times of war, the suffering of innocent civilians in the enemy zone and the need to seek peace, no matter how hopeless the situation.

Andrew Silow Carroll writes:

While it is tempting to label this a clash between California and Jerusalem, it’s really a clash between Jewish values. Brous is writing in the tradition of the midrash in which God hears the angels singing songs of triumph after the drowning of the Israelites’ Egyptian pursuers. God chastises the angels, saying, “How can you sing when my creatures [the Egyptians] are drowning in the sea?” Gordis is writing from another Jewish tradition, encapsulated perhaps in the midrash on Ecclesiastes 3:8: “There is a time for loving and a time for hating.” Midrash Rabbah suggests “a time for hating” refers to “the time when a war is being fought.” In his own commentary on the passage, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin quotes Winston Churchill: “I oppose the pacifists during the war, and the jingoists after the war.”

I'm afraid I'd have to disagree with both: As tempting and noble it may be to find something compelling about both responses, and to look for "values" in both positions - sometimes simplistic readings of reality are just simplistic readings of reality. If a rabbi doesn't understand how the world really works, and doesn't understand the way wars are being fought, and doesn't understand the different meaning of words during a war – it is not because of "California" and not because of this or that Midrash, and is not because of having a "big heart". It is because rabbis often get it wrong when it comes to current affairs. This is true for settler-rabbis who do not quite understand the constraining realities and the strategic necessities that are dictating Israel's actions – and it is also true for liberal-rabbis who are using preconceived notions in badly chosen moments.

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